Cultivating sustainable gardens in Castlegar

The owners of Dig Garden Centre are all about community, sustainability and growth

by Danielle Brost
Garden centre staff at Dig Garden Centre in Castlegar

The Lorans have built a legacy based on their strong principles, extensive knowledge base and excellent work environment. — Photo courtesy of Dig Garden Centre

Located in Castlegar, Dig Garden Centre sets a shining example when it comes to supporting sustainable practices and community engagement. Lori and Mark Loran, the visionary couple behind this bustling centre, have transformed their passion for gardening into a thriving business that recently earned accolades from the Castlegar and District Chamber of Commerce.

Lori Loran sat down with us and shared some of her insights into the journey of Dig Garden Centre, from its humble beginnings to becoming an award-winning hub for eco-conscious gardening practices in the region.

- Photo courtesy of Dig Garden Centre

Congrats on winning the Castlegar and District Chamber of Commerce’s Green Award last year. How has this recognition impacted your business?

Thank you. We found out about our nomination along with all the other local businesses and were rather excited to be acknowledged!  The staff were all telling each other about it with pride. The timing of the gala event was just after we closed the store for the season, so four of the girls attended with excitement (and nervousness about making a speech in case we did have the honour). We will be opening our store again shortly and will have the award proudly on display. It will be a great conversation starter with all of our customers.

- Photo courtesy of Dig Garden Centre

What inspired you to open Dig Garden Centre, and what made you want to focus on sustainable and eco-friendly practices?

Our story starts a long time before the opening of Dig. Mark was managing the Walmart garden centre and had an opportunity to make a change. He purchased  ‘Rainforest Sprinklers’ heart-shaped spinner sprinkler molds from the Korbatoff’s in 2002. Through the many contacts made he was able to better manufacture and enter into distributorship for the garden industry. 

Mark Cullen, the HGTV garden guru, branded the sprinklers under a ‘Mark’s Choice’  product line and brought much exposure to the low-water consumption and low-pressure items. I joined the team in 2005 and we started selling into Australia, USA and even England.

To keep up with demand for our increasing business the Kootenay Savings Credit Union decided to sell us the plot of land beside them so we could warehouse and continue our manufacturing locally with the intention of adding a garden centre. We built the building and did two months of trade shows in 2009 as the market crashed!  

It was a difficult time for many years but through the many connections we had made in the industry we thought it time to try our hands at a garden centre. We were raring to go with big ideas… we sure didn’t realize just how exhausting it would be. Plants do not wait patiently to get watered, haha!  We started out small with the best staff we could find (you will still see Patricia and Rolf working alongside us in spring). Year after year we invested what we could as our customer base expanded.

We started with one greenhouse and five staff members bringing in finished stock. Now, we have five greenhouses, a crew producing our own healthy vegetables (grown organically with no pesticides), and also another crew producing high-quality annual flowers and hanging baskets with care and attention. Our team has grown to 22 people in the busiest months from April to May. 

From day one we’ve hand-watered every single plant to make sure they are getting just what is needed with reduced water consumption. We re-purpose spent soil to make display beds, we wash and reuse a huge amount of our plastics, we take the time to collect all the leaves and branches for the green recycle station, we recycle cardboard and plastics, and we switched our greenhouse heating to gas. This year we are also introducing drip irrigation into three greenhouses, which will save so much time and water runoff. 

- Photo courtesy of Dig Garden Centre

How has the gardening industry evolved over the years?

The industry was predominantly geared towards an older generation—and at the time we were among some of the youngest owners of a garden centre in our region.  As a matter of fact, most people thought we were silly for investing our money. We came with some fresh ideas and both grew up loving gardening. 

When we started out there wasn’t as much in the way of patented plants like ‘Night Sky Petunia’, Proven Winners ‘Tempting Tomatoes’, I wouldn’t have thought people would pay $25 for a ‘Green Twister’ Echinacea, or $40 for a small monstera houseplant!! 

Staying open as an essential service during the COVID-19 years brought us many new gardeners wanting to fill their time and space with something they could do in their own backyards. Food scarcity scares, $12 cauliflower, and this past year e-coli in California lettuce skyrocketing prices to $9/head has increased the #growyourown movement.  

When we first opened, organic fertilizers were still a little pricey, and lots of education was needed on the benefits to you and the environment. Now the majority of what we sell is organic. Being able to grow four cannabis plants brought a rise in interest for the first couple years and interest has since waned. We have seen a big movement towards cut flower gardening. Houseplants still remain strong but the vast majority of consumers are looking for easy care. Pollinator-friendly and small space gardens are highly popular.

How do you engage with the local community and customers?

Over the years we have attended trade shows to bring exposure to our little garden centre and what we can offer. We are a meeting place for many. This past fall we hosted a garden club for an information day. Over the years we have had many school groups come through on tours and get to taste fresh herbs, transplant a cucumber to take home, or release ladybugs. We donate to many community events and give excess plants to the community gardens. We also engage with a strong social media presence on Facebook and Instagram. 

- Photo courtesy of Dig Garden Centre

What advice do you have for other businesses looking to adopt more sustainable practices?

Look into any grants being offered to swap out old lighting for new LEDs, as well as using light timers to save energy. Upgrade water heaters for on-demand. Look into solar. Using landscape fabric for pathways reduces weeds, time picking and the need for chemicals. Educate staff on watering plants to reduce losses. 

What have been the most significant challenges you've encountered, and how did you overcome them?

Staffing was a huge challenge industry-wide for the past three years. We were lucky enough to have a core group of dedicated team members seeing us through (although we worked no less than 12-hour days for months on end). Our team gives us feedback we take to heart, and we incentivise them with nice raises to come back the next season. We give bonuses with sales achievements, store discounts, flexibility, and there is always lots of food provided on busy days.

Soil, plant and stock shortages: We were luckily in a financial position to be able to start taking soil and hardgoods the year before, to ensure we were able to start our season full.  Some stores were not able to produce any annuals/vegetables because their pots were stuck in a shipping container and the soil was backed up for two months. We double booked trees and shrubs from several suppliers to ensure we had offerings, and even though there were shortages we did alright helping our customers with suitable substitutions.

Freight prices skyrocketed. We tried to keep our prices as stable as possible in hopes that freight would level out. When that didn’t happen the second year we needed to increase. We are finally seeing the market stabilize and stock is more readily available. We would never want to gouge any of our customers for a quick buck, because longevity is our goal.

Related articles

West Kootenay, Castlegar Celebrating Castlegar’s best in business

A recap of the Castlegar and District Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Business Awards.

East Kootenay, Golden, Creston, West Kootenay, Castlegar, Kaslo, Nelson, New Denver, Rossland, Salmo, Slocan, Trail, Environment Making clean energy commitments in the Kootenays

Thirteen communities across the Kootenays have now made a commitment to 100 per cent clean energy by 2050.

West Kootenay, Castlegar, Nakusp, Nelson, Revelstoke, Rossland, Slocan, Agriculture Market gardens and farms in the West Kootenay: Bringing fresh produce, meat and more to local tables

Throughout the West Kootenay area, local farms and food producers sell directly to the public through roadside stands and farmgate sales

View all Castlegar articles