Is there a right garden center for you?

Deirdre Gallagher of Avondale Gardens attends to the hanging plants in ther greenhouse early this week. Photo by Chris Barber

Sometimes it seems as if every corner has a garden center -- all the big box home improvement stores, Sears Hardware and even CVS Pharmacy are selling bedding plants and more. However, because price, service, selection, quality and shopping convenience vary from outlet to outlet, which source of garden plants best suits your needs?

The Avon Grove Sun surveyed a few longtime, avid gardeners in the area to discuss the factors that influence where and how they shop for plant materials. The Sun also visited several nearby garden centers for their perspectives.

Judy Dinning of Traditions at Longwood in Kennett Square said that over the years she had shopped at almost all the major garden centers and nurseries in the area. She said, "My choice of garden centers depends on what I am looking for. I find the best prices and a great selection several miles out in the countryside at Groff's Nursery. Groff's also has very knowledgeable staff who will spend time with you, for example, to help you put together multi-plant containers for your deck or patio."

Anne Thayer, who lives just north of Longwood Gardens and maintains a pristine two acres of annuals, perennials, and shrubs, said, "I usually know what I want and don't need much help, but finding a good selection of quality plants is important to me. I don't like the weekend crowds and long lines at the large suburban garden centers like Waterloo Gardens. But by going there on a rainy day or a Friday morning, after they have put out their stock for the weekend, I get the selection and quality I'm looking for without the crowds."

The true garden centers, rather than hardware stores with plants in the parking lot, prided themselves on customer service and high quality stock.

Kathy Pratt of R-P Nurseries in Willowdale on Route 82, a couple of miles north of Kennett Square, said, "We're small, but we know gardening. All of our stock comes from four local growers in this area so that we are confident our plants will thrive in our customers' gardens. Also, when growers bring us new or unusual varieties, I plant them here or take them home to prove their value." Kathy also said she enjoys spending time with customers, helping them to select plants for containers or difficult soil or light conditions.

Deidre Gallagher of Avondale Gardens at 120 W. State Road in Avondale was also proud of the personalized service she provides her customers. She said, "If you bring your own container or pot in here, we'll plant it for you." Gallagher's huge and colorful hanging baskets were striking and appeared to be the shop's specialty. She said, "The baskets do attract attention, but we also know horticulture. My husband, Dan, does landscape design and installation and can answer most of our customers' horticulture related questions."

Further research and some Internet browsing showed that for homeowners to find a satisfying garden center experience, they should look for a garden center with

-A good selection of well-maintained plants arranged logically-perennials, annuals, shade/sun-loving plants displayed together in groups;

-Labels showing plants in bloom, how-to-grow information -Knowledgeable and available staff who can answer gardening questions, make suggestions, or who will take the time to find someone who can; and

-Display gardens and "idea containers."

Finally, the adage, "You get what you pay for," seems to apply to garden centers. Regardless of the center you choose, you will always be trading off some combination of price, service, selection, quality and shopping convenience. To satisfy your needs, try visiting several.

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