Sunday, June 7, 2015

Supporting Small Native Plant Nurseries

As many of you know, finding native plants for our gardens and our restoration efforts is not always easy. There is some nursery production for some of the more popular plants such as ornamental shrubs and perennials and, in some cases, even ornamental cultivars are available for those plants. When it comes to obtaining a diverse selection of perennials, shrubs and trees (as nature intended), the search is a bit harder. I’m here to bring attention to the hard-working small nurseries that fill those niches for us.

I recently had a chance to spend some time with the owners of Nearly Native Nursery in Fayetteville, GA while we worked on potting up some of this year’s new seedlings. Leaving more traditional careers behind, Jim and Debi Rodgers started their business in Senoia almost 19 years ago. They recognized the critical need for native species to be utilized in plantings and to educate the general public of the true intrinsic values the native species of plants provide us all.

The nursery moved to a bigger location in Fayetteville in 2006 and now carries almost 900 different species of plants, from the very familiar to the very unusual. The bigger location has also allowed them to craft extensive plantings, from very shady and moist environments to very sunny and dry, allowing customers to see many plants growing in the ground. Blooms were everywhere when I was there and we observed numerous butterflies, bees and hummingbirds feasting on the flowers.

The garden area allows for strolling
Jim said that most of his business is via mail order and they have many repeat customers. In addition to gardeners, a lot of their business is from botanical gardens in search of specific plants. We potted up 3 different species of Amsonia that day and one unusual species of Antennaria. While they do carry some of the familiar perennials like foamflower (Tiarella) and coral bells (Heuchera), the depth of their selection sets them apart from most nurseries. One customer walked away with the spicebush (Lindera benzoin) that she came for plus two unusual forms of turk’s cap lily (Lilium superbum). Note: Jim believes a more appropriate name for this lily is "superb lily" because it dwarfs all other natives with its grandeur.

Plants are healthy and beautiful
Jim’s selections for what they grow are based on both popularity and what he comes across. He is interested in preserving native plant diversity. He is not in the business to just churn out plants for a buck (not that they don’t appreciate and need a profit, of course). He gets excited about exceptional plants as well as preserving those that need a helping hand. He has a special passion for our native oaks (Quercus) and showed me a number of of species growing throughout.

Viburnum nudum

In addition to a great selection, small nurseries also provide excellent service. Jim and Debi spent time with each customer, making recommendations and selections based on the person’s individual needs. Every customer went home with several great plants and a story for each of them.

Small nurseries like Nearly Native Nursery provide a valuable niche for native plants. They grow local and diverse selections way beyond what non-specialized nurseries would do. They also are able to control the growing conditions and many choose to grow plants with zero to minimal pesticides. The plants that I worked with were vigorous seedlings with extensive roots. They will one day leave the nursery as healthy contributions to a new garden.

Jim shows off some Michaux's lily seedlings

The nursery is a fun trip for anyone in the metro Atlanta area or within an hour’s distance of the south side of Atlanta. Visit their website to get an idea of what they have and give them a call if you’re looking for something specific. I always recommend calling any nursery first to make sure they have what you want (even if the website says otherwise).  A trip to the nursery would make a fine field trip for a garden club or group of master gardeners. I would recommend that you bring your camera too.

No matter where you are, support your local native plant nurseries. They are all in the business for one reason – they love native plants. Let’s help them keep up that love affair.


  1. Great article about my favorite native plant nursery! Thanks for posting about them!

  2. Jim and Debi have always been generous donors to the Georgia Native Plant Society's annual plant sale. It's always fun to see what very special plants they give to support GNPS.