If I wanted stuffed animals I would go to Toys ‘R’ Us



Or I would visit a small, locally-owned toy boutique. Regardless, I can assure you, I would
not be looking for them at my local nursery.

Nonetheless, that’s what I found the other day, right where
they always used to have the bamboo stakes. Little furry birds that make
authentic noises. I asked a staffer where the stakes were and he looked at me
in puzzlement. I asked another, and she looked at me in puzzlement. Finally, we
unearthed an old-timer who knew where the bamboo and wire stakes were kept, way
back in the corner behind the cocoa matting, sort of near where the pond
supplies used to be.

It’s not just nurseries and garden centers.  Stock is moved, sent back, and replaced on
a daily basis in almost every retail establishment I frequent. Entire departments
are torn apart and relocated regularly. They even do it at the liquor
store—what’s the point of that? The assumption is that all consumers have ADHD,
unable to bear seeing the same merchandise in the same place longer than 36
hours.  I’m afraid to tell friends
about a great shopping find, because I’m almost positive it won’t be there a
day later.



So be it. But will there come a time when I have to mail
order such boring garden necessities as stakes, ties, and cheap terra cotta,
while resin fairies, wind chimes, and stones inscribed with profound messages
can still be had at my local garden center? Look, I know that stores need to
carry what sells. But when the basics are relegated to obscure corners, it’s
only a matter of time before they disappear altogether. People may need them,
but sometimes it takes good customer service to explain to customers exactly
what they need and why.  Maybe a
new generation of gardeners will assume that oriental lilies were just destined
to lie on the ground.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen for sale in your
garden center?  I will draw from
the responses and the winner will receive the eminently practical Eleanor
Perenyi’s Green Thoughts—a brand new edition from Modern Library. Contest ends tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern.

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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


  1. Hello Elizabeth

    We have a similar and growing problem here in the UK. The term ‘garden centre’ is becoming something of a misnomer as it’s increasingly hard to see what these supermarkets of tat have to do with real gardening.

    But they make loads of money, of course, and the UK gardening industry carries lots of clout, so few folk question the status quo, especially our supine gardening media.

    Perhaps the weirdest thing you can find in a UK garden centre is well grown plants…

  2. I have a local nursery that has an extensive indoor shop that sells crafty decor items, so my daughter was able to do her Mother’s day shop in one place – new heavy duty gardening gloves, wellies and ear-rings!! Yes, they even sell jewellry!! The plants are pretty good too!! If they had a Dunkin Donuts I’d be in heaven!!

  3. Fortunately for me, the local and local-ish garden centers stick pretty much to business. No earrings! They do sell those plush singing birds, and little animal figures to go with the miniature John Deere collection for the young set. The local Agway has garden supplies and livestock supplies from birds to chickens to horses. My favorite Shelburne Farm and Garden is similar. Maybe my advantage is in living in such a rural area. I do feel lucky not to have to plow through all the tchokes.

  4. The garden centre I frequent has a little cafe — charming outdoor tables, umbrellas, a splendid display of their incredibly overpriced pre-planted pots. The other day, the staff of the cafe were busy preparing salads with warm goatcheese and artisanal breads(whatever they are). I didn’t dare ask the price — I guess if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

  5. All of the garden centers here have large gifts shops, one which is equal in size to their flower area.

    Annoyingly their selection of plants is less diverse then their selection of gift junk.

  6. oh I hate that things get moved all the time. I mutter under my breath (sometimes not under), as I try to find the things I get on a regular basis. I mean really, how many gazing balls does one garden center need to carry?????

  7. Fortunately I have a really nice garden center nearby that has a great selection of native plants. They usually have what I want.

    But this rant reminds me of stationery stores. I remember when they carried more than a few boxes of stationery in the back corner of a store filled with candles, cards and doo-dads.

  8. Changing a garden center around is a pain for customers, but it’s a disaster when they do it at the supermarket. All of a sudden, you haven’t a clue where anything is. You rushed in to pick up two things and it takes a half hour. Aargh!

    I find that I don’t take nurseries very seriously if they sell lots of schlock. (Doesn’t seem like the right place for me.)

  9. The weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my garden center is a very small selection of textured wallpaper (the kind that you paint over), wallpaper paste, and paste brushes. Who needs to wallpaper their garden?

  10. Lifesize Santas and rattan raindeer, Easter eggs as big as bowling balls and tux-suited rabbits, American flags and yards of spangled bunting, foam Jack-o-lanterns — my local “garden” stores never miss a holiday.

  11. The garden center in my old home town sells expensive painted furniture in colors and patterns that defy description. You have to crawl through this mish-mash of clashing junk to get to the cafe. They just tore down their greenhouses to expand the store. Not sure I want to know what they intend to sell next season.

