In 2012, it would be nice if …


A 2011 highlight: our garden blogger visit to Seattle's Dragonfly Farms Nursery.

Here's my wish list for the New Year. Some of this is reasonable; some of it isn’t. And please feel free to add your own in comments!

It would be nice if …

Every community had a centralized urban farming and community gardening office, which would be able to answer questions about land use and expedite the use of empty lots for food growing by block clubs and other neighborhood organizations.  Yes, it may sound like adding more bureaucracy, but much of this land is city-owned or policed and there are questions to answer and guidance to provide. Cities need to recognize this land use as legitimate and expected. The existing permits, planning, and inspections offices are too building-focused and just don't seem to get this stuff.

Independent garden centers stopped whining about the big boxes. This might be too inside baseball for some of you, but—mostly on Facebook and in some other places—I see a lot of griping about the strategies of the big corporate home and garden places making it harder and harder for smaller IGCs to compete. I sympathize. On the other hand, the situation is not going away. In Buffalo, we have Home Depot and Lowes. We also have at least a dozen fabulous small nurseries and garden centers that seem to do very well—most have been around for decades. We even have a co-op garden center, of which I am a founding member. I spend a lot of money at all these places. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? The IGCs around here provide something that the big boxes don’t and manage to make sure people know that. The big boxes have their place. And our co-op center stocks—among other things—unique garden objets by local artists. If there's room for all this in Buffalo's market, one would think other markets could also make it work.

There was less hysteria about the disease or insect of the month (Emerald Ash Borer! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!), and better ongoing practice and education about ensuring that diversity and sanity prevail in what we sell and plant. If fewer elms had been planted in Buffalo, we wouldn’t have been deforested back in the 70s. Industry-generated emails about which pesticide to use and firewood bans are treating the symptoms, not the problem.

(More environment than gardening) Please, EPA and other agencies, gather the evidence, figure out the implications definitively, and either regulate the hell out of hydrofracking or stop it. Especially after the Ohio earthquake, it’s sounding more and more like the risks are worth it. This needs a strong focus, not just wishy washy talk from greedy politicians.

Lawn supplies and equipment could be kept in a completely separate place in the garden center—separate from plants and supplies for making real gardens. That would help everyone understand the difference and the choice. And maybe think about it a bit more.

Garden tourism—to showcase garden walks, community gardens, public botanical gardens, Open Days, and more—becomes more widespread and better organized. It’s another way for communities to market themselves, and, more important, it draws more public attention to the ground underneath our feet and what we’re doing with it.

And, finally:

Among all of our brilliant growers and nursery people, a few more shift their focus to developing more interesting annuals for shade. Please?

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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


  1. What’s the difference between “ranting” and “whining”? This sites manifesto say’s “suspicious of the horticultural industry”. We have IGC’s “ranting” about the way the horticultural industry is run. Isn’t that a welcome change from the past?

    I think many of us are tired of some of the complaining, and would rather focus on important issues. The problem is who decides what’s important? When does whining cross over to “righteous indignation?” and become OK?

    It’s your rant. I can agree that is seems that all we hear is whining, but that’s a view from inside. When you’re involved in the gardening business as you and I are, we have a narrow focus and take notice of things that most would never notice. Things become amplified, and negativity tends to catch more of our attention. I would venture to say the average gardener has no idea about the conflicts that exist in the trade.

    This is something we have been dealing with. It’s not just nurseries and garden centers who have this issue. Post about garden writers “selling out” and lets see what transpires. Many independent garden centers are trying to solve issues, not whining. We just don’t get as much attention.

  2. When I read this week that our major export is petroleum and refined petroleum products, I had to wonder why prices have gone up so much, and why we need fracking and a pipeline crossing many states, open to spills and attacks?

    Looking to a new year of GardenRant letting me know what’s going on in the rest of the country – thanks, guys.

  3. Trey, I agree that the IGC issue is something average consumers might not know about, which is why I used the term “inside baseball.” Yet–I do see a lot of the debate about IGCs and boxes, so it’s part of my reality and–I feel–interesting.

  4. Eliz,

    I’m glad you brought the subject up. I am not an apologist for the trade. We’ve got issues, and they need to be addressed. The timing of this post is great. I look forward to a more positive vibe for the new year!

  5. I own a garden center next to a Home Depot,1 mile from Lowe’s up the street and a Super Walmart 1 mile the other way and a very low price garden center chain 3 miles right up the road. Business is awesome. I feel bad for the garden centers that have their competition that draw customers AWAY from them. Quality, service, selection, honesty,sincerity and customer relationships is how we survive and thrive. Many of my IGC friends across the country are struggling though. When that happens, and it is, there will always be some ranting. Many are trying just to survive.

  6. Totally agree with “more interesting annuals for the shade”. This is something I’m willing to pay more for. My wonderful local IGC has a few each Spring, but even they are mostly strange variations of begonias. And I didn’t get there in time this Spring and ended up with the basic blah flowers for my containers. I’m so hungry for something different.

  7. I want the gardening community to focus more on great affects we can have on drainage. Old pipe and pond systems are not effective and have tried to cover large areas as cities expanded.

    Rain gardens, disconnecting roof drainage from downspouts. I will get started writing now, since the temp went down into the single digits today.

