Calling All Opinionated Gardeners



As Amy mentioned last week, we Garden Ranters will be on a panel at the Independent Garden Center show in Chicago on August 19 talking about ways in which garden centers can promote and sell greener living.

Of course, the greenest thing you can possibly do in gardening is feed yourself from your yard!  And that’s what I’ll talk about. But my local nurseries have not yet fully digested this idea.

Would our Rant readers mind taking this little survey, so I am not speaking merely from my own experience?

Click here to take survey

Many thanks, and I hope to see you in Chicago.


  1. Not on the Survey. No I don’t start vegetables from seeds because I really, really, su- uh, tend to fail at it. I can get the seeds to start but the plants never turn out to be that healthy.

    I take that back. I start carrots and peas in the garden and they do all right. But tomatoes, annual flowers and others. Not so much.

  2. I took the survey — but I left a bunch blank because I don’t go to my local garden center for advice — I just buy stuff there. So I don’t know if they know anything about vegetables or cooking or soil improvement, etc.

  3. For me too, the survey was a lot of does not apply. I shop between the big box, favorite independent local nursery and farm direct. I don’t ask for growing information at any of them. Most experienced gardners won’t either.

    I buy the warm season plants, tomato, squash, pepper and direct sow most others.

    What do I want from a garden center that I can’t find? Floating row covers for my seedlings. Nobody has them and I am not much of a catalog shopper.

  4. Hi, Susan & Colleagues – good survey! My vegetable gardening is fairly limited, but I grow lots of herbs and friends and visitors to my garden often comment on the “uniqueness” of growing herbs tucked in between annuals, perennials and shrubs. I hardly consider it unusual; Angelonia and Basil, for one, are a great combination!

    Much success in Chicago!

  5. What Joe and Chris said. I don’t ask my garden centers anything. I just buy plants and seeds. I’ve been gardening long enough that I don’t ned much in the way of tools and gadgets. Since I make my own compost don’t buy soil amendments and don’t use chemicals, well, rarely. Having an invasion of wild morning glory from the neighbors has forced me to buy stuff. (and sneak over there and yank it out)

  6. Garden centers compete on advice about agriculture with their local Extension Service? LOL.

    What about Trees reducing heating/cooling costs, retaining runoff, increasing property value & etc?

    Isn’t that greener living?

    Easier too.

    Many aren’t interested in veggies. Don’t leave them out of the greener loop.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  7. Oddly, the best garden center in my city for food gardening supplies is the one smack dab in the middle of the city – not the ones that ring the city where you can actually view farmland.

    You forgot to include food gardening because it is convenient to just walk outside and gather dinner. I may be an extreme gardener but I am also lazy.

    My favorite garden center sometimes does cooking demonstrations but due to health department rules they can’t hand out samples.

    If I was going to Chicago and I had a microphone for a minute I would make one big suggestion to the garden center industry – get with the program or else someone else will! The gardening public is hungry for organized events such as cooking demo’s, gardening workshops or chicken workshops. It is only a matter of time that either a botanic garden or some outside group pulls such a festival of gardening together and the garden centers will be left out. You have to get out in front of the trends rather then just follow them.

  8. I also dont ask advice in Gardencenters.Years ago when I did the answers were not enough.Some nurseries are not much better. Why is there no exitement about what they sell? no Saturday seminars for customers? no Experts to guide new Gardeners? no:look at this fabulous new plant we just got in?
    How about some inspiration so customers will want to come back to shop,again and again?

  9. I also don’t ask questions at garden centers. I’ve known a few people, including my teen-aged daughter, who worked at a garden center and therefore I know that employees don’t have to know squat about plants and gardening to work there. And I hope this doesn’t sound too snarky, but judging from the opinions I see on The Internets there’s not much advice I’d trust anyway. I trust my own experience. Period.

  10. Hey, I work at a great garden center that I think does an above average job w/ promoting veggies!
    In late March we host a Veggie Gardeners Roundtable w/ local market gardeners and experienced old-time gardeners, and we get 30-40 ppl in each time exchanging ideas & techniques. We stock the kind of seed that you can’t buy at the box stores: Botanical Interest & Baker Creek. Our seed potatoes come from the same source as Territorial Seed & Johnnies, but because we share our order with some market gardeners, we end up charging about 1/2 of what the catalogs do…We bring in a very diverse mix of veggie starts too, from about 4-5 different growers. We even had classes with Rose Marie Nichols about container veggie gardening (Bountiful Containers) and with Linda Chalker-Scott (The Informed Gardener). New this season, we’re hosting a MidWeek Farmers Market where locals can sell their produce; we even have one guy selling who got started by attending our Veggie Gardening Roundtable 2 years ago, cool! We have a pretty small (6ppl) staff of over 40 year old women; no teenagers are willing to work here (yet.) It’s kind of funny, but we are now becoming the “go to” place instead of the local Ext. office…we even have folks from the local OSU Research Station dropping in for advice sometimes.
    You can visit us at:

  11. I took the survey, but I wanted to point out that some of us live in towns without nurseries.

    Seriously, my town has Lowes and WalMart. No nursery.

