Derek’s favourite 5 value-for-money Garden Centres in Calgary

I have to confess that I’m one of those gardeners-in-denial.  I’m all gung-ho to get my garden growing just as soon as the weather warms to daytime highs in the low teens with mild disregard to the still-chilly overnight temperatures.  I simply don’t have the patience to wait for that unspoken gardening rule to come to pass: “wait at least until the May long weekend before planting”.  Sometimes I need to learn to take the advice that I give out! Watch the time lapse video of my May long weekend front yard landscaping project from 2014.

My annual lavender bush (or two) that I always have on my back deck

A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.

Liberty Hyde Bailey

This year, it seemed for a moment that that my gardening roulette was going to pay off and I’d be ahead of the rest of the neighbourhood with my gardening.  However, now with the forecast daytime highs regressing back to the high single digits and even the chance of some flurries over the coming long weekend, I may have jeopardized my early spring garden start and potentially flushed some good money down the drain with that.

Even the bees are delighted that I buy them some annuals early in the season!

None the less, it has been a delight to watch my bulbous perennials seemingly punch through the surface of the soil, and to see buds start to swell and burst into life on ostensibly lifeless, woody stems and branches.  It’s a daily miracle, and it’s beautiful to behold.  Despite knowing better, I do still get over-zealous, wanting to accelerate the introduction of some colour into the yard by buying a few annuals, getting them into pots and baskets and adorning the front and back deck.  Consequently, I’ve been visiting Calgary garden centres for some weeks now, ever since some of the first outdoor plants started making a premature appearance on the shelves. 

It’s not quite the May long weekend and already I’m having to protect my annuals by storing them near the hot tub and hoping the warmer local micro-climate might ease the effects of the cold

I do partly blame the garden centre retailers who dupe us into buying their flower-laden planters by stocking them from late March already!  After all, we’ve been starved of our gardening delights for at least six months.  Who can fault us for wanting to prematurely jump in at the first signs of the spring thaw, getting our hands dirty, our garden hoses reconnected and our outdoor living spaces awash with the vast colour palette of annual blooms? But, finally the planting season is upon us.  With that, here is my list of garden centres that I frequent for ideas and for planting material together with some of the key criteria I consider when plant shopping.  I have rated them on these criteria.

The bottom line is I major on value for money and quality. Now that my yard is more established I minor on variety.

So, in summary, my go-to supplier of all-things-growing is Costco.  Despite not being guaranteed of finding what you’re looking for, if they happen to have something you want or like you’ll not find a better specimen for a better deal at any of the other centres that I’ve highlighted.  You might find them cheaper but you’ll almost certainly be buying a smaller, more inferior specimen.

Some of the showy begonias that some lucky gardener was purchasing en mass!

I do look out for seasonal deals, end-of-season deals and garden fillers at my more convenient Superstore, Home Depot and even Walmart box stores. Funnily enough, Walmart’s bedraggled end-of-season perennials have ended up serving me very well and have been remarkably hardy and reliable! I suspect that plant care and maintenance at some of the box stores varies from store-to-store. My perception may be skewed by my neighbourhood go-to store, so I’m cautious to paint all box stores with the same brush (as my table above might suggest). I have seen some phenomenal Canadian Tire and Lowes centres and walked away from some Home Depots with zero inspiration. None the less, the table reflects my general perception.

I’ve created a “nursery” down the side of my home where I incubate some of the damaged and discounted perennials that I buy from some of the box stores. This has become a favourite hidden wild garden of mine. The excess growth also helps hide hide the unsightly air conditioner unit. It’s here that I also plant up my tomatoes.

I love to scout for plant selection ideas or end-of-season deals at Golden Acre or some of the more premium garden centres and have happily – and gratefully – enjoyed gift cards to some of these centres. Sadly, the value of the card doesn’t go very far at these fantastic locations.

I made a significant detour to the deep south of Calgary this week to visit the extensive Spruce-It-Up Garden Centre
Exceptional herb displays at Spruce-It-Up Garden Centre
Fun accessories at Spruce-It-Up Garden Centre
The cute lavender display at Spruce-It-Up Garden Centre
Annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, trees, tropical and everything else at Spruce-It-Up Garden Centre

I’ve not included the likes of Sobeys, Save-on-Foods or Safeway in my review because they’re generally over-priced and their selection is comparatively limited.  Realistically, garden centres are not their “thing”.

For some added inspiration and ideas about what to plant and how to plant and where to plant, consider visiting some of the beautiful city and neighbourhood gardens around Calgary. Some of my favourites are the Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs, Reader Rock Garden and Riley Park / Patrick Burns Formal Garden.

My final gardening tips to any budding new wannabe-gardeners are:

  1. if you’re trying to establish a new garden, get your trees, shrubs and perennials into well-prepared and well-watered soil soon so that they have the entire summer to establish themselves;
  2. Be patient! A friend taught us the “sleep – creep – leap” principle. If you plant your perennials in 2019, expect them to be a little sluggish and to not come back as strong in 2020. Don’t despair and don’t be too eager to rip them out of the soil if they’re not as showy as when you put them in the ground last year; this is their SLEEP year. In 2021 you’ll find them to be a little fuller and stronger. This is their CREEP year. By 2022, if you’ve been patient and tended to them, watered them and fed them in the previous years, this will be their LEAP year when you’ll see them come back and flourish. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!

Gardening is an exercise in patience. And in planning. And in financial budgeting. So pace yourselves. Unless you have loads of money to throw at professional landscaping, this is not a single-season success show but a slow-paced marathon.

Garden as though you will live forever.

William Kent

Happy deal-hunting and gardening everyone.

As an aside note, if ever you’re in northern Edmonton / St. Albert, do yourself a favour and escape to the amazing garden centre paradise that is one of legendary Alberta gardener, Lois Hole’s, legacy – The Enjoy Centre. This is a gardener’s paradise. While there, visit the nearby Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, a wetland with boardwalks and benches that serves up a selection of wildlife, birds, plants and tranquility!

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.

Doug Larson

A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.


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