Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Yes, it's cheaper , BUT.....

So, it's that time of year when things begin to trickle into the chain store garden centers (for us here in Seattle, WA, it's mainly Home Depot and Lowe's) and they're beginning to get deliveries of fresh plant material. So naturally, I find an excuse to go in (usually to replace a burned out light bulb or cheap potting soil) and check out the selection.

Over the past few years, I've been finding top-notch specialty plants such as these Hellebores. In the past, I've obtained 'Ivory Prince', but now you can easily get 'Pink Frost' and, recently, I spotted a clone from the "Gold Collection" called 'Jacob' (which, of course wasn't labeled as so because they feel like no one really gives a fuck) a whole series of H. x hybridus hybrids that were once just pukey colors, but now they're pukey colors with ruffles, spots, picotees, DOUBLE AND ANEMONE FORMS! It was just a few years ago that these were like the holy grail of Hellebores that fetched $40-50 easily, but now you can purchase a small clump blooming its head off for around $10.00.

Think of these Hellebores as the new ORCHIDS. They've been micro-propagated in a laboratory so they can be mass-produced and offered at a lower price to the consumer. Sounds awesome, right?? Yes and No, in my opinion.


Good quality plants, true to type for the most part (regardless of how it was labelled), and good plants get to gardeners much quicker and they're far more affordable. Can't argue too much about that, eh?


Real nurseries and specialty garden centers suffer because of the cost of production and retail mark-ups call for higher prices just to break even, but for the most part, it's a severe loss for the small grower who, honestly, cannot compete with a chain giant. Most of these plants are produced in other parts of the country, travel a long way via truck, are regularly mislabeled, and treated poorly once they're stocked on nursery tables at chains.

As a grower, it certainly hurts to see a plant I've worked so hard to propagate, pot up, grow on carefully, and label for an upcoming plant sale only to find the same plants being sold at Lowe's or Home Depot for less than half of what I'm selling them for WHOLESALE!!

This is definitely an area where I feel quite torn and uncertain as to how to go about deciding which plants to get.

I've always said that there's no shame in shopping at a chain. I'm all about budget gardening and encouraging those who want to dabble in growing plants, but I'm also a plantsman who stresses quality in plant development and introduction and fully support local growers and businesses.

I'd appreciate your comments on this, please.

BTW, I caved and purchased that lower flower that impressed me with it's almost 4" flower, heavy speckling, and just how awesome it looked with the dark purple Phormium I was planning on using for a seasonal container.

Helleborus purple spotted Helleborus purple spotted with flax




  1. I've never had to think this all the way through, because I've made the decision not to purchase plants from large chains for purely self-serving reasons. Years ago, I surprised a friend by planting an empty bed in his garden with annuals purchased from a local nursery while he was out of town. Upon his return, he purchased a similar set of plants from a chain store and planted a second bed to match. Only they didn't match. There was no comparison in how the two sets of plants grew, even though the second bed was planted shortly after the first and had identical soil, sun and drainage. So I have always assumed that nursery plants, whether annuals or perennials, will grow better and are worth the extra price. Actually, I just plain enjoy shopping for plants in nurseries. I sometimes buy garden hardware at big boxes, but I purchase plants for the sheer enjoyment of it, and I only feel that while strolling the aisles of local nurseries and plant sales.

  2. Re: your note about how plant material is treated at the box stores. I once applied for a "Nursery Merchandiser" position for a large northwest grower of perennials and annuals. The job was to manage the inventory of their plant material at three Home Depot stores in my area - display new incoming plants and throw out older plants.

    The job DID NOT include watering the plants on display. I asked if the "Certified Garden Professional" that HD brags about in their commercials was responsible for watering them. The answer is no. The grower didn't care how the plants were treated at HD since they got paid when the plants were delivered. Dead plants are not a problem for the grower. I thought that HD would have an employee water them since living plants sell better than dead plants. Apparently they buy in such volume and keep the prices so low, they can afford to write off a large amount of inventory.

    Lesson: if you're going to buy perennials from HD, buy them as soon as you see them and be sure to check for signs of stress - and signs of being watered!

  3. A very good example of how we Americans like things cheap! I can think of many other cases in our industry alone

  4. Well my idea is... there are hundreds of thousands of plants in the world - heck hundreds of thousands of plants that will grow here, in the Northwest - and Home Despot will never offer more than a few hundred of them at any given time. So I generally choose to offer things they are unlikely to offer (with a rare exception for something I think I can market effectively and at a reasonable price), and don't worry about it. I see getting worked up when you see someone mass producing a particular rare plant that is special to you it's happened to me too), as a pitfall to avoid. We have to stay a step ahead and on top of our game with the latest and greatest offerings.

  5. I don't seek out plants from HD. I don't go there to specifically browse plants like I might a proper nursery, but if I'm bored to death because my husband is spending an eternity finding just the right compression fitting I will wonder over to the plants to see what they have. I have no qualms buying a pack of commodity creeping thyme, but it doesn't feel right to spend a lot of money there (on plants. I spend loads of money there on house fixing stuff). I am suspicious of the quality too. Too cheap to be good quality.

  6. Hi again, Riz,
    I was catching up on gardening blog and came across this same question over at
    Heavy Petal