The Rules

Arboretum and botonical garden plant sales are no laughing matter. They're serious business with serious customers and serious expectations of behavior. I've made my share of mistakes at these events, and I hope the suggestions below will help prevent the all too painful plant sale heartache.

Guidelines for Attire:
Rule Number 1: Wear running shoes.
This is very important, and therefore, serves as my first guideline for you, the poor innocent who has not yet experienced the violence of plant-obsessed maniacs at such Holy Grail events. Please, do not feel bad. I was once you. I once wore sandals and shorts and lots of exposed skin, thinking, "Hey, it's going to be hot, and it's just a plant party, right?" Oh, I was so very, very wrong.

You're going to need to run because everyone will want the same plants you will. You heard that the sale would have that hummingbird-attracting, sweet-smelling, drought-resistant, absolutely drop-dead-gorgeous, impossibly perfect plant you've been salivating over. Well, everyone else heard the same, and they're ready to dive for it, so you better be prepared to move that sweet ass of yours. As well (as you will discover in Rule Number 6), unprotected toes are in definite danger at plant sales. Everyone and their husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, adult child will have a cart with them, and your toes will get run over. They will. Be prepared.

Rule Number 2: Wear full-length, sturdy pants, preferably jeans.

Once upon I time, I too dressed like the girl in blue above. It was my first sale; I didn't know better.

I entered the grounds in awe at the number of people and plants. Look at that almost black penstamen! Oh, and the ornamental oregano! So much beauty everywhere. Suddenly, a desperate woman pushed her way to the last of the funky batface cuphea and shoved me right into the needle-quill of a low growing agave. Deep into my calf the needle entered, and when I pulled myself away from it, a purple gush of blood dribbled over my sandaled ankle and under my heel. More and more blood pooled into my sandal, collecting around my toes. I had to sit down in the middle of the mania and press my calf for a few minutes until the bleeding stopped. When I finally had a chance to stand again, the tables of plants were noticeably emptier.

Do not let this happen to you.

Rule Number 3: Do not wear makeup.
This is just a little rule, but you'll find it important. You will sweat. Sweat and makeup do not blend well. If you want your face to look like it is still attached to your body and hasn't melted off, down your neck, and into your cleavage, please leave the makeup at home. You'll thank me on this one.

Guidelines for Behavior:
Rule Number 4: Set limits.
This is so much easier said than done. I've fallen prey to the charms of the lush, water-hungry begonias and attention-starved carnivorous plants. They call me over to them, the cells in their plant walls sparkling seductively, whispering, "Take me home. I promise to live. I'll look this pretty forever."

They are liars.

So, go in knowing what you want while allowing a little wiggle room for the just-beyond-practical impulse buy. This year, I knew I would focus on edibles and hummingbird attractors. Beforehand, I made a list of plants I would not allow myself to buy. This year, finally, I managed to stick to the DO-NOT-BUY list, and because of this, my heart will break a little less this summer.

Rule Number 5: Bring a spotter.
There are more plants than you can possible see in one walk through, but remember, you're competing against everyone else. My best suggestion is to go with a friend. If you agree to spot for him, he can spot for you. If you find what he wants, pick it up, and vice versa. It's also good to tell you your limits (refer back to Rule Number 4) to your spotter so that you're accountable to someone and something other than your bank account.

Rule Number 6: Bring something to cart plants around in.
And finally, here is the suggestion you must follow if you want to be able to take home the plants that you managed to get your rough, garden-abused hands on: purchase a wagon.

Granny carts, cardboard boxes, plastic nursery flats are all well and good, but they just don't compare to the plant transporting ability of a red wagon.

Forget the Prada bag and the designer miniature dog. Forget the expensive, overly large sunglasses or the timeless pearl solitaire. The perfect accessory for you is a red wagon.

You're welcome.


Wendy said…
ann said…
I desperately need a little red wagon, or an old plastic toboggan like my mom uses to cart things around in on the property. I went to my first plant sale two weekends ago. It was a very low key affair, but I did fall in love with the last of a plant, something called a Goat's Beard, so I bough it, and then had to carry it around for the next hour+ while my mom and I explored the botanical gardens where the sale was being held. That's one loved Goat's Beard!

The tips are funny, I hope you got some beautiful plants!
Susan C said…
It looks like you got a nice haul of plants. And, darn, I gave away my daughter's Radio Flyer wagon a few years ago. What was I thinking?
Anonymous said…
I go with a limited amount of cash and no credit card or check. Then I borrow from a friend. Every time.
Lucy said…
Excellent advice. Most fun I've had in blogland for a while. Wonderful.
Amy said…
I totally missed it this year. I behaved last year though and miraculously, it's all still alive. I have a gorgeous rubra plant from there.

Great tips!
Sara Reddy said…
As the daughter of two professional horticulturalists, I was not only dragged to every botanical garden in California, I was also dragged to every plant sale. And I kid you not, I almost lost a toe in an incident at a plant sale at the Huntington Library when I was in grade school. These sales are dangerous! BEWARE THE PLANT SALES!

Thank you for these guidelines, Christina. There's no telling how many toes you may have saved.
Christina said…
Wendy: Hee hee.

Ann: Goat's Beard is a pretty, pretty plant. I can see why you fell in love. And yes, I got some great winners.

Susan C: Such a loss . . . just means you'll have to borrow mine!

Altadenahiker: Oh, I have SO been there before.

Lucy: Why thank you!

AmyR: There were lots of great edibles and plenty of lovely ornamentals. Right now I'm completely thrilled about the healthy cara cara navel tree I took home.

Sara Reddy Coyne: YES! I'm so glad you recognize the danger too. I'm glad your toe is still attached to your body.
Oh this is hilarious! We live near Wakehurst Place, which is Kew Garden's seed bank and a wonderful place to buy plants but at the annual plant sales it is like a smash and grab raid with added smash and grab! I know exactly what you mean. I'd add the tip - take a really tall man who can lean over the heads of the throng and grab the plants you want from the stalls. Then buy him a large beer to make up for all the elbows he got in his ribs ...
Unknown said…

Hell,I haven't worn makeup since peri-menopause.

I take my little red wagon to the farmers market but won't have to when my garden starts producing!
Christina said…
All Seasons Gardener: What a great suggestion. A tall man is now on my list of perfect plant shopping accessories!

Melody: I also use my red wagon to drag tools around the garden. It makes for a lot fewer trips to the garage!

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