On Buying Native Plants 

When I started growing native plants back in 2005/2006, native plant specialty nurseries were few and far between, poorly advertised, and the selection of plants was quite limited. And unfortunately, most of those early native plant nurseries I frequented are no longer in business – some because they couldn’t afford to keep the doors open, some because the owner reached an age where retirement seemed a good choice. 

In this month’s article, I’m going to talk a bit about native plant nurseries I have purchased from over the years and about the ones that are gone, the ones that survived, and the plethora of new ones that are appearing. All this is in anticipation of a new series of articles I plan to start later this month (in week 3) and will keep writing about each month as long as I can gather enough information. The series will be an in-depth look at Native Plant nurseries in the region. In the beginning these will be nurseries that I regularly do business with (there are lots!), but if the topic is popular enough I may try to expand to other nurseries as well. 

In the Beginning 

Living in fairly rural Southwestern Ontario has its advantages and drawbacks. First off, I live in the Carolinian Life Zone (https://inthezonegardens.ca/ontario/) – one of the most ecologically diverse regions in Canada, and the region with the most species at risk – and the range of plants that are native here is amazing. The drawback is that, with low a population density it can be a challenge to support a niche market (like native plant gardening) with so few people to buy your plants. But a few early adopters tried and those are the nurseries that got me started. 

Lost Nurseries 

I think the very first native plant nursery I visited was Wheatley Woods Native Plant Nursery and Garden Centre, just outside of Wheatley, Ontario. Craig had a nice selection of native plants and he was very helpful in getting me started down the right path. One of the big frustrations for Craig was that (to paraphrase him) little old ladies would come in and ask for hostas or begonias, or tell him they could get plants a lot cheaper at Walmart.  Unfortunately, it would seem he was just a bit ahead of the native plant gardening curve and eventually closed down (as near as I can find out – he operated from 2005 to around 2016, or thereabouts – I moved to Manitoba in 2014, and when I returned in 2018 he was no longer in business).  

Much closer to home, I used to also purchase native plants from a lovely little nursery just outside of Blenheim, ON (I don’t recall if the business actually had a name or not). Sherri’s is another business that disappeared while I was in Manitoba. In this case, I believe they sold their farm and moved on. 

Yet another great native plant nursery that has gone by the wayside (owner retired) was Grand Moraine Growers near Alma, ON (1999-2019). Fortunately, Origin Native Plants in Guelph (https://www.originnativeplants.com/shop) took over the remaining inventory and has carried on the tradition. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t discover GMG until the year they closed, but I did make two trips there that year and loaded up the car. I now buy plants from Origin almost every year. 

The final defunct nursery I’ll mention is another that I discovered in its last year of operation before the owner retired – Nith River Native Plants outside of Kitchener. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find any information on the years that it operated. Graham had a fairly small greenhouse, but a wonderful selection of plants. But beyond that, I just loved the drive through the countryside to get to his place.  

Still Going Strong 

Despite the loss of a number of the early adopters, a number of those early nurseries are still going strong, and many, many more have opened their doors in the last few years. The demand for good quality native plants has grown tremendously in recent years, so with any luck these nurseries will be around for some time.  

Very close to where I live is a small nursery tucked away in a forest. Heavenly Earth (https://heavenlyearth.ca/) originally specialized in trees and shrubs, but has branched out into perennials in the last few years. I’ve made many trips to Liz and Dale’s little hidden piece of heaven and come home with a trunk full of plants. 

A little further afield for me is another survivor of the early native-plant-nursery extinctions – Not So Hollow Farm (https://notsohollowfarm.ca/) in Mulmur, ON (near Creemore, if that helps). Ian and Vicki also started with native trees and shrubs (around 2002) but have expanded to perennials, as well. They’re a little hard to find, but they have lots of beautiful plants. And the scenic drive there is worth the road trip alone even if you end up not buying anything. 

One of my top 3 favourite nurseries has to be Grow Wild! Native Plant Nursery, Landscaping and Biological Consulting (https://www.nativeplantnursery.ca/) which has been around since 2001. Paul’s always got some very interesting species in his collection, though he primarily sells wholesale only. (I have a special affinity to this nursery because it’s located in the little village of Omemee, ON where I grew up through my later elementary school and all of my high school years.) 

New Kids on the Block  

Fortunately for all of us native plant enthusiasts, there are a number of new (and relatively new) native plant nurseries coming on stream these days. And they cover most of the southern Great Lakes region (on both sides of the border).  

One of the newer establishments is Golden Alexanders (https://goldenalexanders.ca/) just outside of Sarnia, ON. This is another of my top 3 favourite nurseries. That’s because Nick has 2 emerald green thumbs and produces beautiful, healthy plants. He also has an amazing range of species available. He’s only open to the public on Saturdays because he’s busy doing landscape construction and maintenance the rest of the week. Golden Alexanders is the first nursery I will feature in my series of articles (in about 3 week’s time). 

Some more great sources of native plants (all of which I have purchased from over the years) are Prairie Song Nursery and Restoration (https://www.facebook.com/prairiesongnursery/) in Walsingham, Thedford Native Plants (https://www.thedfordnativeplants.ca/) near Thedford, Ontario Flora (https://www.ontarioflora.ca/) near Markdale, and just over the border in Quebec  not far from Ottawa is Beaux Arbres Native Plants (https://beauxarbres.ca/). There are many more – a few of which aren’t necessarily native plant specialty nurseries, but do carry a good selection of natives – and hopefully in the coming months I will be able to do articles on all of these sources, as well, plus many more.  

I would be remiss to leave out the one of the most popular mail-order-only sources: Ontario Native Plants or ONP (https://onplants.ca/). And, increasingly, there are also excellent sources of native plant seeds, including BotanyCa (https://botanicallyinclined.org/) from which I have made a few purchases. These, too, are apt to be the subject of future articles. 

In the meantime, check out my map of native plant sources throughout all of North America. (If you know of one that ISN’T on the map yet, please let me know so I can add it.) You can find that map at bit.ly/rixNPsources.  

In the meantime, keep an eye out for my first Native Plant Nursery profile, coming soon. 

Happy native plant gardening.