Ok, ok, this was supposed to be Albuquerque Week!, because I love this city and want very much to share that with everyone!¹ Plus I’ve been upset about the cuts in funding for social services and depressed about homeless people and people in crisis in general. But if that’s what I really want, I can start another blog dedicated to those ideas. This is a plant blog, and from now on, there shall be plant talk!²  Please, feel free to take a collective sigh of relief.

Hi, nature lovers, my name is Liza. Happy Wednesday! Thanks for being here. I mean, really, thank you. It’s been depressing around here lately in regards to humanity! It’s so therapeutic to be thinking about plants again.

Do you guys read the posts by the ladies over at Garden Rant? I really like that site – they don’t really rant so much as provide important information in an easy-to-read style. There are tons of good sites out there. (I’ve been slowly updating my “Plant and Garden Blogs” blogroll to include even more favorites – I hope you check them out, and check back as I’m adding more. People are so creative!) Many of them touch on gardening or plant themes that affect us all.

One debate I keep hearing is the question of buying plants at the big box stores versus the local nurseries. I think every single one of us wants to buy from a local nursery, but oftentimes, that’s hard. As Benjamin over at The Deep Middle said, he wanted to buy a tree from a local nursery, but they charge a gasp-inducing $75 just to deliver it. Many people have talked of this subject. I’ve discussed the topic a few times myself, featuring my favorite local nursery (High Country Gardens) and ranting against the pest-infected soil you buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s.³

I have a small plant care business here in ‘burque, so I’m constantly checking out places that sell plants – wholesale, retail, big box. I would love to have one convenient place to do all my plant shopping, but I don’t see how that’s possible. And I’m ok with that because I’m bouncing around town anyway – how hard is it for me to pop into this place or that? Albuquerque’s small, but there are plant sellers everywhere. There are a ton of Home Depots and Lowe’s, and they are certainly useful for a lot of things. I think it’s important to spread money around – buy a succulent at the local nursery, or a cactus from the guy by the side of the road, or buy soil for outdoor containers at the big box place. It’s all ok, as long as we’re not ignoring the little guys.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been on the prowl for a particular type of plant. I need something tall. Now, you would think that would be sooooo easy. Just go pick out a big ol’ Ficus (like Samantha the Ficus tree) or go buy a Corn plant at my local nursery. Here’s the deal though – it’s for one of my clients, his office has no windows. A Ficus tree would hate that!

Here’s the general rule of thumb for indoor houseplants – the darker the leaves of a plant, the less light they need. So a plant with yellow leaves, variegated leaves, light green leaves, they really relish the sunshine, a bright sunny window. But a plant with really dark green leaves will be totally happy in a dark office, or a corner of your living room that doesn’t get much light. It’s not a foolproof rule, but I’ve found it works really well. I’ve also found that you can sortof force it to work – plants are amazingly resilient, and most of them will just put up with whatever conditions you provide. That’s why my Pothos plants do so well in offices with no natural sunlight – they’re plantastic. They’ve learned to love fluorescent lighting. They still clean the air while they’re being so deprived of their natural surroundings. Isn’t that adorable?

Ok, so back to my dilemma – why is it so hard to find a tall nice plant for a dark office in Albuquerque? As Dottie would say, “Oy vey!” So many reasons! Please, bear with me! I can explain them!

My first stop is always my little mom-n-pop nursery, Corrales Road Greenhouses. They’re wholesalers. They’re the ones I want to buy the most plants from, they’re the ones I want to reward for their incredibly difficult work. Ann runs the place, she’s the sweetest lady, and Chris and everyone else work their asses off – they have five huge greenhouses, growing everything from Poinsettias (you can see pictures of Points here, if you really want to – I personally, do not) to Salvias to Petunias, well, everything. When I first started my plant business and started going there, I was absolutely enchanted that they played classical music from speakers in their greenhouses. They are the reason that I leave the radio on and tuned in to our community radio station even when I’m not home.¹ So, you get that I love these guys, right?

