Ministry Of Controversy

In 2012, it would be nice if …

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A 2011 highlight: our garden blogger visit to Seattle’s Dragonfly Farms Nursery.

Here’s my wish list for the New Year. Some of this is reasonable; some of it isn’t. And please feel free to add your own in comments!

It would be nice if …

Every community had a centralized urban farming and community gardening office, which would be able to answer questions about land use and expedite the use of empty lots for food growing by block clubs and other neighborhood organizations.  Yes, it may sound like adding more bureaucracy, but much of this land is city-owned or policed and there are questions to answer and guidance to provide. Cities need to recognize this land use as legitimate and expected. The existing permits, planning, and inspections offices are too building-focused and just don’t seem to get this stuff.

Independent garden centers stopped whining about the big boxes. This might be too inside baseball for some of you, but—mostly on Facebook and in some other places—I see a lot of griping about the strategies of the big corporate home and garden places making it harder and harder for smaller IGCs to compete. I sympathize. On the other hand, the situation is not going away. In Buffalo, we have Home Depot and Lowes. We also have at least a dozen fabulous small nurseries and garden centers that seem to do very well—most have been around for decades. We even have a co-op garden center, of which I am a founding member. I spend a lot of money at all these places. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? The IGCs around here provide something that the big boxes don’t and manage to make sure people know that. The big boxes have their place. And our co-op center stocks—among other things—unique garden objets by local artists. If there’s room for all this in Buffalo’s market, one would think other markets could also make it work.

There was less hysteria about the disease or insect of the month (Emerald Ash Borer! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!), and better ongoing practice and education about ensuring that diversity and sanity prevail in what we sell and plant. If fewer elms had been planted in Buffalo, we wouldn’t have been deforested back in the 70s. Industry-generated emails about which pesticide to use and firewood bans are treating the symptoms, not the problem.

(More environment than gardening) Please, EPA and other agencies, gather the evidence, figure out the implications definitively, and either regulate the hell out of hydrofracking or stop it. Especially after the Ohio earthquake, it’s sounding more and more like the risks are worth it. This needs a strong focus, not just wishy washy talk from greedy politicians.

Lawn supplies and equipment could be kept in a completely separate place in the garden center—separate from plants and supplies for making real gardens. That would help everyone understand the difference and the choice. And maybe think about it a bit more.

Garden tourism—to showcase garden walks, community gardens, public botanical gardens, Open Days, and more—becomes more widespread and better organized. It’s another way for communities to market themselves, and, more important, it draws more public attention to the ground underneath our feet and what we’re doing with it.

And, finally:

Among all of our brilliant growers and nursery people, a few more shift their focus to developing more interesting annuals for shade. Please?

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on January 3, 2012 at 5:00 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.


  1. What’s the difference between “ranting” and “whining”? This sites manifesto say’s “suspicious of the horticultural industry”. We have IGC’s “ranting” about the way the horticultural industry is run. Isn’t that a welcome change from the past?

  2. When I read this week that our major export is petroleum and refined petroleum products, I had to wonder why prices have gone up so much, and why we need fracking and a pipeline crossing many states, open to spills and attacks?

  3. I own a garden center next to a Home Depot,1 mile from Lowe’s up the street and a Super Walmart 1 mile the other way and a very low price garden center chain 3 miles right up the road. Business is awesome. I feel bad for the garden centers that have their competition that draw customers AWAY from them. Quality, service, selection, honesty,sincerity and customer relationships is how we survive and thrive. Many of my IGC friends across the country are struggling though. When that happens, and it is, there will always be some ranting. Many are trying just to survive.

  4. Totally agree with “more interesting annuals for the shade”. This is something I’m willing to pay more for. My wonderful local IGC has a few each Spring, but even they are mostly strange variations of begonias. And I didn’t get there in time this Spring and ended up with the basic blah flowers for my containers. I’m so hungry for something different.

  5. I want the gardening community to focus more on great affects we can have on drainage. Old pipe and pond systems are not effective and have tried to cover large areas as cities expanded.

  6. What’s the difference between whining and ranting? As someone who works in politics, I’d say “whining” is something done by people who believe they are powerless to do anything about their problems. “Ranting” is done by people who believe they can do something about what they don’t like – no matter what the odds or how long it will take – and act on that belief.

  7. The key to competing with big box stores is to offer superior service both at the point of sell and after the sell. You must make all customers customers for life. make them want to come back to your store.

  8. More of the problem is focused on vendors who whore themselves to the boxes and ruin product selection and innovation at the chance to sell to 3,000 stores at once.

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