- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

If it’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Joe Carmack and his staff aren’t doing their jobs. . Mr. Carmack is the owner and designer for Garden District, a nursery and garden center at 14th and S streets NW. This week, Mr. Carmack and his staff are decking halls with boughs of holly.

“With everything we do for Christmas, I don’t think I’d want to spend it any other way. We get to make Christmas special for other people,” Kevin Miller, Mr. Carmack’s floral and store display designer, explained as he was spearing kumquats and attaching them to a styrofoam cone.

The tiny fruits will form a tree-shaped topiary for a house on the St. Albans Christmas House Tour, a fund-raiser for the private school. This year, the tour is in the stately Spring Valley neighborhood, near American University.

“We’re not doing this on a small scale. We’re doing the whole house,” Mr. Carmack said.

Mr. Carmack also is outfitting a home on the Logan Circle Victorian Christmas House Tour, which runs this weekend.

Even though the weather outside is frightful, this month is a busy time for the garden center, which also sells trees and other holiday trimmings.

“People want something that’s alive,” Mr. Carmack said.

Designing and decorating the homes on the tours is a kind of advertising to attract new customers.

Mr. Miller wants the house to look festive but doesn’t want to clash with the summery colors of the furniture.

“That was the design challenge,” he said.

For the Spring Valley home, he and Mr. Miller are creating original arrangements of the little fruits, flowers, urns, wreaths, garlands and ornamental shrubs.

Americans like their little fruits, flowers, urns, wreaths, garlands and ornamental shrubs.

Eighty-five million U.S. households spent $39.6 billion at lawn and garden retail outlets in 2002, according to the National Gardening Association. More than 24.7 million households spent $28.9 billion on professional landscape, lawn and tree-care services.

Through the past five years, average annual spending has grown by about 4 percent per year, the association reported.

For Mr. Carmack, 37, a native of Austin, Texas, and a graduate of George Washington University’s landscape-design program, that steady market means his store has doubled its business in the year and a half since he opened.

Washington presents an urban environment of small apartments and limited space for gardening. Mr. Carmack works with the landscape, selling a lot of indoor pottery in addition to plants and flowers, and specializing in rooftop gardens, window boxes, paths, walkways and arbors.

The operation, he said, is really two businesses: retail and design.

“Retail is the number one force. The store gave us an establishment,” he said. Customers can take home what they find in the store or get ideas for designers to execute.

“The fun part is getting to work with all of this stuff. We’re surrounded by pretty things,” Mr. Carmack said.

“Sometimes when we have a problem, it’s a nice problem — which color do we want, which vase. At the same time, we take it seriously. It is a businesses,” he said.

This holiday season is the second-busiest of the year, after spring. Mr. Carmack in June started ordering plants and flowers for Christmas, and now is placing orders for Valentine’s Day.

The company also is working on a display for the Washington Home and Garden Show in March.

“We’re always thinking three or four months ahead,” Mr. Carmack said.

But this week he and his helpers have visions of, if not sugarplums, at least kumquats dancing in their heads.

Mr. Carmack is helping Mr. Miller with the topiary, stabbing the miniature oranges with toothpicks so that they adhere to the foam form.

“There is nothing about this job I don’t like,” Mr. Carmack said.

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