    Next time you do a survey, maybe include the question: Does your town have a locally owned nursery/independent garden center?

    Please consider this when you review the results.

  12. Personally, we order seeds from Seeds of Change on the internet for some things, as well as the big ’boutique’ seed wall at our regionally-focused nursery, Plants of the Southwest. We are also lucky enough to have two real local nurseries where they have big greenhouses and grow all kinds of interesting ornamental and garden plants. We also have a fairly vital network of farmer’s markets, so in spring they are a decent source of good seedlings too. That means we are in good shape for our planting needs. BUT in the last couple of years, one of the larger family-owned multi-store local nurseries went out of business. To be fair, the box stores are not doing a terrible job with “bread and butter” items, but we always worry a little, about supporting our “small” local nurseries so we don’t lose them.

    (As I think this through and type out our list of resources, I’m realizing that we actually have it pretty darned good.) Maybe we Albuquerque folks are just a bit ahead of the curve for once!

    I heard an interview on the radio several months ago… the person speaking said, ‘Growing food in your yard is the last radical act left to the individual.’ >The idea stunned me.

    It does really ‘shake things up!’ We have friends who have planted huge tomatoes along the walk to their front door (cages and all), and have sweet potato vines and onions growing in the raised bed by the front porch. It looks great. Oh, and a couple of artichokes out front with the sprawling vintage 1965 junipers. Their neighbors, strolling by with various shapes and sizes of dogs, are keeping a careful but mostly supportive eye on their landscaping changes. So far the informal report is fairly positive.

    Living in the high desert and being a poor state may have given us a bit more freedom when it comes to suburban plant combinations. New Mexico has gone a long way towards embracing xeriscaping. And once you get a lot of people giving up the idea of the traditional yard and garden, it isn’t as daunting to experiment.

    That said, there are new housing developments along the west side of the metropolitan area where people are insecure and have Scott Lawn dreams. Don’t know if your neighbors there would give you a hard time about the tomatoes or not!

    Sorry we can’t be in the audience in Chicago. I’m SOOO glad you guys are going!!

    Dottie Webb

  13. Hello Michele and gardeners: One thing I love about buying seeds at my local GC is that they have them early and they have a great selection. I usually get all charged up and buy seeds in Jan., when I’m at the GC to buy birdseed. When I get home, I prop the seed packages on my desk and just look at them, and watch the birds in the snow outside my window, when I should be working. Shaking a package of parsley seeds in January always takes the chill off.

    My local GC in Kansas City has a terrific selection of seeds from quite a few different suppliers. This year they had a rack of Baker Creek seeds. I bought some for myself and for friends.

    I almost always buy some seeds that I never plant, but it’s still a great investment.

    Have fun in Chicago! Marty

  14. Sounds like Kmac’s garden center does a better job than mine, but the place where I work holds seminars about vegetable growing, cooking and raising chickens! We carry Botanical Interests seeds and buy most of our veggie starts from several different local, organic growers. The problem with carrying lots of different varieties of vegetables is that they have to sell. If they don’t sell quickly, they start looking overgrown and funky, no one will buy them and they’re hauled off to plant heaven. Many times customers have to special order a particular variety simply because we don’t have the room or the turnover to keep everything anyone could possibly want in stock. Not to mention that the growers rotate between varieties themselves. There’s alot going on behind the scenes that the average customer who wants what they want when they want it, doesn’t comprehend. And as for knowledegable employees, try working for the wages that are common in the nursery industry. There are a few of us who do it for love, but we have to fill in the gaps with teens or people who don’t know alot, just to keep the nursery watered and the line at the cash register moving forward!

  15. I have yet to find a garden center that sells seedlings for the fall garden; kale, Swiss chard, cabbage, kohl rabi, and the like. If vegetable gardening is growing, there should be a market.

  16. Our gardening center has a little cafe that uses veggies and fruits that they grow in their dishes. And although I don’t often ask for advice, I like to get their opinions about different types of tomatoes, chili peppers, etc. and to just chat about what’s new. I value other opinions and certainly don’t know it all! They also have seminars and classes year-round.

    I also browse the big-box stores for plant deals when I’m in there; our Wal-Mart has a 50-cent table of ailing plants that I’ve plundered, and brought the plants back to health with good results. I always feel I’ve saved those plants from “plant prison”, and given them a good home for however long I have them.

