13 April 2008

Buying Local: Supporting Our Local Nurseries



Our favourite Flowergardengirl, Anna, has been holding an interesting conversation over at her blog about small nurseries and bigbox stores, and how customers behave. One of my personal irks is how some people go to a nursery where the staff know what they're doing, pick their brains for information, and then go off to a bigbox store to get plants that are cheaper. This drives me crazy and is the height of rudeness, but we do know that there are many rude and inconsiderate (and cheap) people in the world, don't we?

Now, in some areas, there ARE no good small, locally owned or independent nurseries, in which case the only option is to go to a large store that carries gardening supplies. Yarmouth is sort of like that. To the best of my knowledge, there's no nursery right in the Yarmouth area now; travelling up the south shore there's Ouestville Perennials in West Pubnico, and Lavender Hill, and Spencer's, and Cosby's. To the west, heading back my way, there's Bunchberry Nurseries, and Woodland Farm Nursery in Upper Clements, then Garden of Eatin' Farm in Paradise, and then a deluge more. But all of these are an hour or more from Yarmouth. Several of the big department type stores have very well-stocked garden centres—Canadian Tire and Kent are two that spring to mind—and their managers have been good about bringing in interesting plants and taking care of them. In my snooping about, I've found perennials at both places that I've not located elsewhere, so of course I had to drag them home with me.


For a lot of us, though, we have some really fine choices, especially here in the Annapolis Valley. Although my blog readership is located all over the world, I do know that many readers are from Nova Scotia, and appreciate knowing where nurseries are. And some of them are getting on the ball and developing websites, which makes it really helpful for web-savvy gardeners who can look at plant lists all winter long, planning for the day when spring warmth entices them out to do more than just look. Some nurseries are supposedly updating their websites, and some have so many broken links that I don't want to include them here. Several lf the nurseries I recommend don't have websites, but that doesn't matter, because they're just so great everyone ought to go there (if you live in or near NS, of course! A bit of a commute from Rhode Island or California or North Carolina, I know...)

Here are some of my favourite nurseries in Nova Scotia. (This is gonna be a multipart discussion, so only a few to start with.

Baldwin Nurseries, Falmouth. I've written about Rob Baldwin before—he's a friend, after all, but that aside, I like what he does and how he does it. He grows a LOT of trees and shrubs, including many natives, plus is getting into perennials more and more, especially those that are good for butterflies and other pollinators. He's going to be at the Saltscapes Expo again this year, (coming up in less than two weeks, panic!)

Bayport Plant Farm, Bayport, near Lunenburg. Of all the plant people I know and respect--okay, worship and adore--Captain Dick Steele is my absolute favourite hort hero. Dick is the spryest, most bright and enthusiastic 92 year old man I know--a man who can propagate plants all day long seven days a week, and barrel his car across the Labrador Highway on his annual plant treks, and charge past everyone else climbing the hills at Battle Harbour, Labrador.

Briar Patch Farm & Nursery, Berwick. It's no secret that I like people who genuinely like plants, and Lee and John Dickie genuinely like plants. It shows at their nursery and farm, which includes marvelous display plantings, intriguing plant choices, and knowledgeable staff. I've found some real treasure there over the past few years, and this year I think it might be time to try the Japanese Umbrella Pine. We'll see how tempted I am when I visit for the first time and see that little plant's glowing yellow foliage. You know what will happen. So do I.

Bunchberry Nurseries, Upper Clements. Jill Covill and I went to NSAC at the same time, but it was many years before our paths crossed again. Jill specializes in heaths, heathers, native plants, evergreen shrubs, and grasses, and if you live in NS, you simply MUST visit the garden centre in early August during the peak of heather bloom. I'm giving a talk down at Jill's next Saturday during her annual opening Spring Fling, and how many plants do you suppose I'll bring home with me THIS time? I always say because of Jill I developed an obsession over heathers and heaths, and now that I know I can grow them….well, you know the rest.

Canning Daylily Gardens, Canning. I’ve known Wayne and Wayne for a long time, and value their friendship as well as their knowledge and enthusiasm when it comes to daylilies. If you live in Nova Scotia and are a daylily lover, you simply have to come visit the gardens during late July-early August, when peak bloom is happening. The Waynes have some really unusual and new daylily cultivars (some of which aren’t ready to be sold commercially yet) and over 300 cultivars for sale; something like 800 different types in the display garden makes for a rainbow of colour.

