Bartlett on Gardening: Treasure Hunting in the Big Box

Apricot Drift Roses

I confess that I am a dime store junkie. I am also a clearance aisle queen. I enjoy prowling around secondhand stores. And as summer follows spring, I love hunting for hidden treasure in big-box garden centers. Last fall I got the urge to plant some greens from seed. I could not find seeds anywhere until I spotted a pack of organic seeds at Walmart.

With their nationwide presence and purchasing power, the big-box stores bring in plants, particularly perennials, that local nurseries do not carry. A member of my rose club pointed out that Lowe’s is the only place carrying Kordes roses, known for their superior disease resistance. Compared to catalog sources, these plants are a bargain to boot. When they mark them down, it becomes a steal of a deal.

Last November, spring-blooming bulbs were 75 percent off at Home Depot. I grabbed four bags of hyacinths and still regret leaving 100 daffodils behind. That same month, I snagged some snapdragons for a quarter apiece. After the mild winter, those have been blooming their heads off for months. Last month I found a bag of pineapple lilies 50 percent off at Stockdale's. I’ve never seen those anywhere else. Generally Friday is markdown day. I have a friend who checks out Lowe’s weekly on her way home from work.

Between last year’s drought and a pesticide disaster, I am in the market for more plants than usual this year and so have been a frequent big-box shopper. In March I snagged the white-blooming iberis I wanted for my new border. The healthy one-quart plants were half the price of my catalog source.

In June, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted the one plant I cannot live without, Sunny Border Blue veronica. Beloved by bees, it produces blue flower spikes from April until frost. These were one third less expensive and twice as large as ones I had purchased by mail. Just browsing about, I found two apricot drift roses I wanted to complete the area. These have proven to be quite disease resistant and they bloom profusely.

Do I shop in local garden centers? Yes, I buy most of my annuals from local sources because they have more variety when I want to plant them.

That being said, I love the unusual selections I’ve had the chance to choose in the big box. Where else have you seen turtle head or oleander? The turtle head turned out to be very happy in a wet spot. Oleander is common in California but cannot make it through even a mild winter here.

Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.

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