Sometimes, the best bargain costs more.

This morning was one of those amazing autumn mornings in the Pacific Northwest when there is enough water vapor in the atmosphere to give the sunrise a spectacular array of color. The air was crisp like a fresh Hood River apple with just enough bite in it to make me glad that I chose to wear my toasty warm new Carhartt vest. As the sun rose, I could feel its slight warmth on my cheeks while I took my short walk to the pickup to get it warmed-up and begin the defrosting process.

Once my old friend was warmed-up and ready to roll, I was on my way to my first stop. I like to drop in on the folks out at Iseli Nursery from time to time just to see what’s new. We’ve been conifer-loving partners for about as long as the nursery has been in business, so it’s like going to have coffee with an old friend for me there. Most of the folks have been there since near the beginning and carry the dream that Jean Iseli shared with them before he passed away in 1986. As I made my way up the main drive, it seemed the entire place was engulfed by fog, then suddenly I was in the sunlight again and could see the main office and display gardens glowing in the low, rising sun.

Premium garden plants
Premium gardens begin with the healthy, premium plants.

Once I completed my visit, I was on my way to a couple of local garden centers. The sun was definitely up now and there was no longer any sign of fog – it was shaping up to be an amazingly beautiful day.

My next stop was already busy with a few early-bird customers like me. Some were interested in pumpkins, some were filling their carts with Crysthanimums. One woman was stuffing a bale of straw and corn stalks into the trunk of her car. Me? I’m looking for dwarf conifers. I saw an ad in the paper on Sunday promoting end-of-season sales, and I do enjoy finding a bargain, so there I was. What I found was disappointment.

Oh, sure, there were quite a few items with “drastically reduced prices”, but it was very clear that even those prices were too high for what they were offering! I don’t mind getting a discount for a smaller plant, even one that perhaps fell off of the display and the top broke out of it, but the plants in this offering looked as though their supplier had given them a deep discount on plants that should have become compost for future crops. They had rows of plants that were misshapen, likely due to being improperly grown in too little space. Much of their foliage was distorted or burned and the plants were terribly off-color. Even at deeply discounted prices, I would be surprised if these poor things would survive through the winter – even with the most expert garden care. I quickly made my way back to my pickup and drove to my next stop.

Beautiful garden featuring dwarf conifers
Beautiful garden featuring dwarf conifers and other exciting garden plants.

Thankfully, the weather was continuing in its most magnificent glory. The sky was a crisp and clean blue and any evidence of the morning clouds were completely evaporated away. I pulled into the parking lot of one of my favorite garden centers. It was not quite as busy as the one with the “fantastic sale” going on, but again, there were folks busily choosing plants and ornaments for their autumn displays.

This time as I wandered around, I found plants that looked to be in the prime of health. Whether they were end of season perenniels, woody shrubs or dwarf conifers, everything looked healthy. It was obvious, some plants were the typical end-of-season runts or slightly misshaped, but they were all healthy and had good color – even the plants in the discount area.

Sure, I could have purchased some plants for very little money at the other place, but that would have been money wasted in plants that would have required the most perfect conditions – and even then would most likely not survive long. I have come to the conclusion that no matter what time of year it is, the best time to buy plants is when they look good and healthy.

Conifer Lover


12 thoughts on “Sometimes, the best bargain costs more.

  1. Great Blog!!

    As a landscape professional on the east coast, I see it all the time. A customer calls me and raves about the brand new plant that she bought at an “End of Season Clearance Sale”. I normally arrive, quickly inspect the plant to find it root bound, under watered, over fertilized and looking sickly to say the least. I present the homeowner with a plan of attack to bring the plant back to health. My proposal usually runs about twice the cost of a healthy plant that they could have bought “fresh from the farm” in the spring. Some pricing is too good to be true.


  2. Do you know if Iseli has Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’ for sale? If so what size are available?

    I will order from my local nursery.


      1. Dave, I’m glad they were able to help you out! Thanks for the link to photos of your garden – I’ve enjoyed the pictures that you have posted at The Garden Web in the Conifers forum over the years.


  3. Ed, The problem for many gardeners is that they can’t recognize the poor quality of the plants, all they see is the sale sign. And then when the plant dies they think they did something wrong, when in fact, the plant was doomed before they even brought it home.

    Liked by 1 person

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