More and more local independent garden centers and nurseries are faced with a dilemma of whether to tough it out and continue on into the daily battle with the big boxes; Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, Costco and the internet Godzilla - Amazon, or to sell their land off to developers and call it a day. This trend has been going on for decades now, but is becoming more and more of a reality. Baby boomers are moving to smaller homes and the millennial's taste for plants and gardening are for smaller, outdoor boxes and plots, with a heavy emphasis on indoor planting. They are leaning to the natural, holistic and organic side of the pendulum.
Part of the onus for the recent failure of the industry falls on the independent nursery and garden center, as they have not adapted to the changing markets as quickly as they should have. Knowledge about organic gardening, true organic gardening and true organic gardening products in the majority of nurseries and garden centers is pretty underwhelming.
I am frequently left shaking my head at PK’S (product knowledge sessions) with nursery staff when I discuss the importance of clean healthy soil, what microbes are, what they do and why things labeled as organic, really aren’t. I have to say, well write, in this case, that as someone involved in the independent lawn and garden industry, I give most of the independent nurseries that I know a grade of “C” for their care and understanding of things organic. They are honestly one of the chief causes of keeping the industry in the dark ages of organic. However, I give Amazon, Home Depot. Lowe’s and Costco an “F-“ in terms of the organic, mostly faux organic garbage that they sell in their garden section and with absolutely zero care or knowledge when it comes to soil health, environmental well-being and true organic products and protocols.
This is a big problem gang! What is going to separate the local independent nursery from the big boxes if they all carry the same junk and don’t become a superior source of organic products and knowledge?
They must adapt to the new types of gardening and gardeners that require a keener understanding of biology, health and ecology.
Now that the nursery side of the problem is on the table, here is what we need to understand about this situation as gardeners, and what we need to do to help remedy our part in this situation. We first need to acknowledge that the independent garden centers and nurseries that we grew up with are far superior to their greed monster competitors when it comes to customer service, basic gardening knowledge, community service, gardening tools, research materials and plants. What you get at the Depot or Walmart are products of inferior quality and plants grown with synthetic fertilizer, and generally pushed into season way before the poor plants should be.
I want to highlight that sense of “community” and history that we feel when we walk into our local nursery. Didn’t most of us gardeners get our plant addiction and gardening bug from shopping and visiting the local nursery? I did! My store, Palisades Nursery was a weekend ritual for me. I started shopping there with my parents and then later with a landscape architect friend of mine. It was a beautiful and calming place for me that was filled with wonder and excitement as I learned about the magical world of plants.
Palisades Nursery was one of the first casualties in my neck of the woods to succumb to the temptation of developers who offer large sums of money for these larger parcels and spaces.
The same thing happened last year to Paulino Gardens in Denver. I visited that wonderful place my first sales trip into Colorado. Business at Paulino was not growing. Customer loyalty was shrinking. And, then to make matters worse, a brand new Home Depot opened up down the street. The family had finally had enough and decided to sell their land off to a developer for 12 million dollars. Now, the once beautiful garden center is going to be a bunch of warehouses. Isn’t that nice? Another casualty to the warehousing of America!
I get it. The family had the right to do whatever they wanted with their land, but I wonder how this story would have turned out if their sales were booming and customers were staying put and not drifting over to the sparkly cheapness of the Depot? My bet is, they’d still be in business.
So, what can you do??? Be loyal. Retail businesses need CUSTOMERS… LOYAL CUSTOMERS! We don’t garden shop at the big boxes or online. We don’t cheat on our friends by checking out what’s on sale or a dollar less over at the dark side. Doesn’t Jeff Bezos have enough money?
We remember the value that a wonderful garden center brings to our town in terms of beauty and culture and knowledge. Wisdom is a tough sale these days. It’s a lost commodity, a disappearing trait, but I can tell you one thing, if we don’t “wise up” and start supporting these guys, then we are all going to be crying in our Chinese plastic terrariums, filled with toxic dirt and poison plants someday.
And part of being a loyal customer means suiting up and showing up for classes, events and the multitude of seasonal activities that your local nursery provides. Also, buy your plants there. Buy your organic compost there. Buy your tools there. And, as a loyal customer, speak up… demand that they continue to grow (pun intended) and change to become better nurseries, that are more knowledgeable, more “organic,” true organic and that they show the community and the industry that they are real stewards of the earth, the NEW stewards of the earth, not only in name, but in practice.
Supporting our local, independent nursery also means that we follow them on social media. We share their posts. We reach out to our gardening pals to let them know what a great nursery our local nursery is. We let the world know that we think the world of our local, independent nursery and garden center.
If we as gardeners don’t do this, then one day we are going to wake up to see that another change has occurred in the landscape of our community. We will feel the sting, the pain, the loss, of losing our beloved nursery. We will be stuck with the option of the 24 hour never-ending, never-sleeping, never caring Bezos Shopping Network, or we’ll all have to suck it up as we pinch our noses and run past the “aisle of death” that you smell at every Home Depot or Lowe’s as you hurry outside to buy some of those poor, pathetic “specimens” that they call plants.
So, the moral of this story is support… be loyal, be grateful and cherish that nursery or independent garden center that makes your home, home, because if you don’t, it just might go away, and as a society, as gardeners, we’ll have let another jewel of an era gone by, sink off the coast of garden city…
© Randy Ritchie 2020