Top Ten New Perennials - US sources
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Cheap plants – you get what you pay for

Cornuscherokeeprincessmn We stopped in at our local Lowe's today – and the plants there were very cheap. (For British readers, Lowe’s is more or less the equivalent of a vast B&Q.)

Amongst other things we spotted a flowering dogwood, Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’. The lovely specimen in a 5 gallon pot was nearly 2m (6ft) high and priced at just $24.98 – that’s £12.55 in British money. This is too cheap, far too cheap. All the plants at Lowe's are cheap… Tempting at those prices, but actually worth more.Lowescornuslabel400

Now I don’t know which grower supplied Lowe's… But, in general, many people complain about the number of undocumented workers (“illegal aliens”) working in landscaping, horticulture and agriculture in the US yet because they’re on such low wages this is one of the reasons prices are so low. In fact, people complain loudly about undocumented workers in general – but still demand the cheapest possible prices. You can’t have it both ways.

Now, here’s the other side of it all. Low retail prices in any shop or nursery or garden center tends to mean low profit margins which tends to mean limited expense on technical expertise. Coreopsiscremebruleeno500 In the same Lowe's was a batch of coreopsis labelled ‘Crème Brulée’. As you can see, the plants on offer were not ‘Crème Brulée’, the lovely cool, soft yellow form of C. verticillata (needle leaf coreopsis). The plants labeled ‘Crème Brulée’ were a much less special, brash gold form of the broader leaved C. grandiflora, perhaps ‘Elfin Gold’ – perfectly good variety, but not ‘Crème Brulée’.

So, perhaps, in the broad sense, you get what you pay for: a bargain dogwood, the wrong coreopsis – and, by the way, only one single variety of ornamental grass… grasses being just about the most popular of all perennials at the moment. And even that one ornamental grass was frost damaged – as were the acers, pieris and cherries.

What’s that quote about the price of everything and the value of nothing.

OF COURSE, instead, you can, of course, buy Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’ and the genuine Coreopsis ‘Crème Brulée’ in good local nurseries and garden centers.

Alternatively, order Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’ by mail order from Meadowbrook Nursery in North Carolina or from these four British nurseries. You can buy the genuine Coreopsis ‘Crème Brulée’ by mail order from White Flower Farm in Connecticut or from these twenty British nurseries.


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How 'bout an update on the Lowe's variegated Alchemilla mollis?(sometimes you might get far more than you pay for!)

Flower Power Man

The problem with big chains is that not only do they get cheap prices from their suppliers because of the huge volumes they buy, but they also work on lower margins generally than Garden Centres. That's certainly the case in the UK. So these factors make the big chains look very cheap indeed but in reality the grower is probably only making marginally less than if he were supplying independant garden centres.

Its not just that the big chains are too cheap. Its also that Garden Centres (certainly in the UK) work on incredibly high margins compared to the big stores.The Garden Centres are perhaps too expensive?

Graham Rice

Here in Pennsylvania, ed, the Lowe's variegated Alchemilla is not even peeping through the ground yet (I've just been out to double check)! Rest assured, when there's news it will be posted here.

Garden centers too expensive? Hmmm... Hadn't thought of it that way. Why do UK garden centers work on such high margins? Are they inefficient? Do they have unexpectedly high overheads?

Flower Power Man

UK GC margins have been traditionally high because they were based on the fact that the nursery grew the plants themselves. Also of 20 - 30 years ago the product portfolio was mainly A-Z or conifers that could be on the centres of 6-8 months. Now of course most centres buy in a huge proportion of their stock and A-Z sales are declining each year in favour of colourful, impulse quick turnover plants. In some cases the plants won't be the GC for much longer than 2-3 days. This is a far cry from 30 years ago. In spite of the these changes UK GC margins have remained high.

So when a GC moans about prices at B&Q and Homebase or the supermarkets one of the real problems is that GC have much higher margin expectations based on a historic reason.

Its also actually more expensive to supply an indidvidual or a small group of GC's than a big retail chain. Independant GC's still want their pre-priced labels (so it looks like they've grown it and they can set their own margins) and a lot of free display material and this costs money. Sending 4-5 trolleys to a small GC is also very uneconomic, comapred to sending in a ful artic into one multiple depot. So small GC's are always going to be more expensive even without big margins being added.

What should be the key difference between a GC and a 'multiple' is the level of service and the overall shopping expereince. And I think GC's in the UK still do a pretty good job.

Personally if I want to buy cheap pack bedding I'd always go to somewhere like B&Q or Homebase. If I want a niche or a specific plant I'd go to garden centre.

Graham Rice

Thank you, Flower Power Man, for that great summary of the situation. I should also mention that garden centers are also now being squeezed from the other direction. Specialist nurseries, who do grow a lot of their own material but which had usually been fairly basic in terms of presentation and facilities, are smartening themselves up, opening coffee shops and restaurants as the garden centers do, and presenting themselves in ways which attract garden center customers - Harveys Garden Plants (Suffolk), Merriments (Kent) and Hopleys (Hertfordshire) come to mind - plus, on a different scale, Ashwood (Warwickshire).

Your remark about buying pack bedding at B&Q reminds me of something. Terrain is an upmarket, lifestyle-orientated but plant-focused nursery just opened in Philadelphia. They won't even be selling pack bedding - and are delighted that Home Depot (= B&Q) are immediately across the street. If customers want pack bedding they will happily send them there - confident that having seen the quality of plants and advice available there, customers will return to Terrain for everything else.

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