By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
It’s the end of an era, as Fockele Garden Company closes after 33 years
02012023 FOCKELE 2.jpg
Fockele Garden Company founder Mark Fockele and President Julie Evans visit a garden they created Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center North Patient Tower. The Gainesville landscape design and maintenance business has closed after more than three decades. - photo by Scott Rogers

There’s green-thumb gardening, making plants grow and flowers bloom.

And there was Fockele Garden Company, which used plants, walkways and water features to create an Eden-like setting for their many clients over 33 years, before closing this week with the retirement of its owner, Julie Evans.

“The niche we really had was our plant knowledge, the ability to make a garden instead of a standard landscape, the common thing around,” she said.

02012023 FOCKELE 6.jpg
Anne’s garden adjacent to North patient tower that has since been removed for hospital expansion. Photo Courtesy Fockele Garden Company

Founder Mark Fockele, she added, “developed a niche for making waterfalls look like they’ve been there for a hundred years. That’s one of the things people came to us for.”

And Fockele Garden responded with projects throughout the area and beyond, such as the Pope Family Garden and Anne’s Garden at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville.

Anne’s Garden “was a real highlight, because that launched us into the donor gardens,” Evans said. “I was really proud of that one.”

Fockele nodded, saying he could “sign on to that” project as a favorite, as well.

“It kind of turned the corner for us in handling that kind of job,” Evans continued. “We worked for other companies in the health care industry, developing gardens for them.”

Evans, 60, and Fockele, 69, spoke to The Times this week about the business’ history — how it was founded, how it grew and how the pair became collaborators.

It began with Fockele, son of the late Lou Fockele, longtime publisher of The Times, deciding on a drastic career change.

He had practiced law for 10 years, “but what I really enjoyed was outdoor construction and gardening at my house,” he said. “I found that I was obsessed with that. As soon as it started turning daylight, I was out in the driveway waiting for the sun to come up.”

“With his overalls and shovel,” Evans chimed in with a laugh.

“I just decided I would likely find that a more fulfilling activity for the rest of my life, and so I made the switch and hired a couple of guys and learned as I went along.”

02012023 FOCKELE 7.jpg
Fockele designed Connor Garden, a public garden in Dahlonega Photo Courtesy Fockele Garden Company

He jumped headlong into the new venture, going to “a lot of seminars on gardening and landscaping, and I learned about each piece as the need arose.”

The business “developed step by step, incrementally from certain kinds, sizes and varieties of gardens to sometimes bigger gardens and sometimes intricate ones, some tame and institutional gardens to sometimes more wild and unkempt, natural-style gardens.”

Fockele met Evans on an artificial stream project in 2000 in North Atlanta.

“I was hired to do the stream — it was about 100 feet long and lots of stone involved — and Julie was brought in to design, install and manage the planting,” Fockele said.

“We found that we worked really well together, and we looked for additional projects to do together,” he added.

“I really wanted to learn what he was doing,” Evans recalled. “I remember sitting on the (customer’s) porch eating lunch when we talked about maybe we should work together.”

Over the years, the business handled many residential and commercial projects, including Lanier Village Estates retirement community in North Hall, Callaway Gardens in Middle Georgia and the Freedom Garden at the Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville.

During the Great Recession of 2007-08, “the commercial work is really what saved the business,” Evans said. “Commercial work was still going on, but people really weren’t doing residential gardens. That’s when we really ramped up our health care, therapeutic gardens and had several big customers besides the hospital.”

The business’ design and installation of the Wilheit-Keys Peace Garden at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center earned the company a national award in 2012.

“Another thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we built a team that could produce this kind of work,” Fockele said.

Fockele, beset with some health problems, sold the business to Evans three years ago.

“It was getting to be enough for me,” he said. 

But he remembers it fondly.

“The thing I miss the most is bringing together the customers’ interests and wishes, the possibilities of the site, the capabilities of the crews and the quality of the plants available on the marketplace,” Fockele said.

He went on to describe the workplace as a place of wonder, “an array of interesting plants that complement each other … in the color of the foliage, and the suitability of the plant for the sun and shade conditions of the site.”

The job has its stresses, though, Evans said. 

“There’s a constant pressure of production … and frustration over so many aspects of what the industry is becoming, with the lack of materials, plants available and people,” she said. “It’s a difficult small business environment.”

For her part, Evans is ready to begin retirement and travel.

But she shared some of the feelings as Fockele had about leaving such work — and fellow workers — behind.

“It’s been extremely rewarding to bring all those things together and basically make something happen,” she said. “We have had such fantastic customers who stayed with us and did projects for years and years.”

“We had a lot of fun,” Evans said, glancing at Fockele. “We had a good run.’

02012023 FOCKELE 1.jpg
Fockele Garden Company founder Mark Fockele and President Julie Evans visit a garden they created Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center North Patient Tower. The Gainesville landscape design and maintenance business has closed after more than three decades. - photo by Scott Rogers
02012023 FOCKELE 4.jpg
Freedom Garden at the Northeast Georgia History Museum was designed by Fockele Garden Company. Photo Courtesy Fockele Garden Company