Ministry of Controversy

The First Ever Weekly GardenRant Survey

We just love all the chatter over at Golden Gekko about independent garden centers vs. big boxes.  In the world of books and publishing, the argument goes something like this:  if a people at a few big chains make all the buying decisions, they have the power to influence what gets published.  And that, in turn, has the power to influence what gets written.  And pretty soon we’ve got a free speech issue on our hands.  Barbara Kingsolver says that she would still be working at her day job if not for the support of her local (and now defunct) independent bookseller.

So you can see how quickly these arguments get beyond the "gosh, we miss those cute little Main Street shops, but we sure do love those low prices" debates.  Books are not shoes, I always tell people.  Buy your shoes at Target, it’s none of my business.  But buy your books from an indie.

But what about gardening? What’s at stake?  Our liberty?  Our freedom?  Our planet?  Maybe.  In an era when homeowners associations can threaten to take your house away if you don’t plant what they tell you to plant; in an age when biotech grass seed can drift into your yard, and the owner of the seed’s patent can then sue you for patent infringement; at a time when the difference between the right pest management and the wrong pest management can make a difference in what shows up in your drinking water–hey, maybe it does matter whether we buy what the big boxes have to sell or what the independents offer us.  What are your thoughts?

Posted by on September 23, 2006 at 7:27 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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8 responses to “The First Ever Weekly GardenRant Survey”

  1. Pam/Digging says:

    I’m more in the once-in-a-while category, but I don’t feel guilty about it or blame it on my spouse, so I didn’t vote. 😉 I’m not opposed to the big-box stores, and I’ll shop there for mulch, decomposed granite, and other supplies, but I buy my plants at the local nurseries, which have a much-better native-plant selection and terrific service.

  2. Mia C says:

    The reason I don’t buy plants from Big Box Stores: Terrible looking (and usually the same old same old) plants. Where I live, if you bought them from HD, Lowes, WM or Target they rarely make it past day two in the garden and therefore a totall waste of money.

    The local nurseries around here will never go out of business because everyone here knows their plants will last and look great and that selection!

    Big Box Stores don’t stand a chance LOL! That’s why I also didn’t vote 😉

  3. Laurie says:

    I agree with Pam; once in a while and I don’t feel guilty.

    That said, I just got back from one of the locals with the pee gee hydrangea that the back yard has been needing. Local shops are more likely to have zone correct plants than the big boxes.

    The Minneapolis/St. Paul area is not zone 6, nor will it be in the near future. (not sure about the distant future on that one.) Most of the big box stores regularly sell zone 5 or 6 plants, and don’t label annuals as annuals.

    I feel bad for the many people who bought purple fountain grass at a premium price. 30 below kills a lot of plants.

  4. I rarely buy from a big box store because Austin has a slew of great local nurseries. However, this week I bought a tomato plant from Home Depot because all my regular stops had none. One of the locals told me it was too late for tomatoes despite the fact that the previous week every day was in the 100s and we have at least 10 weeks until a frost…if we get a frost at all this winter.

    The Home Depot tomato was from a southern grower in Alabama, a family-run place according to their website…Bonnie Plants. I’ve never heard of them before but I’m interested in learning more about them since they are family-owned and grow vegetables for southern gardens.

  5. firefly says:

    I didn’t vote either, because I split my purchases this past spring between growers (small and large) I found on the Internet and the local nursery.

    After my experiences with large growers on the Internet, I am more inclined to stick to smaller places, and visit the local nursery first — I got a lot of plants cheap on the Web, but the quality was no better than what you find at big-box stores. I’ve already had to replace one thing.

    The bigger Internet growers seem to participate in whatever the latest seasonal plant frenzy is in terms of offerings. Their customer service isn’t stellar either; I thought it would be better because these businesses are specialty concerns, but that didn’t prove true.

    Worse yet, I discovered the local place had some of what I’d ordered. (Oops. I plead newbie-ness.)

    I usually stick to supplies at Lowe’s, although I did just buy a couple of shrubs at end-of-season prices there while I was “just looking around.” I was familiar with the plants (they were duplicates of shrubs I have already) so I felt confident in judging the quality. Plus, I thought if they looked that good after the kind of treatment they got at a big-box, they’d surely be fine in the yard.

    I feel most comfortable with the “organic and as weird as I am” places.

  6. Trey says:

    One thing to remember, not all independents are doing a good job. A respondent that chooses the box store may not have a worthy independent nursery around. Some cities or towns lack a quality garden center, and thus the arrival of the box store could be an improvement on the present situation.

    While I cheer for hard working independent garden centers that think “out of the box,” some are just hanging on for survival, and will soon be history if they don’t wake up to the reality of doing business in this new era.

    Garden Bloggers and readers of Garden Rant are a unique breed, and it’s pleasing to see so many choose independent garden centers as a general rule. The people who blog and read Garden Rant are the type of customer the independent garden center needs to focus on. They are the ones that will spread the word when they discover a new nursery “find.” The word of mouth through this and other mediums is where small, independent garden centers need to focus. It’s a powerful tool. Leave the massive ad campaigns for the big boys. Focus like a laser on the people who care about you and the rest will fall into place.

  7. Jenn says:

    I buy all over. I have a small specialty nursery around the corner that gets my business, but I am as likely to buy from Lowes, Meijers or Home Depot too.

    Where else can you buy baby Alberta Spruces for a sawbuck a pot and grow them up for your landscape use? But my home nursery setup is, admittedly, a bit strange. Most people don’t buy and pot up shrubs every year, waiting for a garden scheme to emerge from their mind. Heh.

  8. nobody says:

    I didn’t vote because I think it depends on where you live. As a recent transplant from the west coast to Upstate New York, I’ve been hit with major culture shock. I’ve never been to an independent nursery on the west coast that didn’t have an amazing plant selection and push organic gardening. Sure, they had chemicals for people who demanded them, but they invariably hid them somewhere in the back because they were ashamed to have to stock them at all.

    Here, it’s the exact opposite. If I go to a local nursery and ask for anything organic, they look at me like I have horns growing out of my head. I try, and I try, but I’ve never made it to a local nursery without feeling intense disappointment. After one too many disappointments, I no longer feel guilty about heading straight to the big box store. One of them has adds for chemicals covering every inch of it’s outside fence, as though plants themselves are an afterthought. Their selection of plants is so poor that in order to come up with some houseplants to make it through the winter (I foolishly thought I could buy some here) I had to have my mom send me some via priority mail from California.

    I’ve learned that I can drive back and forth across town to every local nursery I know of and I’ll end up at the big box store. If I go straight to the big box store, I at least get to pat myself on the back for not wasting so much gas before I end up there. The flip side of being a big box store and stocking a fairly standard assortment of stuff in every store in the country is that when big box stores respond to market pressures in more enlightened areas of the country, it is reflected in less enlightened areas. I can march into my big box store and buy organic products that none of the local nurseries are willing to carry. My other option is to order everything online.

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