Gardening to Earth

cool new garden center humbly started with a 12 year-old

Matt Ledger, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

NOTHIN’ MUCH GOING ON. JUST HANGIN’ WITH THE PETUNIAS. Ben Polzin co-owns the Down to Earth Garden Center (6025 Arndt Lane, Eau Claire) with his mother Sandi.

If I hadn’t known that Highway 93 was right behind me, I would’ve sworn I was in the yard of a backwoods cabin. That’s how convincing the atmosphere is at the Down to Earth Garden Center. Down to Earth is a “full-line garden center that blends basic rustic appeal with a little modern flair,” says co-owner Sandi Polzin. “It was built on a family’s dream and a lot of sweat and tears and prayers and hard work.”

That hard work started when Sandi’s son, Ben, was just 12 years old and petitioned his father, John, to let him start working outdoors. “It was just something to keep me busy,” says Ben, now 25. “We originally did some landscape and lawn care. We then slowly developed into more and more landscaping, and to coincide with that my cousin, Dominic, and I started growing more plants to supply the landscape company.”

As customer demand for the plants grew, Ben found that he loved growing them, and that he loved dealing with customers. This prompted the Polzin family to merge their two businesses together into the first Down to Earth Garden Center, located in Cadott. When the opportunity to open another location in Eau Claire presented itself, the Polzins decided “to jump on it,” says Ben, “and bring something a little bit different to the area.”

Down to Earth is certainly a little bit different. Upon moving in, the Polzins completely excavated the grounds and turned them into what Sandi calls “a total garden experience” that aims to send customers back in time. “We love that days-gone-by appeal,” says Sandi, “and we wanted to take it to another level here at our Eau Claire location.” The actual design of the center, which includes numerous branching pathways and a greenhouse sporting a wooden entranceway, reflects that attitude and was handled entirely by the Polzin family themselves, something that comes naturally to them.

    “Ben is amazing at drawing the layout,” says Sandi, “I add a lot of my flavor. But really, I think it’s a team effort. The four of us, John and I and Ben and Dominic, together we create the full shopping experience. We want it to look good, feel good, sound good, smell good.” The goal is to let customers know, even when they’re just driving by, that Down to Earth is something unique “that is worth turning around for,” says Sandi. “There is really nothing quite like this in the Valley.”

The Polzins have even gone so far as to create a potting bench where customers can pot the plants they’ve just picked out, and they’ve installed a coffee shop in their retail store. “We wanted our customers to feel free to take their time here and just spend some time looking around,” says Ben. “I want every customer to feel they’re our favorite,” says Sandi, “because they are. They know that and it draws them towards us. When you have customer service like this that goes above and beyond, they will come. And they will tell their friends.”

Of course, the Polzins are not content with Down to Earth as it currently stands. Sandi says, in the future, the center plans to offer classes, provide private business and non-profit shopping experiences, and even bring in tour bus groups. In addition, the family recently created a video that will be running on HGTV. The garden center itself may be Down to Earth, but it seems that the Polzins’ dreams for it are as big as can be.

    Down to Earth Garden Center • 6025 Arndt Lane, Eau Claire • 833-1234 •