Got Something to Say About Independent Garden Centers?


Social networking. 
IGCs should be blogging, doing Facebook, Twitter, email newsletters,
YouTube videos, etc.


Going organic.  IGCs
should offer organically-grown plants, and fertilizers/pesticides approved for
organic use, exclusively or as much as possible.


Going local.  IGCs
should offer locally-made and locally-grown plants and products, support local
community projects, and generally be a leader in the “buy local” movement.


Becoming a green lifestyle center.  IGCs should be about more than gardening—they should be about the
“green lifestyle,” from eco-friendly cleaning products to organic sheets to
low-VOC paints.


Focusing on Edibles. 
IGCs should move into edibles in a big way, perhaps including selling
hard-to-find heirloom plants and seeds, hosting a farmers market, doing cooking
demonstrations, and selling locally-made foods.


Outdoor Living.  IGCs
should think of gardens as “outdoor rooms” in need of decorating with plants,
pots, furniture, and accessories. Gardening should be treated as another type
of home and backyard makeover, or a series of projects aimed at improving
property values.


Organizing the store according to project, not plant
type.  Rather than put all the annuals
in one place and the one-gallon perennials in another, the plants should be
mixed together in vignettes, with different sections focused on container
gardening, lawn replacement, flower borders, etc.


  1. I am perfectly happy with an IGC that has a wide selection of plants appropriate to the local area and is willing to experiment with the plant selection and bring in new things. Other than that I want a good selection of non-power tools, potting soils, fertilizers and pesticides /herbicides, both chemical and organic. Making organic choices more prominent in display will sell more.

    As for all those trends you ask about, that seems more like a retail space and retailer interest issue than what I want or need. If an IGC wants to do one of those things and has the room for it, fine. I’m sure I’d wander through and check it out, but the plants and nursery are #1.

  2. The survey wording is a bit all-or-nothing. I wouldn’t set foot in a big-bx store, but our local stores are far from fabulous. I am willing to travel for what I want, or order online, because I can’t find it here. For the most part our local nursery lacks imagination and the quality is only so-so. I do a lot of ordering online from specialty nurseries because I can’t find what I want locally, and that is a lot of money (I didn’t include in my spending on the survey as it didn’t ask about total garden spending) lost that I could be spendng locally.

  3. I took the survey, but also wanted to comment. Like a previous poster, I do A LOT of online ordering in order to get varieties of specific things or to try new things. I don’t expect the IGC to be able to afford all these things, but it would be nice if they could. This blog has introduced me to at least 10 plant and seed sources on line that I never knew about. Now I can try out different hostas or lilies that people write about. Thanks for asking GardenRant.

  4. Hope to see you all at IGCS. I will be looking for new things from the horticulture industry that will help me while landscaping with plant material for folks who want their no maintenance gardens. I hope to show results in a perfect magazine garden. 🙂

  5. I took the survey, but would also like to comment here. I just can’t stay away from my favorite garden center. The most important draw – they have a fabulous selection of plants, especially natives. On top of that, the staff is extremely knowledgeable. I’ve been gardening for years and most of them know more than I do. And it doesn’t hurt that it is one the more attractive garden centers I’ve seen.

  6. It occurs to me that most folks who are reading GR are likely already pretty advanced gardeners. Our IGC’s cannot possibly afford to carry ALL the speciality plants we geeks are seeking at reasonable prices.

    Rather than address your survey to IGC’s vs. big (unpleasant) boxes, perhaps it needs to address the online buying issue. Of course it hurts IGC’s when we spend our $ elsewhere but what’s a plant addict to do when they need a fix?

  7. I would like them to stock extra large pots and offer
    a reasonable delivery charge if they are too big
    to fit in at least the back of a Suburban size vehicle. Also, nicer window box selections…not the “walmart” looking cheap stuff. With that being said, OKC does have a couple IGC that do a great job and Bustani farm
    in Stillwater, Ok has a fantastic selection of off the grid type plants for us
    garden/plant junkies.

