Buying plants in person beats shopping online

Erin Svhanen


The pandemic made expert online shoppers out of most of us, but there are some things that are just better to buy in person, and plants are certainly one of them.

I’m not saying that I don’t buy some plants that I can’t find locally online. I even talked a garden center in Kansas into sending me a dozen annuals that I couldn’t find locally even though they don’t usually ship annuals. The FedEx and UPS delivery people know that almost every package destined for my house should just go straight into the shade of the garage and to keep the arrow on the outside of the box pointed up.

But I was reminded of the joy of discovering new plants — something difficult to achieve with a catalog or a computer screen — this weekend on a trip to garden designer Roy Diblik’s Northwind Perennial Farm nursery near Burlington.

It was particularly nice to stroll through the on-site gardens, noting how plants look growing together rather than just in a still photo or in a pot by themself. One particularly sociable plant was the perennial hybrid Geranium ‘Orion.’ Its 2-foot-tall stems stayed tall (unlike the beautiful but rather unruly ‘Johnson’s Blue’ that I grow that splits open in the center and lays flat on the ground in my garden unless I cage it) but leaned in to its neighbors, creating a combination of iridescent phlox flowers, spiky Salvia blooms and bright blue ‘Orion’ flowers all in the same place. It’s an effect that anyone can achieve in their garden, but not one you would think of from just seeing the plant on a table.

I also fell in love with Dalea purpurea (prairie clover), with its feathery foliage and adorable dark, cone-shaped flowers with fuchsia tutu skirts. It’s not an uncommon plant, but until I saw it tucked on the edge of a flower bed, I’d never paid much attention to it. I was so enamored that, had it been for sale, I would have bought a trunkload. But when I asked Roy for more information, he mentioned that one of the reasons they aren’t selling it this year is because it is the very first target of rabbits and deer. There’s no plant catalog that will share that kind of reality check.

I stared at a patch of Astrantia (masterwort) for a good 10 minutes and probably could have counted visits by at least 20 different insects if I had tried. The pin-cushion flowers in various stages of bloom varied in color from a mid-pink to dusty rose to white, but all were acceptable to the line of wildlife waiting for a turn.

Astrantia can handle a pretty wide range of sun exposure so long as it has some moisture in the soil, so I was left wondering why in the world don’t I grow it? It’s probably because one little pot of foliage has almost no relationship to the gorgeous clump of mature plants I admired. Once again, it was a “you had to be there” moment.

Online plant shopping has its moments, but I think the delivery guys and I can all agree that there’s no substitute for seeing a plant in person.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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