Ouestville Perennials, West Pubnico Alice d’Entremont’s nursery is the furthest away from my house in terms of travel time, located in the beautiful community of West Pubnico, so I don’t get to visit her nearly as often as I want. But when I do, I spend a few hours, because Alice is a wise, knowledgeable plant enthusiast and her display garden and nursery make me intensely happy to visit. Usually Mick and/or Angie, the two guard cats, escort us as we meander around. And I invariably leave with the car full of plants that I simply had to have. You’ll find many interesting and hard-to-find plants at Ouestville, so it’s a collector’s delight, but there’s something for every gardener. Trust me on this….

Stay tuned for further posts on local nurseries!

23 comments:

  1. You've touched on a pet peeve of mine -- folks who complain about poor service and ill-informed sales staff at the big-box and/or franchise stores, but don't like paying the prices that independents must charge to pay their staff and make a living. I happily pay the slightly higher prices at local independent nurseries (and clothing retailers, bookstores, florists, food specialty shops, etc.) for the superior service, selection, and wealth of helpful information. Here on Vancouver Island we have a wealth of such nurseries, and my husband and I often make a morning or afternoon date of driving down to Island Specialty Nursery in Chemainus where the lovely Mary Dawn patiently helps us sort through their distinctive offerings to find the best matches for our garden. She often asks us how purchases from previous years are doing -- did the eleagnus settle in seaside and is it fruiting yet? How tall is the ginkgo now? and isn't it too bad that the erisymum 'Bowles mauve' is coming to the end of its life and will need to be replaced? Priceless!

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  2. Thanks, Jodi -- there are a couple here I wasn't aware of, but I've made note of them. :)

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  3. Is it wrong if you get info from one indie nursery and go to another who actually has the shrub, or might have it $10 cheaper? I stick to the local places, but I still do a bit of comparison shopping. I end up giving good money to both places, though, over the course of a season.

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  4. This is a very timely subject for me. I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." She discusses the need to buy local produce. Wonderful book! great topic!

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  5. Materfamilias, this seems to be the peeve of many people. I start to wonder if those who do these things tend to be more 'yardeners' as Jeff Ball calls them, or true gardeners? Hard to say.
    Nancy, there are more to come, too...;-)
    Benjamin, no, I don't think that's 'wrong' at all--that's just good sense. I do the same thing, and I find it often evens out--something may be less expensive at one nursery but then something else is more, and vice versa. So I just spread my largesse around.
    Melissa, hi and thanks for visiting. I haven't read Kingsolver's book yet; it's on my 'maybe this summer when I have spare time' list. Thanks for reminding me.

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  6. Yes, it is annoying, isnt' it? I'm glad you're addressing it and giving local people options. We have lots of good nurseries in our area - we're fortunate. I LOVE the day lily shot. I just posted about my frustration with a daylily catalog provider and my seemingly lost order. Makes me want to hop on a plane and come visit your nursery up there and bring them home myself!!!

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  7. Bravo!! You gave a great list of nurseries and promotion to their sites and locations. I do think a nursery needs a good website and keep it up. I tried to get our little nursery to start one but the owners were not interested. That may have hurt them a bit.

    Jodi, I'm really worried about what I'm seeing lately and the abuse of the small nursery in our area. It's going to hit our economy badly. No one is studying the real contributor to the problem. I talk about on my website but it's a multitude of problems and the little nursery is taking the blow.

    I'm going to see if I can do some research on it over the summer and maybe get some interviews lined up so I get my facts straight. Then I can submit an article to the local paper. We're getting ready to run the little guy out of business.

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  8. Nice post. You inform us about nurseries you always visit.
    In Yogyakarta, agro expo is held monthly. So, it's easy if I need something for my garden.

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  9. patientgardener14 April, 2008 09:05

    Hi - I totally agree with the sentiments and support our local small nurseries here in the W Midlands (UK). Here one of our supermarket chains, Tesco, have bought up a change of 20 something big-box stores and plan to increase them to 100 in the next couple of years. They state that people want a gardening destination!! I would argue that true gardeners dont consider a superstore a destination and will go to a garden or small nursery

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  10. I generally prefer to do business with local merchants, but sometimes the difference in prices is so great that I can't justify making a purchase at the smaller places. This past weekend I visited a small garden shop with a nice selection of plants and a great selection of books and pottery (elegantly arranged too), but $5.99 for a 4-inch pot of pansies? On the other hand, we were greeted by the staff as soon as we walked in the door, offering to answer questions about the plants. I'm very conflicted....

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  11. Diana, we ARE lucky, those of us with plenty of local nurseries nearby. And I do feel for those who don't have that option.

    Anna, your conversation has probably started a lot of people thinking about this topic, and of course many people are concerned now. It's hard to fight big stores but education/information dissemination is a terrific way to help.

