The Most Luxurious Garden Center in the World


If Sally Jean says ironweed, I buy ironweed…

Last week, I had the great pleasure of traveling to Buffalo in order to do a talk at Urban Roots and meet up with Elizabeth and Amy, who also did a book-related event in Buffalo and had the audience laughing its ass off as she descibed various bug-related murders. 

It's no secret that I LOVE Buffalo.  Ever since my first Garden Walk garden tour, my husband has been asking with some trepidation, "You aren't going to try to make me move to Buffalo, are you?"

He still hasn't recovered from his original forced move upstate 20 years ago.

No, I don't want to move there.  I just want to drink white wine in Elizabeth's garden a few times a year and shop at Lockwood's Nursery.  The last time I was there, I struggled back on Amtrak with some very unusual annuals, including a white-edged plectranthus that wintered over beautifully in the house and is now sitting in a prominent spot in the garden in my favorite pot.

This time I was more interested in perennials.  And Lockwood's has such a great selection, that if I weren't traveling by train, I could easily have bought a dozen entirely new plants.

But this time, I realized that the true genius of Lockwood's is not in the selection.  It's the fact that it employs garden writer and reporter Sally Jean Cunningham to walk the aisles and answers the customers' questions.  Sally may very well know everything that ought to be known about gardening, and, I suspect, life. 

She steered me towards ironweed, an American native that is not only the title of a William Kennedy novel, but also, according to Sally, gets about 8 feet tall with wonderful purple flowers.

She also convinced me to act on my interest in dictamnus or gasplant–which really does smell like gasoline and apparently gives off such potent volatile oils that you can set the air around it on fire.  I only know this plant, which is a bit like a foxglove with pea family-like leaves, because I have long admired an ancient stand of it in the country town of Salem, NY.  It's reportedly one of those plants that, like peony, will live a hundred years on sheer neglect.

I have never seen dictamnus in another garden, never in a nursery, and rarely in books.  According to Sally, it resents being moved, so it may be difficult to propagate. But one of Lockwood's growers has apparently decided to single-handedly revive dictamnus by starting some from seed.  I had to have the white version, even at a punishing $21.99.

And then, on my own, I picked out a hot pink Oriental poppy because it works with the color scheme.  Elizabeth bought them for me as a present (it really should have been the other way around!) and I put them in the luggage rack on the train.

Whatever Lockwood's is paying Sally to be walking the aisles dispensing charm and wisdom, it is surely not enough.  But clearly, Lockwood's is living up to url,

Think what the world would be like, if other garden centers also knew plants…if they employed intelligent people who could convey their enthusiasm for plants to the gardeners and would-be gardeners poking around the store.  (Certainly at the Big Box stores, the employees mostly convey misery.)

I know what the world would be like if there were a Sally Jean Cunningham in every garden center.  All the gardeners would be going broke.


  1. I planted ironweed in my garden this spring… the plants are tiny, a mere 2-3 inches or so tall. Hard to envision they will get to 8 feet, but that’s what I’m hoping for!

    I agree, a knowledge horticulturist in the garden center is essential!

  2. I’ve been growing ironweed in one of my gardens for a number of years now. Having sandy soil this native plant has performed very well.

    Gas plant (the pink one) is also well established in another sandy soil southern exposure garden bed. After a number of years some baby plants have popped up But I haven’t relocated them as of yet.

    I have to agree I don’t see these for sale much though.

    I routinely provide plant advice when plant shopping. I gasped when one lady had a number of snow on the mountain plants in her cart. I advise her that she would regret the day she planted them. Alas she didn’t put them back.

  3. It takes a few seasons for Ironweed to reach its full size and height from seed and when it does be prepared to stake it cause it will fall over even grown in full sun. The novel had a certain dismal charm.

    A Sally Jean in every nursery would be nice. Still my questions are limited to the where is the … or do you have … and it is always nice when they can direct me to the exact location in the nursery by the plants name only.

  4. Great post and Sally Jean is obviously a TREASURE!

    Fortunately gas plant and ironweed are not available in Colorado (far as I know, and don’t tell me if they are) or I would be planning a shopping expedition right now. I can’t help myself; it seems I have purchased almost every book Amy has recommended, and loved them all!

    GardenRant–wonderful for the mind, hard on the purse.

