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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Lure of Garden Centers and Plant Nurseries

To a gardener visiting plant nurseries is much like a child entering a candy store. Sometimes the variety offered is so pretty and bright and ... well, just downright tempting, we don't know which direction to turn first.

No question we are enticed by all the pretty displays, all at once rousing our insatiable desire to plant,not to mention the promise of endless possibilities for our gardens. I want that, and that, and that...

There are a couple of favorite garden centers and nurseries I like to frequent... too often in fact. AND whenever I'm out of town it is fun to stop by the locally owned nurseries to peek around and see what's growing outside of my own four walls. Almost every time some little bit of "candy" comes home with me to satisfy my gardening appetite.

Hoe and Shovel's Quest for Native Plants

It's a little bit different when visiting native plant nurseries. From what I've seen (maybe it's different in your area?) they don't have the same allure and flashy enticements as ordinary nurseries. I mean just look at that entrance sign and the scrubby native plants around it. Native plants themselves, for the most part, are not like the exotic tropicals, showy annuals, and enticing perennials we tend to gravitate towards for our spring projects.

Don't get me wrong. It's worth noting here that native plants DO provide a wide array of blooming and flowering species -- some also fragrant, brightly colored, and providing seasonal color changes. The typical homeowner is not aware of these facts and thus the native nurseries (here anyway) are appealing more to commercial buyers.

The worker at the Florida Native Plants Nursery was very kind and generous to give me a narrative tour and showed me so many plants I had only read about previously. Mr. Meems and I were in Myakka City in January and he kindly let me take my time strolling about with her while he sat in the peaceful shade on a very comfy swing.

You may remember my visit to Jane's Garden, a native nursery in Dunnellon, Florida. That was a wonderful day in March visiting with the spry owner and perusing her acreage located in the middle of the woods. She talked to us as much about the birds and butterflies as she did her available plants.

One of the (many) differences I've noticed in native nurseries and typical garden centers is the owners of native nurseries actually grow their own plants on site rather than shipping them in from a plant grower like most of our garden centers and certainly the big box stores do.

The owner IS the grower... and the propogator. And not only do they have an interest in plant life but because they are knowledgeable about natives they know a lot about wildlife, too.

Which brings me back around to my interest in increasing the native plant files we have here at Hoe and Shovel. It is my goal to incorporate more natives into our tropicalesque setting and blend them with the Florida Friendly plants we have already discovered.
Off We Go in Search of Still Another Native Plant Nursery
A little drive north was in order last weekend. About 25 miles out away from the immediate congestion of the city to where space opens into acres of fields and pastures and woodlands. The spring morning air was crisp and cool. I was on my way to another native nursery.

Cows (which I happen to be particularly fond of) stopped their grazing to watch this stranger in the neighborhood drive down their quiet dirt road.

Another mile off the main highway...

... looking for the not-so-alluring-sign or display to invite a visitor in for some irresistible purchasing. Oops... almost missed it but there it was tucked up underneath the hammock of oak trees along the windy road of fenced off residential acreages.

This kind of plant buying takes some persistence I found.

Making the turn down yet another dirt road it was necessary to wait for the free roaming, big black beauties to saunter their way out of the middle of the road.

It's a relaxed atmosphere in the country.

Around one more bend and this must be it. The only clear indication being the fields of potted up greenery and some not-so-well-kept, screened-over protected areas for seedlings and propogation tables. Again, big stands of color or huge displays of flowering, blooming pretties are conspicuously absent from this native nursery, too.

This particular native nursery, which is the closest one to my house, is set up to sell to commercial buyers only. So it's best to do your homework before attending the one Saturday a month when it opens to the public for retail buying. Having a good idea of what you're looking for makes it a little easier to navigate with the lack of good signage.
My last purchases of native plants at Jane's Garden, you may remember, was about 40 -1 gallon seedling or starter plants- each for $2 or less. This adventure I was looking for a few larger plants and I knew right where I was going to put them.

Never in a million years did I think I'd purchase a very slow growing saw palmetto, serenoa repens. Why, you ask. Because I have so many of them in the understory of my oak trees. Big mature ones. They have probably been here since the beginning of time. They are not easily propogated. Palmettos are among my must-have plants and I consider them to be attractive and dramatic in the landscape. People around here either love them ... or not. More on them later... in another post.

When they didn't have the right sized needle palm, Rhapidophyllum hystrix I intended to buy, the palmetto was the next best substitute. If you know Florida, you know palmettos are a prominent part of the native landscape. Did I mention how slow they grow? VERRRRRRYYY slowly.
My first coontie Zamia floridana plants... three of them, which I split into two each when planted.

Gama grass, Tripsacum dactyloides

Finally, Walter's Viburnum, Viburnum obovatum 'Withlacoochee' to replace a tibouchina that froze to the ground this winter. This one won't freeze- not ever. And it flowers.

Native plants, once established, typically require less water and they provide a much needed habitat for wildlife indigenous to the area. It is attracted to them for protection, nesting, reproducing, and feeding. In most cases natives are more drought tolerant and pest free. More on all this later. I've rambled long enough here. Thanks so much for reading and coming along with me on yet another native plant quest. There will be a post forthcoming to show you where I've planted all my new acquisitions.

Real quickly before you go ... have a look at the pretty zebra swallowtail butterfly (it's the official state butterfly of Tennessee BTW). Its fluttering air acrobatics baited me out of my car on the windy dirt road exit. The same one where the cows roam freely. Seeing her was a bonus to all the excitement of shopping another native plant nursery and the beautiful spring morning provided to browse around in.

