Working in the City — A Bee-utiful Community

By Katie Faulkner (above) photos courtesy of Bees on a Bicycle, (above right) photo by Lanewood Studio

“Foster Community, Create Beauty”

Small plants on a display, quote, Cath Shaw Truelove owner of Bees on a Bicycle in Chattanooga

Approaching their first anniversary, Bees on a Bicycle has made a splash in the urban garden scene of Chattanooga. For founder, Cath Shaw Truelove, the dream is to become an integral part of the community. And that dream is swiftly being realized.

Cath has long harbored a love of small garden spaces. In fact, while earning her master’s degree in education, Cath opened a landscaping business in Washington D.C. called The Garden of Urban. This business emphasized the power of potent spaces by specializing in smaller landscapes. During her years in D.C., Cath also used gardening as a medium to teach elementary school-aged children math and science. “I’ve always loved teaching and helping people understand something new,” she says. Having also thoroughly enjoyed the lecture and public speaking aspects of teaching, she’s found ways to incorporate lessons and workshops into Bees. It seems that all of her background and experience forged the perfect path toward this newest endeavor.

“After grad school, I worked for a large grower who supplied big box store retailers’ garden centers. While there, I spent a lot of time talking to customers and trying to get a sense of what they wanted out of a garden center,” Cath explains. “They were always looking for something to really inspire them, and something that would last.” This experience and feedback helped her formulate the idea of a more personal, more authentic urban garden center – something unique that specialized in small spaces and offered educational opportunities to veteran and novice gardeners alike.

Ready to tackle her new idea, Cath and her husband began searching for a home in the South. They wanted a city ripe with entrepreneurial opportunity, a growing food and craft beer scene, and walkability. “Chattanooga was a great match for us really, so we chose it as home,” she says.

Next, they spent months undertaking what she calls ‘a nationwide tour of urban garden centers.’ “We were trying to get an idea of what was offered, and specifically what would work well in Chattanooga,” Cath says. With Google Maps as their guide, they hit garden center after garden center developing Cath’s vision.

After settling down in Chattanooga, Cath kept her eyes open for the best space to set up shop. She came across a little red building on Market Street in the Southside one day while helping a friend shop for a house. “I saw the auction signs up and just quietly tucked that information away,” Cath recalls. She won the auction, and they began revamping the space, which had formerly been a meat market, adding beautiful pale wood walls, unique gardening and botanical-related gifts and keepsakes, and local art.

They also added a well-supplied potting station for those who don’t have space in their apartment or townhouse to work with sacks of soil. “If you don’t have room at home to pot your own plants, we offer three options: We can create the whole installment for you, we can sell you just enough soil and supplies to pot it yourself at our potting station, or you can come in to pick your plants and pots and supplies to take home,” Cath explains.

Cath, or another expert, is always on hand to answer questions and assist with selections and creative activities. “The goal is for Bees to be a restful retreat that also has the resources for successful gardens.”

Cath is passionate about plants native to Tennessee and attempts to stock plants and accessories from local vendors. “Native plants are going to last and thrive here, as opposed to something with a lot of ‘bling’ that might be doomed to die in this region. My goal is to provide the appropriate plant varieties and education about how to take care of them,” Cath shares. Bees hosts workshops on everything from terrariums to shrubs (a type of drink) to hanging gardens, beekeeping basics, essential oils, and so much more.

In less than a year, Bees has already partnered with various companies around town for garden-scape installments (interior and exterior), in addition to three local universities on educational programs. Cath is now offering scheduled garden chats for more intensive training and help with personal gardens. “I want Bees to be a community center and the epicenter of education about native plants. I want it to be a place where people come together to figure out how to create more successful gardens.”

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