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Stepping into Aster Garden Design is a bit like stepping into a secret garden – and that’s what it was designed for, said owner Karen Oleson.
The company, which opened last year, took Karen and her husband and co-owner Paul Oleson four years to prepare.
“The building existed, but [the rest] was a weed patch, ”Paul said.
Since then, space has flourished both literally and metaphorically. In all directions, a diverse cover of trees, grasses, flowers, shrubs and vegetables can be seen.
These plants are accented by artfully reused materials in the doors, walls, and greenhouse – from leftover bypass materials turned into garden walls to coiled vines and blossoming flowers in recycled metal.
“We just wanted [it to be] like you’re walking in another world, ”Karen said.
Paul and Karen are longtime gardeners. In 2007, Karen decided to go back to school and obtained a master’s degree in landscape architecture.
“Most of the time,” she says, “we design people’s landscapes. Not just gardens, [or] vegetable gardens, but you know, landscaping, patios, fireplaces, a pergola, you know, whatever you can imagine outside.
Because the center provides both gardening and design services, many clients will come with sketches of what they want to do with their garden, but don’t know how to do it.
“They’ll come with their little sketches, and they’ll say, ‘I got where I want things, but I just need to figure out what they are now,'” she said.
This is where Karen can step in, she said. Customers can indicate where they want something in bloom, a tree or a fireplace, and depending on the conditions, she can recommend plants and decor to meet those goals and the customer’s space constraints.
The company’s philosophy prioritizes utility over beauty, she said. The center itself collects rainwater, which helps them and lessens the impact on public services.
“The first thing is safety, then the traffic, you know, how you get around there. And then comes form, function and beauty, ”Karen said.
Karen’s landscape architecture business is a big part of what prompted the couple to open their own store, she said. Many more difficult to find plants are now brought to the center.
“I was driving everywhere from Spokane, to Bonners Ferry, to Seattle,” she said. “I was just trying to find the plants for the drawings. And now we just order to have them here for all of our customers.
Some of these harder to find plants include dogwoods, Japanese maples, xeric plants, and many more, in addition to many native plants. They also try to sell only plants that can survive Idaho’s harsh winters, Karen said.
In addition to native plant options, the center sells garden decorations and furniture from local artists.
“It’s important to us,” said Paul. “We try to source local materials, and if they’re not local, they come from the northwest. “
Although the center is not large, they try to keep at least a few people employed and also offer competitive rates for large local projects, he said.
Starting the center during a pandemic meant business was a bit slower than usual, Karen said, but it also gave them a chance to learn.
Over the past year, many people have started doing more gardening and landscaping during the pandemic as they spent more time at home, she said.
“They were so at home, and they’re looking at their garden and like, ‘We have to do something about this,'” Karen said.
Aster Garden Design is located at 924 Superior Street in Sandpoint.