  8. It seems that most of the plants sold at IGCs (as well as BBs)look good in a small pot right now. Some are sold at their peak and will only look worse every day after planting. Most of what I love in an actual landscape would look terrible as a start in a pot. I wish more “ugly babies” were available next to big photo displays of what that plant could look like months from now in my yard. I garden because I’m hooked on anticipation not instant gratification.

  9. I’m over the racks of of national brand seeds which include plants that just don’t work where I live. (Florida) Once I even asked about some vegetable starts and was told that all of the starts were delivered on consignment and that some just wouldn’t grow here. Why have anything, ANYTHING, in front of your customers which will offer them only failure.

  10. B. Jones said:”… I wish more “ugly babies” were available next to big photo displays of what that plant could look like…”
    Sorry to say that we tried this and it was a dismal failure. Pretty sells, Fugly sits & stays taking up needed retail space…sometimes I will order plants that I really want to get in because of rarity, or because they are best planted earlier in the season (Zauschenerias are like this for us), and I will order them in when they are ‘landscape ready’ w/o blooms rather than ‘retail ready’. I’d say only about 5% of my clientele are sophisticated enough to buy fugly, non-blooming plants.

    Re.buying online vs. the IGC….our IGC is happy to order in plants and bulbs if available to us, and I’d say 90% of what folks order online is available. Seeds? easy – maybe a 3 day turnaround and I only have a 6 packet min. Gourmet garlic & heirloom potatoes? No problem. Bulbs? If I can get the request on my order pre-Sept 1st, I’ll do it. During the height of the season we get bi-weekly deliveries from up to 7 different plant vendors. If someone wants 3 Brunneras, and my minimum is 8, I’ll order them in ’cause I know we’ll sell them.
    Go ahead and talk to the plant geek that does the ordering, you’ll probably be surprised at what they can do for you. I have made a simple Excel spreadsheet for special orders on my computer desktop. I have made sure certain co-workers know how to use & access it and it has really made our customers happy and confidant in ordering from us.

  11. Kmac, I would LOVE to shop at your nursery. I suspect you are located in a good sized community. For those of us in the boonies it is another situation. One of the best IGC’s around here closed a while ago because the growers/truckers would no longer deliver small numbers of plants. It just did not make sense to travel so far out of the way for 6 plants. We depend on what nearby growers can provide and that is rarely the rare.

  12. Hmmm, I took the survey too, but I didn’t think about my on-line plant buying when I took it. I just bought a water lily on-line because I didn’t want to drive down a major highway to get to the closest gardening center. I don’t even know what the cost difference was. I just didn’t want to get into heavy traffic and lose the time it took to go to the nursery and get back home.

    Since I have been a gardener for a long time, I’m now more in a maintenance mode than in a huge plant buying mode so of course this makes a difference.

    As for garden art, I stay away from plastic/resin, stuff made in China, and items that everyone and their dog has. I want my garden to look unique, so the more unusual one-of-a-kind, high quality garden ornaments that a nursery sells, the more I’m inclined to buy.

  13. I took the survey and would like to make a couple more general comments here as well. First I must say that when I first moved to this community (then-small town in the cold desert, far from large metropolitan centers) there was virtually no nursery or garden center (garden center? what’s that?). There was one horrid wholesale grower of annual geraniums, petunias and others of that ilk. I worked there one summer and developed a loathing for petunias that is still with me, 35+ years later.

    Not only could you buy NOTHING locally except climatically-inappropriate NK seeds at the local feed store, very few people even thought about growing a garden here. I was told by the neighbor next door, within days of moving into my house, that ‘it’s impossible to grow a garden here’ Fortunately, I don’t like being told what I can’t do, so I ignored him and gardened happily along.

    I ordered seeds from catalogs (printed, as there was of course no internet) which arrived in the mail in late December, mailing in my on-paper orders with a check (no phone ordering, for most places) because that was the only way I could get anything other than things that were designed for ‘normal’ growing seasons. I grew flowers and vegs from seed, because that was the only way to get them.

