Today was a rather sad one. I spent a good part of it helping to dismantle the bones of a wonderful independent nursery and garden center. Over the last few years more and more of these interesting and knowledgeable establishments have disappeared from where I live. I’m sure the same story is playing out all over America.
The smaller independent nursery garden center owners are the folks who have brought to our gardens the new and unusual. They have consistently sold large healthy plants that they have proven will grow in our gardening zone and climate. It’s these same people that you can ask for advice on any aspect of gardening and they will take the time to listen and answer your questions. If they are not sure, they will research the problem and get back to you. If there is a plant you have been looking for they do their best to help you source it out.
So why are these small garden centers being forced to close their doors? Because gardeners around the country have stopped supporting them. And why have gardeners stopped supporting them? Because all the Tom, Dick and Harry big box stores are pretending to be gardeners for two months every spring. The big box store purchasing power allows them to sell retail often near or below what the independent nursery gets charged for wholesale by the suppliers. In no way can they compete with the prices that the big box stores are offering.
As consumers in a slow economy, everyone is looking for the best deal, or what they perceive to be the best deal. These are not always the same thing.
At the beginning of every garden season the box stores set up a special garden center in their store and fill it up with plant material. Everything from trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. There is little point in visiting a variety of these stores because they all pretty much carry the same product . What ever plants the growers have chosen to supply that year is what you will find. Nothing more and nothing less. It is just one big stew of all the same plants. You are not likely to find many new introductions into the trade or anything overly interesting. What has been working for the last many years is just fine.The staff are untrained and are virtually no help. They might try, but they simply do not have the knowledge or experience needed. The plant material often sits baking in the hot sun and is lucky if it gets watered. The plants become dry, stressed and prone to disease and pests. Within a matter of weeks you are left with inferior products at bargain prices. In other words, you get what you pay for.
Much of the plant material purchased will not grow and survive the season, let alone the winter. Not a problem though, you can replace them again next year cheap, at the big box store.