What’s on your Wish List for Garden Centers?


Garden Center Magazine has asked GardenRant to write a guest post for their new blog that answers this question:  What’s your wish list for changes in retail garden centers?  So we’re asking our Readers to help with this important job.  This is your chance to rant!  How could garden centers better serve you?  We’re looking for the Top Five Ways they could improve.  My own dream list begins and ends with:

  1. More information about the plants they sell, especially the Latin and correct cultivar name, but also exposure, water requirement and ultimate size.
  2. More employees available who can answer questions and give overall guidance.  Newbie customers in particular are overwhelmed and often waste their money on misguided choices that you, the retailer, could have prevented.  So they’re discouraged and frustrated, and you’ve just lost them as repeat customers.

My fear is that hiring more employees would just worsen the price advantage that big box stores have over independent garden centers.  But maybe creative business people can figure this out; our job is to WISH.

Okay, Readers, now’s your chance.


  1. Healthy looking plants in the fall – not leftover, scraggly things that have been sitting around since the spring (and not well taken care of)!

  2. Great idea for a topic! My suggestions:

    1. Use regional zone guides for plants-not USDA-along with comments from local gardeners. For example, Howe fosterina, good in Sunset Zones 21-24, H1, H2, except in areas without afternoon winds, where it should get 50% shade. Acidic amendments except in areas with DG. Regular twice weekly watering, unless you live in a south facing canyon, which can get by with once a week. Ooooh, now I am happy.

    2. Have online or weather-proofed plant encyclopedias available through out the nursery.

    3. Pictures of plants-especially tress, shrubs and perennials- in different stages of growth. Also realistic growth rate information would help as well.

    4. Home compost solutions available to purchase for small home, condo and apartment dwellers that are easy, non-smelly and simple to implement. Garden centers really need to be evangelists in this area.

    5. Regular weekend workshops-starting from seed, pruning, propagating (oh-we’ll still buy pots and soil from you…), etc. Do the workshops out front, in the parking lot, under a tent.

    Lost more-but these are my first 5.



  3. Here’s my list:

    1) Warnings/info on invasive plants.

    2) Staffers who actually have a clue about gardening.

    3) See #2.

    4) See #2.

    5) See #2.

    When will garden centers finally figure out that their own poorly-trained staff is their biggest problem?

  4. BIG YES to better plants in the fall! What’s the point of the fall planting season if there are no plants to buy?

    And how about a “staff favorites” section with plants that do particularly well for some reason, along with a fun note from the staff (like bookstores do) and photos of the plant in a garden?

  5. An employee with a PhD in horticulture, taxonomy, soil science, you name it, is going to make very little headway with the bulk of the buying public who are determined to have what they want NOW, based on the Renegade’s number one gardening mistake, gardening by flower color.

    Can you say Exasperated?

    Educating a public largely disconnected from their environment is a herculean task that a garden center will never be able to fully satisfy or be able to prevent people from making mistakes.

    Proper labeling by latin name with good detailed information on the plants would go a long way to satisfy more experienced gardeners. A simple laminated sheet for display and a business card to take with the plant would work.

    The one area where I would like to see a real push in education is the neccesary and beneficial role of insects and bugs in the landscape. A giant sign near the pesticide department with a synopsis of IPM, Integrated Pest Management principles just to get people thinking about what they are doing would be nice.

  6. I have to agree with Christopher. I worked part time at a garden center a couple of years ago, and there were a handful of customers who really wanted to talk about gardening the way we all do on our blogs. The rest of them just wanted to know where the black-eyed susans were and when the impatiens were going on sale.

    That said, I think that the idea of the weatherproof plant encyclopedia and the “staff favorites” idea is brilliant.

    I also think it would be wonderful if they could somehow encouraged people to post or bring pictures of their own gardens, combinations, containers, etc. Even with display endcaps it’s hard to visualize where to put a plant you have fallen in love with when you’re a beginner–ideas, ideas, ideas would be great.

  7. Echoing what others have said, garden centers need to acknowledge that some people actually engage in serious fall planting. By October, you can’t find a single shrub–but the cheesy holiday decorations are available for purchase!

  8. 1. Healthy plant material in all seasons, spring and fall. Move the sick plants out of sight, if you have a disease or insect problem, quarantine those plants.
    2. Well-trained staff. They don’t have to have degrees in horticulture but should love to garden and be taught about what they are selling.
    3. Different plants to purchase, not the same as the big box stores, a little ahead of the curve with new plants.
    4. Clean nursery, clean store, clean restrooms, someplace to get a cold drink on a hot day. Make me want to stay and look. The longer I stay, the more I buy.
    5. Displays showing plants in combinations with each other, help me see the possibilities!
    6. Readily available reference books, and good signs with information about the plants. ALL plants labeled correctly in Latin as well as common name!

