Hey kids—let’s start a garden center!


In the wake of Michele’s Home Depot blast, it seems only fitting to discuss plant shopping writ small. I don’t know how many of you have access to cooperative nurseries/gardening centers (I’d love to know, BTW), but it looks like one will be opening up here in Buffalo as of April 1. As far as I can tell, this would be a retail center where all shoppers would be members, paying a yearly membership fee for the ability to buy plants (or buy them cheaper). There would be meetings where members could help determine store policy and which products and services they’d most like to see. This is not a cooperative garden or CSA (community shared agriculture)—we’re talking retail. The fact that goggling “cooperative nursery” and a few synonymous permutations got me under 200 hits tells me that there are plenty of co-op gardens but not too many co-op garden centers. We’re fond of such sixties-esque institutions in Buffalo; we also have a retail food co-op (though anyone can shop there—it’s really more like a local co-op version of Whole Foods).

On one hand, the ability to participate in your own community gardening center sounds cool. On the other hand, the standard capitalist model has yielded some very good nurseries in the area, most owned by hard-working families, members of whom can be seen every day in their stores. Unlike the all-too-familiar “service” scenarios detailed by Michele, these people know everything there is to know about their offerings, and are happy to share that knowledge with their customers.

If our co-op can offer similar quality (and selection), I’ll shop at it. If not, not. Does this kind of operation make sense in the twenty-first century retail world? Can it compete? It might not be the ticket for an ultra-picky plant shopper to whom price matters little and location matters less (me) but it will definitely fill a gap for other urban gardeners here.

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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 regular 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. No cooperative nursery around Portland that I’ve heard about. We too have at least three decent nurseries within about 15 minutes’ travel as well as two Home Depots and a newly opened Lowe’s, and on Wednesdays and Saturdays there is a farmer’s market where you can pick up standard garden fare — bedding plants and vegetable seedlings — as well as vegetables.

    The best local nursery has a wide range and grows a lot of its own plants, and I’m trying to develop the habit of checking there before going off to specialty nurseries on the Internet. It’s so easy to shop in your pajamas on Saturday morning while you’re looking at the garden that they have become my preferred alternative. Most of them are mom & pop operations, so I figure shopping with them is doing some good too.

    It will be interesting to hear how the co-op nursery turns out.

  2. Hello Elizabeth,

    Since reading your post yesterday, I’ve tried to imagine being a member and paying a fee to shop in one place, but just can’t do it! Roaming from store to store, browsing through everything and reading the tags is not just shopping – it’s also entertainment and sometimes even education.

    The fussy-factor applies to me, too. If a specific plant doesn’t show up, I’ll live without it before buying a substitute.

    Maybe the cooperative nursery concept demands sixties-esque personalities as member-shoppers, but is there anyone like that anymore? Are there any easy-going people with an interest in gardening, who haven’t yet gone over the edge?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. Thank you, Elizabeth for bringing Urban Roots Community Garden Center (www.urbanroots.org) to this audience. Yes indeed, we are starting a cooperative garden center on Buffalo’s west side. To clear up some confusion though, you certainly will not have to be a member to shop there, and if you do want to support the cooperative with a membership, it is a lifetime membership.

    Why in the world a cooperative? Mostly, we just want to have a place to buy quality, unusual plants in the city, close to home. Buffalo is a fortunate place to live, in that you can get almost anywhere in 10 minutes. Except the greenhouse – until now! Now I’ll be able to walk around the corner for my organically raised heirloom tomatoes.

    We also wanted to see a garden center that would have unique products and plants, organic supplies, outreach and education. We thought the best way to have the store we wanted was to be a cooperative.

    It is a lot of work, but I think it’ll pay off with convenience, quality, and a truly unique place to shop.

    First off, we have a highly successful food coop in Buffalo, that does incorporate the interests of its members in the products it provides.

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