When the late Mario Canale opened the famous Fig Garden store in San Anselmo in 1973, it was a plant store with plant specimens popular with architects and designers.
Lesley Madison, the designer’s widow, continued to run it after his death in 1992, but this month sold the shop that has been in the family for nearly 50 years to new owner Patricia Richards.
“It’s time,” Madison said. “There are things I wanted to do, and after 30 years, I would like to do them. And it’s always good to end on a high note.
Fig Garden will, she says, live on in the hands of Richards, who plans to keep staffers Linda Koros and Lorraine Bossi, who have been there for 25 years and 11 years, respectively.
“They understand the vision and we worked together as a team,” Madison says. “I will miss them.”
Fenwick, her rescued Bichon Frize who worked alongside her for seven years, will not stay. “He’s my one and only,” she said. “He definitely brings hospitality and magnetism to his work and he is adored all day by our UPS delivery man, the postmen and of course the neighboring traders and customers. He will miss it.
The store’s name was a nod to Canale’s early gardening success as a child in his multi-generational Italian family home in West Berkeley. The garden of the house was dedicated to fruit trees and vegetables, but Canale wanted to plant flowers.
“His grandfather was tough and told Mario that nothing would grow under the fig tree,” Madison explains. “Mario persevered and planted flowers under the fig tree, where they thrived.”
And, although Fig Garden started as a plant store, it has evolved over the years, offering not only plants but also kitchen utensils, coffee beans, Japanese knives and unusual Japanese and Danish bowls like basic elements.
“Right after he died, I wanted to continue his vision, keeping his aesthetic and his design,” says Madison. “I later expanded his vision to include furniture, clothing, and other gift items. And I always wanted to have a place where people would enjoy a friendly, thoughtful shopping experience.
The store survived two floods, the 2008 recession, the village’s arrival at the Corte Madera Mall, and the abandonment of downtown San Anselmo. “And, of course, COVID has revamped the shopping experience,” she says. “But the shining part of our history is our customers who have always been curious about what’s going on in the store.”
This proved invaluable once online shopping became popular.
“Customers love coming to see the products, feel the quality and experience the unexpected,” she says. “I source my products from gift shows in New York, Paris, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Linda, Lorraine and I also have our antennae for new objects found during our travels. All this makes the shop unique.
Pat Friday, who used to live in Corte Madera but now resides in Saint Helena, discovered Fig Garden in the late 1980s when she bought a small, sleek pair of scissors that she still treasures today because of their design .
“Fig Garden has been my go-to place for shopping for unique gifts and homewares for many years,” says Friday. “When it’s so hard to make a big retail store shine, Lesley did it.”
Madison is grateful to customers like Friday who have frequented the store over the years.
“It has been important to me, the daily heartfelt kindnesses of those who come to the store. I hope the community will continue to support Fig Garden.
If you have a beautiful or interesting Marin garden or a newly designed Marin house, I would love to hear about it.
Please send an email describing one (or both), what you like best, and a photo or two. I will publish the best in the next columns. Your name will be published and you must be over 18 and a resident of Marin.
PJ Bremier writes on home, garden, design and entertainment topics every Saturday. She can be contacted at PO Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at [email protected]