Ben Palmer-Ball has always been keen on gardening. When he was a kid, commercials for Paramount pickles (“It’s a dilly, a Paramount dilly!”) inspired him to grow bushels of cucumbers to sell at Paul’s Fruit Market in Chenoweth Square. For the past 11 years, that shopping center has been home to Digs, the store he opened to offer just about everything a garden enthusiast could want – except cucumbers.
A University of Virginia alumnus and an architect by profession, he worked for Yum! Brands, Inc. during the early part of his career. The corporation sent him to California in 1984; and for the next 15 years, he lived primarily in the Los Angeles area.
“Outdoor living is a way of life there; any space you have outside is an extension of your home,” he said. “I’m one of those people who need more than a balcony.”
When he returned to Louisville in 1999, he discovered that, although some stores sold outdoor furniture, no one seemed to cater to the whole outdoor lifestyle. That inspired him to open Digs in 2001, on the south side of the parking lot.
Word spread that he was filling that market niche with high-quality lines of all-weather furniture, including Brown Jordan, Gloster, and Summer Classics. Digs blossomed into a one-stop shop for just about anything that would enhance a porch, deck or patio – pots and planters, serving ware, lamps, lifelike artificial plants, and much more.
“For a while we did fountains, but there is maintenance involved. They have to be kept clean, and drained in winter,” he said. “Customers wanted full service when they bought fountains, but Digs really didn’t have the staff for that. Now we carry a few small fountains for terraces and similar settings.”
About six years after opening his first Digs, Ben opened a second one, on Main Street. However, its sales volume was only satisfactory, and the St. Matthews store consistently did a higher volume of business. Last October, when the current Chenoweth Square site became available, he closed both of the previous stores and consolidated their inventories under one roof.
“It’s good to have everything in one spot again,” he said. “I like the frontage on Chenoweth Lane, and the fact that we have lots of windows and a nice outdoor area.”
When Ben established his business, the selection of vendors and materials wasn’t nearly as wide as it is today. Aluminum furniture is far more popular than iron and steel versions, which rust. Upholstery choices once were limited to canvas and a few other fabrics; but today’s outdoor cushions can be covered with corduroy, chenille or other treated textiles.
“Everything we stock is outdoor-able,” he said. “A few accessories are more suited to a porch or other protected area, but all of our upholstery is fine for outdoors. The fabrics resist fading and damage from sun and water.” Even the area rugs are well-suited for outside use.
“When we have items that aren’t rated for full exposure, we advise customers about the best ways to protect them. Many places sell garden pots, but people don’t always know if they can stay out year-round,” he said. “When winter comes, it isn’t easy to move a planted-up pot indoors. The larger-scale planters and pots we buy are frost-proof for our market area.”
Ben still accepts architectural projects, and is happy to go to his customers’ homes to measure their outdoor spaces and use his trained eye to help them select the best furniture and accessories.
“It can be difficult to visualize whether something will work in an outdoor space. In a room, it’s a little easier to visualize scale,” he said. “I measure and do a drawing of the porch, terrace or other space, to give folks a comfort level for what they’re seeing. I charge a nominal fee; but if they buy something from Digs, it gets rebated and applied to the purchase. I enjoy doing that kind of work, because I love seeing things in place.”
Approximately 12 percent of Digs’ customers, Ben estimated, are people who want to work outside as well as relax there. Because they are serious about gardening and require high-quality tools, he always has a good variety on hand. Whatever the product, from trowel to table, he stands behind everything he sells.
“Digs gives me the opportunity to indulge my two passions – architecture and outdoor living,” he said. “Where else could I do that?”
Digs, 3905 Chenoweth Square, opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and opens at noon and closes at 4 p.m. Sunday; hours may be flexible on request. For more information, visit www.digshomeandgarden.com or phone 502.893.3447.