Capitol Hill Women Launch Garden-Friendly Businesses

The Hill Gardener

Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) blooms in early spring. Photo: Amanda McClean

Two local entrepreneurs now offer gardening help to residents of the Hill and beyond: Laurie Gillman, owner of East City Bookshop, and Amanda McClean, co-owner of Izel Native Plants. Both businesses opened fairly recently and each one integrates the best practices of analog and digital worlds in refreshing and contemporary ways. 

East City Bookshop

On a recent shopping trip, I stopped into East City Bookshop at 645 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, and was thrilled to discover the largest collection of high quality new garden and landscape books south of Politics & Prose. This independent bookstore, now approaching its first anniversary, has already become an active partner in community events with author talks, hosting book clubs, story time for kids, and even a knitting and audio book club.

The store’s founder, Laurie Gillman, was one of many folks disappointed by the 2009 closing of Trover Books, also on Pennsylvania Avenue. After doing some research, she found that indie bookstores are making a comeback, and she opened East City Bookshop in April 2016. Gillman is proud of the shop’s mission to “provide friendly and warm service, community-oriented events, and support for the literary arts at every reading level.”

The garden section contains books about ferns, fruit, and flowers, and books about gardening edibles with titles including, “Carrots Love Tomatoes,” “Grow All You Can Eat in 3 Square Feet,” and “The Rooftop Growing Guide,” all handy for Capitol Hill gardens. A garden design section features books by and about contemporary designers such as Bunny Williams, Piet Oudolf, and Arne Maynard, as well as treatises such as, “Modern Garden Design,” “Paradise Gardens,” and “Virginia: The Romance of Flowers.” Truly, there is something for everyone, including, “Gardening for Butterflies,” and one that we keep near our bar at home, “The Drunken Botanist,” by Amy Stewart.

If you can’t spare half an hour to browse the shelves in person, East City Bookshop offers a well-designed, homey website with easy subject searches, audiobook ordering, and even a Staff Picks section listed by staff member, similar to the friendly hand-written notes found in the store. The website’s calendar of events is full of gatherings of all kinds: http://www.eastcitybookshop.com/event. The shop’s 400 square foot lower level can also be rented out for private parties, fundraisers, and other special events. A weekly newsletter and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/eastcitybookshop/) are designed to keep you up to date on special offerings and events. With spring around the corner, make the most of indoor reading weather now.

Izel Native Plants

It’s a short stroll from Izel co-founder Amanda McClean’s home to Port City Java, where we chat outside on a balmy January day. Izel (pronounced “eye-Zel”) is an Aztec word meaning unique, which gets at the heart of the company’s business model of shipping plants directly to gardeners.

There has always been a divide between purchasing plants wholesale and purchasing them retail. Typically, retail garden centers sell what’s in season directly to home gardeners, in quart or gallon sized pots for perennials, and larger ones for shrubs and trees. Garden centers purchase from wholesale growers, selecting what’s in bloom in quantities they feel they can sell. Those who purchase plants wholesale, such as contractors, work from a plant list generated by designers. Contractors drive to wholesale nursery site(s), and load their truck themselves, following the grower’s minimum order requirements. They deliver the plants to the project site on installation day, and plant them for the wholesale price plus a markup for travel, labor, materials, and profit.

If you are a homeowner and garden geek, you may not always be able to find exactly what you want at a retail garden center, and if you aren't working with a professional landscape contractor, Izel Native Plants might be just what you need.

Started in April 2014, Izel is an online-only retail clearinghouse offering primarily Mid-Atlantic native plants in smaller sizes to retail customers by mail. Several local wholesale growers, carefully vetted by Izel owners Amanda McClean and Claudio Vazquez, ship your order to your door, carefully packing your plants for the journey. You place one order on a user-friendly website, and the plants are packed and shipped to you by whichever grower(s) are responsible. A single order may involve several shipments to your address, but the shipping cost is included in the price of the plants.  You should be available to receive your plants and care for them as soon as they arrive.

Amanda McClean’s background in photography, marketing and website user experience design (UX) makes her the perfect person to shepherd Izel’s website, https://www.izelplants.com/. There are many ways to search the site, filtering results for garden conditions such as sunlight and moisture. Once selected, a plant’s characteristics and ordering availability are shown in great detail in a visually uncluttered screen.  You can add the plant to a wish list or a shopping cart, and you can track your order using the site’s easy interface.

McClean usually stays behind the scenes, enjoying the convenience and flexibility of her home office. But she will be out in person on March 25, 2017 at the U.S. National Arboretum’s annual Native Plant Sale, held on the same day as the 31st annual Lahr Native Plant Symposium. See http://www.fona.org/lahr-symposium/ for more information as it becomes available. Admission to the plant sale is free, and the Symposium has a modest registration fee.

Some Native Plants for the Hill

Because Izel Native Plants sells only what’s native and grown locally, current limited availability will soar in March and April. However, some choice species are available now. McClean recommends these natives for our Capitol Hill gardens:

Other favorites Amanda mentions for Capitol Hill gardens are Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadense), Northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum). Try searching https://www.izelplants.com and see which you might like to try.

There are probably great native plant books at East City Bookshop, and if there is something they don’t have that you want to order, owner Laurie Gillman would be happy to help. Then Amanda McClean can track your online Izel Native Plant order so you can plant small tender perennials in early spring while the weather is still cool. “Plant Native!” says Amanda, and happy gardening.

Cheryl Corson is a licensed landscape architect practicing on the Hill since the Clinton administration. She is author of Sustainable Landscape Maintenance for the Chesapeake Bay Watershedhttp://cblpro.org/downloads/CBLPMaintenanceManual.pdf. For more, see: www.cherylcorson.com.


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