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A 2011 highlight: our garden blogger visit to Seattle’s Dragonfly Farms Nursery.

Here’s my wish list for the New Year. Some of this is reasonable; some of it isn’t. And please feel free to add your own in comments!

It would be nice if …

Every community had a centralized urban farming and community gardening office, which would be able to answer questions about land use and expedite the use of empty lots for food growing by block clubs and other neighborhood organizations.  Yes, it may sound like adding more bureaucracy, but much of this land is city-owned or policed and there are questions to answer and guidance to provide. Cities need to recognize this land use as legitimate and expected. The existing permits, planning, and inspections offices are too building-focused and just don’t seem to get this stuff.

Independent garden centers stopped whining about the big boxes. This might be too inside baseball for some of you, but—mostly on Facebook and in some other places—I see a lot of griping about the strategies of the big corporate home and garden places making it harder and harder for smaller IGCs to compete. I sympathize. On the other hand, the situation is not going away. In Buffalo, we have Home Depot and Lowes. We also have at least a dozen fabulous small nurseries and garden centers that seem to do very well—most have been around for decades. We even have a co-op garden center, of which I am a founding member. I spend a lot of money at all these places. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? The IGCs around here provide something that the big boxes don’t and manage to make sure people know that. The big boxes have their place. And our co-op center stocks—among other things—unique garden objets by local artists. If there’s room for all this in Buffalo’s market, one would think other markets could also make it work.

There was less hysteria about the disease or insect of the month (Emerald Ash Borer! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!), and better ongoing practice and education about ensuring that diversity and sanity prevail in what we sell and plant. If fewer elms had been planted in Buffalo, we wouldn’t have been deforested back in the 70s. Industry-generated emails about which pesticide to use and firewood bans are treating the symptoms, not the problem.

(More environment than gardening) Please, EPA and other agencies, gather the evidence, figure out the implications definitively, and either regulate the hell out of hydrofracking or stop it. Especially after the Ohio earthquake, it’s sounding more and more like the risks are worth it. This needs a strong focus, not just wishy washy talk from greedy politicians.

Lawn supplies and equipment could be kept in a completely separate place in the garden center—separate from plants and supplies for making real gardens. That would help everyone understand the difference and the choice. And maybe think about it a bit more.

Garden tourism—to showcase garden walks, community gardens, public botanical gardens, Open Days, and more—becomes more widespread and better organized. It’s another way for communities to market themselves, and, more important, it draws more public attention to the ground underneath our feet and what we’re doing with it.

And, finally:

Among all of our brilliant growers and nursery people, a few more shift their focus to developing more interesting annuals for shade. Please?

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on January 3, 2012 at 5:00 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.


  1. What’s the difference between “ranting” and “whining”? This sites manifesto say’s “suspicious of the horticultural industry”. We have IGC’s “ranting” about the way the horticultural industry is run. Isn’t that a welcome change from the past?

  2. When I read this week that our major export is petroleum and refined petroleum products, I had to wonder why prices have gone up so much, and why we need fracking and a pipeline crossing many states, open to spills and attacks?

  3. I own a garden center next to a Home Depot,1 mile from Lowe’s up the street and a Super Walmart 1 mile the other way and a very low price garden center chain 3 miles right up the road. Business is awesome. I feel bad for the garden centers that have their competition that draw customers AWAY from them. Quality, service, selection, honesty,sincerity and customer relationships is how we survive and thrive. Many of my IGC friends across the country are struggling though. When that happens, and it is, there will always be some ranting. Many are trying just to survive.

  4. Totally agree with “more interesting annuals for the shade”. This is something I’m willing to pay more for. My wonderful local IGC has a few each Spring, but even they are mostly strange variations of begonias. And I didn’t get there in time this Spring and ended up with the basic blah flowers for my containers. I’m so hungry for something different.

  5. I want the gardening community to focus more on great affects we can have on drainage. Old pipe and pond systems are not effective and have tried to cover large areas as cities expanded.

  6. The key to competing with big box stores is to offer superior service both at the point of sell and after the sell. You must make all customers customers for life. make them want to come back to your store.

  7. I own an IGC and have not heard any whining about big boxes. Where did you hear this whining? I think it is important to not generalize about an entire industry of great, hard working people… maybe this happens in Buffalo? I know hundreds of IGC’s across the US and Canada and none of them are whiners- they are smart, hard working people who love plants. The box retailers have devalued our products and made it difficult for many small businesses and their families… I hope that your readers will see the value to their community of supporting small business.

  8. I’m with you on most of this and dont see the relevance re hydrofracking in the garden aspect of the topic , but do take some umbrage re the “whining” comment. I am surprised to hear any garden rantster support for big brother, big box garden centers. Yes, so you can get your lumber and tupperware there, uh-huh. But ixnay the arden-gay enter-cay. The plants are often shoddy, there is no provision to minimize the sale of invasives and you can always rely on a big push to weed n’ feed, pour on the fertilizer and pesti-chemicide the beejeesus out your lawn & garden. Puget Sound streams spike with chemicals every spring and methinks your big box store is a big contributor, encouraging cousin Jimmy to pour on the chemicals.

  9. Concerning centralized offices for community farming/gardening, they exist, pretty much. Your county extension office can offer loads of help on all related questions and desires, but far too few citizens remember to access this valuable, free resource.

  10. My trip to Buffalo with the other garden bloggers in 2010 opened my eyes to the beneficial effect that gardeners and gardens can have on a city. I use our big box store, but usually not for plants or equipment. It is our two local garden/farm stores that get my business.

  11. I love our local gardeners- the plants are a lot healthier, and as a newbie gardener they are able to give me much more info on care than any big box store could. Hopefully they dont have too much to worry about!

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