Sneak Peek: Mari’s Gardens Expands Its Grow-Local Plant Business
Find plants, produce and green joy at the Sept. 1 soft opening of the new Kailua store.
We got a sneak peek of the new Mari’s Gardens in Kailua as the family-run business prepared for its Sept. 1 soft opening and found a store full of plants, pots and inspiration, along with supplies to nourish our greenery and our souls.
“We want to make it really easy to just get plants to people,” Mari Lau says. “I’m just trying to create someone’s happy place. A lot of people tell me all the time that taking care of their plants and getting more plants really helped them through challenging times.”
And for those of us who shopped there when Ko‘olau Farmers operated at the spot, we find familiar plants, citrus, Native Hawaiian plants and flowers and the same garden shop footprint. And much more, with a twist: a fresh layout, cute pots, produce, exotic plants, specialty nooks with all you need to design a succulent garden or a terrarium as well as more gifts, books, cards and garden tools, many either local or hard to find.
That combination of practical and playful comes from the Lau family, whom you might know from Fred Lau’s long career as a landscaper. Maybe you’ve purchased citrus trees from the 18-acre nursery in Mililani that the family’s owned since 2008. Or you might have discovered Mari’s Urban Garden in Kaka‘ako, where you found a polka-dot begonia in the cutest pot you own for your apartment. That store has been the brainchild of Mari Lau, Fred’s daughter, who weaves her own aesthetic into the business.
And, yes, Fred Lau named the business after his daughter when she was only 10 years old. He’s clearly delighted that she’s contributed her own inspiration and expertise to the growing business. “I call it farm-y chic,” he says with a broad smile, when we meet in Mililani as the Kailua store has begun to take shape.
Meanwhile, to get to our meeting in Mililani, I walk past the much-photographed giant cat statue. Fred shakes his head with another grin: “Who is crazy enough to build a house for a cat?”
His daughter explains some of the back story. “I went to college in San Francisco, and that’s where I get a lot of my inspiration for our garden shops,” Mari says. She also traveled to New York and Japan and picked up more ideas along her journey. In the stores, that translates to cow-themed pots, containers of just about every shape, color and texture. And there are beginner-friendly groupings of products—including a terrarium bar—to help even the most timid of gardeners find a plant that works for their place.
Back at Kailua, long wooden tables, built by Fred Lau, line the main store, ready for future plant workshops.
Yes, Edible Flowers
Brother Brendon had already found his passion was in growing the local produce side of the business, which continues to thrive. And that shows up at the new Kailua store in a large selection of lettuce, corn and edible flowers.
The Laus also continue to expand the website so people can browse through plants, produce and other items online before they schedule a visit. “So if we don’t have it available at a specific location that you want it to pick it up at, we can always transfer it from one of our other locations to that location,” Fred Lau explains. And to help with that, his other son, Tyler, specializes in business administration.
When Windward residents learned that the Ko‘olau Farmers location was for sale, many worried the property would be swooped up by a national chain, leaving no shop dedicated to plants in the neighborhood. Happily, another deeply rooted local company took over.
For the Laus, growing local continues to be their mission. Whether they’re helping veteran gardeners find the right potting soil or Native Hawaiian ground cover or “encouraging younger generations to grow their own food and know where their food is coming from,” Mari Lau explains.
What’s next? Mari Lau says the Kailua store will be finding its groove in the neighborhood. Could there be a giant cat or other big statues in the future? We’ll be watching.