  5. A couple years ago President’s Choice (one of our large grocery store chains) employed master gardeners to work in their garden centres in the spring. I don’t think they still do that, but it was a wonderful surprise to see one of our very knowledgeable garden experts strolling around and answering questions.

    Our local independent nursery hasn’t ever heard of epimedium. It is getting better, but it certainly doesn’t stretch itself to learn about plants it hasn’t carried before. It really just has a more varied selection of clematis and hostas, but not a whole lot that you haven’t seen somewhere else. Sigh…

    Now if Plant Delights was up in Canada, I would be in serious financial trouble.

  6. I wanted to let Sandra know that ironweed is indeed avaliable in Colorado! Timberline Garden Center in Arvada claims to carry two types. I have been wanting one since I saw them in the High County Gardens catalog. Timberline is a dangerous place for me and my credit card.

  7. Ironweed, yes. Or vernonia, as I call it, since I don’t like to saddle lovely plants with the “weed” moniker. I garden across the border in CT, but at just about the same latitude as Albany, where the William Kenndy novel is set. Quite a gritty book. On the other hand, vernonia is not gritty at all. It’s tall, has kind of smallish flouncy blooms, of a gorgeous deep pink. Sort of looks like Joe Pye Weed, or eupatorium. My vernonia was all started from seed; I got them from Diane’s Dayliles, a wonderful mail source. It’s easy to grow (like a weed). But with the internet, you don’t have to have a Lockwoods nearby. But it would be nice!

  8. Gardeners go broke at all the garden stores in our area, even the big box stores. Garden walks abound here with Buffalo being the largest by far and the gardeners, buy, buy, buy. We have a relatively short season, but pack the most into it in communities all across Western NY. I am from the Buffalo area and know Lockwoods well. It really is a one of a kind place and is a treasure in to have Western NY.

  9. Hello, I just discovered your web site and really enjoyed the blogs. When we first bought our summer cottage in Maine I had a landscaper help with what I should place In my garden as I had previously lived in Florida. He put in one ironweed that only survived two winters but It was beautiful when in bloom.
    By the way, I’m going to look for the tomato vodka and serve tomato martinis to our friends using the tomato water strained from fresh picked tomatoes.

  10. I wear my Urban Roots t-shirt all the time. I love Buffalo also after attending the garden bloggers event last year. The people and the gardens were just fantastic. Time to go back!

  11. Ironweed is marvelous, and there’s a bunch of varieties–my threadleaf ironweed gets maybe three feet tall, and it is a fabulous little plant with very touchable leaves. But yeah, it’ll take a bit to establish, so don’t look for eight feet this year!

  12. Hey — Sally sold me a gasplant just last week. I suspect she’s getting a kickback from the gas company. Sally is a treasure and is recognized wherever she goes, our own garden celebrity. I so wish I was here for your talk at Urban Roots (I need you to sign my book), but alas, Chelsea was calling. Next time.

  13. Oh, Sally Cunningham is lovely, isn’t she? She worked at my family’s nursery, Masterson’s in East Aurora, while I was growing up and I have long respected her as a really wonderful person and an invaluable source of plant and gardening knowledge. Any nursery that has Sally wandering their aisles is certainly a lucky one!

  14. Michele, I couldn’t agree more about how rare it is to find such well-informed folks like Sally in a nursery. They are worth every penny and really, lots more since typically nurseries don’t pay squat. I envy your experience there!

  15. Dear Michele, and dear people who commented-

    Thank you for your generous review and wonderful words. It is a privelege to work in an industry that makes people so happy, and lets me share some knowledge and passion just by doing my job.

    It’s also cool to have the Lockwood family and wonderful associates to work with, since there is a whole value system there of dedicated plant production and care and giving informed customer service. I know there are many fine professionals in garden centers and nurseries in WNY and many areas–but indeed what’s come together at Lockwood’s is rare. That’s why I’m there.

    Meanwhile, you ALL are going to come for Bus Tours, and garden walks during the 5 weeks of National Garden Festival, right?

    Don’t miss opening day with KERRY ANN MENDEZ at the Botanical Garden on June 24 ( and Lockwood’s Perennial Day on June 25 (includes Kerry Ann, me, a great luncheon, other speakers… !) 716-649-4684.

    Please sign up for bus trips too as I am getting nervous!(That’s my other job…Executive Director)(

    Sincerely, thank you. Sally

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