Terrain at Styers

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

I spent Arbor Day weekend in the countryside outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, speaking and conducting workshops at Terrain, the new garden center opened by the company that owns Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, among others. The best word or phrase I can come up with to describe Terrain, besides stunningly beautiful is well-appointed. It is by far the most perfectly organized and detail-oriented garden center I have visited to date. I could have set up a cot in a corner somewhere and moved in for a month, and I would have been comfortable and engaged for the duration. Not only was the overall space beautiful and harmonious, but every single inch seemed to be accounted for.

The effect on my brain was simultaneously relaxing and overwhelming. As a result I took very few pictures, barely enough to provide you with a tour.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
This is the outdoor cafe in the early morning before customers arrived. By lunch this place was packed, but you know, it was a special weekend and they had barbecue and beer on tap. For a special treat, I recommend booking a reservation in the fancier cafe area.

I was at Terrain for two days yet I did not have nearly enough time to explore… after all they had brought me out to do a job and that was my primary focus. I’d love to go back again as a regular customer and have the full experience over the course of a full day: slowly meandering among the plants and displays from building to building, followed by lunch in the cafe. When they first told me there was a cafe on site I was sold. Spending hours labouring over plant-buying decision-making is hard work! But the cafe at Terrain doesn’t just serve any old food, they serve GOOD FOOD. Again, I was always either too hungry or too rushed or without camera to take a photo but every meal they prepared for me was delicious and beautifully presented. When I arrived at my hotel after a long day of travel there was a boxed meal waiting for me prepared by the chef. It contained: a microgreens salad topped with seasonal asparagus and Parmesan shavings. The salad dressing was perfect, and not too heavy on the vinegar as is often my complaint with most restaurant salads. This was accompanied by some kind of whitefish (I’m not sure what but it might have been poached) and a side of what I believe was basil-infused oil. There was also a box of toasted baguette slices with herbed butter. I generally try to avoid sugar, but the desert was an espresso-soaked tiramisu presented in a glass jar. How could I NOT eat that? And then I pretty much didn’t sleep that night, but it was worth it.

On day two my lunch contained a similar salad (I requested it again because it was THAT good), although this one had yummy, soft white beans instead of asparagus. There was also a split pea soup served in another glass canning jar and a miniature bread loaf baked and served right in a tiny terracotta pot! I wish I’d got a picture of that but I didn’t have my camera on hand. On Saturday my guests took me out to a local restaurant that featured a 100 mile menu. The food was great but the highlight was actually a Mexican ice cream place called, La Michoacana where I chose the most unusual flavor on the menu, corn ice cream topped with chili powder! Folks, I had corn ice cream in a small town in Pennsylvania! Who knew?

And now I am hungry, having just described food for two paragraphs.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
This was where I conducted my workshops. Nice little set-up and the weather was beautiful!

Back to Terrain. While conducting workshops I was introduced to their potting soil, specially prepared for Terrain by Organic Mechanic. It is by far the most beautiful potting soil I have ever used. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that potting soil. I could not stop running my hands through it. It has the absolute perfect texture and consistency, and is comprised of all of the best ingredients including coir instead of peat, rice hulls, and worm castings. Why can’t someone over here make a prepared potting soil even remotely as good as this one?

Some other highlights I managed to photograph:

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
The Mushroom House. This is where they do production work preparing mixed containers and the like. Apparently, this area is the mushroom capital of the world and mushrooms were once grown in this little house and several more like it that used to sit on the property. I was especially impressed by the little display food gardens in front.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
I’m kicking myself for not buying one of these wooden pots. I’m a sucker for weathered wood. But then I would have had to fit it in my luggage and that was not possible since I avoided baggage mayhem by bringing carry-on only.


This is Tim and Shannon, two Terrain employees who generously helped me out, and showed me around the area. They rule! Also, Tim and his wife own a seed company called Happy Cat Organics, and recently sent me some tomato seeds including a variety called ‘Tim’s Black Ruffles’, a cross between two of my personal favorites, ‘Black Krim’ and ‘Zapotec Pink Pleated’ crossed and stabilized by Tim himself. I have a bunch of seedlings going right now and will be growing it this year! I predict it will become a favourite.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Inside “The Shed”. I’m only showing you this picture because they’ve got those excellent OXO brand watering cans hanging in the foreground. I was so excited to see them in person I might have squealed. Out loud. I would have bought one but I shifted my allegiance to a different, and dare I say, “better” watering can about a month ago.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
One of my favorite displays was this box setup outside The Shed showing every kind of mulch and soil amender they had available for purchase.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
One of my favourite spots, “Vegetable Alley.” The beans are a bit early, even for Pennsylvania but… They had a really nice assortment of lettuces, and I’ve only recently outed myself as having a small lettuce addiction so I’ll just say that it was kind of my version of heaven.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
This is another one of those little charming details that I appreciate. All of the potted plants were displayed in old wooden and mesh trays instead of those ugly plastic things the rest of us have to live with. If only I could find some of these for personal use.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Even the fencing area is beautifully arranged. You can see a hand-painted sign in the background that directs people to the cafe.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
A close-up on the sign.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
My book on display. Even that was well-presented!

