Amazon comes for the garden centers?

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It’s been happening for a while. I am guilty of using Amazon for garden hardware that’s kind of boring to shop for in person, like hoses, nozzles, timing systems, and the like. I have never shopped for plants there. But a recent article in the industry mag, Garden Center, reports on Amazon’s recent launch of the Amazon Plants Store, which invites consumers to shop for plants by brand, with the list including such well-known icons as Proven Winners.

Ordinarily, if you go to Amazon’s home and garden section, you’ll find a list on the left that includes plants, with items like trees, perennials, and shrubs. But click on trees and, most likely, the first item might be a book, with other choices including a bottle tree, solar lights, and fairy houses to hang on trees. It’s not much help and you’ll soon be headed to your local tree nursery.

The new Plants Store, however, focuses on live plants only. Except. After scrolling down past the grower logos, some plant images appeared, none of them plants I would ever think of for outdoor gardening purposes. They included a sago palm, a lucky bamboo, a bunch of orchids, and some other tropicals, all mixed in with Knockouts and azaleas. This is not the way I like to shop for plants. My favorite IGC has separate areas for these things and they are arranged in a way that makes sense, something that Amazon’s algorithms are incapable of, by definition. Amazon just doesn’t work that way, which can be fun when you’re looking for books or face cream.

I am a big online shopper for bulbs, and, occasionally, annuals or perennials I can’t find anywhere else. But, by far, the bulk of my shopping is done in person, at local IGCs and I do not see that changing.

Here’s my favorite quote from the Garden Center article, from a retailer who sells both ways: “We kind of like Amazon, and we kind of feel like we don’t like Amazon. It’s a really weird relationship.” That sounds about right.

Otherwise, I’m envisioning hordes of newbie gardeners filling their yards with orchids, sago palms, and lucky bamboo.

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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

15 COMMENTS

  1. That quote sums it up well. “We kind of like Amazon, and we kind of feel like we don’t like Amazon. It’s a really weird relationship.” I feel the same way whenever I buy anything on Amazon these days. I like the convenience of Amazon but I don’t like it when I know I am buying something from them that I can buy locally. I’m not exactly anti-Amazon but I’m not really pro-Amazon. “It’s a really weird relationship.” That said, I don’t plant to buy many plants from them!

    • Hi Lois, Yes, it was very nice. I’m sorry you couldn’t link to it! Of course, the Times is behind a paywall now, so maybe that was it. Or maybe it’s our new site configuration. I’ll look into it.

  2. I will not purchase anything from Amazon. They treat their workers horrendously and they sell Trump merchandise. Sorry to get political, but these issues are very important to me.

  3. I remember seeing a poignant historical photo of a Native American presenting a gift of salmon to the engineer of a locomotive arriving on a newly build railroad through the Columbia Gorge…yeah. Like that. A recent study of harmful invasive plant species found virtually all of them for sale on the internet. Know Thy Plant. Buying local (and knowing the origin of your nursery products) is one of the best ways to avoid harmful things like fire ants, crazy worms, seeds of rapidly multiplying greenhouse pests, etc. I used to get such a charge out of plant shopping. Now that I know we are wrecking our natural environment by careless practices I buy seeds, research the plant VERY carefully to see it is invasive here or in other areas with similar climates, and evaluate it in my garden for a number of years before giving it to my friends…I want to stay their friends.

  4. In Tallahassee we have three sago palms. They’re everywhere. I would like to see all garden posts describe which zone they’re talking about. Plus sun/shade info. We feel left out.

  5. While I’ve looked at Amazon’s plant offerings (maple trees & fruit trees for example), I find their prices are usually higher than if I purchase directly from an online nursery or locally. I do, however, buy a fair amount of non-plant items from Amazon because I can’t get these items where I live.

