Roots Run Deep
Countryside’s 50-plus years in business is a result of its people: The founders, current owners, a talented staff and a loyal community.
Bill and Katherine Hameder saved money and planted nursery stock in their backyard in order to open Countryside Flower Shop and Nursery in 1960. It was at this 13-acre site in Crystal Lake where they spent 12 years sharing their passion for flowers, shrubs and trees with local customers. The dedicated couple never took a vacation during their ownership.
Long after the Hameders sold the business to Richard Harms and James Riedl in 1973, and even after many expansions and growth, Katherine would say, “I wonder if they’ll make it.”
Now in its 50th year and spanning 28 acres, Countryside is McHenry County’s largest nursery and garden center at 5301 E. Terra Cotta Avenue, Crystal Lake. Countryside may indeed be making it, but is not resting on its laurels. Katherine would be proud.
Countryside has evolved to become not only a year-round garden center and flower shop, but also a landscape, greenhouse and nursery providing outdoor and interior products and expertise for multi-seasonal enjoyment. This diversification is a direct result of understanding the market’s demands and simply mirroring a growing community.
“Our full-service floral department offers wedding and party planning; our landscape department includes installation of plant material and brick paving/patio work,” Richard said.
“Our garden center offers extensive gardening, aquatic, and bird feeding supplies. In addition, our nursery has 28 acres of homegrown trees and shrubs and our greenhouse has more than 90,000 square feet of covered space to produce our locally grown annuals, fall mums and holiday poinsettias.”
Homegrown plants are another distinction, according to Lori Harms, greenhouse manager and grower. “Since we grow the plants, they are never boxed or stored in warehouses, so they maintain their integrity and quality,” she said. “We can grow our plants larger because they do not have to conform to the size of a box for shipping. Our plants live longer because we nurture them and treat them with TLC.”
Friendly, Helpful Staff
Without a helpful and friendly staff, offering a great selection of products would be futile. Countryside understands this and set out to build a long-term work force that is friendly and knowledgeable. Eighty percent of its loyal work force has between 10 and 28 years of employment with Countryside. The staff includes Illinois Certified Nursery Professionals, Illinois Certified Professional Florists and other experts in their fields.
But credentials will only take one so far at Countryside, according to Lori. “We used to hire for knowledge, but now we hire based on personality,” she said. “Personality is important – you can teach skills, but you can’t teach people how to be friendly.”
Compassion toward customers is highly important, she adds. “We have to be sensitive to various issues our clients may be dealing with, whether they are planning for a funeral or simply overwhelmed by a landscape project. Our customers can trust in us to be professional, knowing they can rely on us for all of their floral, gardening and landscaping needs,” she said.
Open Door for the Community
“Pro-community” is how Richard describes Countryside’s approach to working in Crystal Lake. The company sponsors many local events, holds educational seminars, and hosts tours and annual events open to the public. Richard is a Chamber of Commerce Ambassador and Downtown Crystal Lake Association board member.
“We love sharing our passion for plants and gardening with the community,” Richard said.
By design, Countryside maintains a beautiful, colorful property that’s full of life. Naturally, it becomes a sanctuary to visitors. “After 9/11, people would come here to wander and take in the peaceful, serene environment to reflect,” Lori recalls. “In the dead of winter, folks walk around the warm and sunny tropical greenhouses during their lunch hour – it has a rejuvenating effect.”
The Growing Season
It comes as no surprise that spring is any Midwestern nursery’s most important season, when residents are ready to get out and enjoy the outdoors again. “It’s a feeding frenzy,” Richard said. “One-third of our business for the year happens in four weeks in spring.”
With the popularity of staycations, Countryside is installing more patios and enhancing outdoor rooms by planting living walls with vines and tall evergreens to screen out the neighbors’ view, he added.
Ramping Up for the Holidays
The holiday season is Countryside’s second-biggest season. As the premier Christmas gift shoppe of the area, Countryside turns into a magical winter wonderland, decked out from one end to the other with holiday decorations.
With families opting to stay home for the holidays instead of making elaborate vacation plans, they want their homes to be warm, inviting and colorful for the Christmas season. “We do indoor and outdoor décor for the holidays,” Lori said. “Our custom interior installation schedules fill up fast.”
Countryside’s tree trimmings, holiday planters and colorful homegrown poinsettias will be highlighted at its annual Holiday Open House November 20 and 21.
The Next 50 Years
Countryside looks toward the future with the realization that its demographics are shifting and its stock must reflect this change. For example, older gardeners are downsizing and don’t have the space and energy to maintain a big garden. “They are doing more container gardening on decks and patios,” Richard said.
On the other hand, the younger generation is becoming greener and is interested in reducing its carbon footprint, Locally grown products and backyard vegetable growing are popular among this age group. “We offer more than 40 varieties of peppers and more than 50 varieties of tomatoes, including heirlooms,” Lori said.
On the business side, the next generation – daughter, Pattie, and son, John, have joined the Countryside team. Pattie is the purchasing/inventory manager and John works in the garden center with plantings and deliveries. “It’s neat to see it come full circle,” Richard said.
As for the Hameders, they have since passed, yet their legacy lives on. In fact, Countryside still buys from the same seed company the Hameders bought from 50 years ago. Sometimes their son, Bill Jr., stops by to visit. As he looks around the thriving 28 acres, he says, “Now my mother would believe they’ve made it – in a big way.”
“Much of a garden center’s business is directly related to the weather. Gardeners’ perfect weather conditions are “sunny, 72 degrees with a light breeze.” –Lori Harms
Unique Products and Services
- Four-season container gardens (Countryside can plant these at customers’ homes)
- Gourmet Gift Baskets
- Premier Christmas Shoppe
- Holiday custom interior decorating
- Non-profit fundraising plant sales for spring, fall and holiday
- Special ordering of items not stocked on a daily basis
- First business to be honored with the ‘Robert O. Covey Business of the Year’ Award in 2004 by the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce
- Selected as Top 100 Florist in the United States by Teleflora
- One of six nurseries chosen by the 2010 Independent Garden Center Show (Chicago) to host a nationwide tour of 440 garden center owners
- 2009 Winner: Revolutionary 100 Award by Today’s Garden Center magazine
- 2007-2010 Winner: Best of the Fox Garden Center/Nursery Shop, Landscaper and Florist
- Listed in 2010 as the Top 100 Independent Garden Centers in the country by Nursery Retailer magazine