Vail: A Secret Garden celebrating its 15th anniversary |

Vail: A Secret Garden celebrating its 15th anniversary

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

Susan Rapson is well into her second career these days.

Rapson, the owner of A Secret Garden in Vail, had been a teacher at Vail Mountain School for 19 years when, in 1995, she decided to buy Blossoms and Bric-a-Brac from Jim Stephenson.

Rapson renamed the store A Secret Garden, an homage to the book of the same name she regularly read to her fourth-grade students.

“I thought it had a magical component that would draw people into the shop,” Rapson wrote in an e-mail.

These days, A Secret Garden has evolved from a flower shop to what Rapson calls “a more upscale garden gift shop.”

Rapson recently took some time to answer a few questions about A Secret Garden’s past, present and future.

Vail Daily: You put in a long career as a teacher. Why did you go into retail?

Rapson: I loved my time spent as a teacher, but was ready for change. I originally was going to do just a gift store, but than an opportunity to buy Blossoms and Bric-a-Brac came up, so we went forward with that purchase.

At that time my only experience with flowers had been planting window boxes and maintaining them for some of the early business owners in Vail. In the early ’70s I was a new teacher and needed to supplement my income, so did the flowers for the Red Lion, Byron Brown Real Estate, and the Deli in Vail Village during the summers of 1974 and 1975. When we purchased the flower shop I was lucky enough to hire very competent floral designers and learned about cut flowers and arranging from them.

Vail Daily: Gardening can be hard at our elevation. Why do you think so many locals are attracted to it?

Rapson: After our long winters, everyone is ready for spring and color. Gardening has become a passion for many people in the mountains because it is challenging. It takes learning about high altitude plants and what particular species can survive our cool nights. The cool nights that we have here are what contribute to the vibrancy in color of our bedding plants and hanging baskets.

Vail Daily: How has high-elevation gardening changed in the time you’ve been in the business?

Rapson: I think becoming familiar with High Altitude Seed Trust has helped me and others become more familiar and comfortable with gardening at 8150 feet above sea level. They are a company that has devoted themselves to preserving seeds grown from countries like Siberia and making them available to the public. They are in Idaho and always ready to answer your questions.

I think people are also motivated to have their own vegetable gardens so they can feel better about what they are eating. Organic seeds and plant material make for a healthier life style. Many of us are paying more attention to the “slow food movement” and trying to buy locally. The popularity of Farmers’ Markets all over Colorado demonstrate peoples’ desire to pay more attention to fresher food. I planted a small community garden where I live and it surprised everyone how many people it could feed, not to mention a few deer and prairie dogs.

Vail Daily: Aside from gardening items, how do you decide what gifts and other items to carry?

Rapson: The gifts and accessories carried at the store have evolved from simpler garden lines to more elegant, high end products. We have a wide range of accessories ranging from botanical candles, Italian pottery, French tablecloths to socks and mittens made from recycled shirts and sweaters. Our Christmas season in the store has a special look that now attracts people from all over Colorado. Our decorations have mainly a vintage look and remind people of Christmases when they were young.

Going to market and trying to find fresh, new merchandise is always challenging, but one of my favorite jobs at A Secret Garden. Barbie Christopher, a long-time friend and part-time employee, has gone with me to New York and Atlanta for the last five years. Having another “eye” has really helped me find unusual and new products.

Vail Daily: What has you excited about the next year or three for your business?

Rapson: I am particularly excited to work with brides and their families in planning their wedding flowers. This aspect of our business has grown tremendously in the past five years and I am anticipating that growth to continue. It’s always a pleasure to work with people that are excited and happy about their life.

With the opening of Solaris, the Four Seasons, and the new Ritz Carlton , I am looking forward to increased visibility and business. Having the World Championships in 2015 will only help all of us in the Vail and Beaver Creek communities.

I continue to be grateful for all the new friends and opportunities this business has allowed me.

Support Local Journalism