We have heard the news and read the stories about the benefits of buying locally grown fruits and vegetables. But where we buy the plants for our gardens is just as important since it affects not only our local economy, but our local environment as well.
It used to be seed catalogs were the main competition of the local garden center. Now places to buy plants are everywhere – grocery stores, hardware stores, gas stations and, of course, the big box retail stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart.
It’s not surprising that so many business added gardening to their retail mix. Research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals the green industry is one of the nation’s fastest growing segments in the agriculture economy. It accounts for over 1.9 million jobs and $64 billion in income.
Benefits of Buying from Local Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries
Generally, there are two ways to buy locally grown plants. There are the local nurseries across the Triangle region that grow the plants. The local nursery knows the full history and needs of the plant. They have extensive plant knowledge, something you can’t learn in a book or read on a tag. Most of these sell their plants directly to the independent garden centers. Some also operate as garden centers, often without the hard goods and chemicals, and sell to the consumer as well.
Then there is the local independent garden center that buys the plants from the nursery and sells them to the consumer. Some also grow their own plants, but usually in a smaller quantity than a nursery. Most are family-owned businesses that pride themselves in offering a high quality product with knowledgeable service and great customer relationships. They are there to provide the information needed to be a successful gardener, something you won’t reliably find at a grocery store or big box store. The employees work at these for a reason, they are plant enthusiasts themselves, as well as in some cases, educated horticulturists.
Our locally owned garden centers also offer customers a more enriching shopping experience. Each is unique in some way – perhaps they are known for having a large water gardening department or for having the widest selection of edible plants or sell only unique trees. They might be in the country on the old family farm or in the heart of the city. This diversity makes it fun to explore and to shop at a locally owned garden center.
Success in the Garden
A top reason to buy from local nurseries and garden centers, is the quality of the plant material is better maintained and better suited to the local environment. A plant purchased at a mega store might seem like a deal until it quickly dies when planted. What you didn’t see were dried out or damaged roots from poor growing conditions and cross-country shipping.
Buying locally grown plants helps ensure success in the landscape. Trees are a good example. Before buying a tree you should make sure it has weathered many seasons here in the North Carolina Piedmont, so it will thrive for generations to come.
There is a risk that plants shipped in from out of state also carry some tag-alongs, insects and diseases not native to this area of the Piedmont or North Carolina.
There’s no doubt, many times a plant is less expensive when you buy it from a mega store. They have purchasing power to buy mass quantities at a reduced price. Our local growers can’t sell a holly for $6 if it took $12 to produce it.
But there are downsides to this purchasing power. These stores tend to carry limited selection and variety. If you are looking for a unique specimen to add to your garden or a new variety of plant, chances are you will only find it in your local garden center.
Buying from local garden centers and nurseries results in more money staying closer to home. The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics found that spending $100 at a neighborhood independent business created $68 in additional local economic activity, while spending $100 at a chain produced only $43 worth of local impact. The difference was due to four factors: Local payroll – locally owned businesses spend more revenue on local labor; Procurement – local retailers spent more than twice as much buying other local goods and services; Profits – owners live locally and more of their profits stay local, and; Charitable giving – local retailers donate more to local charities and community organizations.
Our garden centers and nurseries are working even harder to keep it local in this new economy. Some of the local garden centers have teamed together in order to buy sharper, be more competitive, share their knowledge and support the community. A new organization, Shop Local Raleigh that supports locally owned, independent businesses, has added a number of local garden centers to its mix.
And don’t forget, the people who grow and sell local plants are our friends and neighbors, who are more likely to be involved in the clubs, schools and other community events across the Triangle. You can’t get more local than this.
Source: Architectural Trees, Durham Garden Center, Get Rooted Nursery, Garden Supply Company, Homewood Nursery, Kiefer Garden Center, Logan Trading Co, Sugar Lake Nursery, Tree Frog Nursery, Wild Bird Center and Witherspoon Rose Culture.