  12. Well, I work at a garden center and we sell wine. They’re going to start doing wine tastings, apparently.

    I’m all for it. My garden always looks much better after a few glasses of wine.

  13. I do the buying for the gift shop at a botanical garden. I can’t compete with the big boxes for tools. I try to find more unusual things. I suppose the strangest thing we sell is baby clothes (with a garden theme of course).
    We don’t move whole departments, but we do move items around if they’re not selling. People see them in a new light in a new location. Most stores rearrange so that you have to look at everything instead of just going straight to the usual places and leaving. The more you look, the more you impulse buy.

  14. What I *don’t* find :
    a stiff wire brush to help me care for my tools;
    a file for sharpening said tools;
    a new handle to replace the one that just broke on my otherwise perfectly good fork;
    information on whether a plant has a real chance in my ridiculously clay soil;

    What I do find :
    tabletop fountains;
    lovely plants without price tags;
    whirligigs & what-nots ;
    $25,000 rugs that you’d never dream of putting near dirt;
    purses made of seatbelt material.

  15. My local garden center has probably twenty Christmas trees in the gift store at Christmastime with every kind of decoration imaginable. They do Easter, Halloween, every possible holiday with all the chotchkis (sp?) you could ever think of and then some; all priced to practically take your breath away.

    They don’t sell tools, gloves, perlite, or vermiculite, or things you might actually need – just way overpriced plants, most of them missing their prices. The stakes are hidden in some back employee area and you wouldn’t even know they stocked them if you didn’t ask.

    It’s slim pickings in my area.

  16. As the manager of an independent garden center I can attest to the effect that moving merchandise has on sales. We have a high percentage of repeat customers who shop at least two to three times a month in our store, and you would be amazed at how many times someone will notice a plant that we just moved and say ‘Oh, you must have just gotten that in.’

  17. This post makes me appreciate my local garden center even more.

    I was going to complain that they sells cheap, easily broken hand tools (e.g., trowels, cultivators, etc) when they could just as well sell quality, sturdy tools… But since they sell no tacky resin fairies or stuffed animals (my hardware store does), and since the bamboo stakes et cetera are all in plain view, I have no complaints whatsoever.

  18. Perfume. They sell perfume at the local nursery. I guess you could put it on, get stung by a bee, then hire out the rest of your job? I really don’t know…

  19. The huge independently owned greenhouse that is supposed to not carry this kind of stuff is the only garden center in my area that does carry it. I was looking for foxfarm products, and mingled right in the mix were an array of scented candles. None of which were plant related scents. There were also plenty of stuffed animals, garden fairies, and music cd’s. I guess the goal is that after I’m done weeding my garden, I will come inside and snuggle with a stuffed animal, light a cinnamon bun or “fresh” scent candle, and listen to some Kenny G. One of the more ironic items, carried at the same store, are fake plastic plants.

  20. One local nursery was selling hand painted silk scarves. What does women’s accessories have to do with gardening? Gee, maybe I can use that overpriced piece of silk to mop the sweat and dirt from my brow! Another thing this nursery sold was tea pots.

    The only reason I still call this place a nursery is that they have quite a nice extensive selection of plants.

    And why is it that I can’t find proper large wooden plant markers anymore??? I finally got fed up and started going to the local big-chain arts & crafts store and bought 300 jumbo popsicle sticks for what a dozen regular size wooden plant markers cost me. I tell you, good supplies are hard to come by these days, except through specialty garden supply catalogs.

  21. hmm, I suppose the little shiny squares of plastic that you could melt into a brooch shaped like a lady wearing an incredibly ugly hat do not count because 1) it was the 80s, and 2) the store was named ‘nursery AND CRAFTS’. But they did fascinate me as a child.

    So, I have to go to item no2: I’m fairly certain that a number of the nurseries near me sell lamps. Not all weather ones, but decorative table lamps with shades for in your bedroom. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure they are for sale, they may be set dressings like the sofas (I dearly hope that they do not sell upholstered indoor sofas, but that may be wrong too), but most of the nurserys have these little ‘lifestyle sections’ set up like quaint cottage living rooms with all sorts of indoor decor for sale.

    I don’t venture in.

  22. A nearby nursery/garden center recently remodeled and added a wedding reception area. I wonder if this is just a local Utah thing or perhaps a more widespread trend. It is a little odd to see their street sign advertising petunias along with the Smith-Jones reception. So far no open bar but one can hope.

