A Few Words About Shopping For Plants At The Big Box Stores
by David Salman
Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman Weighs In On The "Dumbing Down" Of Horticulture
The "Big Box" stores have become a major force in the marketing and sales of plants across the US. They have transformed the retail plant business over the last 15 to 20 years from an industry traditionally serviced by independently owned nurseries, hardware stores and greenhouses to one that’s dominated by spreadsheets and not horticulturists. They have done so by working with very large wholesale nurseries and gigantic bedding plant growers who are large enough to supply their numerous large stores to drive down prices. This also has the effect of “dumbing down,” or greatly reducing the selection of plant varieties available to choose from.
What is a Well-Intentioned Gardener to Do?
The solution is simple: Do your homework and make the bulk of your plant purchases from reputable locally-owned greenhouses, garden centers and specialty catalog/on-line retailers. If you expect to have access to accurate horticultural information, regionally appropriate plants and quality organic/natural gardening products, you need to support these non-Big Box vendors. Otherwise who is going to grow the unusual plants and afford to have experienced, educated horticulturists on staff? Who is going to ensure that our vast palate of biologically diverse plants is not simplified down to those that make the most money? I always caution folks that "if all you buy is fast food, don't be surprised when there are no farm-to-table restaurants when you want access to healthy meals." The same holds true for plants.
New Snow Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) has attractive silver-gray wooly foliage and clusters of tiny white flowers held on top of tall, upright stems. This native plant is highly attractive to butterflies. Resilient and easy to grow, it’s excellent for use in meadows and perennial pollinator-friendly gardens with dry, poor soil. Drought tolerant.
Owl's Claw (Hymenoxys hoopesii) is a fabulous native mountain wildflower with huge golden-yellow flowers in summer. With its long, downward curving golden-yellow flower petals and center cone, the graceful flowers are eye-catching. Highly attractive to many types of butterflies and bees, this durable perennial likes average to wet soil moisture and cool growing conditions, not for hot climates.
The periwinkle flowers of Northern Dragonhead (Dracocephalum ruyschiana) are just as fascinating to pollinators as they are to gardeners! Two-lipped tubular blooms resembling dragon heads appear in late spring, sure to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. Narrow lance-shaped leaves are lightly aromatic. With a bushy and compact yet loose habit, this deer-resistant plant is an excellent choice for the front of garden borders, or trailing along walls in full sun locations.
Commonly known as Poppy Mallow or Wine Cups, Callirhoe involucrata is a native wildflower that decorates the garden with a summer-long display of bright magenta-pink flowers. A sprawling grower, Callirhoe involucrata's long branches spread out across the ground to create a colorful mat of flowers and foliage. Drought resistant perennial plant (xeric).
Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is one of the most versatile groundcovers for cold climates growing in both sun and shade and most soil types. Plumbago blooms in late summer with deep blue flowers followed by the foliage that turns burgundy red in fall.
‘Star Frost’ Echinops (Echinops bannaticus), also called Globe Thistle, is an eye-popping beauty in frosty white with spherical flowers on sturdy stems. Rising from thistle-like deep green leaves with silvery undersides, ‘Star Frost’ will bloom from mid-summer to early fall. Plant them in a sweep for dramatic effect. At 3-4 feet tall they are just right for a perennial bed, cutting garden, or pollinator garden - bees and butterflies love them too.
'Prince's Plume' (Stanleya pinnata) has striking presence in the open landscape, bearing bright yellow flower spikes over feathery silver foliage. A native of the North American West and Southwest, its hardy, long-lasting flowers that can last for weeks, or months in the right conditions, serving as a beacon for attracting pollinators. 'Prince's Plume' is a fascinating and deer-resistant addition to xeriscapes in arid, semi-desert conditions. (Stanleya pinnata)
Russian River Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa 'Russian River') is a superb native CA wildflower that blooms for several months in summer with showy ball-shaped pink-purple flowers. A small growing shrub that likes well drained soil in dry, full sun conditions, it has strongly fragrant evergreen foliage that repels browsing animals and attracts lots of bees and butterflies to its nectar-rich flowers.