    Today, things are vastly different. We have several thriving nurseries, maybe I should call them garden centers. Each year they offer more and more of what I used to have to order by mail. But I still rely on outside seed sources for some of my needs. We also have, alas, our allotment of big box stores. I guess they have plants — I never go there.

    So from my perspective, gardening resources have expanded wonderfully in my area. But I still rely on outside sources for some things. Plus, I really enjoy browsing nurseries and garden centers in other places when I travel. I can’t always bring plants home, but I can daydream about growing impossible things, get ideas, and just enjoy the smell of a warm, humid greenhouse full of plants!

    Does any of this relate to the topic at hand? Who knows, but it’s been interesting for me to think back and see how far gardening has come in my area in 35+ years.

  14. What I want and very few nurseries provide :
    Loose bulk minerals , specific fertilizers and bulk seed.
    The only nursery in my area that carries this is Harmony Farms in Sebastopol. It is a 45 minute drive.
    A tiny little gram size package of native poppy seeds is not going to make it for a 3 acre estate. Loose bulk is better and the nursery will probably have a better profit margin when offering this vs. the individual packages.

  15. I went to an IGC yesterday and I was so disappointed that some of their plants looked sad and dry and was generally not taken care. However the prices on the plants were expensive. I would love an independent garden center that really makes sure that their plants are well cared for.

    Also, offering unique plants and fruit trees! I’ve been looking for a fig tree and only 1 garden center carries it!

  16. My truly local nursery – with desert-appropriate plants at prices I could budget for, and people who were more than happy to just talk plants – died an early death 18 months into the recession.

    The local retail with pumped-up prices and inappropriate plants…

    (OH! and oddly short hours – another reason I don’t drop in there to see what’s up is they are CLOSED when I get home for work – which tells a clear story that they don’t want GARDENERS of the old school, they want rich and idle matrons with their landscape consultants to come in and buy their plants that won’t survive without constant applications of daily/or even hourly water in our climate.)

    Yeah, I could rant on this one all day.

    Done for now, I’ve given myself a headache.

  17. It is ALL about the plants. I want beautifully grown plants well organized (by genus, NOT usage type. If I’m looking for viola, I don’t want to guess if it is in sun, shade, or lawn replacement). I also really want to see great plants I’ve never heard of. I love display gardens (I know they’re expensive and time consuming, but I think they are a much better way around the “ugly on the bench” problem than photos).
    I also really appreciate it when they have an on-line listing of what they have available so I can pre-browse, google for more information, and plan my shopping. I only buy mail order as last resort, but if I don’t know if they’ll have what I want, I often end up mail ordering it just in case — only to then find the plant at my garden center, which I would have bought had I known it would be there.
    Finally: I see no point in seeds at my garden center. Shipping is so minimal, and the selection by mail SO much better, I ALWAYS buy seeds on-line. Same for bulbs. And, actually, that goes for edibles, because I grow them all from seed. I am an avid vegy gardener, and have bought vegy seedling maybe once in my life.

  18. Austin is blessed with at least three good-sized independent nurseries staffed with knowledgeable employees, a great selection of plants well-suited to our region, good labeling, reasonable prices, and fun garden decor to go with it all. Oh yeah, and inspiring displays or, even better (rock on, Natural Gardener) large display gardens.

    Faster special ordering is something I’d like to see, which would keep people like me from running off to an on-line source if I can’t find what I’m looking for at the nursery.

    I think outreach to customers via blogs, FB pages, and the like is a smart business strategy. I’d love to hear which fabulous new plants are fresh off the truck, what specials are going on, etc.

  19. I took the survey before reading the comments, but found we all share common gripes. Good to know. Our IGC’s have the same plants and hardgoods you find at the Big Box Stores. That is their downfall. They think that is what we want because that is what the BBS’s sell, but they are very much mistaken. We have really only one store that I shop regularly where you can find unique and upscale merchandise. The others are pretty much pretenders.