    I am also going to grow some vegetables in the house. I’ll keep you posted…

  8. Every community had a centralized urban farming

    I hope most communities never get so large that they need centralized urban farming. The consequences would be dire.

    Amen on separating lawn and plant supplies, especially food-producing plants. A section for beautiful plants that also feed us would be fantastic.

  9. “It would be nice if … Every community had a centralized urban farming and community gardening office …”

    I agree, but given the state of most communities’ coffers these days, empty lots & growing food on them is not going to be addressed any time soon, if ever. If only there was a way to add the retrieval of such info to the MG programs…

    As for IGC v Big Box : I shop at IGCs for unique plants and tools and amendments, for organic or heirloom or handmade/artisan-made items, and for advice I can trust when I come upon a puzzle I can’t solve. I shop Big Box only when the item I need is standard, ubiquitous, or ordinary.

    Garden tourism : Yes, please ! More !

  10. What’s the difference between whining and ranting? As someone who works in politics, I’d say “whining” is something done by people who believe they are powerless to do anything about their problems. “Ranting” is done by people who believe they can do something about what they don’t like – no matter what the odds or how long it will take – and act on that belief.

    I also shop at both big boxes and (mostly) IGCs. I have to admit, if I owned an IGC I might do a little whining myself.

    And on annuals, I like impatiens, but I agree more choices would be nice. However, I’ve had some luck trying out annuals that are supposed to be for sun but actually do reasonably well in shade.

  11. The key to competing with big box stores is to offer superior service both at the point of sell and after the sell. You must make all customers customers for life. make them want to come back to your store.

  12. More of the problem is focused on vendors who whore themselves to the boxes and ruin product selection and innovation at the chance to sell to 3,000 stores at once.

    Remember, neither Bonnie Plants nor the boxes fessed up to the tomato blight.

    The TROLL

  13. I own an IGC and have not heard any whining about big boxes. Where did you hear this whining? I think it is important to not generalize about an entire industry of great, hard working people… maybe this happens in Buffalo? I know hundreds of IGC’s across the US and Canada and none of them are whiners- they are smart, hard working people who love plants. The box retailers have devalued our products and made it difficult for many small businesses and their families… I hope that your readers will see the value to their community of supporting small business.

  14. Hope you mean self-seeding annuals for shade.

    Nothing green-eco-friendly about the annual industry. (Green houses, heating, cooling, petroleum made packaging, transportation, insecticides, fungicides, fertilizer, man-made soil, irrigation & etc.)

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  15. I’m with you on most of this and dont see the relevance re hydrofracking in the garden aspect of the topic , but do take some umbrage re the “whining” comment. I am surprised to hear any garden rantster support for big brother, big box garden centers. Yes, so you can get your lumber and tupperware there, uh-huh. But ixnay the arden-gay enter-cay. The plants are often shoddy, there is no provision to minimize the sale of invasives and you can always rely on a big push to weed n’ feed, pour on the fertilizer and pesti-chemicide the beejeesus out your lawn & garden. Puget Sound streams spike with chemicals every spring and methinks your big box store is a big contributor, encouraging cousin Jimmy to pour on the chemicals.

    (Learn more here:

    So get with it GR, those of us that manage garden centers and try to do so ecologically need support here, (just as cute and sassy garden blogs do) 🙂

  16. Concerning centralized offices for community farming/gardening, they exist, pretty much. Your county extension office can offer loads of help on all related questions and desires, but far too few citizens remember to access this valuable, free resource.

    Concerning hydraulic fracturing/fracking: Important to note that it is a relatively new technology in progress. Recently I researched and published a lengthy article on the industry for my local daily newspaper. EPA and industry research/regulation/safeguards are quite impressive. Ensuring that the fracking process does not pose environmental hazards that would lead to its banning is obviously a primary goal of the industry. Mistakes have been made, groundwater contamination has occurred, and the industry has spent millions to correct these problems. It will take another five years, at least, before fracking can be fairly viewed as either viable or too risky.

    If it is deemed too risky, it gets shut down. What bothers some is that any time is granted to improve the technology, but giving an energy technology time to prove its worthiness is not unusual.


  17. Hi Renegade,

    Thanks for replying. Unfortunately an county Extension office (at least here) has no authority to help city dwellers use vacant spaces for farming/gardening, and negotiate the permit maze. Certainly not ours–I think they may have 3 employees who manage to get a truncated master gardener program and some basic soil testing clinics together a few x a year. I think maybe in rural areas or maybe in your state Extensions are more active. It’s all local, I guess!

  18. My trip to Buffalo with the other garden bloggers in 2010 opened my eyes to the beneficial effect that gardeners and gardens can have on a city. I use our big box store, but usually not for plants or equipment. It is our two local garden/farm stores that get my business.

  19. “Independent garden centers stopped whining about the big boxes.”

    Why should they? Garden centers in my area deliver what big boxes cannot. A single tomato plant from Burpee is $3 at HomeDepot while the nearby farm sells a 6-pack of healthy plants for $2.49. The farm has a huge number of varieties; they even start Sunsugar tomatoes. A nearby Agway has bins of onion sets for $4/lb where I can select the proper bulbs myself.

  20. I love our local gardeners- the plants are a lot healthier, and as a newbie gardener they are able to give me much more info on care than any big box store could. Hopefully they dont have too much to worry about!

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