    Oops, that was six… I’ll stop there, that’s my list!

  9. My one biggie is having more unusual plants available (or be able to order for local pickup) than the big box stores; especially woodies. This is where they can find a niche that the big boxes won’t fill. Serious gardeners would rather find these locally than have to mail order across country or something.

  10. Garden centres in the UK are CLUELESS, period. They are somewhere to go a have a nice cup of tea, look at a Jacuzzi, check out the latest softwood last two years shed, I’m sorry summerhouse. It’s all about vastly overpriced, impulse purchasing by the uneducated, nothing more.

    They should be scrapped, ban them just have specialist nurseries.

  11. Most of what I buy locally would be considered impulse purchases. If I really ‘need’ a plant, I order it online.

    I look for something that looks like it doesn’t belong among all the common stuff. One local nursery used to have a greenhouse full of geraniums (Pelargonium). I’m not a big fan of the usual geranium. But these were so cool that I couldn’t resist buying a handful.

    That said, any local nursery basing their business plan on what I want is doomed.

  12. 1. Small display gardens where customers can see the varieties on sale growing in a genuine garden setting – and I don’t mean a display garden refreshed every week and then dismantled at the end of the season… I mean a permanent display with only annuals changing with the seasons.

    2. Mature container plantings featuring the container plants on sale. If customers can see the plants as they could look in their own gardens, they’ll not only buy, they’ll develop their interest.

    3. Plants which are looked after well – by contrast with the big box stores where the standard of care if often lamentable. If the people selling the plants don’t respect the plants, then gardeners won’t either.

  13. Better variety of native plants. In my neck of the woods, it’s a stretch for nurseries to carry Agave parryii, not to mention some other interesting ones.

  14. 1. Employees who are actually interested in two things top my list: A. Gardens. B. People.

    2. An organized shopping experience, so I don’t have to spend hours dragging around a wagon and a complaining small child before I find what I want. Sun-lovers here, shade-plants there, here things that like wet soil, here things that like dry soil.

    3. An editor-in-chief. I’d like to feel that the plants I’m being offered really represent an intelligent person’s taste and judgment. I’d like to trust that the varieties for sale in the nursery are something special: bigger, hardier, more beautiful, more weird, especially well suited to the local growing conditions. I get that sense of taste and judgment from good catalogs, but not so much from even the fancy nurseries near me.

  15. Like Mr. Ellis Hollow, I buy most of my plants online, because I’m after something unusual. It’s kind of ironic, though, that most of the wonderful nurseries I’ve actually visited in person, have been an hour away–in Mr. Ellis Hollow’s hometown.

  16. We are trying to address the needs of our customers for more information, yet the trend in the nursery business is to offer less information. Apparently people are so over in-undated with information they can’t handle anymore. Drop the Latin names, give the public less to choose from in plants, use recognized national brands and they will be happy and buy, buy, buy. The problem is garden centers can only hope to attract 5% of the gardening public to their store. It’s a lucrative 5% we’re talking about, but these people are looking for a different experience than what is offered at the box stores. People in our industry see all the money the chains rake in and try to emulate their strategy yet the 5%, which includes readers of Garden Rant are telling us otherwise.

  17. Kathy: I’ve patronized at least four or five local nurseries that I think are great. And that’s not counting the Mennonite nurseries over around Penn Yan. We really are blessed here. All of these nurseries are head and shoulders above your run-of-the-mill garden center or big box store. Still, most of my local purchases are impulse buys. My visits are like going to a museum and buying a print at the gift shop on the way out.

  18. Christopher C, you always give me something to think about–but I MUST address this question of normalcy. I’ve been thinking about it a lot of late!

    Post to come soon!

  19. Michele: I remember a talk by Felder Rushing. In his preamble, he asked the audience to raise their hands responding to a series of questions: How many of you grow more than 10 varieties of a single species? How many of you have ever given a tour of your garden by flashlight? etc. (I wish I could remember all the questions.) For each, the majority of the audience raised their hands. To which Felder intoned: See, you’re not like most people.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  20. How about fewer experts that are telling the garden centers that customers these days only want to “decorate” their gardens. Every green industry conference I go to is filled with people who talk about dumbing down gardening to suit “what the customer wants.” Please.

    I think that garden centers need more people who are excited about plants and like to garden themselves.

    I give educational programs at my local garden center and my customers love it when I’m passionate about plants and gardening.

    Enthusiasm is contagious.

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