  20. Jenn wrote: “My truly local nursery – died an early death 18 months into the recession….oddly short hours …another reason I don’t drop in there to see what’s up is they are CLOSED when I get home for work.”
    Oh wahh, Jenn.
    Can you even imagine the staffing headaches & labor costs involved in keeping even a marginally successful nursery open in this economic climate, much less a struggling nursery? That’s what weekends are made for hon!
    Btw, our place stays open late until 7:30 on Wed eves as we host a local ‘backyard grower’ farmers market. We advertise it to death in print, do CL postings, etc, etc, you would think folks would be down there in droves. Nope. The dog days this year are just that, doggy poop…

  21. Post a picture of the plant/shrub if it is not in bloom!!!! Even some of the box stores do that. And make prices more visible. Offer different sizes of the same plant/shrub. Written staff comments about plants ability to survive or thrive locally, even if its chances are marginal. We are willing to take chances, but would like to know.

  22. I have 2 local IGC’s and have been disappointed with both. They both seem to focus on trees and shrubs with some attention to flowers and none to anything edible. When asked questions about herbs and vegtables the answer was basically ‘why would you want to grow that?’.

    I already have my trees and shrubs. Why can’t I get some nice lemon verbena, chocolate mint, or one of the 60 some varieties of basil?

  23. My favorite local nursery used to have a beautiful goldfish pond display in it’s greenhouse, surrounded by citrus and orchids. I would go once a week during the winter my daughter was a baby, and would almost always come home with a plant. They have since gotten rid of the pond- it doesn’t make sense, retail-wise, but it was sure a nice place to be, and they did make some money off me.

  24. For me I’ts all about who has the better deal Im not rich and I can’t afford to have “principles”.

    My favorite Igc threw me for a loop last week when I asked if they had any Tea Olives(a very ordinary looking bush with tiny white flowers in bloom nothing special to look at but the scent is out of this world.)

    Any how I was lead to the rear of the nursery outside(and it’s a BIG nursery they have been in business for a long time)and showed me what looked like sticks in pots with a few branches poking out here and there pretty pathetic I thought and then I saw the $50.00 price tag I politely told the salesman no thankyou.

    Saterday I visted HD and found them there for $10.00 a peice big, bushy and ready to plant in my garden I bought 3 right away.

    As I said before I’ts all about stretching that gardening dollar as far as it will go.

  25. I love so many things about my IGCs – bulk minerals, native plant availability, reasonable pricing, helpful staff, organic solutions (with chemical options for desperate times), good balance between pretty & practical (ornamental & edible) offerings so everyone can find what they want, when they want it. One even has a “rescue plant” section in which I can find past-their-prime, broken, forgotten, or otherwise undesirable growing things to test my gardening mettle.

    My biggest problem with the IGCs around me ? They don’t all offer the same wonderful things ( I know, I know – they each need to create their niche to survive in) and so I can’t get everything I want from just one. Still better than the BBs where I find nearly nothing I want.

    As for the “trends” from the survey ? Well, I don’t care about the social networking ( takes time away from gardening), don’t want to see “lifestyle” products where there should be plants & plant-related things, and think that creating outdoor rooms is akin to “landscaping with plant materials”. I love the Go Organic/Go Local ideas, and focusing on edibles ( but realize not everyone has the desire/will/knack for that kind of landscape). I’ve seen a Garden Center try the “projects” method of organizing plants & am pretty sure it didn’t work – the next season they went back to sections for plant type.

    Having taken the survey, I have to say the question re: what we call ourselves (gardeners/homeowners/other) certainly brought an intense emotional reaction. Most people who know me (even my co-workers in an industry having nothing to do with growing things) refer to me as “the gardener”. I’ve always taken it as the highest compliment – it’s puzzling to think that anyone might see it as anything but.

  26. I want an Independent Garden Center that is brave enough to stock plants that not every other garden center has.

    There is something exciting about finding some much desired treasure hidden away down a back aisle. A plant that you’ve only seen in old established gardens and that no one seems to stock any more. If I see something like that – a choice type of Thalictrum was my last “discovery” – I’m reaching for my credit card quicker than you can say “sold”.

    Garden Centers are becoming too predictable. Bring in a few “wild cards” that may or may not sell well.

