An Idea for Garden Centers We Might Just Like.


Garden pilot

I'm all ready to be skeptical about some company that promises to offer garden centers a canned, pre-made, searchable website database thingy that promises to solve all their Internet and social media woes.  I mean,the whole point of independent garden centers is that they're independent, right?  And any kind of turnkey, off-the-shelf website deal must have Big Plant money behind it, which means that the whole website is going to end up being all about Proven Winners and Monvrovia.


Well, not necessarily.  I bet your local independent bookstore has a website powered by IndieBound, the American Booksellers Association's giant book database that makes it much easier for independent bookstores to have a searchable website without re-inventing the wheel.  That's cool, right?

So I talked to the guys at 10-20 Media not long ago and I have to say, I think I might dig this thing. Here's what it is:

It's a big plant and product database that garden centers can subscribe to and put on their website.  The data comes from plant and product companies, and garden centers can go through and check the products from that company that they carry.  Then it goes on their website, and people can go to the website and search for the stuff they're looking for, and at least have some idea of whether or not the garden center carries that thing. 

Now, that thing may or may not be in stock.  It doesn't talk to the garden center's inventory or anything.  But let's say you want to go have a look at some Dramm hoses or some Wave petunias.  You can at least find out where those things might be found.

But wait–you say.  What about the tiny heather nursery down the street that sells plants to the garden center? Or the local company that makes ceramic pots?  Well, the heather nursery or the potter can upload its inventory to the database. I know, that could be a lot of work for a little business, but the point is–it's possible.

And here's the other thing:  the app.  There's a website and an app called Garden Pilot where you can go and search for a plant. The idea is that you'll look for your plant, read about it, find out what garden centers near you have it. And here's something–the plant information doesn't just come from the growers–it also comes from Friend of Rant Allan Armitage, with articles and other information from the likes of Joe Lamp'l. (For every plant,they tell you where the plant information came from, so you know whether you're reading Allan's information or the grower's.)

I tested the iPhone app–the free version offers you the complete herb and vegetable database, and the $2.99 version gives you everything–and found it surprisingly complete:  there were, for instance, 19 varieties of basil. And you can filter your results by light requirements and all that stuff.

But here's what I really like about these people:  I listened to their pitch and then I said, "Okay, what I want is a widget for my blog's sidebar so that people can search by zip code for whatever plant I'm blogging about.  And while you're at it, take a look at how well Amazon Affiliate integrates with most blog platforms, so you don't even have to copy and paste URLs to send someone to look at a book you've mentioned in your post."

And you know what they said?  "Okay.  Got it.  We'll do it."  And I think they will!

So really:  Would it not be cool to be standing in someone's garden, have them point to some weird basil variety they grow, and be able to punch it into your phone and find out if anyone's selling it nearby so you can pick some up on the way home?

And would it not be extra-cool if the Allan Armitages and Michael Dirrs and Graham Rices of the world could license their vast horticultural knowledge to such an endeavor, so you could carry the ultimate plant reference guide in your pocket–AND find out if the garden center near you is selling it? And how long before they figure out that they can include a Latin name speak-and-spell in this thing so that we can actually pronounce the name of the plant before we get to the garden center?

Now it's up to the garden centers to join up.  Wonder if they will.


  1. Wow Amy; that is wicked stuff. While we are dreaming would it not be great if that same service could weekly give the member garden centers a click report to see how many people clicked on each plant or product, helping the IGC make better decisions about restocking. One glaring problem of course is that the smaller the garden center, the less computer wisdom and interest they have.
    By the way, have you checked out the Bonide app for the IPhone? Not bad as a start.

  2. Curmudgeon Alert. The searchable data base for web sites is fine. But with the app you would have to carry one of those hand held computer/tracking/phone devices with you every where you go. And frankly I just do not want to be that connected.

  3. For the first time I really wish I could have one of those smart phones – but we don’t have service in our part of the world. I may have tech lust, but it’s no use.

  4. hmm.
    It’s recommending mountain laurels for full shade? That’s a bit dubious. There’s also much more limited information on soil type than I would prefer.

