Independent Garden Center

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Photo credit: Gino Santa Maria/shutterstock

To provide a basis for assessing the garden centers tucked into area home improvement giants, we also conducted an independent garden center review. The particular operation we visited was established in the Pacific Northwest during the 1950s and now includes a 9,000-square-foot garden store and a retail area totaling 10 acres. Not surprisingly given its size, this local garden center stocks such a dizzying array of flora that it puts other garden centers to shame. Most notably, our review found far more herbs, ground cover, native specimens, and trees in various sizes compared with the sparse lineups available at the chain garden centers.

This hometown nursery wins the affections of many patrons. At Yelp, independent garden center reviews enthuse about the depth of inventory and hard-to-find plant offerings. But there is surely one thing customers don't love about the place: the price tag. The virtual wagon of goods we assembled here came to $270.96 -- about $100 above the final tallies at the chain garden centers and without a sprinkler, which was not yet in stock. Quite a few Yelp posts grumble about cost, with one likening the nursery's pricing strategy to that of a well-known upscale food retailer. Another post acknowledges the beauty of the plants but asserts you can find similar offerings for half the cost elsewhere.

The nursery hires certified professional horticultural experts or master gardeners who are far more knowledgeable than any of the big-box garden center employees we encountered. In addition to practical experience and hands-on knowledge, employees are familiar with a wide array of plant varieties and seem to know exactly how to care for each type of plant and which ones grow well together.

The gardening tool and supply section, on the other hand, seems almost like an afterthought. Although this local nursery carries most basic gardening needs, there is a shallow pool of products to draw from. And, the available merchandise is all top-of-the-line, compared with the more moderately-priced tools and supplies we found elsewhere. For example, the cheapest garden hose on hand extended 25 feet and cost $22.99 versus the $16.47 that Home Depot charges for a 50-foot hose.

Based on our independent garden center review, we suggest checking out neighborhood nurseries for trees and unusual shrubs and flowers, sturdier plants, and expert advice. But be prepared to pay a premium. The average home gardener looking for standard shrubs, perennials, and annuals will find good, affordable options at the top two chain garden centers.

Gina Briles

Gina K. Briles writes family, household, and shopping-related product reviews. She is a displaced Jayhawk and a coffee addict living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two small children, and Vizsla dog.

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