I got my copy of Asiatica's spring catalog the other day, which opens with a chatty letter from the owner. This year, a fairly depressing one, starting with "For most merchants in the specialty nursery business,  was a difficult year." and going on to say: "If it wasn't clear before, it is clear now that there is no sound economic basis for introducing and selling new and rare plants."
Arrowhead Alpines' catalog doesn't start out much more cheerfully: The headline on their first page is "Still Alive" and includes this: "All the better specialty nurseries are struggling and we hope that out customers and friends will continue to support our efforts to provide cool new plant material. For that matter support our competition as well. It is depressing how many great nurseries have gone in the last couple of years."
Even the perpetually upbeat Tony Avent of Plant Delights writes in his nursery's current newsletter:
"The economy continues to devastate the nursery industry, and the latest casualty is Green Valley Growers of Willis Texas. Green Valley Growers was the 59th largest nursery in the country with 300 acres and one million square feet of greenhouse production. There are many other large growers who are still hanging on while operating in Chapter 11 or Chapter 12 bankruptcy ... we wish them the best in trying to save their businesses."
I wonder -- and worry -- if these nursery struggles are just one more side effect of the hard economic times, or a sign of a longer term trend. I hope not. I can't imagine a world without catalogs packed with amazing plants I've never heard of and long to grow... I hope all my beloved suppliers make it through the hard times, and thrive for years to come. I'll even add a little bit to my orders, just to do my part.
But I think -- and hope -- that brighter times are ahead. Gardening is becoming trendy! I know right now it is just vegetable gardening -- but surely those people lured into the garden by vegetables will be drawn ever deeper into plant addiction, and soon finding themselves ordering rare Japanese Asarum. The rise of the internet, which is not only the ultimate gardening reference book, but also a source for plant-lust inducing blogs, and virtual gardening communities, will surely help fuel the rise and passion of gardeners across the country and the world. I think gardening is poised to follow the path of the "foodie" scene, and explode into mainstream America.
What do you think? Is gardening on the rise? Are specialty nurseries doomed?