Contrary to what most folks think, nurseries are not
about plants—well ok, some of it is about plants; those beautiful, lush, photosynthesizing marvels, endlessly fascinating
oxygen-producing widgets infinitely abundant in variety and selection. Green plants, gold plants, big plants, small plants.
Here in the Northwest where a benign climate affords us a broad
gardening experience we lucky gardeners can choose from a vast array of plants suitable for cultivation—sentimental
cottage favorites, sexy woodland ephemeral wonders, even exotic and strange succulent rarities will all flourish when properly
sited and cared for.
Nurseries are our link between all this horticultural bounty
and the path to success in our own backyards and the real value of any nursery large or small, is the people behind the plants.
Your average nursery worker is a rare breed in today’s
highly competitive job market; clearly not in it for the pay, job security, or the benefits (although the plant discount is
most appreciated), most nursery workers are themselves avid gardeners looking to enrich their passions rather than their bank
accounts. They are a wealth of information and expert in the possibilities and challenges of local gardening conditions.
Seasoned employees are equipped to offer advice on everything
from how to cope with current weather conditions—be it a cold spring, dry summer, or winter flood—to managing
the current pest-of-the-week and proper soil-building techniques; it may not be as glamorous as that new Big Sky™ Echinacea
but the suggested addition of a bag of compost to your days’ purchase may mean the difference between robust and healthy
plant growth and stingy disappointment. They know the latest, greatest gardening glove or handy tool as well as which luscious
amber Heuchera will really perform (think dessert!).
“But sometimes plants cost more at independent nurseries,”
laments the cash-strapped, plant-hungry gardener. Yes, that’s true.
You see, plants are not lifeless commodities occupying static
space on a shelf but dynamic, living things in need of constant care, nurturing and maintenance. This takes time and people.
That’s why most independent nurseries you visit anytime from March to October are a veritable hive of activity. Orders
arriving need to be tagged, priced and placed into inventory with some sort of organizational design to be enhanced by accurate
and engaging signage.
Shelves are stocked and restocked with garden supplies relevant
to that year’s prevailing circumstances: Ciscoe says alfalfa meal is good for roses—well, you had better stock
up on alfalfa meal!
A great deal of hauling, hoisting and shifting makes for a
vigorous and sometimes exhausting day’s work while customer questions and a ringing phone round off a hectic but generally
blissful reality when the sun is out, the parking lot is full and the benches are loaded with beautiful, healthy, and well-cared
In contrast, that bargain buy at the local big box store is
a false economy if the plant is stressed to exhaustion and you’re left wandering alone among aisles of plants without
the practical information you need to succeed.
It’s not as simple as “green end up.” Knowledgeable
nursery workers can advise and inform the discerning garden center consumer on all the gardening arts—seasonal maintenance,
container cultivation, pest and disease control, and even propagation, design issues, and cut flower techniques if you catch
them on a slow, rainy day with few other customers to assist.
Such information is invaluable and may lead to future savings
as your garden flourishes, your plants multiply and your garden expertise “grows.” (sorry)
At the end of the day it’s not just about the plants
or the people. It’s about the garden; how we connect with our environment, create a sense of place and mark that space
as our own. As passionate gardeners and intrepid plant collectors we troll the highways and byways throughout the year always
looking for the next nursery and our newest horticultural discovery.
For us, spring is just the starting gate with each season offering
up new choices and undiscovered destinations. We will brave traffic, crowds, harrowing parking lots and bark our shins on
nursery carts laden with compost all in the pursuit of this pastime we call gardening. The garden is always new and never
boring as we continually unearth, explore, and experiment with plants.
We learn to suffer failure with aplomb and celebrate victory
with a generous grace and throughout it all the knowledgeable, enthusiastic and personable nursery worker is our companion
and co-“hort.” (sorry-again)
From 1995-2007 Lorene Edwards Forkner was the owner of Fremont Gardens, a small specialty nursery
in Seattle with a devoted staff and faithful customers.