What Will We Garden: The Search for Healthy Local Plants, Part 2

| 7/13/2010 12:01:01 PM

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgBox-store or independent garden center? Yes, to be fair, I admit my opinions are biased. For the past ten years (or maybe eleven; time flies when you’re having fun), I’ve worked at a family-owned nursery and garden center that’s been in business for over fifty years. Naturally I would choose an independent garden center over a box-store.

There are some things that, when you look on the surface, box-stores have going for them. Price is often lower at the box-stores. Nationwide or regional chain stores buy such large quantities of plants that they are contracted from growers at a much lower price than a nursery or independent garden center buying only a couple of hundred. Often these box-store contracts are under scan-based payment terms. That means a store only pays for product that is sold. The result may be employees having little incentive to keep the plants healthy and looking good. We’ve all seen racks of annuals at box-store garden centers left outside to turn to mush in the frost, and shrubs frying out in the sun on the concrete. If they die, it doesn’t matter much to the store; if no one buys them, they don’t pay the grower for the loss.

Independent nurseries and garden centers have a more vested interest in their plants. Plants that are bought by garden centers often must be purchased at a higher price from the grower than some of the box stores even sell them. For the garden center to get its return, these plants must remain healthy and looking good – which means more care is taken to keep them that way. Nurseries have an even bigger stake. From seedling to saleable plant, years of manpower hours, irrigation costs, and valuable land are invested. These “home-grown” plants are often bigger and healthier – they have to be in order for the nursery to get its return on their investment and hard work.

Growing fields

The box-stores also have convenience going for them. You drop off a prescription, get tires for your car, a birthday card for your aunt, socks for the kids, grab a flat of marigolds, a couple of junipers, and a soft drink on the way out the door. One-stop shopping. But there is a price for that convenience much in the same way something is lost when purchasing produce from a grocery store, rather than directly from a farmer or farmer’s market. It’s nearly an impersonal experience. You rush in, and rush out, totally disconnected with the thing you are essentially purchasing: nature. Buying plants off metal racks on a concrete slab is a completely different experience that shopping down grassy aisles, hearing the birds sing, and strolling through display gardens, watching butterflies and bees gathering nectar. In addition, independent garden centers are community gathering places, often offering seminars, children’s gardens, and are hosts to special events such as local wine tastings or fall festivals.

That said, there are some things to look for wherever you purchase your plants.

Cindy Murphy
7/22/2010 5:11:44 AM

Hi, Vickie! The atmosphere is definitely a bonus of shopping at a farm, nursery, or independent garden center - that great feeling you mentioned. Have you ever been to Bordine's? I think there are a couple of locations now on your side of the state, but the one I remember is in Rochester. When we were kids, Mom used to go there on occasion, and even then, I remember being in awe of the place. The hostas...hmmmm....you're putting me on the spot with that one. There are literally thousands of hosta varieties, some with differences so subtle it's hard to tell them apart. Starting from the bottom left, the first one is either 'Candy Hearts' or maybe 'Gold Edger'. Front and center is 'Sundance'. To the right of that is 'Spilt Milk', I believe. Between the two, I see a couple unmistakeable leaves of 'Patriot'; another one that's unmistakeable is the white center and green edged leaves of 'Night Before Christmas'. The dark, solid green in the back is probably 'Ventricosa' or 'Royal Standard'. The largest in the photo is definitely 'Regal Splendor' - the largest in the photo, but not by far the largest hosta; 'Empress Wu' gets 4-5 feet tall! Happy gardening, and enjoy your day.

7/21/2010 9:47:08 PM

Cindy, I love to go to our local farm for plants in the spring-they are always so helpful and give great advice. The variety of plants is unbelivable. I have found myself too at big box stores making side purchases. Not as fun-that great feeling is just not there. What kind of hostas grow so big like that? They are beautiful. Hope you are having a great summer. vickie

Cindy Murphy
7/16/2010 9:48:54 PM

Mountain Woman. Thanks for your kind comments. I love your blog posts as well, and am looking forward to that garden summary post of yours. I've had more pests this year than I think I've had in the past 10 years combined! (Although most are of the furry, four-legged variety.) Hugs backatcha, Michelle! Sorry about your lavender, but I suppose you can look at it as 'everything's coming up roses', eh? Hope the new baby grand is doing well. Congratulations!

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