    However, buying locally versus buying on-line, including from Amazon, is unequal. For example, I recently purchased plants from a “reputable” on-line nursery. Of the 5 plants I ordered. two died right out of the box. The online nursery made replacements, but when I opened the replacement box, bugs flew out. Of course I contacted the nursery who gave me credit, but they said the bugs were harmless gnats. I took the plants to my county extension agent who identified them as fungus gnats, which aren’t completely harmless. Contrast with a local nursery, who when I mentioned I was looking for salvia madrensis ordered it for me (without me asking) and called me when it came in. Their plants were MORE than healthy with no insect infestations, no shipping fees, and their prices were quite reasonable.

  6. Part of the enjoyment of plant shopping for me is being able to see what I’m buying in person, picking out the ones I want, browsing all the other plants etc–I can’t imagine shopping for plants on-line. I love looking through catalogs and websites to get ideas, but just can’t bring myself to buy a plant that way.
    My big problem in the last couple of years is that my local IGC, which I love, has raised it’s prices so much (I think in response to the growing affluence in our town) that I think twice before buying my plants there now. For the last couple of years, I’ve bought my plants at a variety of stores that aren’t garden centers (our local grocery store has wonderful seasonal selections), and paid half to a quarter of what I’d have to spend at the IGC (which I will go to for harder-to-find plants). I feel bad about that, I want to support them, but it’s hard to pay $7.99 for a plant I can get down the road for $2.99.
    As for Amazon, I just hate the way they invade your cyber sphere with ads and nudges after you make a purchase. I rarely buy anything from there anymore.

    • In response to your comment Anne, my guess is the reason the local IGC’s prices have increased are not do to affluence in your area but actual increases in their costs. Labor, fuel, rent, etc. have all gone up for small businesses. In order for a small business to stay in business they have to raise prices. Also – shopping from local grocery stores, big boxes and other chains is very similar if not the same as buying from Amazon to a local business. The larger chains/boxes use the plants often as a loss leader with no intention of making money. Not always – but often enough. The local knowledge of those plants from those chains/boxes is almost non-existent. So you pay a bit more from your local retailer to get the expertise of those folks. I get it – the chains/boxes do it right sometimes but just know the ramifications of that. There are ways of shopping for plants online other then Amazon that do support your local IGC.

      • My favorite IGC, at which I spend a lot of money, focuses on branded plants, which tend to cost more. There are other local nurseries, selling nothing but plants for the most part, that sell plugs and sixpacks of annuals for a lot less. A lot of the time, you’re paying for a marketing strategy. It’s not just big box vs. IGC, as easy as that would be. On the other hand, I do appreciate the work that goes into some of the more exciting new annuals. But I know I could spend a lot less without resorting to a big box if I didn’t like my snazzy branded plants so much.

  7. While I’ve looked at Amazon’s plant offerings (maple trees & fruit trees for example), I find their prices are usually higher than if I purchase directly from an online nursery or locally. I do, however, buy a fair amount of non-plant items from Amazon because I can’t get these items where I live.

    However, buying locally versus buying on-line, including from Amazon, is unequal. I feel buying plants in person is much better. For example, I recently purchased plants from a “reputable” on-line nursery. Of the 5 plants I ordered. two died right out of the box. The online nursery made replacements, but when I opened the replacement box, bugs flew out. I contacted the nursery who gave me credit, but they said the bugs were harmless gnats. I took the plants to my county extension agent who identified them as fungus gnats, which aren’t completely harmless. Contrast this with a local nursery, who when I mentioned I was looking for salvia madrensis ordered it for me (without me asking) and called me when it came in. Their plants were MORE than healthy with no insect infestations, no shipping fees, and their prices were quite reasonable.

  8. I admit to shopping from Amazon frequently, but never for anything I could pick up in less than an hour. Unfortunately, not all locales have good shopping, simply because the population is too small. Even in Des Moines, Iowa, I end up driving for hours to buy anything more interesting than a barberry or a spiraea. I will happily order trees and shrubs online, but from “reputable” vendors.
    I doubt I’ll be buying plants from Amazon.

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