Beer Gardens: A Missed Opportunity for Plantscapers

Perhaps I’ve been very sheltered when I assumed a Beer Garden meant people sharing a few kegs of ale in the backyard.

A few years ago, while I was partaking in Jacksonville’s largest Blues Festival — for the first time, saw a “Beer Garden” sign. I envisioned this beer garden with fountains spouting golden streams of ale, brilliant pink and purple bougainvillea hanging from white marble columns while people dipped their mugs into different kinds of October Shanty surrounded by exotic tropical foliage. With this vision in mind, I looked everywhere for the Jazz Festival’s beer garden and never found anything resembling it. Maybe I missed it with the thousands of people crowding the streets? The only possible beer garden I noticed was a small portable fountain, featuring a few potted plants at the base with hay bales placed in the shade. I realized this could be a new business opportunity.

Beginnings of the Biergarten

Once again, I must be somewhat sheltered since I assumed this was a modern day concept. As I started doing research, I learned beer gardens are far from being new. And, Jacksonville’s Blues Festival version of a beer garden was much closer to the authentic German Biergarten (beer garden) than mine. The birth of the garden evolved in the sixteen hundreds from what German’s call the Bavarian Brauordnung. It was a law that stopped the brewing process during the late spring and summer months since this was a very dry part of the year and the intense heat from breweries could potentially start fires. Due to this situation, the German brew masters discovered the fermenting process was a much higher quality during cooler temperatures. With this discovery, breweries dug large cellars to keep the supply going during the banned season. They put ice on the barrels below and from above they would plant broad leafed chestnut trees to keep the land cooler. At that time, breweries sold to the public as well as to businesses, so naturally people gravitated under the majestic chestnut trees, drinking their cheap, fresh beer. Taking advantage of man’s affinity towards the trees, breweries began to create park areas with gravel pathways and picnic tables. And thus, you have the birth of the beer garden in 1812.

The Rub

Due to local tavern outcry over the popularity of these gardens taking away their profits, once again, the government prohibited breweries from growing into anything more than picnic areas where you can buy and consume beer without food service. This historic compromise between vendor and retailer are why beer gardens never evolved into anything greater. Lucky for the taverns of today, breweries still prospered despite this agreement and now the tables have turned. Food and beverage establishments are taking this simplistic concept and developing it further themselves. The new and improved biergartens are popping up across the country. Now is the perfect time to join the growing trend.

Finding Biergartens Opportunities

It’s seems very ironic that not two weeks after I finished writing this blog, I happened to pick up one of the free local magazines and saw an article about a local microbrewery adding a roof top beer garden in the upcoming months. Before the first tree or bush gets planted, there is an opportunity to get involved with the project by providing the owners your invaluable knowledge of the right plants to use, the best outdoor planters to select, and offering the brewery with a hassle free maintenance program. Even if they hired a landscape architect and have a final design, there is always room for add on sales such as annual containers and a specialized garden experience with herbs that the chef can choose from. I’ve found many of the big landscape companies generally don’t have the desire to service smaller outdoor spaces or even have staff trained to care for topiaries, containers, and flowers. This is where I’ve had clients hire me for the detail work and leave the general lawn care to landscapers.

Your best beer garden opportunities are local microbreweries, but any food establishment that serves beer and has an outdoor space can be approached with a beer garden concept that will enhance their atmosphere and draw in more customers. Having a lush garden area and offering patrons the choice between dining inside or out will only enhance a restaurants business as well as yours. Because this trend is becoming very popular, in order to complete, it’s important to have an aesthetically pleasing garden area designed and maintained by professionals in our industry.  No longer will a picnic table under a tree be memorable enough to captivate your clientele. To compete with the commercial gardens of today, besides providing good beer and food, having a unique beautiful garden experience is also required.

Potential Beer Garden Spaces

From photo galleries I’ve seen, popular restaurants with patio space tend to be in the more established, eclectic parts of town. Old brick buildings with a rooftop space, converted homes in the middle of town, or even buildings with a large alleyway next door are some unique opportunities to approach.

In warm states like Florida, the late spring and summer months can be so humid and brutal. Only a handful of people may be able to tolerate the outdoors no matter how great the beer is.  Therefore, choosing locations along waterways with cross breezes or large shade covered areas with massive establish trees make for more comfortable gardens that are also easier to maintain. Even with these advantages, selecting containers with sub-irrigation mixed with drought tolerant, hardy foliage will keep your labor and material costs down.

An art district in your service area, such as New York’s Chelsea area, is also a prime opportunity for these garden projects since people tend to gravitate towards aesthetically pleasing spaces.  Restaurants located in an art district will most likely allow you to really go outside the box and create unique gardenscapes with very modern designs. Using your imagination to design a patio with unique foliage and containers is a rare occasion for me. So when I am able to stretch my creativity, it’s a very rewarding experience.

Potential Locations:

  • Historic District Restaurants
  • Rooftop Spaces
  • Converted Homes
  • Alleyways
  • Water Locations
  • Art Districts

Add On Sales

This is where the opportunity is wide open to raise the beer garden standard…at least the standard I’ve seen so far. Add on sales are always good for your profits. Offering accent lighting, fountains, and accessories can vamp up your garden two-fold. Edison bulbs strung across the canopy and up lighting on tree branches are just a few examples of the choices we have now. I once approached a rooftop garden area with the idea of installing year-round LED lights in their large lugustrum trees. Since the owners were already turning the lights on and off for every special event, I saved them valuable time as well as the added benefit of having a beautifully lit atmosphere throughout year. If the space lacks a pop of color, I’ve seen umbrellas in all different shades hung upside down which not only creates a unique ceiling structure but also reduces sun heat. Using Japanese lanterns the same way can add unexpected color. Once again, with the advent of the Victorian era, people started growing plants in ornate decorative containers instead of the traditional clay pot. Lucky for us, you don’t have to be part of the social elite to find great modern replicas that are much lighter, are weatherproof, and more resistant to cracking. I can’t stress enough in the use of sub-irrigation before you plant anything. Outside when heat indexes can be over a hundred, your plants can wither faster than you can pour a pitcher. If you want to save yourself or staff many extra hours of work just to keep your plants alive, offer planters with sub-irrigation or water crystal soil additives. As with our enormous choice of plant containers, there is a water fountain to match any atmosphere. To me, there is nothing more soothing to my senses then hearing the sound of water rushing or even trickling into a basin below. And if it happens to be beer instead, that could be the perfect accessory.

Add on Sales Opportunities:

Ever since my beer garden disappointment two years ago, I’ve always wanted the opportunity to create a beer garden area. I feel such a strong connection inside me when I’m around nature and to be able to share this with others makes it all the greater. Give me the stars above, amazing trees with their roots dug way below, while sharing a tasty brew around a fire pit, and I’m in heaven.

Featured image by Martin Falbisoner

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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