Garden Centres will not want me to tell you this…

In fact, some may be REALLY upset. But tough, this is something you need to know. Especially as now is the time hundreds and thousands of you will be queuing up and spending a small fortune on plants.

We all know that any retail outlet has stacks of goodies to sell us which are all carefully positioned in key locations. Garden centres are no different. And like most good retailers they know exactly what sells well and tempts us the most. Nothing wrong in that whatsoever. But, a lot of what is on these tempting displays simply isn’t suitable to grow in your garden.

That’s not so good because it effectively means if you buy the wrong things, you’ve wasted your money.

Not good at all.

So how do you avoid being sucked in when you see a beautiful display of irresistible plants?

If you want to buy something that will look good each and every year and be of great value, then you need to be really clued up, so those impulse buys end up being a good investment and not a waste of your money.

Garden centres these days do have a lot more growing information and helpful tips than ever before, but if you don’t know what conditions you have in your garden then they are next to useless.

There are some pretty simple things that anyone can do to work out what your garden needs BEFORE you go plant buying.

5 TOP Tips for Successful Plant Buying

  1. BEFORE you head off to the garden centre, make a note of which parts of your garden get the sun and shade.
  2. What type of soil do you have? If you don’t know, dig a few test holes in your garden to look at the soil – see if it is waterlogged, dry, compacted, stoney etc.
  3. Take a photo of your garden with you to the garden centre so you can see where you might put any new purchases (and check if they go with what’s there now).
  4. When you find yourself about to impulse buy something on display, work out where in the garden you would put the new plant and also check to see if the location you have in mind has enough sun/shade, wet/dry to suit the new plant from the notes you made.
  5. Check how big the new purchase is likely to get – do you have room for it? And finally how long does it look good for? All year long or is it a 5-minute wonder?

Do you still want it after answering all these questions? If so, yes, go for it, good purchase decision!

By taking a few minutes beforehand to check out your garden and just make sure that everything you’ve been tempted with will grow and work with your existing garden, should save you from buying hugely inappropriate plants which you’ll only regret later!

Here’s The Big Secret That Most Plant Books Don’t Tell You…

If you know what to look for, a lot of plants themselves will tell you exactly what type of conditions they like to grow in, without you even needing to look at the label! You don’t need to study masses of books or take a long horticultural course.

For example, any plant with a grey/ silver colour to the leaf cannot take shade. None. They are designed to reflect the sunlight. So it’s the plant equivalent of wearing sunglass, a blessing in the sun, but lethal in the shade!

There are many other clues you can look for, too many to go into on this post but just by looking at plants that are growing well in your area, you can learn a great deal.

There Really is No Need to Learn Hundreds and Hundreds of Different Plants

Just learn the characteristics that the sun & shade lovers have in common, so you can spot them when you’re in the garden centre. You’ll soon know what will grow where just by looking at the leaves.

New5PlantExpertCOVIf you’d like to know more about how you can quickly and easily know all the ‘Plant Whisperer’ Secrets, take a look at the 5 Minute Plant Expert. It will tell you everything you need to know about choosing the right plants for your garden…

And if you’d like to see a short video that explains how easy it is to become a plant expert, visit



Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

    7 replies to "The Best Kept Secret Of The Plant World (and how to avoid wasting money at the garden centre)…"

    • Deb

      Great article. I own a small independent garden center and I pratice what you preach.

      So many people waste a great deal of money on the wrong plants. I always start out asking about sun conditions and almost get a blank stare. The next question is always the one that really stumps the customers ‘what direction does this area face, north, south, east, or west? When they cannot answer I normally ask them to bring back a digital picture of their home and the area they are wanting to plant taken in the afternoon.

      The biggest issue is the lawn so many people assume they have grubs when they really have a fungus. Then again, instead of selling them something, I give them a list of problems they need to check and come back to determine what they really need.

      Thanks for the well written article.

    • Rachel Mathews

      Thanks Deb, nice to know that there are still some good independent garden centres out there. My father’s philosophy was exactly the same as yours when he had his garden centre. He’d always try to stop people from making expensive mistakes!

    • KatyLandscaping

      Very practical advice. These days every cent counts. Always excellent to shop wisely–even for plants and stuff for the lawn and garden.

    • iain kinrade

      Hi Rachel

      Thanks for all the tips and tricks- more info the better.
      Down here in the far South ( Cape Town, South Africa) we get a lot of silver/grey plants that will take some, or dappled shade, but I assume its because we get so much more sun than you folks do in the North. I also think our local indigenous plants are just so much tougher/hardier than the northern varieties, so they can make it through an unhappy stage and bounce back later on, wowing all and sundry who see them.
      Have you ever been to South Africa, esp. Cape Town and Kirstenbosch? Kirstenbosch is 1 of our national botanical gardens, and I’m so very fortunate to be able to go there at least twice a week- Heaven on Earth all year round.
      Happy designing.
      Kind regards

      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Iain,

        I haven’t been to Cape Town yet, Kirstenbosch is definitely on my list of places to visit. I’d love to see all the Proteas growing in their native environment. I became fascinated with Proteas and Leucadendrons many years ago back in the days when I was training as a florist. We used to get the dried versions and I longed to see the live versions. So I can imagine, you do indeed have heaven on earth!

    • Kebitsaone Kaboyakgosi

      Hi Rachel

      Great stuff to learn from you. I have just started my garden last year November. I have 4 queen palm trees not yet mature, but 3 of them have been eaten by birds and left with only one twig. They are not even showing any signs of shooting new twigs. What i would like you to help me with is whether they will recover or that's it about them. The fourth one is performing well.


    • Successful Garden Design

      Hi Kebitsaone, Sorry to hear about your palm trees. I honestly have no idea if they will survive, it depends on so many factors. I suggest you cover them with some form of netting to stop the birds and wait and see if they can recover. Once the new leaves are big and strong then the birds won't be able to damage them quite so easily. Good luck!

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