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Friday, October 31, 2014

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Earth Garden welcomed back to its roots

Updated 4:55 pm, Thursday, March 20, 2014

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  • Nancy Whitehurst, store manager, and Kyle Riccoboni, creative director, are thrilled to be seeing new and returning customers in New Canaan now that Earth Garden has moved back and is now open at 89 Elm St. Jarret Liotta/For the New Canaan News Photo: Contributed / New Canaan News Contributed

    Nancy Whitehurst, store manager, and Kyle Riccoboni, creative director, are thrilled to be seeing new and returning customers in New Canaan now that Earth Garden has moved back and is now open at 89 Elm St. Jarret Liotta/For the New Canaan News

    Photo: Contributed

 

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The town of New Canaan has spoken -- and continues to speak -- about its prodigal florist, Earth Garden.

The local favorite for floral items and horticulture has returned, following a six-year absence, aided by the support of many residents. In November, it was able to open downtown after securing a lease for the town-owned building at 89 Elm St.

"It's kind of like we've gone in full circle," said owner Nancy Gorkin, who originally took over the business with partners at its former Route 123 location.

In 2007, Earth Garden opened a facility in Wilton, which Earth Garden will continue to use as a receiving space and production facility. "We have a greenhouse and probably a 750-square-foot work area, with design tables and a flower cooler," Gorkin said.

The new store is a fragrant and inviting place, featuring a grand central display that gets refreshed every day.

"Is this not a happy shop?" said customer Annie Pratt, who lives on the Wilton-New Canaan line and has frequented the shop for years in all its locations.

"It's more than a regular florist shop," she said. "It's kind of like you would dream it if you had a greenhouse attached to your house. This is what you'd like it to be like."

Store manager Nancy Whitehurst said the store has received a "really warm response from the community. It's really good to be back.

"People will say the store really draws them in," she said.

"Human nature is they're curious, but rarely does someone leave without buying something," said creative director Kyle Riccoboni.

Riccobini, who has worked with Earth Garden for 14 years, said many customers found other shops following the original move, but now they're returning in ever-increasing numbers.

"It's great to have them back because they used to be part of the community," Amy Ravanesi, of New Canaan, said. "It's nice to have them back in the center."

Riccoboni said Earth Garden is a "full-service florist, meaning we do daily deliveries, as well as weddings and parties and events."

Gorkin said part of what makes Earth Garden different is a philosophy focused on natural beauty.

"We don't use anything that nature doesn't lend itself to," she said. For example, none of the flowers will be dyed, nor will colors of supportive material be in conflict with the arrangements.

"I think it's our love of plants and the natural environment," she said, which drives their creative work. "We use that inspiration in all our creations, both flower arrangements and plants.

"There's a lot of horticultural knowledge that goes into it, and knowledge of the environment, that goes into everything we do," she said.

One demonstration is the large pot displays, which Gorkin said become mini ecosystems in their own right because of the care her eco-artists take in making cohesive creations.

"I think probably what sets us apart from a traditional florist is that all of our designs are inspired by natural elements, rather than artificial implements," Gorkin, who studied horticulture at Michigan State University, said.

A native of Michigan, Gorkin came east to Long Island after college, where she worked at a public garden. "I was leaning toward nonprofit for a while, but I always had an interest in retail."

In 1991, she and three partners bought the 4-year-old Earth Garden business in New Canaan. By 2007, she became its sole owner.

The idea of returning to New Canaan entered Gorkin's mind five years ago.

"We've been looking for a couple of years," she said. "When we originally left our spot on Route 123, we kind of changed up our business model, but so many of our New Canaan customers were really disappointed.

"We knew that Crumbs was going to be closing about a year or so ago, so we've been keeping an eye on this spot."

With the help of a handful of customers, who wrote letters on her behalf, Gorkin successfully lobbied for the location. Along with presenting a business plan that had a more lucrative offer for the town than other chain stores that were involved in the bidding, Earth Garden was able to move in quickly, just two weeks after Gorkin was handed the keys Nov. 5.

"From the beginning, the first selectman and his staff have been a pleasure to work with," she said. "Everybody has been very gracious and helpful whenever we need anything."

Now Gorkin is enjoying the pleasure of again seeing families of teenagers who were working in the store years ago.

"It's been my homecoming, you could say. ... It feels great."

The store is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For information, visit earthgardenflowers.com or 203-966-5673.

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.