August 3, 2022

Sacred Space Gardens (Season 4 Episode 30)

Maddie Poling of Sacred Space Gardens joins me to talk about her company’s sustainable garden services to commercial and residential customers, including designing, installing, and maintaining gardens as well as her new franchise model for gardeners around the United States to join in the first organic gardening business franchise.

Sacred Space Gardens Podcast Transcript

Stephanie Hansen 0:12
Hi, this is Stephanie Hansen. And you’re listening to the makers of Minnesota podcast where we talk to cool people doing cool things. And today we’re with Maddie polling. And she is the founder of sacred space gardens. And Maddie, I’m so excited to talk to you because I am a gardener myself. But I also really am intrigued by your business because you guys seem like you’re doing everything. So how long have you been in the gardening space?

Maddie Poling 0:40
Well, okay, so I started gardening when I lived in California, and that was in roughly 2015. And then I have been gardening since then. And sacred space gardens in 2018 became an actual business registered business. So that’s how I’m

Stephanie Hansen 1:01
okay, so you will go into people’s gardens and do like all the stuff, you’ll do the weeding, you’ll do the planning, you’ll do the planting. But you have like all this whole array of services. So like, I’ll admit, my first garden was very overwhelming because it was super large. So what I did is I hired someone to come and dig it all up and put all the mulch down. And then I did all the planting and the fun stuff, but like I had them put all the hardscapes and and everything and then they left. Like you really have it figured out where depending on whatever level of gardening you want, you can provide them.

Maddie Poling 1:39
Yeah, it depends on what they need in many regards. And we don’t we’ve actually recently stopped doing any hardscaping because it’s just not in our wheelhouse. And we really are striving to be experts in our field of really working with plant material and native plants particularly. So just honing in and focusing in on what we want to be the best at and it’s not hardscaping when I say hardscaping that is you know, we’re not doing decks or patios. We used to do gravel patios and gravel pathways and like stepping like flagstone patios, and we are just, we’ve ended that service. So now we’re solely focused on planting mulching, creating new garden beds, you know, cutting away grass to make room for more plants and more native

Stephanie Hansen 2:32
plants. Okay, so let’s talk about that, because I really thought I knew a lot about gardening. And then I moved into a house that had a native garden, completely native garden. And I’ve added some stuff, which I probably shouldn’t have, in retrospect, because now I know exactly why she had a native garden because there’s a deer trail through my yard. So you know that she planted things that were resistant to the deer, but help people understand what it means to have a native garden.

Maddie Poling 3:00
Yeah, so um, when you think of native plants, it we’re really talking about the perennials or the trees like so when I say perennial, it’s the plants that come back year after year. It’s the plants that are native to this region. And we’re in zone four in Minnesota. So that’s native plants that are native to Minnesota, and the the zones and the region that I’m talking about, actually, there’s a lot of different regions, but I’m specifically referring to the Twin Cities kind of general zone and area. So So native plants are native to this area. And the reason that we choose them is because they’re so well conditioned, through hundreds of 1000s of years to grow in this area. Native plants are better suited to the region because they have deeper root systems, they can tap into the groundwater, that means that they can survive longer, you know, through drought conditions, which we’re kind of having right now with the superheat in Minnesota, and then so they’re better at helping take the groundwater that you know when it rains and then sucking it down into the ground so that it goes into the ground because we don’t want stormwater runoff carrying chemicals and things into our waterways. So that’s one reason and then another reason is that they are pollinator plants, so they help wildlife.

Stephanie Hansen 4:33
I love it. So you go, you know you’re in California and your sounds like you’re a gardener, obviously. But like what made you decide that you were the person that could do this as a business because it’s such hard work? Yeah,

Maddie Poling 4:46
it is really hard work. And it’s a lot of expertise. So it took me years to develop that. So when I was in California, I was just waiting gardens part time when I was transitioning in between jobs. And then I every year just people ask me to do more and more. And then that goes with research and trial and error. And a lot of my clients had let me trial things that they had ideas for, that I had ideas for. And they either have the budget or the time to allow that. So it’s been really a very slow transgression, or what’s the word I’m thinking of transition transition. But it’s, I also took the Master Gardener course. And that really helps through the U of M extension they have, they have a wealth of information that they share there. So how long

Stephanie Hansen 5:39
is that course?

Maddie Poling 5:41
Um, I think it took three months, I believe.

Stephanie Hansen 5:47
And you so you now have this business? And how do you tell me about the name of your business? Is there any significance to your name?

Maddie Poling 5:56
You know, not particularly aside from that I’m just very, like spiritually connected to the earth. So it is a sacred space, and that we should treat it that way. But other than that, I thought it was a pretty name.

Stephanie Hansen 6:11
Talk about employees, because you obviously can’t do all this work yourself. How do you find employees? Or have you found that that’s been a pain point for you, because we’re hearing so many of these labor type jobs that require a physical effort, that they’re just having such a hard time finding people?

