What a surprise – the consumer organisation “Which” recommends that people buy plants from small garden centers rather than big chains.  Why do they do this?  Well, not surprisingly, the staff in the big chains were less knowledgable about the plants, among other things reports the Daily Telegraph.  I would guess that the plants aren’t as well looked after either, resulting in more complaints (the survey only looked at how the retailer dealt with complaints).  

 I’d go further much further than “Which” in my suggestions about where to buy plants – explore nurseries and buy from them.  I have spent many happy days out visiting local nurseries who specialise in the type of plants I am looking for.  I have also had some very good plants by mail order from specialists who are a little further away.   Another great idea is to plan a trip a little further afield and make a short break of it.   But make sure that you have enough space to bring home all the plants that you want buy.   I usually leave the dogs at home and the plants love to travel home in their cage.  Thank goodness, having dogs means that we tend to have cars with very big boots.  If you are planning a very large shopping list, you might want to take a trailer or caravan, as Debbie did.   

The biggest problem is finding these nurseries.  So how do you do it?   Well, these days, specialist growers have become much better at marketing themselves.  Many have their own websites, so you can search by plant, but the best resource in my opinion (for the UK) is The Royal Horticultural Society Horticultural Database’, available at http://apps.rhs.org.uk/rhsplantfinder/ .  Here you can select the plant you want (some suggestions may be found in our recommended plants section) and a number of suppliers throughout the country.  If there isn’t one close to you, then there is a mail order section too.  There is also a hard copy version of the Plant Finder available, the 2010 version of which is published on Thursday this week (April 1).  

I was introduced to Geranium oxonianum thurstonianum by a specialist nursery

The greenest way to cut down on plant miles is by buying from local producers, if you can find one that grows the plants you want.  Nurseries often sell their wares at farmers markets, so it is a good excuse to go for a wander around.  Our local council organises a Plant Fair every spring and it is a great opportunity to explore a number of nurseries wares in one location.  

The very best way is to visit the grower at their nursery.  You can see the plants growing, select the best shaped plant and chat to the staff.  You can describe the growing conditions and they can help you find the best plant for you.  They may even make recommendations of plants that you had never even thought of.  This has happened to me many times and allowed me to discover some wonderful additions to my garden.  If you live in Hampshire, then you might like to take a look at the list of my favourite suppliers.  

Which ever source you choose, please support your local nurseries.  You’ll get healthier, more interesting plants, have a wonderful day out and maybe even make new friends.