Well, I’ll be damned.

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…

Suspicious.

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.)

Um.

Dude.

Really?

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.

18 Comments

  • Jamie says:

    Done! Wrote a polite but firm letter to the Lowe’s corporation. I’ve been inspired by your dedication to ethically-sourced, local plants for your garden, and when I (finally!) get a place of my own where I can garden, I very much want to see if I can echo the native plants of the area. If I can get these plants at Lowe’s, so much the better, and I want them to know that!

  • Uzuri says:

    Lowes is actually a surprisingly decent big box store — miles above Home Depot, for example, a store that should be shunned at all opportunities.

  • Nimras says:

    Wow! I’m quite impressed.

    The Lowes near our house’s (Hillsboro, OR) manager for the plants is really knowledgeable about the native plants, and has been a great help for us for “native and not dog toxic” plants (my Border Collie is a connoisseur of plants…).

    So… Horray for Lowes!

  • Michelle says:

    Good work! If I see a similar display at my local big box store, I will follow your example.

  • Kathy Vilim says:

    Thanks for your vigilence and to bringing to folks’ attn the fact that not all native plants are obtained in a responsible manner. Native growers who propagate from seed work very hard to get plants to us without disturbing any ecosystems.

  • mary anne kazlauskas says:

    i followed this article from another website. i have had some great ordinary plants from lowes. much healthier then home depot. here in the levittown, pa area i have not found any native plants at either store. i will be alert when i visit several other gardening centers in thw area this year. thanks for bringing this to gardeners attention. i was oblivious

  • Chelsea Clarey says:

    Oh, god. I feel *awful*. I bought *four* of them last month. Do I get karma extra credit for naivete?


    It’s okay, Chelsea, you didn’t know and your intentions were good! And honestly, there really IS no way of knowing unless you happen to be suspicious and have a smart-phone on you at the time–that’s what makes these people so slippery! We just assume that everything is legal and above the board all the time! — UrsulaV

  • I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here frequently. I’m quite certain I will learn a lot of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

  • I find this disturbing, because I recently re-landscaped my entire yard, using – almost entirely – native species. While I like to believe my sources are ethical, I will ask those questions before filling in any remaining gaps.

    I love your blog. I just ran across it from a mention on the Ecosystems Gardening blog. I was surprised when I read your bio because I grew up in NC and now live in Oregon – just the opposite. Weird garden/nature blogger coincidence.

    Happy Gardening!

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  • Chris Wyse says:

    Hi,

    I bought some Botanical Wonders plants yesterday at Lowes. I was going on the assumption that they were on sale for $2.50 – I thought Lowes was trying to reduce the plant inventory before winter. Anyway, I did a little checking – I don’t want wild harvested plants.

    I’m not sure what to believe. The package says ‘nursery propagated’, and contrary to some other posts I’ve seen, there is a web site:

    http://botanical-wonders.com/about.htm

    The site states that they’ve been in business for 40 years, using ‘minimalistic’ propagation techniques allowing for cheap resale.

    I don’t know what to believe. They wrote up quite a bit on how they propagate the plants, and that only a limited amount of plants are available each year from their 617 acre nursery.

    Any comments?

    Chris

    • ursulav says:

      Hey, Chris!

      All I can say in this case is that A) if something is too good to be true, it probably is, and B) the guy who runs the company has been arrested for wild-plant poaching in the past. North Carolina has a huge plant-poaching problem with wild species, particularly carnivorous plants, and the owner’s been nailed for smuggling Venus fly-traps from protected areas.

      Every reputable source of trilliums and other rare spring ephemera I know price them VERY high, because these are very slow to propagate plants. They’re not $2.50 or anything like it, and they’re not produced at a rate anything like enough to put on racks at Lowes.

      I would be very, very skeptical.

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