- Cullman, Alabama

January 27, 2013

Overcoming challenges, finding success

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — For Karen McCluskey, life hasn’t always been a bed of roses, but she has turned those thorny events in her experience into a beautiful garden — a candle garden.

She does, in fact, have roses, too. They are planted alongside the new store that she and her husband of 33 years, Greg McCluskey, opened in a renovated historical home at 118 5th Street S.E., Cullman, Alabama.

Karen’s resilience in the face of adversity has amazed her family, friends and loyal customers for years. She survived a stroke, heart surgery, breast cancer and some other problems.  She has rebounded on every front.

“I am looking at this cancer as just another battle in a war that I am determined to win,” she wrote in her blog when the news of her cancer was released. “I am fighting this with a vengeance and see this as an opportunity to rest and refresh my creative mind. I covet all of your prayers and ask that you please continue to lift me up as I go through medical decisions, surgery and recovery.”

That’s the same kind of attitude she has shown through every roadblock, every hardship, and each twist and turn in her life.

An artist/instructor, candle crafter, business woman, wife, mother of two sons, and three grandchildren, she always has a ready smile and a kind word for everyone she meets. Her business, now in its third location, is a draw to the city from all over the southeast.

The Candle Garden, located in what has always been referred to by the locals as “the green house on the corner,” was heavily damaged by the April 27, 2011, tornado. Owner Garlan Gudger was determined that it should be repaired and renovated in spite of the damage. His unique and savvy brand of architectural design has given the historical landmark a new lease on life — once again it is known as “the green house on the corner.”

Karen has added her own signature touches with shrubs, flowers and whimsical artwork in the pocket garden alongside the house. A rustic iron gate and fence compliment the home with it’s fresh new paint, glossy white trim and lots of interesting contents which have prompted passersby to stop and investigate what’s going on here.

Inside, Gudger used as much of the original trim and flooring as possible. Vintage touches like a curved staircase and a rustic peaked upstairs ceiling in the studio where Karen holds art classes make for a wonderful ambiance. Downstairs the showrooms are bright, airy, and filled with Karen’s homespun artwork and carefully crafted vignettes using burlap, old cabinet doors, metalwork, trendy signs and of course, candles.

Here you will find over 80 different scents of hand-poured candles in all shapes and sizes. Floral, botanical and citrus aromas greet each visitor to The Candle Garden. In addition to those, you will also discover warm, cozy scents like vanilla hazelnut and their best seller of all time, Smoke Out Spice. This signature scent has the unique ability to rid a room of almost any odor imaginable, such as wood smoke, cooking smells, dog and cat scents, and mildew. People come from all over the southeast to purchase these popular candles.

Karen also stocks brand name candles, gourmet foods like connoisseur mustards and barbecue sauces, dips, pickled okra, candied jalepeños and pickled asparagus, which Karen says is scrumptious.

The Candle Garden gift baskets are always a big hit with their recipients. The baskets, wrapped lavishly in see-through cellophane, contain goodies ranging from sparkling grape juice, and heavenly-scented bath salts to decadent chocolates, delicious foods and romantic candles of every description. Karen will even design your custom-made basket, just tell her what you would like to include. These gifts make perfect Valentines, Mother’s Day or birthday presents Prices start at $10 and the sky is the limit. “We even deliver within the city limits,” said Karen.

Greg has filled the store with an array of custom-crafted, painted furniture. Benches, armoires, cabinets and shelves hold Karen’s artful displays. These two talented people make a wonderful team. In a world where there is little chance for most couples to spend enough time together, the McCluskeys have found a way to combine their work and personal lives.

Being in business is tough sometimes. The economy has been in a slump over the past few years. Cullman business owners were slammed by the tornado, but through it all the McCluskey’s have survived.

The new store has been a challenge, moving is never fun, but it was the right decision for The Candle Garden. “The new location is wonderful,” said Karen. “The response has been amazing, much better than we ever expected.”

Christmas Open House saw the crowds of familiar faces as well as new ones filling the rooms. “It was phenomenal,” she smiled.

Karen has big plans for this spring. There will be classes on mosaics, painted stepping stones, and many other fresh ideas for home and garden décor. Karen will be happy to hold custom classes for any projects where there is a demand. “People bring me ideas all the time,” she explained. “I can always tailor them to fit into a class.”

To sign up for classes, or for information on store hours, contact The Candle Garden at 256-739-9702, or visit them on Facebook at The Candle Garden. You can also find them at info@candlegardencullman.