Visited a nursery, left empty-handed?

Content for Newsy Notes was a little scarce this week, but one short write-up caught my eye and stirred the following:

Have you ever gone to a nursery seeking annuals to fill holes in your garden beds … and left disappointed and without a single plant?

Do you shop at big box stores for some plants but head to your favorite local nursery for more unusual ones?

Do you primarily use one nursery exclusively or wander the nursery circuit, buying a little here and there?

An article in The Hartford Courant urges these questions. The author left the nursery empty handed after seeing petunia baskets at $30 a pop, but no flats of annual petunias appropriate for DIY basket planting; mundane offerings of other annuals and no new varieties; highly priced supplies; and a slew of high-priced shrubs. The author’s beef apparently was not shared … a full parking lot hinted of shoppers.

I’m the first to admit that I am not the typical shopper.  I often leave stores empty-handed when I don’t find what I’m looking for. When it comes to plant purchases this spring, people in south central CT have many more choices than before. Roadside plant stands have popped up in otherwise unused corners of parking lots … most selling annuals and small pots of perennials, some selling potted shrubs and trees and basic bagged potting soil, composted manure, etc. I’ve wandered through many just to see what’s there, but left empty-handed.

salvia flatI’d rather spend my plant budget at trusted, tried-and-true local nurseries. I’m lucky to have two.  Staehly Farms provides locally grown annuals; a good selection of small potted perennials; a few potted shrubs; great hanging baskets at a great price; bagged mulch, potting soil, and compost; plus an ever growing selection of fresh fruits and vegetables (many grown at the farm), local eggs, cheeses, and other goodies.  Ballek’s Garden Center is the go-to place when I need a certain color of snapdragon, salvia, or other annuals (not a flat of mixed colors); need to peruse a large selection of perennials; seek tropical hibiscus or other tender perennials; need a specific type of decorative pot, trellis, or garden ornament; feel the need to check out larger shrubs or trees; or seek to get some creative juices flowing. The two centers – both family run – compliment each other by providing different types of plant resources. Plants I do not grow from seed and want in my personal gardens come almost exclusively from these two places.

There are also a few really good local, well established nurseries in neighboring towns I might buy from if I’m in the area and see a must-have, but I avoid buying from pop-up plant stands, large plant chains, and big box stores. (Tomatoes grown in the south and sold in the northeast via big box stores likely contributed to last season’s late blight saga.) After decades of gardening, I’ve learned that locally grown plants transplant and acclimate the best.

The article’s author also speaks highly of local nurseries, but admits to big box shopping for some plants and shrubs.  So I’m curious, what’s your plant buying practice? What draws you back to a nursery? What’s your experience with big box purchases?

10 comments for “Visited a nursery, left empty-handed?

  1. June 19, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I find annuals a particularly difficult purchase lately. The plants at a few of my ‘regular’ small nurseries have not looked good – most likely because they are all coming from the same wholesaler. If I’m lucky enough to arive just after the latest batch of annuals has been unloaded I may hit paydirt but otherwise the pickings are usually slim.

    I have fairly good luck at the big box stores but I think that may be because I know what to look for and more importantly what not to buy. I will buy small trees/shrubs there because I have found over the past few years that they often have new introductions before the smaller independents get them. As a plant geek, I love finding the plants I’ve been lusting over in garden magazines. And of course, the price is usually right.

    For instance, I bought two 3′ tall kousa dogwoods at my local HD two years ago for $20/each. They looked healthy when I pruchased them and they both have thrived in my garden. But, I have also seen people buying unhealthy, poor quality plants there that would never have passed muster at an independent nursery. Buyer beware really does apply at the big box ‘nurseries’.

  2. joenesgarden
    June 19, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Debbie, my problem with buying plants from big box stores is based on my desire to support locally-grown businesses. Yes, for those who know what they are doing, big box stores can offer healthy plants at good prices but as you said it’s always buyer beware. Plus, in our area, many of the big box plants get trucked in from southern locations so plants are not yet acclimated to our often harsh weather extremes. I think trusted local nurseries offer the best overall value.

  3. June 19, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    I buy garden tools and supplies at big box stores, but not plants. (Last year’s late blight fiasco reminded me that these stores are often not responsible local citizens.) I buy very few annuals, but when I do I try to get them from local nurseries and farmers. I’m lucky to have many wonderful nurseries within easy driving distance, including some that specialize in particular plants. So when I buy perennials, I pick the nursery that is the best choice for that particular type of plant. (In my area, nurseries also cooperate and refer customers to one another.)

  4. joenesgarden
    June 20, 2010 at 6:15 am

    I’m with you, Jean. I sometimes buy tools at big box stores but shy away from the greenery. Unfortunately novice gardeners fall into the big box trap.

  5. June 20, 2010 at 6:54 am

    Oh I love Balleks too! I’m lucky to also be near Garden Sales and Woodland Gardens in Manchester, both excellent independents. You may not realize that in this area at least, the Home Depot gets their plants from the large wholesalers based in Cromwell, so in a way, local wholesalers are supported by purchases there. I do agree, the family owned places are best! Prices everywhere do seem much higher this year…

  6. joenesgarden
    June 20, 2010 at 7:08 am

    I’ll have to seek out those nurseries when in that area, Cyndy. I’m glad some local wholesalers benefit from Home Depot buys, but all big box stores go for the lowest price not the best quality and I doubt most of the plants are actually grown locally. I know of a CT wholesale nursery that trucks most shrubs up from the south, where they are grown, then ships them off to big box stores. Granted, many small nurseries also ship plants in from the south and the west, but once plants arrive at the local nursery they get better care and acclimation to the local climate. Still, I tend to seek out shrubbery actually grown in CT or at least the northeast.

  7. June 20, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I have found some great plants at local nurseries, but when I go back to get more they are sold out of the specific cultivar. So I find I have to know exactly what I want and how much I need in order to shop successfully…. makes it hard to experiment. The independent small nursery can’t stock so many varieties of so many plants. Which makes me a fan of mail order, when I know I can always get the same plant again if it’s been successful for me.

  8. joenesgarden
    June 21, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Local, independent nurseries may not stock as many of a specific plant as you want, Laurrie, but can often obtain additional items in a specific cultivar. I have used mail order occasionally with mixed success.

  9. June 22, 2010 at 1:52 am

    I do both the big box and the small local nurseries. We don’t have scads of nurseries up here, so the big boxes often surprise me with the occasional rare or unusual plant that the locals aren’t carrying. For perennials, I usually buy from the little guys.

    Coincidentally, I posted on one of my favorite small nurseries today.

    Christine in Alaska

  10. joenesgarden
    June 22, 2010 at 7:33 am

    Following your blog, Christine, made me realize everything is a little different in Alaska. You have unusual plants at big box stores and can plant hostas in full sun. So different from my experiences in CT.

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