Monday, June 6, 2011

The $10 Perennial

Buying plants is my biggest vice. Perhaps it's not a vice, but it has sometimes seemed to be one during the past couple of years, when I haven't been working full time. But plants are so beautiful and when I go to the nursery, they call to me. And since I want some semblance of order and design in my casual, mostly native plant garden, I often succumb to the landscape designers' rule: three to five of each plant. The cost rapidly escalates - particularly when the three to five new plants decide they don't like conditions in my garden, or the deer fail to read the "deer-resistant" label accompanying the plants.

I've been evolving from a buyer of plants to a divider and seed scatterer. The change is in part because after eight years gardening in one place, many plants are thriving and just begging to be divided. My faith in the processes of life has been growing, and I now look at a seed and see hope - and the joy of watching the transformation from a small, dry, inert object to living growth.

But there is another factor here. The price of plants has jumped dramatically. While I once was willing to pay $6.99 for a new perennial, $9.99 is ridiculous. 

It's also become more difficult to find young annuals in inexpensive six-packs. Instead, the garden centers stock large plants in bloom and charge absurd prices. 

These zinnias were being sold for $5.99 at my favorite garden center.

Last year, I never got around to deadheading the zinnias, and they self-seeded under the mailbox and the sunny perennials bed along the street. For free. 

Another plant industry practice I don't understand is that of putting out for sale, as soon as the last frost date has passed, hanging baskets that are so full of bloom that there's no room for growth. 

Would you pay $34.99 for this hanging basket?

Or $17.99 for this one?

I planted the container below with impatiens, a curly parsley plant from the farmer's market, and torenia that I was fortunate enough to find in a six-pack for a total of $2. 

The container is not lush. But it's only June and we have five months of the growing season left. I will get more pleasure out of watching this container grow and bloom than out of the ready-made greenhouse baskets that I could have obtained for the price of a dinner out.

Plants are so much more than another thing to buy and install at the home. And with the ridiculous prices, I scattered more seeds this year and hoped. Some got eaten. Some didn't germinate, possibly because of extremely hot weather early in the season. But many came up and are growing well. There is no guarantee in nature, but there's unfailing interest in observing the process of life.


Anonymous said...

Sheila I am so with you about the price of nursery plants!! For me, dividing, seeding and taking cuttings is where it's at. In the late summer one of the great joys is gathering seeds for next year, from both annuals and perennials. I sort of hear a street vendor calling me: "Free plants, get your free plants!"

Donna said...

I am coming to a similar conclusion as I age and look toward retirement that I cannot afford the price of plants but can of seeds and then as you say there is dividing....I do have to divide plants...that was my mission this year...not going to happen until fall if at all...I used more plants I grew from seed and planted more veggies in containers than plants...

Stacy said...

I used to be a sucker for those big pots of hanging annuals, especially when I lived in Vermont and was desperate for spring. But after you buy a couple of them and they fizzle as soon as the heat sets in because, as you point out, they have no growing room, you start feeling like you're being had... Your impatiens/torenia container looks lovely--enjoy watching it grow! (I lovelovelove your last sentence.)

Sheila said...

Linniew, I plan on making seed-gathering a ritual, starting this year. So far, my growing from seed has been refraining from deadheading plants and enjoying the volunteers, or buying seed packets. But I can't wait to make my own seed packets.

Donna, the time for dividing passes quickly doesn't it? I always mean to divide more than I actual do :)

Stacy, I admit to having bought a few of those hanging baskets myself, especially early on in my gardening life. They are a tease - they look their best at the moment of purchase and decline afterwards.

Yes, it's all about watching the unfolding miracle that is life ... I like hearing from others who share this appreciation. It's so special I want everyone to share in it!

Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens said...

I thoroughly believe in buying plants as cheaply as possible and multiplying my own, but, as a nursery owner, I take issue with your description of nursery prices as "ridiculous". Retail nurseries buy from wholesale nurseries and set their prices as a multiple of the wholesale prices they pay--there's not much leeway. Wholesale prices have been increasing due to the price of oil, which figures into every aspect of the nursery trade from transportation, to greenhouses, to pots (petroleum products), etc., and the price of employee benefits like health care. I could understand your description if independent nurseries were rolling in money, but in fact, many of them are going out of business and the rest are struggling to break even. I can't afford to sell any perennial at Carolyn's Shade Gardens for under $9, and I can only manage that by growing them myself (very unusual for a retail nursery) and having no greenhouses or employees.

Plants are often available cheaper at the big box stores. But what's the true price there? The plants are grown soaked in toxic chemicals from day one by workers who are often unprotected and under-payed. The plants are not cared for at the store because they are thrown away regularly so why take care of them. The waste is incredible, and the plants are inferior no matter waht they look like.

I know you didn't really know everything I am pointing out--sorry for the long comment.

Sheila Read said...

Thank you Carolyn for the explanation from behind the scenes! I did not know the reasons for the high prices. I'm sorry to hear that nurseries are struggling these days, as so many of us are, with high oil prices and the state of the economy.

Still, as a person who is not wealthy, I'm finding it harder to afford plants these days. Whereas in the past I made many impulse plant buys, thinking oh, it's just five(ish) dollars, I think much harder about buying a plant that approaches $10.

Rick said...

I agree ! I've received plants when friends or family divide perennials (and I've done likewise). Each year I usually buy 2 packets of perennial seeds, reserve a small place in the veggie plot, and try them out. If I get some plants I move them to the flower beds the next year; others I leave in the veggie plot if we can use them for cut flowers (the veggie plot is shrinking ;-) I even use the seeds from excess veggies (e.g. peas, beans) for use next year.

Sheila said...

Rick, I like your practice of reserving space in the veggie plot to grow perennials from seed. I'm already thinking of where I can find (make) space for that .

Kate said...

I TOTALLY agree- that's way too much to pay for an annual plant that self seeds, and hanging basket prices are shocking. I always end up making my own with basket supplies left ove from last year. It is wonderful to watch them bush out (that's part of getting my money's worth).