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
And here’s what I bought. I came out relatively unscathed since I didn’t have a lot of time to shop, can’t take plants over the border, and didn’t have much room in my luggage. I think I’ve left a few odds and ends out, but I am already forgetting what it was. The two seed packets with vintage-inspired illustrations were purchased at Terrain but the others were purchased across the street at Target. I purchased several more than are shown but they have already been opened, sown, and scattered somewhere among my various seed storage methods. We don’t have Target here in Canada so the trip was a bit of cultural anthropology in itself. Shannon and I spent a good hour or more walking up and down the aisles marveling at the curious items and getting high on off-gassing plastics. I also bought water flavored with mint, which I’ve got to say was oddly unpleasant and seemed kind of silly since you can simply add some mint to water to achieve the same effect.

You’ll recognize the old-thymey letter-press cards from my Holiday gift round-up. I’m not sure how the metal globe thing is supposed to be used, but it looked like something I could have fun experimenting with. Amy Goldman’s “The Compleat Squash” was a total score since a friend just recently informed me that it is out of print, and to top it off I got it for half price from the sale section. I was so excited to discover it on sale I mentally patted myself on the back as if I had achieved something miraculous in finding and then purchasing it.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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16 thoughts on “Terrain at Styers

  1. Wow that place looks amazing!!!

    And Amy Goldman’s books are awesome. My favourite is Melons for the Passionate Grower.

  2. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing the pictures! I can only hope that they’ll open one of those nearby someday in the future…

  3. That place looks absolutely fabulous. And having just visited the sad, sad world of Lowe’s, I’m jealous.

    It reminds me of a beautiful garden shop I used to visit in Pasadena, CA.

  4. I’m so pleased my neck of the woods made a good impression! I really wished I could have made it to your workshops. Will you be coming back to the Philly area any time soon? What was the name of the 100 mile restaurant? I’m growing Happy Cat’s Blue Capucinar’s Peas in my backyard garden this year. Tim showed up at my farmers’ market all summer last year; I hope he comes back — I need to restock!

  5. My first thought for the little ball was to make a succulent ball, as seen in the forums!

  6. That mint water is kind of gag-inducing but, for some reason, I buy it a lot. I refuse to try the chocolate mint version because that just might send me over the edge (to barf town.)

  7. Gayla, I am so sorry I missed you! I live in Philly and drive past terrain quite frequently on work trips out to Kennett Square. Glad you discovered La Michoacana; that place is the best. Hope you are back in our area soon!

  8. Your workshop was sweet – come to Philly and give more lectures… we could use some help becoming the greenest city by 2015!

  9. gayla it was wonderful meeting you! and i’m glad that you got to experience michocana’s corn ice cream. out of this world!

  10. Thank you for sharing your photos of this lovely shop. I wish there will be something like this near my place (the chance is small, but it won’t hurt to dream big haha :)

  11. Wow – your name in big green letters – it’s like the gardener’s version of Broadway. Sweet. :) The shop looks fantastic.

  12. I’m so glad you mentioned Organic Mechanics! I used nothing else last year and was extremely pleased. They can actually thank you for those sales because I found it in my search for coir inspired by you. I also love their worm castings and buy bags to give my friends as gifts (I love being green and unconventional at the same time.)

    It is good to know I can stock up at Terrain since Whole Foods is a hit or miss with OM potting soil.

    Thanks for a great report!

  13. Your classes were fantastic. My fiance and I got very excited and learned so much. We have loaded our tiny Philadelphia row house with conatiners of herbs, veggies and seeds of every stripe. We also bought “You Grow Girl” and sent copies to many mothers we know for mother’s day. Can’t wait for the next book, or for your next visit to Terrain. You were very worth the drive out of the City! Thanks!

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