Higher and higher



The situation may have been morphing into place for some time, but this spring when I went to a local garden center to buy my yearly complement of container annuals, I felt as though I was in Macy’€™s, and it wasn’€™t just all the ceramic tchochkies, birdbaths, and florescent garden gloves.

Overpowering the usual rows of six-packs, four-packs, or various square and round plastic containers, green or black, huge central displays dominated, organized by brand. Proven Winners, Stepables, Star, Monrovia, Gardener’s Own … Sure, a lot of these were always there, but it’€™s never seemed as prevalent before. And it goes without saying that the designer flowers are more expensive than the humble little black six-packs.

Well, no one is forcing me to buy the pricy flowers, but I do hanker for certain plants that now seem only to be available in the patented varieties. I feel certain someone else beside Proven Winners must grow diascia, but I’€™ll be damned if I can find it. The prevalence of patented, “special”€ plants now means that I’m paying around $4-5 for each little pot, and don’€™t even mention the big ones. It’€™s one thing to pay more for a Ralph Lauren top—but at least I’ll still be wearing it next year and probably the year after that. Most of these annuals will end up in the compost bin once frost hits.

Can I take cuttings to try to keep some of these going? Not that I would, but it’s an interesting question. As far as I know, it’€™s fine if I’m using them in my garden, but I can’€™t sell them or bring them to a plant exchange. I don’t think I can give them to a friend either.

In some ways the trademarked plants are more annoying than the patented plants. Other breeders can’€™t use the name given by original breeders, so you wind up with a bunch of the same plants called by different names. It’s confusing, when trying to match what you already have or you need a certain variety.

Far be it from me to stand in the way of horticultural progress, but in the short ten years that I have been a serious gardener, there have been many changes along these lines, and it all seems to cost me more money. Spending money on plants is always a pleasurable experience, mind you, so consider this a mild rant—€”soon to be alleviated by the sight of clouds of diascia, mounds of fragrant violet petunias, and the prettiest white and pale yellow lantana I’€™ve seen in some time. See how they get you?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Being on the retail end of things, I have seen the same changes over 20+ years. I know in many cases growers have felt kind of forced to adopt branded plants, thinking that they can make more money to cover increasing costs and stay in business. Unfortunately this leads to times like yesterday when a long time customer was looking for flats of coleus and all we could get were 4.5″ pots of the cutting grown varieties.

  2. I am a very new gardener. This past weekend, I bought Stepables Lemon Thyme from my organic garden center. I noticed the cute foot-shaped tag, but didn’t think anything of it. I had no idea that patented/trademarked plants were an issue in the garden world. Thank you very much for this post!

  3. I am lucky enough to have a farmer’s market where many local nurseries sell plants, and the trademarked plants aren’t so prevalant. Here in Minneapolis, we also have the Southside Farm Store, which sells a good selection of four packs of various annuals, including Gomphrena ‘Strawberry Fields’!

    Another way to get around this is to start your own from seed. It’s a great way to start gardening earlier, get greater selection and save a ton of money! Admittedly, I do this mostly for plants intermingled with my perennials, not the pots. I’ve seen individual nicotiana (flowering tobacco) going for $5, when I’ve got god knows how many seeds for a few bucks!

  4. Actually, it isn’t much different from buying particular food brands. Sometimes I wonder at myself paying more for a particular brand of milk, but I do it anyway, because once I do learn a bit about a company, sometimes I learn something that makes me more loyal to them. And then other times, it is just a higher price tag.

  5. I agree with Chris. It has changed from my perspective as a grower and a retailer. Special cutting grown plants for fancy containers like scaveola or sweet potato vine keeps up with the current trends, instead of growing seed annuals in packs like everyone’s grandma has done forever. No one gets excited about marigolds. People are always clamoring for something “different”, but it’s usually more expensive. The real evil is the companies pitching this to the consumer AND the grower. Between the patent fees and the fancy label and the requirement that the grower purchase a Proven Winner pot to pot the plant in adds to the price. The cost is (supposedly) justified because of all the advertising Proven Winners has done to promote their product in gardening magazines and on the Weather Channel. Its ridiculous actually. For the promotion of My Monet Wiegelia, the plant is not only patented for reproduction, but the name and Logo (yes, a logo with a graphic designed flower) is trademarked. I can even buy a t-shirt with the damn My Monet logo-thing on it. Stupid.
    I say let the plants speak for themselves.

