One of Grumpy’s greatest talents is his ability to offend great numbers of people, sometimes unintentionally. And, boy, did he do it big time in last Sunday’s blog post (“5 Gardening Mistakes to Avoid This Fall”). Although regular readers didn’t find fault with it and indeed found the information timely and helpful, many independent (“Mom & Pop”) garden centers launched a firestorm of protest over remarks they unfortunately interpreted as favoring big box stores over the little guy. OK. Let’s talk.
A Little Housekeeping
Let me begin by explaining a few things. Number one, my foremost allegiance is to loyal readers of Southern Living and the “Grumpy Gardener,” not to any business, large or small. My readers are primarily beginning gardeners who want answers to such basic questions as: “How do I prune a crepe myrtle?” “Is now a safe time to transplant?” “Why didn’t my hydrangea bloom?” “What grass grows well beneath a big Southern magnolia?” (None.) Each and every question they ask, whether it goes on this blog or not, receives a personal response. I must do a pretty good job of answering their questions, because well over one million people view my blog each year. Yes, I’m often a smart ass, but apparently readers like it. They’ve kept reading for three decades.
Number two, I am now aware that independent garden centers reserve the title “local garden center” for themselves, denying it to garden centers at big box stores that nevertheless sell lots of plants.
Newsflash! All consumers want is a good plant at a good price. If they can it get at a small independent garden center, fine. If they can get it at a big box, fine. So when I wrote “local garden center,” I meant both independents AND big boxes.
Number three, during my time writing for Southern Living, it has always been my goal to instill in readers both a love of plants and the confidence they can succeed with them — for if they succeed, they’ll plant more and buy more. This means more revenue for the green industry — independent garden centers and big boxes alike. That’s a good thing, right?
I’m sorry if independents interpreted my remarks to mean that many of them sell unhealthy plants crawling with bugs. Reputable, professionally run garden centers certainly do not — I’m talking about garden centers like yours, Al Krismer, Andi Parr, Kris Blevons, and Tina Bemis. And I admit my dismissal of balled-and-burlapped trees did not take into account some advantages these trees have over container-grown trees (such as larger sizes available, soil being more like the soil they’ll be planted in, and no problems with potbound roots). I prefer container-grown trees, but consumers may decide differently.
Let’s Ask the Consumer
To gauge the public’s opinion on the Mom & Pop vs Big Box issue, I asked the following questions on my Grumpy Facebook page. “When you buy plants, do you buy them only at independent garden centers, only at big box stores, or at both places? Why?”
So far, I’ve received more than 150 responses from all over. These are typical.
“Both. I buy whatever catches my eye.” — Ingrid
“If I need bulk annuals, the big box store is usually cheaper. For something a little different, I go to an independent garden center.” — Kathy
“Both, but I prefer local/independent nurseries, since I’m frequently looking for unusual varieties. Condition comes first, then price. But I have bought discounted perennials at a big box late in the season and babied them over the winter.” — Suzanne
“Both. Depends on where I am and what I see that looks good and healthy.” — Donna
“Both. We purchase annuals at big box stores due to the price. Biennials, perennials, succulents, shrubs, ornamentals, trees, straw mulch, etc. we purchase at independent garden centers due to varieties, guarantees, quality, and service.” — Sharon
“Both. Impulse buy at big stores…planned buys from independents.” — Gail
“All three (including online). Not one single place has everything I am looking for, plus I am usually comparison shopping for variety, quality and price. Indies often have a better selection, while boxes generally have better pricing.” — Katie
“Both! Price and selection pay a part. Since I am a novice gardener I do not want to spend a fortune as I learn.” — Elizabeth
“Is independent garden center a new term for nursery?” — Tami
“The big box stores get my business when I want staples like potting soil, common containers, filler plants, etc. I have to travel a ways to find an IGC, which is where I find unusual plants or pots.” — Kylee
I don’t want to make any more blanket statements, but it seems that the average consumer prefers peaceful coexistence. So do I. I therefore offer up this classic video to all those who took my words the wrong way.
Good Places to Buy Plants
For those of you who live in the Birmingham, AL metro area, Grumpy wholeheartedly recommends the plants and products at the following independent garden centers.
Andy’s (two locations)
Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery
Hanna’s Garden Shop
Leaf N Petal (several locations)
Myers Plants & Pottery
Oak Street Garden Shop
Petals From the Past
Sweet Peas Garden Shop