Gardening magazines have a way of filling one’s head with all kinds of blossomy dreams only to have them dashed by the local big box garden center.
The perennials at most big box stores are usually limited to two types of daylilies (yellow Stella d’Oro and maybe an orange variety), one or two Asiatic lilies, some kind of salvia, daisies, black-eyed Susans, an occasional phlox along with a few hybrid coneflowers and one or two others. Variety is not their strong suit. Even flowers that seem standard can be difficult to find. Two years ago, my echinacea purpura (native coneflowers) became infected, and three of five died. I could not find a local nursery with replacements; mail-order was the only choice.
Similarly, if one of the exotic daylilies is on your wish list, forget looking locally in most areas. I had to order Pink Flirt daylillies and could never locate Prairie Bellas (deep reddish-peach color). I had the same problem with garden phlox paniculata. It grows in fluffy puffs to about 60 inches tall, and two of my original three died. Again, no local nurseries had them that I could find.
Last year, while on an outing to get film developed at a place that still does one hour-ish development, the PhotoSpot in Douglasville, GA, I went to the Home Depot close by. I was shocked to find they had fewer perennials than my local HD store.
Now that I’ve had a few years to learn the ropes. I have developed a buying strategy. The main rule is, “No, hybrids!” In my first year, I spent a lot of money on coneflower hybrids and a few regular echinacea purpura. Only the purpura survived the season. The others died off after developing very bad powdery mildew.
Another common problem for newbies is mislabeled plants. I have magenta creeping phlox in places that should be lavender. The huge black-eyed Susans I loved were not perennials as marked. The light pink bee balm that was supposed to grow to be 18 inches was actually a raspberry color that grew to be three feet.
If possible, the best place to buy plants is from people who garden. My go-to place for magazine plants is Garden*Hood on the south side of Atlanta right below I-20. They have harder-to-find plants and will happily answer questions throughout the season. The Grower’s Outlet was a great discovery. It is about 30 miles east of town and offers great prices on common plants and a few hard to find ones. All the plants I’ve bought from both places have thrived. Since 2016, local big-box retailers have only been a source for fill-in annuals.
Here is some advice born of experience. If you are dreaming of delightful vistas of flowers, take your copy of Better Homes & Gardens, or whatever has got your mind racing, and go to your local nursery. Very quickly, you will realize that you exist in a reality that is different from the editors. You see, after five years, I’m convinced some flowers only exist in magazines. Want to know why? Two words—toad lily.