  6. The globalisation of the plant world – Proven Winners were introduced to South Africa a year or two ago. It feels a bit like GAP and McDonalds; nice to know what you’re getting but ulitmately overpriced and rather dull.

  7. That kind of aggressive marketing hasn’t reached our steadily declining selection of plant retailers, but I do know that rising oil costs, hence rising transportation costs is a major factor here, as is the fact that most growers don’t want to supply the smaller, mix of varieties that the outlets that serve our small town need.
    What also bothers me is that every year I acquire yet more plastic pots and our recycling depot won’t accept them. I bet the plastic pots are getting to be half the cost of the plant with rising oil prices.

  8. Seeds can be purchased (or collected) anywhere. It is a waste of money to buy any annual already potted.

  9. Marty,

    I have to disagree. Growing from seed is certainly not possible for all annuals, much less all varieties of certain annuals. Even the most dedicated seedspeople I know also buy potted, at least where I live, which has a rather short growing season. I have tried and failed twice at indoor seed starting. It’s not for everyone.

  10. I’ve all but given up on annuals for my garden. This year, I’m down to some cockscomb and coleus for my porch boxes. All the rest of my outdoor porch plants used to be my inside house plants.

    Everything else is perennial. If you want a real exercise in frustration, try planting local, native varieties. I wish plant centers concentrated on those.

    While I have a few PWs and Stepables here and there, I try and patronize small, independent local garden centers whenever I can.

    I’ve also patronized internet nurseries that ship their plants bare-rooted.

    Here’s an idea: Perhaps, we can suggest bringing old pots to the garden center to re-pot our purchased plants on location. This way, we reuse our pots for that purpose and allow the garden center to retain their pots for reuse.

    I noted the previous thread on plant exchanges. Those are the best of all–we just tote our plants in bags!

  11. Must be something in the air: my post today (click on my name for the link) involved similar subject matter (plant patents, customer demand for plant patents, pricing for patented plants, etc.).

  12. I have no problem with someone getting paid well for hard work, but there is a whole lot of plant material being patented (or at least applied for) that has no noticeable improvement over the previous version of the plant. I grow a lot of plants, sometimes a ‘sport’ or different color or pattern shows up in clump of perennials. Later I notice this “new” color form in a catalog and I see that it is patented. How can they patent something that just randomly shows up in the current cultivar? How much work went into developing this new form?

    It’s all marketing. It would be nice if everything lived up to the hype – wishfull thinking I suppose.

    I have friends who are very involved in the whole process. They are quite vocal in their protection of patented plants (I’m a big time propagator). I can usually shut them up by asking “aren’t you the guys that brought us ‘Bradford Pears’ the wonder tree?”

  13. I’m still mourning the closing of our wonderful local nursery Blue Meadow which had many unusual annuals – in little six packs. Now I am just reminding myself that there is nothing wrong with the old favorites, marigolds and zinnias that I can start from seed right in the garden. I’m not looking for exotic effects in my garden, just pretty flowers among the shrubs, and other perennials. I do not like supporting the idea of trademarked and patented plants.

  14. I’d be a hypocrite to rail against the higher-priced annuals and tender perennials for sale at local garden centers, when I end up calmly plunking down some cash for them anyways. Sure, I don’t like paying more, but I do it all the same.

  15. One season of trading seeds or cuttings instead of going straight to the store can score you some pretty rare and interesting heirloom plants! Much cheaper, and it keeps these beauties from becoming extinct.

  16. I’ve noticed fewer six packs and lots more 4 inch pots that have gone from $2.99 to $5.49 over the years. I’m not poor, but I can’t afford half the plants I used to buy. Most of my money goes into shrubs and perennials now, and I trade plants with friends. I buy a few annuals for pots, mostly from a neighborhood grower. I also patronize local Master Gardener native plant sales. When Behnke’s Nursery almost went out of business a few years ago, I felt sad, but who can afford to plant many $5.49 annuals? I’m glad they are there for the big stuff, but I avoid their annuals greenhouses now.

  17. I always do planting on my own I bought some seeds and place it in a nice pot and for some day I will see sprout and it makes me feel happy. Why I am happy because I did the planting not buying it done. Planting your plant on your gives me real pleasure. And what do you think what will I feel if this plant bear flower.

  18. Oh, I grow a bunch of my own annuals and perennials as well (and all of my vegetable starts), but I still can’t resist those 4″ pots of exotic annuals. I spend way too much $$ on the few containers I do every year, but I love me some trashy containers of fancy annuals. They’re crack, I tell you, crack.

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