Well, back in 2003, 2004, these guys were doing pretty well. They had more employees, and were growing more plants than they are today. Then there was a hurricane in Florida, where most tropical plants are grown (I apologize, I don’t remember which hurricane, the date, or the specific sequence of events, nor do I have the time or desire to research that knowledge, but this is how I remember Ann explaining things to me), and that hurricane wiped out a big swath of nurseries. Not long after, fuel prices began to soar.  It seemed like alluvasudden, there were fewer plants on the market, and Ann couldn’t afford to pay someone to drive from Florida to New Mexico anyway. For awhile, they would just gather customers’ orders, and when they had enough to fill a truck, they’d place the order.

It didn’t take long before truck deliveries became a rare occurrence. Months would pass. I know Ann would order anything I needed for me in a heartbeat, but who knows when I would get it?

[I don’t want to get off the track of my quest for the perfect tall office plant, but I do want to quickly say that I’m hoping to interview Ann and get more specifics from her, and I’ll post that here. I went there last week, and almost cried. Their biggest greenhouse, well, the roof was just gone from the spring winds. Blown right off. I wanted to buy succulents, which they have recently started selling, and they were covered with spider webs. They’ve lost so much revenue in the last few years, they are just clinging to hope at this point, and clinging to holidays, like Christmas and Easter. Oh wait, those have already passed. What’s the next big seller? Oh, it’s Poinsettias at Christmas. Yeah, you see the face of this? It’s so sad, but I think it’s important to discuss.]

For now, back to my quest. If the wholesalers in town aren’t bringing in the tall plants, who is? Certainly not my favorite locals, who all rely (I think) on big trucks carting in plants to the desert from Florida and California. So High Country Gardens is out, Jericho is out, Osuna has some stuff but they’re so pricey it bugs me. I’ve been checking out other nurseries but most concentrate on outdoor plants. I’ve been looking and looking, but none of them had the plant for which I’m searching. That leaves Home Depot and Lowe’s. They have the resources to bring tropical plants to the desert.

Sadly for me, I need a decent plant that can handle an office with no windows. Most of those are tropicalish – Palms, Corn plants, Sansevieria (I say tropicalish as opposed to desert-loving plants, like cactus and succulents). Many Corn plants have variegated leaves, meaning they would like some sunlight, but I am looking for one with dark leaves for the dark office.

There’s one Home Depot near my house, and I know that their plant delivery days are Thursdays and Saturdays. Yesterday, though, Tuesday, I finished with a client in Rio Rancho and decided to check out the plants at the Home Depot by Cottonwood Mall. I don’t know their delivery schedule. What I saw was almost worse than the feeling I get when I think about Steve the homeless guy. I didn’t have my fancy camera, but my little Coolpix worked ok. (The pictures were largely disappointing, as I was in a hurry not to get shots without being noticed.)

Before I show you the horrifying photos, here’s what I would like to say to the CEO (or anyone) of Home Depot²:

Dear sir, ma’am, anyone, anyone at all at Home Depot,

I hope today finds you well. I am writing to tell you of a way that you can save your organization millions of dollars each year.  I know an organization as huge as Home Depot has many leaders, many departments, many “chefs” as it were. When I refer to “you,”  I mean the organization. No offense, but I didn’t even research a specific person to address. This is not a personal attack on any one person – my goal here is to point out a solution to some organizational problems.

Hi! My name is Liza and I’m trying to help local Albuquerque companies thrive, mine included. I have a small plant care business in the Duke City. I frequently look at the plants at Home Depot in hopes of finding ones worthy of purchasing. I can’t remember the last time I found one that wasn’t infected with bugs, or half dead. To me, that’s like plant murder. Your employees have no idea what they are doing. I have never said – or would say –  anything antagonistic to anyone working for Home Depot, because I think they are trying, but they are not properly trained. (Not that many people strive to do a crappy job.) I actually make lots of purchases at your stores. But not plants. And definitely not potting soil. You guys (Again, I mean, your employees – as CEO, I’m sure you don’t drive the forklift to put the potting soil three stories up), leave those thin plastic bags, which always get holes, out in the elements, which invites *&^%# fungus gnats, which is my worst nightmare, as a person who puts potting soil in people’s offices. “I had clients in today, and we all kept swatting at gnats.” Super.