    Also, there doesn’t seem to be a height attribute to choose from.

    Trees and shrubs are one of the things I’m most likely to buy locally, and it would be helpful to know whether I’m looking at a 50′ specimen, or a 2″ ground cover.

    They did have more info and plant varieties than I was expecting…I want it to be good enough that places near me sign up!

  5. @ PlantingOaks – unacceptable! Mt. Laurels need sun. And I, too, need good soil profiling. I’ve been burned too often by glib labels saying a plant can go anywhere.

    I’m skeptical. I can’t trust any one source for ALL plant knowledge. Some locales have bugs or diseases that others do not, and plant taxonomy seems to change as often as some people change their sheets.

    [Also, the latin pronunciation keys are kinda useless. Everyone has a different pronunciation, sometimes by discipline. I personally HATE that “c” is given a “s” sound by English speakers. And “ae” is like the “-igh” in “high”, not “eee”. OK, I’m off my historical linguistics high horse now.]

  6. Sweet – have been looking for more garden-related apps, so I will certainly check this out. If it’s as cool as it seems, and the IGCs in my area get on board, then I can stop all the silly chasing around after a particular variety. Rather than spend money on gas, I could buy more plants !!

  7. The biggest problem I see is that plants are living things and just because a plant might appear in the data base, it doesn’t mean that the nursery listed will have it right then or even that the wholesale grower will have it. Everything in the nursery industry is time sensitive. Some rare-ish plants might be grown in small batches by one particular grower and be available for 2 weeks in August. When the grower runs out, that’s it till the following year. It’s all very fluid and somewhat unpredictable. This technology would still require a phone call to the nursery and very likely, a special order.

  8. Dirr & Armitage, plantsmen. We are lucky to live in their era.

    Alas, these dear men are not enough. Plants are not enough.

    Where do you put your plants?

    Dirr, nor Armitage, are experts at placing plants to increase property value, reduce HVAC costs, site focal points, choose light fixtures, make paint color choices, select gutter styles, construct fences, build decks, know which is the best gravel to use with various architectural styles, & etc….

    Wow, great to have a database of plants. More, much more, is needed to have a fabulous landscape.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  9. Keep it simple. How bout an Ipad with an app that carries all the things stocked at your local nursery. Photos of each plant-4 seasons, growing information, etc. The app will know how many they have in stock, etc. You can purchase it right there too. All with the Ipad or some other device like it. Remember going to books to see a sample of a tree in autumn. Nope, right there while you are looking at it in May.

    That would be a good start.

  10. I would not be a bit surprised if they did come out with an app for that. They are coming up with everything now days. The only problem is that not everyone has the ability to keep up with the times.

  11. A useful tool that I hope people will not come to believe is the only way to shop for plants, or a replacement for shopping at small local nurseries and garden centers that aren’t “plugged in”.

    One of my local IGCs has it’s own greenhouses where it grows plants they sell that are acclimated to our area, in addition to plants they buy from the bigger nurseries; it might be a trick to integrate the different information.

    Also, I wonder how much it costs for nurseries to participate?

  12. Boy, I had to think about this for a long time today…

    What i do is, I’m traveling, visiting gardens and arboretums, and I find a neat plant, and I either read the tag, or ask somebody what it is, and I fire up my graphite/ woodpulp interface device, and I write it down.

    Then when I’m home, I call or visit my local nursery. I talk to the very knowledgeable nursery manager about the neat plant. And he says, yeah, we got ’em, they’re a great plant. Or he says, yeah, nice plant but doesn’t grow well here.

    And this system seems to work pretty well for me. I know, I know, it’s so 19th century. I will leave the 21st century to you tech lovers.

    No doubt about it, one day at a time I am becoming an old grump. Ah well…

  13. This already exists in the professional world where we duhsigners are connected our broker(s) via the digital world.
    It works great but there is always the problem about availability and the deliverable quality.
    If the goils of Garden Rant are interested I’ll give you the name of my broker and you can try it out yourself.

