Garden Design Firm Ferndale Finds ‘Essential Service’ in Helping Clients Plant Victory Gardens

The coming of spring is usually the most exciting part of the year for Jessica Soulliere, owner of Potager, a Ferndale-based garden design and landscaping company. The recent spread of COVID-19 in Michigan, however, has forced his business, Vegetable Garden Design, LLC, to face many unforeseen challenges this time around.

Like many business leaders, Soullière is now faced with several major obligations: responding to a declining economy; protect themselves, their employees and customers from possible exposure to the novel coronavirus; and comply with Governor Whitmer’s recent decision Executive Decree which temporarily suspends “activities which are not necessary to maintain or protect life”.

“I’m not one of those people who have suddenly been blasted like the food industry, but I’m at the start of my season,” she said. “So the questions are more important than the answers right now. And it is very scary. “

Jessica Soullière.Soulliere’s company specializes in the design and construction of landscapes that incorporate native plants, pollinator gardens and vegetable gardens. The projects she works on tend to gravitate towards sustainability and the restoration of natural habitats.

Working primarily with clients in the city of Detroit and its suburbs, Potager offers a mix of consulting, planning, landscaping and maintenance services. Although Soullière designs projects year round, most of his business installation and maintenance work takes place from spring until the first frost later in the year.

Recent work involved helping a client convert their traditional lawn into a landscape with native plants, support for pollinators like bees and butterflies, and a vegetable patch. After coming up with a hand-drawn design, Potager coached the owner on construction and maintenance, so that he could manage the physical aspects of the project on his own.

Another client paid Soullière and his team to take care of landscaping and maintenance work such as weeding and pruning. Occasionally, Potager also undertakes unique personalized projects that do not fit these parameters. And since the COVID-19 hit, she and her team have been looking at respond to the crisis in a way that is beneficial both for their business and for the community as a whole. The solution they are now exploring is based on several of Soullière’s past experiences.

Embrace the natural world

Outdoor training has always attracted Soullière. She grew up in a rural part of Brighton, a stone’s throw from a state park.

“I basically lived the first seven years of my life outside in the woods,” she jokes. “I have always been an outside person.”

During his formative years, the de Soullière family cultivated their own vegetable gardens. And his father ran his own construction business and also operated his own greenhouse and tree farm. Growing up in this environment, Soullière quickly acquired a variety of skills related to both building and horticulture.

Five years ago, after working for many years in public relations and communications, she decided to go back to those roots by starting her garden design business. For a name, she chose the word Potager, a French term meaning vegetable garden.

At first, Soullière managed as a one-man business, offering a gardening service to clients in the city of Detroit where she lived at the time. As work began to pick up, she developed a business plan focused on the design, installation and maintenance of organic gardens. In those early days, his clientele included many elders who wanted help maintaining their garden plots. Over time, Soulliere eventually moved to Ferndale and obtained certification as a landscaper, master gardener, and concrete paver installer. With the help of referrals, Potager had experienced phenomenal growth and Soullière had planned to expand its operations significantly this year until everything took an unexpected turn.

“I doubled my turnover year over year,” she says. “Based on the trajectory and the business we had, this was going to be an explosive year, and suddenly the brakes hit hard. ”

Although Soullière’s phone generally rings without a hitch this time of year, it has been fairly quiet lately. Soullière had planned to hire five people in 2020. As it stands, she brought back two employees from last year and a new person. Looking ahead, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how things will develop over the next few months.

Work towards small victories

Turning to the present, to say that business owners have a lot of roadblocks right now is most certainly an understatement. Social distancing, in and of itself, has not been Soullière’s most pressing concern.

“I don’t have to be in someone’s house or in front of someone to do my job. I can be outside,” she says.

All face-to-face meetings that Potager would normally attend now take place outdoors or through a new web conferencing system. And while employees take precautions to minimize social interactions, due to the nature of the job, it hasn’t been difficult for them to keep their distance from customers.

The sudden contraction in the economy has been a harder hurdle to overcome, as has Governor Whitmer’s executive order, which orders Michigan residents to stay in their homes until April 13. necessary to maintain or protect life.

With this in mind, Soullière and his team have chosen to focus on the design and development of small vegetable gardens. It is a focus that recalls the origins of Potager by helping the elderly with their garden plots and which has a certain appeal for people concerned about the prospects for the near future of the economy.

“Food security is important, especially at a time when our future is not entirely certain,” said a statement posted on the Vegetable Garden website. “To that end, we’ve created quick-start organic victory garden packages that include seeds, soil, raised beds, delivery, and installation. ”

The Vegetable Garden is inspired by the Victory Gardens that were popular in the United States during World Wars I and II. According to the company’s understanding, food production and agricultural services are still permitted by order of the governor. Thus, Victory Gardens offers a way forward for Potager and a way for customers to become a little more self-sufficient.

Using the calculation that 20 feet of garden space can support one person for a year, Potager designed three models of Victory Garden for customers: one focused on popular vegetables commonly used for cooking and setting. preserves; a gourmet option with a more daring collection of herbs and vegetables; and a macrobiotic version focused on nutrient-dense foods.

“We give people something that gives them the impression of having a little control and having a say,” explains Soullière. “Just a little sun and a little water and a little knowledge and you can eat very well”

Designed as raised gardens, each victory garden will be presented in a frame two feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long. The kits that Potager offers to include wood, soil, trellises or plant supports, seeds, transplants, reference and maintenance guides and a list of resources. Interested households can purchase up to three kits.

And those who want to keep themselves safe should know that Potager has delivery and installation protocols in place that comply with COVID-19 security guidelines. The company will start to take online orders for Victory Garden kits on March 30.

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