This city girl loves her visits to the wide open spaces.

I hope you are basking in all the blessings of spring this beautiful Easter weekend. Meems


  1. Great post. I agree the Native Nurseries do not have the same "pop" to them as other nurseries. Although very important their job. Looking forward to seeing just where your newbies will find a forever home.

  2. Meems I get heart palpitations, shortness of breath and a bit dizzy with excitement when I visit the nurseries in Miami. I am booked to go next month and I will let you know if I am up your side if I plan to do Disney with my daughter the graduate. I just love nurseries and I have been good just only bought five desert roses last week at a plant sale for @$5.00.

  3. It is true, Meems, that to a gardener, going to a nursery especially in spring is like a child going to a candy store.

    Did you see the woman you met the last time you went to that "Native Plants" nursery?? Or was this a different nursery?

    Glad you enjoyed your visits to the nurseries... Can't wait to see the results from your purchases.

    Happy Easter.

  4. Hi Meems, No, not the same visual pop, but before long a native nursery will be a candy store experience for you! It will happen, trust me. List in hand I visit our local native nursery and end up running about as I see the blooms and foliage of other enticing natives! My favorite local grower has attractive beds about his land... and I have gotten great direction from them on how to plant this difficult garden.

    I look forward to seeing your natives in their new homes!

    Have a lovely Easter weekend~~ gail

  5. I feel the same way you do. There are a lot of plants that are attractive to both people and wildlife and that don't waste water. I've enjoyed tagging along with you on your quest. The first place was very enjoyable mostly because the owner was such a charming woman;) On this trip you got to travel the 'scenic rout'.

  6. What fun. Native nurseries can be a bit dull- but so important to integrate into your garden for local creepy-crawlies.

  7. Great post, Meems. I felt as though I was beside you on the trip ... how fun! I'm also crazed this time of year, running wildly about to favorite garden centers, nurseries, and 2 near Farmer's Markets, loaded with native plants, local fruits & veggies, and talented crafters. Mr. Ho-Hum shakes his head when I find a new 'must have' but not for long since he is also ~ a spring garden addict. Easter blessings!

  8. Just spent the entire morning opping around to my favorite nursery spots....very expensive morning!

  9. I love the country too Meems. I even like cows. I wish we had a native nursery close to where I live. I would have more natives. I love the palmettos. I didn't know they were native but I should have known this because I have seen a forest floor covered with them. No one would plant them out like that I am sure. Happy Easter to you and yours too Meems.

  10. Oh, yeah, Palm Trees! I really love them, but it seems not too many are planted in home lots. I am seeing owners adding them after they move in though.


  11. I have one area of my yard that I'm trying to plant more native plants in. I agree that it's good for the birds and insects to have those plants nearby.
    I like your plant choices. Your native plants are the tropical exotic plants here!

  12. All the pizzazz at the big garden centers often fizzle quickly since so many of their blooming plants either won't grow in the area OR during that particular time of year - love going along with you on your shopping spree! I've also been dropping big bucks at a couple of garden centers this week - but it was just on pots.

  13. I started feeling a little giddy just reading your post title Meems ~ so you know I'm an all too frequent visitor to my garden centers too! I am beginning to wise up about natives as well. The past few summers, I've really noticed the tropical/exotic plants that I've been drawn to (because of their showy flowers) do not get visited by any of the butterflies, bees, birds, etc., in my garden (plants like Tibouchina, hibiscus, oleander, brugmansias, mandevillas, etc. that I have to bring in to overwinter). I'm sure in their native climates they have their own pollinators. Although I can't imagine giving them up altogether, I will definitely be exploring the natives more so as to help the local wildlife. Having an interest in gardening really helps to expand our vision of the planet, environment, etc., doesn't it? Great post Meems. I wish natives were more easy to come by but maybe if demand is high enough, that will happen.

  14. Wide open spaces? Cows? You'll be moving to Ocala soon. ;D

    Let us know your favorite natives. I love your plant choices and I'd like to see the native that do well in your garden.

  15. Meems,
    Great article! Some of my favorite plants are natives. In fact they add most of the backdrop (walls) and canopy (ceilings) to my garden spaces. Palmettos, green and silver or blue make permanant backdrops that thrive in any setting where they have room with no care at all. Sloooow but they have always been worth the wait. I really enjoy a Blackhaw selection called Mrs. Shillers Delight that is dwarf and flowers several times a year and does not sucker. Root suckers from the wild native Blackhaw form a thicket and spread in every direction. The same thing with Ilex vomitoria. I wish I had known that I would forever be fighting thousands underground suckers from these 2 natives before I planted them 20 years ago. That being said, another favorite of mine is Ilex vomitoria pendula which makes no suckers at all. These weeping youpons are so graceful and useful in gardens for framing and as small trees and focalpoints. the birds and bees love them. Cabbage Palms, Live Oaks and various native pines are what I use for high shifting shade to make gardening and outdoor time enjoyable and reduce the sun stress from all my plants and small and useful turf areas.

  16. Meems, I love visiting your blog. Seeing the plants y'all grow down in Florida makes it seem like another planet almost. It's fun, like going on a vacation without leaving the comfort of my kitchen.~~Dee

  17. Great article, Meems! Like you, I am fond of native plants and incorporate a lot of them into my gardening. What I don't like is the absolutism of some who want everyone to plant 'only' native plants.They tend to put off people who want to add a few natives by their over zealous and didactic ways, in my experience.


Have a blessed day,

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