  23. I happened upon your blog when I was looking for images of Frederic Church’s Olana (for a lecture on American Romantic architecture). I can’t tell you how tickled I am to have found your pages, especially after reading your manifesto. I hope it’s okay if I link you folks somewhere on my Cabinet of Wonders blog–if I can get out of my own cranky garden long enough to add it!

  24. LOL JR! I love it! I do some work for garden centers, and I, personally, like gifty things, but I also like the gardeny things, and I get annoyed when I can’t find the “workhorse items” that I need when I go to the garden center.

    One of my new favorite local hangouts is the Farmer’s Supply store. They have EVERYTHING a gardener actually needs to garden, and nothing frivolous, unless you count a new pair of felcos when you already have five (and I would know NOTHING about this, nothing. . . ) to be frivolous.

  25. Honestly if I were running a garden center in this economy I’d probably have some gift items in stock (but only as a small display area, not outcrowding the things people need.) Make money where you can, 80% of your customers aren’t gardening the way I garden – quite a few are there for gifts or something seasonally decorative.

  26. Way overpriced little tiny watering cans. Like 4-6-inch tall watering cans with holes so small, the water cannot flow out. I guess you are supposed to use them to decorate, not actually utilize them for watering. I needed a new watering can for the garden to *gasp* actually use to water the garden with this year. I drove to no less than 10 different garden stores looking for a usable watering can. I finally found a large plastic one at Lowes, but the holes were so small in the spout the water poured out the seams! I had to bust out the drill to create holes in the spout large enough for the water to flow through. Ridiculous. I hate those freaking tiny designer watering cans. Completely pointless.

  27. I was excited when an established nursery with a good reputation opened a second store near my home. I asked my husband to pick me up a bag of composted manure. When he asked a clerk, she had him repeat the request and then snorted with derision at the very idea of selling manure. I understood when I finally went to the store and discovered it was mostly home decor, with the porch crammed with very expensive planted containers.

  28. Let us be clear: any garden center or nursery near me can add a bar or (licensed) cafe to their offerings, and I will not complain, as long as they still have manure and stakes.

    And here is how I spell it: tchotchkes.

  29. I gotta say, reading the responses is a hoot! One nursery I used to go to sold wildly expensive indoor furniture, dinnerware, silverware, European colognes and writing paper and pens, etc. But perhaps the weirdest thing I’ve seen is common to many nurseries – dead plants!

  30. Stores typically rearrange stuff to make you spend more time in the store, hoping you’ll buy more. The continuous long ailses are part of this too, as is the store arrangement of putting everything you actually need in the back or at the far adges. It annoys me so much I often walk out and don’t spend anything, however. I suspect if more of us did that, they would stop doing it.

  31. OMG…dead plants. That’s only too true. (Although I confess I’ve bought some pretty sad plants in the belief that I could nurse them back to health….)

  32. Great post. I hate it when things get moved around in ANY store because then I can never find what I want. My local garden center just put in a cafe (which I’ve not visited). They don’t sell onion sets or garlic in the fall, but they do sell a wide selection of Vera Bradley items, Demdaco figurines, all kind of beachy entertaining stuff (we’re pretty far inland), candles, placemats and napkins of all kinds, some toys and too many other non-gardening things to mention. And they have quite a Christmas shop. Sometimes I find the plants I want, but in 2 visits this spring, I struck out on every shrub and tree I was looking for. I’ll ashamedly admit I have bought decorative cocktail napkins.

  33. There’s a nursery out in the exurbs with a little gift shop that sells candles, note paper and pillows, among other things.

    But for the most part, I have a local hardware store where I can easily find stakes, manure, plant signs, gloves, hats, and high quality tools. I can also get all my hardware needs, like replacing that rusty fence latch and outdoor lightbulbs, taken care of in the same trip. I can get behind that kind of synergy.

  34. Ugg…the garden center employee’s blank stare when I ask for Neem oil. Nice. The worst thing I’ve ever seen is tillandsias (air plants) hot glued to plastic fairies and other creatures. I actually feel sorry for the plants. -Jackie

  35. Impractical hats – the kind that are folded into a circle and come in a cute little carrying case. When you take the hat out of the bag, it pops open and never fits into the bag again. It is made of lightweight material so it will blow off your head at the slightest breeze. When it blows off, if you have the string pulled tight under your chin, you can choke to death before you can get it loose. And it is always a “pretty” color – spring green, sun yellow, sky blue – that shows every smudge of dirt. And how do I know all this? Because I let my husband talk me into buying two – not just one – but two of the silly things.

  36. You have to move stuff around otherwise customers get bored and stop buying.

    This is simply business sense.

    Stop complaining already! When seed season is over we move the seeds out and place summer stuff where the seeds were.

    Should we really leave rock salt and snow shovels front and center in July?

