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Report From An Opinionated Gardener – April 13

I met with the garden center employees of Snows Home and Garden today and we talked about how to best help the public with their landscaping. Toward the end of our session a woman asked me an interesting question. She first commented that recently there are many new plant introductions that we have little or no experience with. What responsibility do we have, she asked, for telling our customers that we’re completely uncertain about how these will behave long term?

My response was to say that I believe if a customer asks about untested plants we have to truthfully respond, “This is a new selection that I haven’t grown myself, so I can’t tell you what it’s going to do.” I might have added that we can also continue by asking, “If you decide to try it, will you come back and let me know what you think?”

I continued to say that I do not believe that garden center employees have the responsibility to warn people away from such plants. We are employed to sell the stock, after all. More important than the company’s bottom line, however, is the fact that in the garden we should never say never.

Just last Saturday on GardenLine I took a call from a woman who was frustrated about her inability to grow a gardenia plant indoors. I went through the explanation about how these plants often don’t do well outside of a greenhouse. They usually drop buds, get bugs and die.

Ten minutes later I got a call from another listener who said that she’d been raising a gardenia indoors for several years and right now it had forty plus buds and opening blooms. “This is what I love about plants and gardening,” I told her. “Sometimes people succeed against all odds.”

And this speaks to those who work in garden centers and wonder how honest to be about the plants we sell. Do nursery employees have the duty to warn people off of unreliable or untested varieties? I say absolutely not. Why should we deny someone the opportunity to see if they are the one who might be successful with a particular plant?

Should we lie to our customers about what a plant will do? Of course not. If they ask about a plant we must be frank and forthcoming. But gardening and life are journeys of risk, experiment and discovery. There are no guarantees no matter what we are trying to grow, and we should all have the pleasure and satisfaction of walking down paths of possibility to see where they lead.

Should we tell the gardener who planted this perennial garden to avoid the Delphiniums because they don't usually live? Or do we let that customer learn from experience and make the decision herself, balancing her love of the flower with the reality that she needs to plant them every year?

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