Maddie Poling 6:30
Yeah, I’ve heard that too. And in the spring, like the very, very end of winter, was difficult. Usually, I have a lot of applicants throughout that whole spring time. And I had, like one a week, which was very frightening for a while, but then, I don’t know, it just sped up all of a sudden, and now I still have applicants coming in. So it’s, I didn’t have a problem this year. But it was a little spooky in the spring, like early spring. And that was difficult. So you know, I feel I feel for the people that have jobs that are maybe a little less fun, because we do have a lot of fun in my work. And I think that attracts a lot of people to it. So

Stephanie Hansen 7:10
and do you only hire for the season? Also in the winter? You do not do this? Obviously? What do you do in the winter?

Maddie Poling 7:18
Yeah, so in the winter, it’s a lot of planning. So we do the winter planters all the way up until about Christmas time. And then I take a big break in January and kind of decompress to think about what happened in the season, you know, and planning for what can be better. And then we usually take a family vacation then. And then yeah, so I lose all of my employees, except for my office manager in the winter for roughly three months. And it’s really difficult to have to lose employees and hire them on again, but we do have something in the works to keep us employed all winter, which I’m guessing we can either talk about now or when you’re what is it? Okay? Um, so we’ve franchised, and that is being announced on July 5, like the official announcement, and not that people can’t know. And so our business is going to be available to other people all over the nation. And I’m just so excited to take them under my wing and help them make this happen for themselves and be a part of this community that I’ve started. And so that will definitely come with a lot of office work in the winter.

Stephanie Hansen 8:37
So this is one of the main reasons why I wanted to podcast with you, because I found your site, and I was looking at it. And then I thought, huh, a franchise model? And then I thought you were a franchise? But no, you’re starting a franchise for other people. So some let’s say someone is a gardener, and someone’s interested in expanding and having clientele. Is that what you would franchise for them or teach them how to do?

Maddie Poling 9:05
So we have a whole proprietary system that we’ve created and I’ve, over the winter have been developing with a franchise consulting company. And I took out a loan through women venture to develop the franchise. And it’s actually one of the biggest loans that they’ve ever given out. That’s a little nerve wracking, but they, they so they’ve helped me, the franchise consultants have helped me. And then I also have a franchise attorney who has a wealth of information on how to develop this. And I was really inspired by someone I went to high school with who franchised her company, face foundry. I don’t know if you know,

Stephanie Hansen 9:49
Oh, I sure do. Oh, Michelle Henry.

Maddie Poling 9:51
Yeah. So

Stephanie Hansen 9:52
you know, Michelle, so I do. She’s an amazing person and she started ramp, and then she had faced foundries. She’s been a guest on the program. Multiple times.

Maddie Poling 10:00
That’s great. And, you know, I, I knew her, you know, in high school a little bit, but we don’t, we don’t really know each other super well, but I just saw what she was doing. And I had been thinking about it for years. And I was like, That’s it, I’m gonna, I’m gonna do it. So yeah, so we have a whole proprietary system that we go through, and have a very in depth training that we go through to help them get started. And we have all the branded things that they need, and then offer ongoing support. And then that involves a lot of things but

Stephanie Hansen 10:35
because one, you know, gardening and garden nurse tend to be creative people. And one thing we know about creative people, and I would include myself in this class, is we aren’t necessarily good, always at the detail things or at the accounting things or we don’t spend our as much energy and get as much joy out of those things that aren’t creating. And I would think a franchise model really could appeal to some folks that just really want to get their hands into the garden.

Maddie Poling 11:07
Well, that’s true. I’m for these first few, I want them to be very entrepreneurial, because it’s going to be an adventure, diving into my first franchisees, but as a franchisor, I’m here we are here I have a leadership team are here to support them to succeed because their success is our success and so on. So really, you know, that’s right, that if they are gardeners and they want to garden, and they’re not so great at running a full fledged, profitable company, then this is a plugin sort of system. But yeah, like I said, the first few need to be here for helping develop us even further.

Stephanie Hansen 11:51
Yeah. And then as you grow, and you do this and other parts of the country, it’s kind of something that would exponentially grow a lot of franchises our services, so this makes sense in that regard. How much generally does a franchise cost?

Maddie Poling 12:11
Yeah, before that, that made me think of something that there are a lot of service based franchises, but there are no organic gardening franchises, except for in the UK, they’re all over England. Sure. Um, but there is not one and we are just, like raring and ready to go, because this is beyond Do you know, for our country to help the environment. And okay, so when the investment, the initial investment, the franchise fee is $30,000 There are other costs involved, like they do need to buy a truck, if they don’t already have one, they do need to have a space and it doesn’t it can be through their home, as long as they have enough room to be having the materials in the truck. And then it’s actually a pretty low threshold for getting into a franchise, you know, yeah, can grow up into, you know, hundreds of 1000s to millions for that initial investment, but I wanted to keep the threshold, our entry point low so that, you know, we can get this work done, we got to do it. We have to help the climate. What do you see

Stephanie Hansen 13:26
as a good person for a franchisee for you?