    Surya, the Ag. Expo sounds like great fun; probably something you can only do in large urban centres, not smaller communities.

    Patient Gardener, I am with you on this: can't think of anything LESS like a garden destination than a big-box store...more like torture, to me.

    Entangled, I hear you on being conflicted. There are times when the prices for things are just out to lunch. Unfortunately even in the smaller, locally owned nurseries there is price gouging to be seen at times. Pansies at that price is a great example--that's just absurd. What I'd do is use pansies or other popular annual as a loss leader--put them on really cheap, and that often encourages people to spend more. Or so I understand.

    There are also the nurseries that EXPECT support even though they are rude, give poor service and poorer plants--I've encountered one or two of those in my fair province, and I simply don't support them or even mention them. Including more than one here in the Valley.

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  12. I think we support local nurseries, it is the small independently owned plant retailers that are not getting our support. I've been in quite a few on the north shore and they know nothing more about the plant they've brought in to sell than what is revealed on the tag. And as much as I appreciate their desire to make a living in the country, I can't reconcile paying $195 for an ornamental maple tree that is $59 at Kent.

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  13. Here it is a matter of a few locally owned nurseries vs. the big chain places like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe's. My favorite nurseries are the locally owned ones because they take much better care of their plants. That said, we only have two or three to choose from. I confess though that Lowe's and Home Depot often surprise me with unique plant selections as well as how they care for the plants. Wal-Mart is the absolute worse. You can't get a decent plant there unless you buy it the day it arrives at their store.

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  14. Mercy, Jodi, what an innocent I must be! I had no idea that *anyone* would be rude enough to take up someone's time at a real nursery digging for free info, then head to the chains. Grrrrr!!!! We should all take your cue and spend some time posting about great local nurseries near us; what a wonderful service for both the nurseries and local gardeners! And you really *must* make time to read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"...

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  15. One of my pet peeves is how badly the big box stores take care of their plants. Novices buy water stressed plants, the plants die because they were weak, and then the novice thinks it is their fault the plants died

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  16. I'd prefer to buy all my plants at the locally owned nurseries, but there are some plants (some Evinson Clematis) that are only available at the big boxes because they bought up the exclusive right to sell the plants. So it's buy there or buy it mailorder online for more $ & a smaller plant.

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  17. Jodi, wonderful and informative post! I know you have one already, but I awarded you another "E". You can see my post for the info.

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  18. Jodi, we've lost all but one of our privately owned nurseries. It's a shame too, because the plants are so much healthier and nicer than most of the big box stores. I'm concerned for the one that is left though. They've made a decision that I'm afraid will hurt them in the end. Previously their prices were very competitive with the big box stores and it was worth the extra dollar they may have charged to ensure you get the healthy plant you want. Now however, they've chosen to raise their prices to match the ones of another privately owned nursery in our “sister city”. That nursery is located in an area that has Million dollar homes. Mmmmm, I live in a 100K home, see where I'm going with this. I hope they don't do themselves in, as much as I would like to support them I just can’t pay $100.00 for a tree I can get at Lowe’s for $19.99.

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  19. I miss the big box stores and the cheap six packs of annuals. For me that is where I used to buy common stuff when I lived north of the border (California). But as a plant addict, the small nurseries were what keep me going.
    Now we were lucky to have several really good local nurseries and I spent plenty of money there too. That is where I went to buy healthy perennials, uncommon herbs, heirloom vegetables and seeds!
    What is hard here, south of the border,is that many of the nurseries import their plants from other states in cooler climates, the plants arrive in air conditioned trailers and promptly swoon in our hot and humid climate. The only places that seem to carry seeds are Walmart and Home Depot! The seeds selection is very small too.
    regards,
    Theresa

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  20. All I can say is that all the local nurseries love to see me walk in.

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  21. Hi Jodi,

    I work a few days a week at a locally owned family garden center that is very popular in Chicago. Most customers are very well aware of the big box stores and cheaper plant material but rather come to us because of our outstanding service and knowledge. I mean, Oprah, ( to drop a name :) even borrows plants from us for her show .
    I can tell you that the big box stores have no experts whatsoever in their nursery department and if you don't get the plants when they first arrive, you are in trouble indeed !

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  22. Thank you for this interesting post about local nurseries and keeping your guard up when it comes to big box stores which in my mind are a little like junk food - easy and cheap(ish) but worth it in the end?

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  23. Interesting post , and the same is true this side the pond too. We recently lost our local garden centre, probably due to the big DIY chains and simply not being able to compete.

    Btw, love al the cats! How many have you? I have 5.

    Oh, and thank you for your kind comment over at my place.

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