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How to Shop Nurseries Like a Pro

By Alexis April 24, 2020


As seasoned landscape architects and designers, it’s easy to take for granted certain “business as usual” facts about our industry. One of those being that plant substitutions are incredibly common, in fact it’s difficult to complete a professional install without making at least one swap. If you’re looking to DIY and are shopping at local retail nurseries, substitutions become even more common...and that’s totally okay!

For someone new to homeownership, gardening, or landscaping, this might sound a bit intimidating. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Stay Open-Minded: Many of the plants we recommend are “cultivars” - a version of the plant selected for specific color, growth habit, or other defining feature. For example Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’ is a variety of Big Leaf Hydrangea called Endless Summer. If a nursery doesn’t have ‘Endless Summer’ and recommends ‘Glowing Embers’ instead, the plant will have a different flower color but a similar growth habit, fulfilling the same purpose in your landscape plan.

  1. Working with Retail Nurseries: There are likely thousands of plant species that would thrive in your region. It’s impossible for retail nurseries to carry them all, so instead they will often sell your typical crowd-pleasers in addition to some very seasonal selections. Our best advice is to find a highly knowledgeable staff member and share your plant list with them right away. And always ask them to make recommendations for substitutions based on their current availability, otherwise you might walk away without everything you came for.

  1. Lean on your landscaper: Local landscapers can be a great resource in fulfilling your plant materials needs. Not only will they have relationships with nurseries across your region, but they should also be able to secure wholesale prices while completing the purchase and delivering materials to your home.

  1. Place a special order: Some plants are just worth the extra effort, and for those must-have species, we recommend placing a special order. Most nurseries can source plants from growers across the country and would be able to get what you need. It may take a little longer, but they generally will not charge an additional fee.

  1. Tilly is here for you! If you’re already a Tilly client and are unsure about a substitution, reach out to your designer. They can help you decipher whether the different selection will work within your design. And for those who are not Tilly clients, you might consider submitting a question to us on Instagram via #asktilly or even purchasing a 30-minute consult with one of our designers.

Have fun with the process! You can also reference Tilly’s blog post on how to think about your installation for more help on what to do at this stage when it comes to getting your plants in the ground.

Happy Shopping!

Read more about: Gardening Tips