So what can I tell Home Depot that will save you millions? It’s this: Stop. Just stop. Cut out your houseplant department if you’re only going to do it half-assed. I sorta kinda like the attention you pay to your outdoor plant selections – you do offer some things that grow well in this climate, but you’re not great at it. Your indoor houseplant department is a mess. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you used your giant resources and big trucks to send those tall houseplants that need special attention to our dying mom-n-pops, who can generate the resources to employ people to care for those fragile plants (can you imagine, from a plant’s perspective, how terrifying a drive would be from Florida to New Mexico? “Aaaaahhhhhh,” they would scream if they could talk!) and offer people like me affordable plants?

What, you ask? Who are you to tell me how to run my company? I apologize, I’m not here to upset anyone. I only want to do good and stop the murder of living, breathing plants. I’m no one special, just a small business owner, a plant lover and a self-appointed Ambassador to Nature. That’s why it makes me so sad to post this proof that you’re squandering money.

Sincerely, and most respectfully, Liza

p.s. If you make changes and would like to thank me, I’ll take my thanks as a percentage of your profits – thanks!

Ah, if only I had their ear! And now, the parade of almost dead plants. This is my evidence that big box stores need to engage the local community. And hire professionals.

Here’s a Corn plant that suffers greatly – the brown crunchy lower leaves indicate underwatering (it’s natural on my plants for the lower leaves to become crunchy and fall off, but it’s also a sign that the plant is thirsty), and the brown tips on the other leaves indicated too much water. Whoever has been “caring” for these plants since they arrived at Home Depot is doing a crappy job.

I was so astonished – there wasn’t one single plant that I would’ve bought from this store. They were ALL in the throes of death. Plant murder, grrrr!

What a waste of money! And who would buy this? I was very proud of myself – there were several other shoppers who were checking out plants. I successfully avoided shouting things like, “Run now,” or “Don’t buy any of these plants!”

Even the new stuff on the carts are dying. Wasteful, shameful!

See all the brown crunchy leaves that have fallen off? These Crotons were starved for water. I can tell just by a glance. You would think the employees in charge of these precious fellows would’ve been able to tell as well.

I have more, mostly blurry, photos of all the dead plants, but I think we’ve all had enough. And hopefully someone from Home Depot has everything they need to make changes in his company. I think it’s probably pretty damn idealistic for me to think that someone might listen to me, but I have to hope, right? RIGHT? Seriously, it’s all we have as humans.

Ok, dandelions, that does it for this Wednesday edition of the Good to Grow blog. Thank you again for being here. I apologize if you’re now depressed over the plant genocide. I’ll be back tomorrow with something more cheerful. Until then, happy gardening everyone!

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¹ This is my blog – I can write about anything I damn well please. While I like showing you my Duke city, I don’t need to be wailing about the sadness of it all. If I want to show you a cool plant nursery in Albuquerque, or interview Albuquerque farmers, so be it. But you’ll be spared from the social services part of my personality from now on. Mostly anyway. Some of it just oozes out of my pores, so you’ll just have to deal.

² Thanks Justin, for the reminder and the focus!

³ I’m not referring to Target stores when I reference big box stores. I love Target, for many reasons. I know they sell plants in some stores, but not the ones in Albuquerque – the garden centers here are pretty much a few pretty pots and some herbs you can start in a container. Great, but not what I mean when I’m comparing stores for buying plants specifically.

4 Huh, this is supposed to be my fourth footnote, but it looks to me like WordPress only allows you three. So I started over again at 1. I feel like there should be at least a small “a” or “b” option like in an outline. But that’s just me. Oh gosh, I almost forgot what the footnote was for – I just want to clarify, there are two community stations in ‘burque – KUNM.org and KANW.org. I like to leave one or the other on for the plants to listen to.

5 I didn’t research who runs Home Depot. I lost interest after I didn’t get to see Tony Stewart as much. But I am hoping to catch the eye of some member of the marketing department, and will definitely research that sometime when I’m not, well, you know, working.