So a little while ago, I was in Lowes, and saw a display of bulbs from a company called “Botanical Wonders.”
These were great plants. Jack-in-the-pulpit, Virginia bluebells, trillium, bird’sfoot violet, and the price was…2.95? That’s really…really…
An ethically sourced trillium—and you can get them—will run you twenty-thirty-forty bucks for the common varieties, and if you want something really obscure, get out your wallet. They’re a rare plant to begin with and the seeds only sprout in the wild when they’re carried underground by ants. Growing them from seed is hard, and the plants don’t mature to flowering for years. People do it, but they sure don’t do it for $2.95.
I whipped out my phone, did a little googling, ran into all kinds of hate on the company for this exact reason, as well as allegations that one of their founders had been busted for plant poaching right here in North Carolina and actually served time. If the internet is to be believed (and with those prices, I’m very much inclined to think they are) they’re one of those places that strips wildflowers from wooded areas (including national parks!) plunks them in a greenhouse for a season so that they can be labeled “nursery grown” and then sells them at a stupidly low price, either to Lowes or to a third party who then sells to Lowes.
(What you’re looking for in your ethical plant, by the by, is “nursery propagated” not “nursery grown.” When it comes to trillium, there are people who manage a kind of “wild-propagated” method that could be ethically done, but it requires having large existing clumps on your property, has a very low yield, and it doesn’t bring the price down at all. Also, anyone doing this would want these Botanical Wonders people shot, because they’d strip mine the whole clump and that’d be the end of the matter.)
I did what any good consumer does—I wrote Lowes a “this is why we can’t have nice things” letter.
And it was a pretty damn good letter for off-the-cuff outrage, let me say. I was polite. I rhapsodized about my pride in Lowes as a North Carolina company and my shame at this behavior, I explained the differences between nursery-grown and nursery-propagated, I used that critical phrase “I will tell my friends and family and blog readers…” etc.
Now, I assumed I’d get a robo-e-mail or a “We at Lowes are very concerned about customer feedback, thank you,” letter or whatever and nothing whatsoever would change. And indeed, I did get a polite “thank you for bringing this to our attention, we will look into it” letter and I shrugged and thought no more about it, other than scheduling a blog post on the matter over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden, where I blog on alternate Mondays.
This morning I got this in my e-mail.
Dear Vernon Ursula,
Thank you for giving Lowe’s an opportunity to respond to your concerns. We are extremely proud of our customer service, however; we are eager to hear customer feedback so we can identify opportunities to improve our service and customer satisfaction.
I have been corresponding with Michael, Director of Environmental Affairs for Lowe’s and he is going to visit Botanical Wonders Greenhouses. I just wanted you to know we are investigating these allegations with this vendor. I also have involved Ken, Merchandising Director of Nursery for Lowe’s, so he can look into this issue as well. Thank you again for bringing this to our attention.
If Lowe’s or I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to call me directly (number redacted, closing pleasantries, etc.)
Now, I know what’s likely to happen here. The odds are good that this gentleman will slog out to the nursery, be led around and have smoke blown in his eyes and verbal legerdemain engaged in, and nothing will change. I accept that. It’d be lovely if they walked in and somebody was unloading a truck full of trillium, cocaine, and illegal Russian mail-order brides onto the loading dock, but it seems unlikely to happen.
But it means that this Botanical Wonders place is on their radar. And it means that if more people complain, and it keeps coming up, this place may well get a red flag as somebody that’s more trouble than they’re worth to deal with. And frankly, I think it’s fantastic that Lowes is being responsive and is actually trying to look into this instead of just blowing me off as another crazy, and I actually do want to point them out for good behavior—god knows they’re not perfect, they sell a lot of plants that make me less than happy, but on this single issue, I can honestly say that I think they’re actually trying to respond to customer concerns and get to the bottom of the matter, to protect their own reputation.
Baby steps. But steps in the right direction.
If you’d like to write to Lowes about this issue, I suggest you A) first make sure that your local store has this display, and B) go to their online feedback form and leave feedback for your own store. Be polite, be firm, don’t scream obscenities–nobody keeps reading those letters—but tell them that you’re very concerned about ethically sourced plants.