Independent garden center in fall

Guest rant by Barbara Pintozzii/Mr. McGregor’s Daughter.

Dear Independent Garden Center (IGC) Owner:

I want to make it clear right away, I love IGCs.  They’re among my favorite places to visit on earth. I get a bit of a high while wandering through a great garden center. I have just one complaint, and it’s a deal-breaker.  At the IGC show a couple weeks ago, Raymond Evison ignored the title of his “Five Trends from Chelsea” presentation to assert that there was only one trend: quality.  I couldn’t agree more.

It doesn’t matter if you provide free snacks and coffee, have the most stunning displays, are up on the latest trends, or have the biggest selection of plants, if the plants you have lack quality, you’re not going to make it.  I don’t care if you have plants normally available only in England, I am not going to buy them if they won’t survive the planting.

Consumers will pay for quality, even in a down market, because quality saves money in the long run.  For example, it costs more to buy cheap annuals, have them die, and replace them than it does to pay a little more for the same plants that have received better care. I lost a zucchini in July because it was pot-bound when I purchased it, and the roots never expanded into the soil in the container.

There’s no excuse to offer for sale plants with weeds in the pots.  I’m not talking about a little ground sorrel here.  I’m talking weeds that rival the plant itself.

There’s also no excuse for offering stressed plants for sale at full price.

While the failure to pot up perennials and woody plants is understandable, the extra cost should be expended.  A pot-bound plant may take years to recover. I talked with representatives from companies that require their plant product to be sold in distinctive containers.  One had no answer to my question of what an IGC should do if one of their plants needed to be moved to a larger container.  The other, Proven Winners, informed me that the IGC should send the plant back to the wholesaler for potting up. Evison suggested that IGCs could avoid this problem by buying smaller amounts of plant material more frequently.  I’ve talked with gardeners who buy from the big box stores. They buy only when “the truck” has just come in.  IGCs need to follow the gardeners’ lead and Evison’s advice on this. Yes, you’ll pay more in transportation costs, but you’ll have less leftover inventory and happier customers.

An IGC near me is closing.  Some people say it’s because of the big Menard’s that went in next door. I disagree.  I did not patronize this IGC because it didn’t have quality plants.  Every year I visited, hoping to see a change, and every day I was disappointed. There were still big weeds in the pots, some of the plants near the back of the bench clearly hadn’t been watered, and others looked stressed.  I did not recommend this IGC, nor mention it on my blog.

I love IGCs, and I will happily name them and recommend them if they carry quality plants.  Heck, I’ll even list them on my local resources page.  If you sell quality plants, and offer a good selection, including some unusual plants, I’ll be more than happy to drop big bucks at your business, rather than get plants through mail order or buy from a big box.   

Take heed—don’t let this (above) happen to your business!