Overpriced crap for gardeners


On one of my favorite wine discussion sites, Wine Therapy, a very funny poster does a regular feature called “Boatloads of Cheap Crap.” If I check nothing else on this site, I check his posts because he invariably lists all kinds of fantastic wine bargains (not crap at all), many from obscure grapes and producers.

In the gardening world, it’s not so easy to find such a resource. Oh sure, you can get plants and bulbs for almost nothing through exchanges, cuttings, and inexpensive retailers. It’s the other stuff I’m talking about. The hardware. The $40 “cache” pots. The $300 sconces for the front stoop. The $2000 outdoor teak armoires. For the love of god, the $200 “rain chain.” I don’t even know what that does.

The good news is that very few of us actually need any of this, um, stuff. But some of it we do need. I suppose I can choke down $40 for a pair of pruners, but I’d love to be told that the big box cheapies work just as well.

And, speaking of Home Depot, I must say that it can be an invaluable resource in this area. There are very few retailers who sell gardening equipment and accoutrements for under-inflated prices. (Pots can be utterly ridiculous. Why would a lightweight pot made out of some weird synthetic amalgram pretending to be ceramic cost ten times as much as a ceramic one?) The big boxes seem to have a much more affordable selection than the nurseries and the pots are often just as attractive. In addition, I often turn to the supermarket, which, at odd times, has great deals on oversized pots—the ones I generally use for all my container gardening. And since I fully intend that any pot I buy will be engulfed in flowers and foliage, what it looks like is not that big a deal—though I can’t buy plastic any more.

Many of the items I see in catalogs do exercise a certain lure. Oooh, look at the scrollwork on this window box, made exclusively for XXXX and a steal at $189! Or how about this exquisite terrarium? It’s 20% off, and only $191! To be fair, I am sure that most of this, er, stuff, would last a good long while. And to continue being fair, the local nurseries, however reasonable their plants may be, gouge almost as much as the catalogs for this sort of thing.

When I look at the retail scene for garden accessories, I have to conclude that we’re getting reamed. Where are the boatloads of really cool cheap gardening crap?

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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. OK… I agree. $200 Rain chains and gazing balls and such are wasteful and generally UGLY in a garden.

    But some things… like these these laminated steel bladed Japanese pruning shears ( http://www.fine-tools.com/G309904.htm ) are just too sweet to pass up. At € 56.00 (what is that, about $75?), I’ll buy two… even though I could get cheaper shears elsewhere for $10 or less. Both cut just fine, but some stuff is just sweet.

    But you are, of course, correct.

    Frugality is the essence of happiness.

  2. BIG LOTS! I just got a set of three graduated-size ceramic pots for $10! Even the manager couldn’t believe what a deal he had there. They’re glazed and gorgeous. I bought three sets. 🙂

  3. Trade off: I’ve embraced my bosses Hindu idols – and angels and even the fat chinese buddha – but I will not tolerate the ugly novelty flowerpots. There can be too much diversity.

  4. Great post, Elizabeth!

    I’m also generally frustrated with how dinky and badly proportioned everything is–despite generally high prices. If I’m going to pay hundreds of dollars for some plant support, well, it had damned well better be taller than me and make some kind of statement in my garden.

    Searching for four trellises last year to lean up against my carriage house, I could find nothing, even on ebay, that would set me back hundreds and hundres of dollars. So I settled for the $29 Lowe’s iron ones from China. Not bad.

    That said, I generally find that when I cough it up for Smith & Hawken stuff, I’m satisfied by what they send.

  5. “Frugality is the essence of happiness.”

    If my husband only knew that phrase was being used in reference to me. It might bring on a stroke, though.

  6. At one time you could find some reasonably-priced tools, quite decent Martha Stewart plants, and other stuff at Kmart, but the company left Austin several years ago. Do the remaining stores still have a big garden section?

    Our groceries also carry some nice ceramic pots and some tools.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. I’d say Overstock.com, but I bought a birdbath there last year and the bowl (plastic) turned out to be a right piece o’ crap (about half the ‘fake marble’ coating has flaked off already).

    I’d also say mastergardenproducts.com because they have 7′ bamboo trellis for $20, but that was until I found out they ship FedEx Ground from Washington and shipping would have almost tripled the price of my $140 order. (!smelling salts!)

    Later this year I’ll post pictures of the several crazy homemade trellises in my garden 🙂

  8. I second the Odd Lots/ Big Lots. I’m pretty sure this is stuff that got dropped by the crane coming off the freighter, but if you pick through the broken, scratched and dented, you can find good product.

    “Trash Day” is the other one folks haven’t mentioned. On trash day you can often find perfectly good stuff being tossed. Especially look at the curbside offerings when somebody moves out. Lots of goodies, and you can save them from being landfill!

  9. I LOVE “trash day,” as Jenn mentioned. For the garden, I have so far picked up: An old stereo cabinet that doubles as my potting bench, various rocking chairs that just needed a little TLC or a new plywood seat, 2 perfectly fine 6ft. tall matching heavy wire trellises (not a bad weld on them), a small wrought iron gate that doubled as a trellis for dwarf peas, 2 chimney liners that were planted in the garden as posts/planters, a perfectly usable but old-fashioned wheelbarrow, 2 mirros and 3 different huge terracotta pots.

    Sometimes you have to think a little outside the box, though. For example, I trashpicked a wooden playpen so I could take the 4ft. tall sides and use each of them as a trellis when attached to posts. I also trashpicked an old, heavy metal window frame that I want to incorporate as part of my grape arbor somehow. I’m thinking I can eventually hang some candle lanterns from it…

  10. When it comes to cheap pots, I’m partial to old galvanized buckets that are often tossed when they start to leak. Drill a few more holes for drainage. Buy a can of spraypaint. Et voila.


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