Monthly Archive for October, 2012

When you think garden center, do you think Home Depot?

Gone are the days when a trip to the garden center meant a trip to a locally owned, and often family operated business.  Don’t get me wrong, independent garden centers still exist, but they are no longer the only place to buy plants, soil and other landscaping materials. According to the 2012 National Gardening Survey published by the National Gardening Association, large national chains (think Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart) now account for a 51% share of the retail dollars spent on lawn & garden related purchases in the United States. Independent garden centers account for just 17% of retail dollars spent.  The lawn & garden market is large enough ($29.1 billion at last count) to support many different business models.  That being said, the increasing share of the market held by large, national chains and big box retailers is not without consequence, particularly in the area of consumer choice.

Fewer plants to choose from

Large national retailers use their purchasing power to drive down prices.  Generally speaking, the more plants they purchase from a single grower, the lower price per plant they can obtain.  Add to this the fact that a relatively small group of people is making purchasing decisions for hundreds, sometimes thousands of retail locations, and you can see how national retailers are having a negative effect on the diversity of plant material available to gardeners.  You can still find that unique cut leaf Japanese maple cultivar if you really look, but you will probably have to drive a bit further than the local retail power center.

Where can I buy a Korean Dogwood?

Korean Dogwood

I recently spent some time in South Korea.  Fascinating country.  Being the garden fanatic that I am, much of my time was spent appreciating the uniquely Korean style of landscape design.  The pervasive use of rocks, shrubs and conifers borrows heavily from the natural environment found in the mountains that are never far away in Korea’s rugged landscape.  Commonly used plantings (at least in Seoul) include boxwood, yew, azalea, liriope, mondo grass, sasa grass, ginkgo biloba, dawn redwood, and korean pine.  One tree in particular caught my eye – the Korean Dogwood (Cornus kousa).  The Korean Dogwood is hard to miss, especially when it is in flower.  When in bloom the glossy white flowers that cover this small tree are truly memorizing.

Korea having a similar climate to where I live in Canada my immediate thought was to buy a Korean Dogwood for my garden as soon as I got back to Canada. Little did I realize how difficult this would be.  You can’t just type “Korean Dogwood” and “Your City” into Google and get a list of suppliers.  Very few garden centers post inventories online.  Growers, the people that supply garden centers, sometimes post their stock online, but rarely the names of the garden centers they supply, especially by item.  Want to know which garden centers in Toronto have purchased a Korean dogwood in the past 5 years?  You are out of luck.  So how do you track down specimen plants like a Korean Dogwood?  You call all the garden centers in your area and hope someone knows what you are looking for and can help you track down a source.  This can be a very frustrating and time consuming process.  After a few “weeks” of searching I gave up.  I was willing to spent several hundred dollars to buy this tree, and drive an hour or two if need be.  Despite being a very motivated buyer, no one got my business.

Turns out I am not the only one who has had a hard time finding unique plants for their garden.  More on that in my next post.