  27. There is a divide between people who grow plants and those who decorate with plants and yes, there is an area where the two meet, however our needs are often different.
    But decorating with plants might be the gateway “drug” that gets them growing and gardening.
    My favorite IGC is one that actually grows their plants; they have beautiful plants even in July when all the other nursery stock is neglected and spent.
    I don’t want every garden center to go all “lifestyle” on me.
    Hopefully there’s room for both, but I worry that there’s money to be made with the project oriented centers.

  28. Kmac –

    Jenn wrote: “My truly local nursery – died an early death 18 months into the recession….oddly short hours …another reason I don’t drop in there to see what’s up is they are CLOSED when I get home for work.”

    You are conflating my post. The good nursery died. The nursery that doesn’t offer any hours is still going. I’m not their demographic, they don’t want me.

    And yes, having a husband that worked nursery sales for two years, I do have a slight idea.

  29. “That’s what weekends are made for hon!”

    That’s great. They are closed Sunday and only open a half day on Saturday. That’s what weekends are made for, indeed.

    Grrr to you.

  30. Grrrr. Now I’m really ranting.

    All in my head, but I will say this:

    Don’t blame the customer.
    Everybody’s a victim in this economy, and if you blame the customer, you deserve an early death.

  31. A good garden center IS all about the plants. Good selection, good quality, competitive prices. But my biggest peeve with the stores I know is the employees who are hired. Some are quite knowledgeable and those are good. Others like to be know-it-all’s, frequently dispensing poor advice (that I overhear and try not to respond to) to their customers. So my solution to that problem is training, training, and more training. Provide nursery employees with good resources and teach them early on to say “I don’t know.” Or, “let me ask our plant expert.” Make them read and learn about the plants you offer.

  32. I could not agree with you more. It is important to have things our own way. I love to read and incorperate your thoughts and ideas into my world but, it is my world. You have a great site and I love to follow it. Thanks for sharing all of your travels and planting ideas.

  33. Just a few thoughts from the other side of the counter having worked at garden centers for 11 years. First, most of the ideas offered in the blog post are trends we are following and attempting to incorporate at our IGC. I’d like to mention, though, that the average profit margin for many IGC’s is 8-10%. Yes, you read that right. It’s even less now during the recession. Many local garden centers didn’t even make ANY profit last year and few have gone out of business since the markets crashed in ’08.

    I would like to say, for the record, that we have offered organic options for several years even though, being in The South, there has not been tremendous interest in them. It’s different than on the West Coast or other more progressive areas. It is getting better but we can’t eliminate all conventional pest products without ticking off some of our regular customers (see note on profit margins above if you think we can afford that). If we could sell only organic, we would.

    Becoming a green lifestyle center: I love this idea but I’m not totally certain we could swing it in our area. We’ve been around a long time (43 years) and it’s hard to anticipate how our many long-time customers would react and if they would buy in.

    Buying locally made: Well, we do buy in a lot of locally grown plants. We also grow a lot of our own and you can’t get more local than that. We love the idea of local products such as gifts, decor, food, etc. but it does complicate the buying process and make it much more time consuming. You can’t always get re-orders in time from small producers either. Or, they can’t handle larger orders. Personally, I think we need to make more efforts in this regard anyway.

    Regarding store hours: it is NOT about catering to “rich idle matrons”, as meemsmyc asserts. It is a simple matter of labor cost. As for “pumped up prices”, I refer you back to the note on profit margins and can only remind folks that it’s a high overhead business paying employees, providing benefits, having insurance, heating & cooling greenhouses and keeping them working, buying display units, buying in new product, etc. Unlike the box stores, we can’t buy 30,000 plants on consignment and send back what we don’t sell, nor can we buy in enough plants to get the volume discounts that allow for lower prices. Box stores have been known to run their garden centers as “loss leaders” meaning that department loses money but it brings in people who then go into the main part of the store and spend more money. So, the trade off is worth it to them.

    Thanks for everyone’s feedback. It’s always good to see what folks are thinking.

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