  14. And I envisioned the day, and still do, when we can take our smart phones into the nursery, shoot a picture of the barcode of the plant in question (hoping it’s the correct label) and seconds later, we have all the cultural requirements, as well as photos of it as maturity in the palm of our hand. How often do we happen upon a new plant or variety and wonder, but because we don’t have enough information, walk away? OK, well, so we buy it anyway cause we love plants…but you know what I’m say’n.

  15. Hello all. Steve Cissel here. Full disclosure: I am CEO of 10-20 Media – publisher of the GardenPilot website and iPhone app.

    Amy, thank you.

    I respect all who are passionate about ‘traditional’ ways of learning. Truth is, this effort is more about making our industry relevant than it is about the gizmo.

    Gardening is hard work and difficult to master for a few reasons – a) a Latin name that nobody can pronounce b) several common names c) works for me up here, but not for you down there d) is a perishable product. Until we ‘digitize’ the plants in our industry, and make our ‘way-of-life’ searchable on the web, we will continue to lose the discretionary spending of those who use digital media to determine where they spend their money.

    For example, if you are in the market for a new/used car, gone are the days of driving around to the dealerships to see what they have. No, today you use the likes of a, or go to the dealer’s website to see what they have.

    THAT is the mission of 10-20 Media’s + GardenPilot (web and mobile) – to inform the consumer so they can educate themselves and spend their hard earned dollars in OUR industry – not someplace else.

    A recent report suggested that consumers start their research at the RETAILERS website 65% of the time. Wow. So if the retailer does not have the plants and products they sell on their website, they are missing 65% of the opportunity.

    I look forward to the day that consumers young and old can connect with our industry (using digital media) and satisfy their God given desire to be in the garden.



  16. There is already a good internet resource for small nurseries: Dave’s Garden Website has created a plant database that lists a vast # of plants, with links to plant vendors who sell them, (the vendors pay a small fee to list their products) plus gardeners around the country can post comments about how these plants grow in their zone. I can see how they further the development of this site with some of the suggestions mentioned in the article and comments above.

  17. I have a tiny amount of experience working at a fancy schmancy gourmet plant nursery and keeping an accurate inventory of what’s in stock and available is a huge struggle. I know it sounds simple but timing a crop to be at peak size for optimum success on the customers side of things on top of being in sinc with the weather appropriate for planting and all of that correlated with the delivery of your spring catalog via mail or internet. God forbid a crop fails or just doesn’t size up no matter what you do or comes down with a new pest that no ones ever heard of before… it’s complicated. Sooooo giving customers another way to have out-of- whack expectations for their local nursery just sounds like a path that some vendors may not want to travel down.

    Me, I have a $9 cell phone and no intentions of ever having anything bigger anywhere near me. I stare at a computer all day for my job, the last thing I want to do on my lunch hour or after work is tap into the internet. If I see a plant that interests me I either buy it and see what happens or I wait until I can google it and compare all the info that comes up.

  18. “Until we ‘digitize’ the plants in our industry, and make our ‘way-of-life’ searchable on the web, we will continue to lose the discretionary spending of those who use digital media to determine where they spend their money.”

    I understand the desire for the industry to be technologically competitive with other industries that compete for discretionary spending, and also to have access to information on how consumers are spending their gardening dollars (a la a Safeway club card-type technology) in order to cater to their desires, but it seems to be to be a closed loop. You can’t account for the serendipitous “browse factor”, and your data is only as good as what goes into the system via people who use the technology. Therefore you will only ever be able to cater to them. I worry that enough Big Plant businesses will use such technology, thereby creating a false belief in “what the consumer wants”, driving trends and inventory, and eventually making the industry smaller in choices. A “Wal-Martization” of the gardening industry, if you will.

    And, I don’t believe my “way-of-life” will ever be searchable on the web……although people who believe everything can be found on the web might think so.

  19. has a sidebar search anyone can use on their site. It’s been available for a year now!

    It links to the ~20,000 plant and garden articles on the wiki. If somethings missing, you can get an account an add it, as well as photos. It’s basically a wikipedia for plants. Still a work in progress (like Wikipedia) but volunteers are always encouraged…

    disclaimer: I started the site, so you should check it out yourself to see if you think it’s as great as I do 🙂

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