    The TROLL

  37. Keen observation of what’s been going wrong with most independent garden centers. I know you are suspicious of the horticulture industry and this is fuel to that fire. In addition to diluting efforts and missing the mark on the main part of the business there is no way most companies can sell all this other stuff and do it profitably even if they wanted to. They just get led along by “the industry” that they will keep customers interested, gain traffic, make money, etc. when the fact is it most often has proven to have the opposite effect. To add to your list…the most recent item I heard of just the other day was a bin of rubber bands priced at seven cents each. The fresh produce band-wagon is the latest one to arrive on the scene, although it may have been first because it is the reason so many produce people got into garden products when they couldn’t make money on produce. It might work for a few, but I’ll stick my neck out and say, “No idea is so dumb that it cannot go full circle”. The first rule when you get in a hole should be to stop digging, not dig a new one to fill in the last one.

  38. Used to work in a nursery that sold the wooden Nutcracker figures as well as all sorts of chotchkees for hanging on xmas trees. Hated, hated, HATED to price them in July and display them up in early October. Also sold were ‘flocked’ xmas trees with spiders attracted to, then encrusted in that crap. Oooo didn’t really want to remember all that.

  39. The weirdest thing my garden center sells is fiber combed from llamas for spinning into yarn.

  40. Goat cheese salad? Puhleaze. I live in a rural university town in central Illinois, 55 miles from the nearest box store. I usually buy my plants from a lovely, locally-owned nursery and various seasonal roadside stands, but for basic, everyday gardening stuff, there’s only one place to go besides the K and Wal: Farm King. I LOVE this store. I love just going in and wandering around. Where else can you buy a cattle stall, a pair of Levis, kitchen and home accessories and also outfit your garden from top to bottom? They sell a lot of kitsch (and enough chemicals to choke a small village) but they also have a great selection of garden tools, birding supplies, and plants. They also sell a product called “Anti Monkey Butt Powder,” designed to “absorb excess sweat and reduce frictional skin irritation.” I couldn’t resist the grinning, thumbs-up monkey cartoon on the package, so I bought one for my brother in Chicago who indeed has a chafing problem. He thought it was a gag gift refusing to try it even once.

    It ain’t for sissies, living on the prairie.

  41. Our company started out as a seasonal farm market the size of a two car garage.

    The garden center was added in the 1950’s.
    We are a gourmet food market, farm market, meat, fish, deli, sweet shop, cafe,gift shop, prepared foods, full service florist, power equipment, fencing and landscaping.

    Are sales are in excess of $115 million dollars,17 million of that is lawn and garden,through three locations with a fourth on the way as soon as the Indiana Bats leave New York and go back to Indiana. We employ more than 800 people!
    799 of whom are charged with moving things around everyday.

    The TROLL

  42. Wish I could think up something wildly inappropriate to cite, for the sake of Eleanor Perenyi, but unfortunately I don my blinders when visiting our fave garden centre.

    I only have eyes for yew.

  43. My nearest garden center, dear as it is to my heart, has a wine room and frequent wine tastings.

    If that’s not odd enough, I’ll take you to see the life-sized elk sculpture or the iron lion sculpture.

    Upscale garden centers seem to be all about lifestyles these days and less and less about actual hands-in-the-dirt gardening. They’re catering to the people for whom gardening is something that you have done by a crew, while you stroll around your garden with a wineglass in hand and contemplate what you’ll have the groundspeople do next. Or… at least to people who aspire to that kind of lifestyel.

  44. I saw a rug made of stones yesterday in the biggest garden center in our state. Since it was in the fountain section after a moment of shock I surmised it can be used around the base of a “water feature” to hide the basin and pump.
    Instead of having to remove whatever erstaz/faux rocks one usually uses, you can just lift up the rug!

    I hope I win, but I really think the llama hair beats all. Now in an Audubon store I might think that was nesting material to put out for the birds. Or in keeping with the original purpose for knitting little three toed booties

  45. The garden center nearest me sells upscale purses, jewelry, candles, candlestick holders, dinnerware, table linens, and I don’t know what else, as I just ignore it. They also have a small coffee bar. What they don’t have is a large selection of plants. Obviously, it’s not my favorite.

  46. The garden centers/nurseries are getting as bad as arts & craft stores selling merchandise ahead of season, but then it disappears during the season. They’d get more business from people like me if they’d hold over plants past their season – herbs/vegetable plants – summer plantings are difficult because you can’t find any market packs of anything – annuals, etc. And selection gets very limited. I end up going to hardware centers like Home Depot or even K-Mart where their garden merchandise is sloppy just sits around for a while. Hey, at least I usually find what I’m looking for there.

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