The staff at Smith & Hawken in Edina's Galleria mall put on their game faces Wednesday afternoon, even as they were given the worst possible news: The upscale gardening store will start liquidating inventory Friday, and will close for good as soon as everything's sold.

Managers found out in a 1 p.m. conference call that all 56 Smith & Hawken stores will close by the end of the year.

The website, catalog and call centers will be shut down Friday, and gift cards will be honored through the liquidation, according to the chain's parent company, lawn-care giant Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. of Marysville, Ohio.

The lingering recession choked sales at the luxury gardening retailer, as consumers cut back on buying teak patio furniture, brass planters and the other high-end items sold at Smith & Hawken. Sales at the retailer had been down 22 percent during the first two quarters of the year, and Scotts executives said they expected even greater losses at the chain this year.

Minneapolis-based Target began selling Smith & Hawken merchandise in late 2005 as part of Scotts' attempt to expand the brand where its core lawn and garden brands were sold.

Target spokeswoman Lena Michaud said that there would be no immediate impact on sales of Smith & Hawken items at Target's stores, but that it was too soon to know long-term availability of products.

Smith & Hawken, based in Novato, Calif., has about 700 employees and stores in 22 states plus Washington, D.C.

Minnesota has just one store with 15 employees, according to a spokeswoman. Its other Minnesota stores, in St. Paul and Maple Grove, closed late last year.

"It's just so sad to see," said Iain St. James, who has worked at the Edina store for about three years. "I was loyal to the company and loyal to the brand and really believed in what Pat Farrah was trying to do."

Farrah, who co-founded Home Depot, was brought in as Smith & Hawken's CEO last year to turn around the struggling retailer.

Mall owner Warren Beck said the pending exit of Smith & Hawken, which comes on the heels of the June closure of retailer Oilily, reflects the nation's poor economy. Traffic at Galleria has been up in the "mid-single digits" for the past few months, he said.

"Unfortunately, even if our stores are performing very well, if the national organization has issues, that affects us," Beck said. "Clearly that's what happened in this case. It won't be the last one. It's part of what we go through in our business."

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335