  17. Our full line garden center does dozens of seminars on cooking, gardening, birding etc. We carry all the major and odd ball seed lines and we are enthisiastic about what we sell

    The TROLL

  18. Thanks so much for the comments! I feel very fortunate in having a friend–a fantastic cook–to discuss vegetable varieties with.

    I would love having that conversation with somebody at a garden center, if it were possible.

    I’ve been doing a vegetable garden for two decades–but it really is an endless frontier. There is always something new to try.

  19. I have two favorite garden centers – on close to work (urban), one close to home (suburban ). The GC near home has fabulous veggie & seed selection, but an even broader ornamental section. They host classes on any number of things from DIY irrigation to re-potting orchids to selecting the proper fruit tree for your yard. No cooking as their facility is too jammed full of garden stuff to fit in a kitchen of any sort ( though maybe a portable grill would make a lovely addition). The staff is knowledgeable & helpful. They offer mostly organic solutions to your troubles, but keep some of the other stuff in a back corner for the times when there is no other option.

    The GC near work is tiny, but crammed full of all sorts of plants. The staff has been there forever, it seems, and knows what’s in every pot on the grounds. They offer only organic solutions & ( my favorite !) scoop-your-own amendments by the ounce. And very often you can catch the actual growers making deliveries and ask their opinions as well. When I asked for a great-tasting multi-use tomato, one supplier advised me to try a Speckled Roma for both taste and color. I’m so glad I did !

  20. My advice to these nurseries? If they really want to be green (which I largely doubt), then they should SELL LESS STUFF. See, they’ll never go for it 🙂

  21. The nursery closest to me has a profuse amount of begonias, pansies, geraniums and caladiums. In the spring they bring out the decorative tomato plants with fruit already on them in small terracotta pots so that some wealthy patrons can purchase it, set it on their veranda, and say they are “growing vegetables”. It’s sad.

    I once asked the staff if they had any pea inoculate and they didn’t even know what that was…then the manager told me the sulfur they sold for use with the bulbs would work just as well. It’s rare that I go in there, but when I do it is fun asking questions because it causes them to nervously run around trying to find the answer; then the crazy responses that come out of their mouths is comedy gold.

  22. That should be “inoculant” with an “n”. My spelling mistakes are also on occasion comedic and sad.

  23. Some of the survey questions also didn’t apply to me.

    Most of my gardening questions are answered well by the local gardening radio talk shows of which we have three.

    I’m fortunate to live near several wonderful nurseries who are knowledgeable about both ornamental and vegetable plants.

    Although I do grow vegetables, the real reason I grow them was not listed. I grow them for my young adult kids in case the economy gets so bad that they can no longer afford to feed themselves.

  24. Silly survey. I got that the questions are tongue in cheek but they are constructed with so much bias that I couldn’t answer half the questions so stopped half way and didn’t submit it.’
    It was constructed only partly for our opinions; it was equally constructed to demonstrate the position of whoever wrote it. More annoying was that if you didn’t agree with answer A then answer C showed you or the subject to be an ignorant fool

    I am sure others will think I’m over reacting…and I’m no Troll….but why waste my time when all you really wanted to do was express your own opinions?

  25. Please tell the GC owners to have cool weather vegetable transplants and garlic in late summer. As garden writers we all write about growing a second crop for the fall, but no one can find the transplants that are so readily available in the spring.

  26. Took the survey – – so sad that we still must hold our noses as we pass the “chemical section” in our local garden center.

    No – they are more sellers than know-how-to-do.

  27. I’m another one who never asks advice from my local garden center. I actually love it but I do shop for my ornamental garden there.

  28. My survey sounded all positive… but that is because I searched out and found a great garden center that provides these services. They are a 30 minute drive from my house, but worth it. My only complaint is that because they are good and they know it, they are a bit expensive. I admit I get advice there and buy many products online or elsewhere to get a better deal. But I will purchase plants there…. I can count on them.

    If I were to answer the survey based on the garden center close to home it would be different. They do NOTHING for veggie gardeners.

  29. My local garden section does not offer any advice on how to grow anything. I live way back in the woods and it is nice just to have someone sell them. This is why I love to read your site. You are my professional. I like to read and learn from the internet.

  30. As with others who commented, I do not ask anything of the local nursery- I simply buy from them. But I sure wish they carried more vegetable seedlings.

    They have, however, started a re-cycle program for all (not just their) plastic pots. I am going over today, and therefore will re-gain several square feet of the potting shed.

  31. I like color. I have planted different kind of flowering plants in my yard that will come out at different times of the year. That way I have color all through the year. Even in the winter.

  32. Okay,all the online descriptions of Pennistetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’ rave about how easy care it is, but if you look on other gardeners’ blogs, the descriptions of its performance in CT and NY gardens are less than glowing. I bought one that did not come back the next year, except for a few scrawny blades. I would like to hear about other gardenrers’ experiences with this grass.
    Wild Rose

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