Friday, November 13, 2009
Boutique or box store: the old debate
Conclusions: Have a good pair (pictured above) and several cheap pairs.
Plants. Best in this category does not necessarily go hand in hand with expense. Some of my best specimens were had for a song, and even free, from generous Alaskans. Conversely, the very newest, most hyped plants (for example a variety of hosta just released for sale this year) will be expensive, sometimes extraordinarily so. Do plants live up to the hype? Often in zone 3 and 4, not so much. I like to let the very new varieties kick around for a few years before I try them. By then there is a better idea of zone hardiness and performance. When I was a greenhorn gardener, I took published zone hardiness as gospel truth. These days I'm a zone cheater. Sometimes my own experience contradicts the published literature. I keep seeing feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') listed as zone 5. It drives me crazy. I would try it in zone 3 and even recommend zone 2 gardeners take a chance on the guy. But sometimes cheating zones with expensive plants can be, well, expensive. So with the really new plants, or those not known to grow here, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.
Conclusions: If you're wondering about the hardiness and performance of a plant, new release or old standby, head to the Alaska Botanical Garden, off of Tudor and Campbell Airstrip Rd. That will provide a starting point. Also, utilize any neighbors that garden. Most gardeners I know are more than happy to blab about plants if you have any questions. Another of my favorite resources is the Master Gardeners Association. They often have a booth at the spring home and garden shows around town. This is a group of people that collectively have hundreds of years of gardening experience in Alaska. If you don't catch them at a show, they can often be found answering garden questions during the summer at the Cooperative Extension office. Call 'em up: 786-6300 in Anchorage.
So what's it going to be for you? I have never regretted buying high quality items for my (feet and) garden. The choice is yours: buy once and cry, or buy over and over on the cheap.