Marking two decades in business, the crew at Creative Water Gardens in Escalon celebrated the occasion by doing what they do best … working to help people make their yard an inviting, peaceful place to be.
When husband and wife Patrick and Deni Sullivan started the business 20 years ago, in the spring of 1996, they were located on a tiny piece of property along McHenry Avenue in Escalon that they eventually purchased.
Now, the business that looks nondescript from the front opens out onto a vast array of ponds, fountains and lush landscape. It’s at 19777 McHenry Ave., and you have to cross the railroad tracks to get into the parking lot. Though it is a little out of the way, Deni said customers have found it to be well worth the trip.
“We have the same property we started on,” Deni explained, noting that where there were originally greenhouses there now are water features that can help turn anyone’s yard into a mini oasis.
“My husband is a licensed landscape contractor, I am actually a social worker by trade,” explained Deni. “He was specializing in building ponds and waterfalls, and we started with four little ponds in the front. He would meet his crew here, potential customers would come and check it out … he always said we needed a niche.”
Creative Water Gardens found that niche and now has customers from around the United States.
“After I got my Masters in 1996, I actually did hospital social work for a few years, then I gave that up,” Deni said, moving on to join the business. “That’s when we brought the fountains and garden art.”
Deni now handles the ordering of supplies, oversees the staff, pays the bills and assists with layout and design. The couple’s daughter works there a couple of days a week as well and though husband Patrick no longer works at the Creative Water Gardens site, it is still very much a family-style operation.
“We have a small crew of four to five people who have been here, all of them, for 10-plus years,” Deni said. “We are kind of a family, everybody shares the passion, we work really hard.”
The shop added jewelry about a year ago and maintains an impressive collection of yard and garden art, along with the knowledge and ability to help craft the ponds and fountains.
Jim Jones has served as manager at the site for 14 years and Deni said all employees have their specialties, whether it’s working in the warehouse, doing sales, assisting customers and the like.
“There is a lot of work to do around here,” she said. “We have a very dedicated group of people.”
Over the years they have branched out, at one time running a wholesale distribution business – which they later sold – and last year started an online pond store.
“Our customer base is just from so far, if they need a little thing for their pond they are not going to drive here,” Deni said of offering the online sales.
They also host a variety of events, from free pond teaching seminars once a month to an annual ‘girls night out’ after hours, along with school and club tours. The business also offers free water testing and free fish disease diagnosing.
“We have a lot of groups come through here for tours,” said Deni. “We have had every imaginable garden club here, the Red Hats, school groups.”
Part of the attraction, Deni believes, is the one-on-one attention to customer needs and the ability to craft a unique plan for each.
“We are a water plant nursery, we have a wide variety of those,” she added. “Plus we get repeat customers, some people when they put in a pond, later on they want to build a second pond, or they want more fountains.
“We have a very loyal customer base; a lot of them have been with us for the long haul.”
Because of the unusual location, Deni said there could be some people that still don’t know the business is there – and it could be considered a hidden gem, just across the tracks.
Still, she is optimistic as she looks ahead.
“We are always adding new built in water features, new products, changing things around, to keep it fresh and alive, we continue to do what has worked for us the last 20 years,” Deni said. “We are California’s largest but we have been to trade shows all over the country. We are proud of the business, it’s a passion.”