Shopping at these "hardware" stores has always been frowned upon amongst my peers who prefer to shop at the more elaborate, regularly stocked nurseries with a wider selection and, yes, a more knowledgeable staff. They're also frowned upon because so many of their offerings are misleading: incorrectly labeled, poorly maintained and mistreated during production.
So for someone like me, who has to watch his plant budget, going to these stores is actually beneficial IF you know what you're looking at/for. These stores are a great place to find your "tried and true" standards or if you're looking for something quick and colorful, but temporary (ie annuals). But if you're looking for trees, shrubs and perennials, plants have to be closely inspected. However, even if healthy, you have to do some homework to determine if it is even appropriate for planting in our climate?? It annoys the hell out of me to see plants shipped from California in March being offered to Northwest Gardeners who often don't know any better than to see a pretty lush plant and snatch it up thinking that it's going to do everything the nursery worker says (as she sneaks glances at the incorrectly written and generic label).
Occasionally, I run across surprises and score on a few good deals. Here are a few:
Helleborus x 'Ivory Prince' is an exceptional shade perennial that typically retails for around $15-$20. These were well grown, in full bud and bloom and they had a fresh shipment come in so they were reasonably healthy and priced at less than $10 for a gallon plant! Yesssss!
This was a surprising find. Double flowered and Anemone forms (like this one) are still fairly new to the trade. I have this habit of looking at every single Helleborus x hybridus flower to see if the color and form is anything special and when I turned up the flowers on this one, my eyebrows raised. Though not the most spectacular bloom, it was still surprising to see it at Home Depot of all places.
During a recent visit, I found this lovely Clematis that I couldn't find much info on, but it sure is beautiful and FRAGRANT!! (yes, I bought two)
Labelled as Clematis 'South Cross', it is actually 'Southern Cross'. At first, I thought it was a selection of C. armandii, the evergreen sweet autumn clematis, but based on the very little information out there on this variety, it says that it's more shrub like, blooms in early spring and may not be reliably hardy. So, we'll see. I'll take careful note this season!
So there you go, doesn't hurt to peak and check out the garden section when you're at your local Lowe's, McLendon's, or Home Depot. You might just find a special lil' treasure or save a few bucks on your basic plant needs.