Maddie Poling 13:31
Yeah, I’ve given this a lot of thought over the past few months, um, you know, I foresee people who have been in working inside a lot and they want to be outside, they want to be more in charge of their own time. So a little more time freedom. They want to run a profitable business, you know, I can obviously franchisee franchisors cannot guarantee their franchisees can be profitable, but I can show them what I’ve done, and when I can help them do. So. Yeah, I mean, I foresee someone who’s potentially in corporate America and really wants to take hold of their life and do something good for the world.

Stephanie Hansen 14:17
You talked, you’ve talked a lot about the world and the planet and tell me that must be a real driving factor for you personally.

Maddie Poling 14:26
Yeah, um, that’s the biggest factor aside from you know, everyone needs money to live and this is some, this is a way that I can do that. And I have a lot of fun doing it. Aside from that, you know, it’s if we don’t take serious climate action as fast as possible, then my children don’t have a future here. I mean, it’s going to be inhospitable, sooner rather than later. And aside from that, you know, we are all connected to the earth and I don’t like to get too hippie dippie. Because I think that people tend to shy away and think that strange, but it’s the truth.

Stephanie Hansen 15:08
Well, and I think when you look at it from your livelihood and your perspective to have, I mean, I’m, I’ve been gardening, you know, probably 25 years, and it’s changing, you know, the amount of water that’s required is changing the amount of plants that do well in Twin Cities is changing. You know, I have three, four, actually, I have four gardens, and three of the four have those Asian jumping worms or the jumping worms that, you know, we didn’t even know about those. And we’ve seen the invasion of the beetles, and a lot of these paths that really have become more and more pervasive over time. And a lot of that has to do with climate change, obviously.

Maddie Poling 15:53
Yeah, and the invasive plants that have completely taken over. I mean, I’m just saying in the Twin Cities, because this is what I’m driving around town every day, all day. It’s, it’s terrible. They’re completely the invasive plants are due to human development, and climate change is exacerbating all of it. So it’s really hard to see. And I know that we can change that. And I know that the guy running through your yard with a mower and a sprayer spraying fertilizer or chemicals, with a gas powered mower is archaic. It’s the opposite way that we should be going. And not to say that those mowers or whatever, don’t have a place in our world, maybe they do but not as the norm not as the the major maintenance for all of our facilities throughout the entire world.

Stephanie Hansen 16:49
Yeah, we live we moved this year or two years ago, I guess, into an oak forest. And I’d never really, I love oak trees, and I grew up around oak trees, but I’ve never really had the intensity of wow, these trees have a lot of things that come with them the leaves, number one, the detritus that they leave in the spring, the eight quart like there’s every season of an acre of an oak tree, there’s some residual something that I’m dealing with and having to figure out. And so we got our blower for the first time and my husband got a battery pack blower because I didn’t realize how much diesel fuel and how much those blowers are really contributing to the environment in a not so great way.

Maddie Poling 17:36
Yeah, I mean, it’s there’s no regulation on them. And they they spew out as much as a big truck, like a like a 210 two ton truck, which is a huge truck. And that’s amazing. For those that means that there’s really no filter, nothing and no, I feel bad for the workers that sit on Memorial Day or sit, you know, or have the gas powered blowers or doing the chemicals. I mean, they’re really endangering their lives completely. So it’s, it’s it has to change and the environment is a huge driver to this franchise model and what we’re trying to do.

Stephanie Hansen 18:14
So do you deal with things like buckthorn creeping charlie, there’s a mustard green. That’s pretty invasive? And is the solution to just pull all those out by hand?

Maddie Poling 18:28
Yeah, right. Now, a lot of times the best solution is pulling and then reap pulling and really out competing with other plants that are native here. And if you’re if you’re not planting native than something that’s beneficial to our region, and isn’t going to cause damage. So that takes a little research if you’re not hiring someone who is experienced in picking up the kinds of plants.

Stephanie Hansen 18:55
Well, I’m excited to talk to you, I can’t wait to talk to you in like two years to because you’re right on the cusp here of starting this. So I always like to go back and talk to makers down the road and see like if their dreams came to fruition, and seem like a really driven person, and I’m excited to see what people have in store for you and what your clients will bear bringing along as you grow this business. How do you want people to reach out to you what’s the best way if they need help either in the garden or if they want to franchise?

Maddie Poling 19:30
Yep. So the best way is through our website, and the franchise has a contact page that’s different from our regular contact page. You can see that all on the website and it’s sacred space. gardeners.com

Stephanie Hansen 19:44
Okay, Maddy, thank you so much for joining me and I appreciate you joining me in this epic garden season.

Maddie Poling 19:51
Yes, no, I know. I drove right from a garden site and I’m still sweating.

Stephanie Hansen 19:56
Yeah, I understand. I hear Yeah, we’ll talk soon.

Maddie Poling 19:59
Thank you. Oh,

Stephanie Hansen 20:00
Okay bye bye

Transcribed by https://otter.ai