Where do you get your plants? This fantastic video for a local plant sale in Idaho this weekend (don't I wish I was in Idaho to meet these awesome growers!!) got me thinking that it might not be stating the obvious to point out where to get plants beyond the big box store....and why you should seek out the alternatives.
Big box stores are notorious for having the least savvy plant and garden people staffing the shop. Blank stares, wrong answers, and utter cluelessness abounds. No matter where I am shopping, I make a habit of asking questions I know the answers to, just to gauge the level of knowledge and trustworthiness of the source. On my personal anecdotal scale, the big box stores score generally score abysmally low. If you are a looking for good advice about how to grow the plant you just bought, and someone who can talk intelligently with you about your gardening endeavors, you are much more likely to find a good resource at a locally owned Independent Garden Center (IGC) or one of these other possible sources for acquiring plants.
Roadside farm stands are also great ways to get a good plant. Here you likely will find the labors of someone's true passion, and while the selection might be limited, the plant you get (if grown onsite) will probably be highly selected for success in your area.
Mail order is one of my current obsessions. Vendors have largely figured out how to ship plants in a way that ensures they arrive in good shape, and when you open up this world of opportunity you suddenly can find a much greater selection, and many more interesting varieties. The drawbacks are typically high shipping prices and that plants are smaller than what you get in a local nursery, meaning you have to be a lot more attentive to their needs while establishing them in your garden (but I think the rewards are worth it).
Special event sales ensure a great mix of plants from local sources, and typically they support a great cause. These include the sales put on by local garden clubs and botanic gardens. It's definitely the season for plant sales — you might consider getting in touch with your local botanic garden to see when their sale events are taking place. There is a good chance that is really soon (or you just missed it!). I will be shopping at Tower Hill Botanic Garden's sale this weekend, hoping to find a new treasure or two.
Grow from seed. Sure, it is a little harder (sometimes) and you need a little more patience, but the selection of seeds as compared to the selection of ready grown plants is mind blowing. Seed will let you spread your gardening wings.
Hand me downs and trades are perhaps my personal favorite. Besides that fact that it is free, no plant arrives without a story.
All of these ways of getting plants can help increase biodiversity in our gardens. If we all keep shopping from the same selection of a hundred or so plants that are carried at the big box stores, not only will we be limiting our design choices and the fun we can have, but our selection of cultivated plants will continue to dwindle. Increasing biodiversity is an important element to all sustainable practices, and it is well worth paying attention to even at the smallest (i.e., your garden's) scale.