Help a garden center get through the winter: buy a kokedama. Or an orchid. Or something.


The next issue of the magazine I edit features heritage businesses in Western New York—the ones that have lasted more than 100 years. Amazingly, two we’re covering are garden centers (and there are more gardening-related companies we couldn’t fit in). I say amazingly because there are built-in problems with maintaining independent gardening businesses in cold climates. Not to mention the big box chains (we have several) that pretend to have everything the home gardener needs.

How do these long-running garden centers do it? A lot of it just has to do with standards of service and degrees of alertness to important trends. A lot of it has to do with basic sound business practice. Much of it has to do with customer loyalty that has endured over generations.

Still, around here, all nurseries and a couple of garden centers take at least part of the winter months off. One 100-plus-year-old garden center thrives through the winter—much as landscapers do—thanks to a huge snow removal department. But not all of them are equipped to do this. And I was discouraged when, last year, one of the biggest year-round independents closed down for good.

I try to do my part, especially at this time of year. A small city-based garden center is now my first stop for gift-shopping. They carry lots of items that don’t need to go into the frozen ground, starting with houseplants (of course), and moving on to bird-feeding supplies, terrariums, wall planters, and—a new item—clear window planters that are perfect for culinary herbs. Last year, we got everybody big kokedamas (plants growing out of compact moss/soil balls, no pot needed). I was thrilled to see that most of these have survived through the year. The year before we got attractive, squirrel-proof suet feeders for everyone, and this year—oops, some of them might be reading!

I am a big offseason shopper, probably one of the few in my area who’s stocking up on small pots and potting soil in late fall (for bulb forcing). And if I was a seed-type, I’d probably be shopping in February and March as well.

I want them all to be 100-year-plus businesses.

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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 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


  1. Great post! Because I depend on good garden centers, I never shop in the garden dept at box stores. My number one garden center has a huge Christmas dept that gets them through early winter, at least. Still, within a year or so it’ll close and be turned into townhouses. It opened in 1930. Susan

  2. Yes indeed!
    Our local indie garden center is indeed closed for the season, but we also have Carmel Flower Shop (flowers, lovely gifts, beautiful cards) not too far away, Venamy Orchids which I keep meaning to investigate,
    I’m looking forward to the holiday open house at Womanswork.

  3. Our local IGC has a lovely gift selection at this time of year, plus a few years back they opened a popular cafe, situated right in the middle of the nursery area, and there is also seating in the heated atrium (so you can ponder the purchase of that potted Meyer lemon while you eat. And they bake pies to order for the holidays. They also convert an outdoor area into xmas tree and wreath sales. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient and creative they are!

  4. Elizabeth, great article with much food for thought. Several family-owned garden centers and nurseries here in Metro Denver have been around since WWII era which is “old” for Colorado. You have inspired me to visit the one nearest me, even though their prices are a bit rich. Anne, what a smart idea for an IGC to open a cafe and I bet they sell a lot of hot chocolate. I’m going to suggest it to the owners of Country Fair and Nick’s Garden Center. Great post and comments. Thanks as always!

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