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On a recent drive through California, I stopped at the locally famous Sierra Azul Nursery, where I wandered through their 2-acre demonstration garden and met some Australians.

“Nothing will grow here if you don’t water it.” That sentence, which I hear everywhere and not just here in the desert, points out a person who has not yet met the right grower(s).

Growers are a bottleneck in this business of changing the way Americans landscape. If a person wants to make an ecologically sound garden — by which I mean a fairly self-sustaining plant community that will also sustain local wildlife — it will require regionally appropriate plants (native or from a similar climate). And such plants will ideally be grown locally, or in conditions similar to their destination.

Of course such growers are scarce. It’s a tough business, especially growing native woody plants that take years to propagate and to develop into sizes that a not-too-patient normal person might be inclined to plant in their yard.

Growers are not only sources of plants, but of information. Who do you trust when you want relevant and reliable plant-specific information? Is it a local gardening neighbor? Your local university extension service? A nearby botanical garden? A radio personality, author, or blogger? Or do you just randomly search the internet?

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After salivating over their catalog for years while gardening in Minnesota, I can now order with abandon from High Country Gardens. Their offerings, including this scarlet monardella (M. macrantha ‘Marian Sampson’) and sea foam artemisia (A. versicolor ‘Seafoam’), tend to thrive in my Boise garden.

Certain catalogs (High Country Gardens and Prairie Moon Nursery come to mind) really shine in presenting details of plants’ growth habits and preferences. A couple of botanical gardens (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Missouri Botanical Garden) have developed excellent online regional databases for plants, and Dave’s Garden is interesting for its anecdotes about growing specific plants from regular gardeners across the continent.

Still, I prefer to learn about plants from people who are growing them in conditions similar to those in my own garden. That is why I am seeking new plant sources now that I’ve moved across the country. I’m asking local gardeners where they get their plants. I’m especially interested when I hear of anyone local who is selling plants they have grown, whether they are selling by mail or at a Farmer’s Market or merely from their own garden.

I am also checking the tags at garden centers. When I see a source that is selling interesting regionally appropriate plants, or species rather than named varieties, I track down that source to see if there’s a retail catalog or a location I can visit. Occasionally a wholesale grower will sell to me directly; it never hurts to ask.

If you too are bent on creating an ecologically sound garden, where do you find your plants?