Updated 6/24 after visits to 8 more garden centers (Frank’s in Bowie; Spicknall’s Farm Market in Beltsville; American Plant, Good Earth and Petals and Plants in Bethesda; and Johnson’s, Grey Goose and Stadler in Gaithersburg.)
The dreaded closing of the beloved Behnke’s Nurseries came today and it’s time to face the challenge of finding an alternative source for plants, etc. So I’ve surveyed the options and boy, do I wish there were great news, a Behnkes-level store reasonably close to us in Greenbelt, but there’s not.
We’re NOT condemned to shop at the box stores though, thanks to these actual garden centers in the DMV. All driving times are mid-day during the week, from Old Greenbelt.
In Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties
FRANK’S GARDEN CENTER AND NURSERY
Just a 16-minute drive east from Greenbelt on Greenbelt Road is Frank’s Garden Center, which has been there since the ’60s.
Frank’s is surprisingly large – 22 acres – but the actual plant offerings are modest. Some annuals and shrubs, but usually no perennials at all.
I noticed they’re improving their facilities, however, and Frank’s offers some things Benke’s never did…
Bulk quantities of building materials, soil, stones, et cetera. And what takes up even more of that acreage are Frank’s impressive assortment of large trees, which makes it popular with customers like the National Park Service.
Another garden center close to Old Greenbelt is the Hampton Nursery, 7400 Annapolis Road in Woodlawn (roughly, Hyattsville). a 19-minute drive. Above, what you’ll see from the road.
Hampton Nursery is open all year 8 am to 8 pm and is best known for its large selection for roses (which owner Peter Houghton tells me is the largest in the DC area). He told me it’s been in business there for 30+ years.
A customer wrote that “My family has gone to Hampton Nursery for our X mas tree for at least 20 years. They’re nice folks.”
Exploring the premises, I was surprised by the size and the many plants on offer.
On the con side, I asked the owner if there were any knowledgeable staffers here and his response was to mumble something I didn’t catch and walk away. So, better go with your smart phone to research while you’re there.
SPICKNALL’S FARM MARKET IN BELTSVILLE
Spicknall’s Farm Market in Beltsville was recommended by a Behnkes employee for vegetables, Christmas stuff, and hanging baskets.” Then a customer wrote that “Spicknall’s has a nice selection of plants, soil and mulch and straw bales. Also produce of course.”
When I visited in late June there was produce, a few herb plants for sale, no other perennials, and two shrubs – azaleas and a late-blooming hydrangea.
Patuxent Nursery in Bowie has been in business since 1996, owner Kevin Flynn tells me, and it has a lot to offer. They grow their own grasses, annuals, and shrubs and have a large landscaping business on the premises, too.
Patuxent has several Master Gardeners on staff, provides education in the form of frequent, mostly free talks and online resources, and they walk the eco-talk by selling almost no products from Scotts Miracle-Gro (just the potting soil, I was told).
Several Behnkes employees, including Karen Sommers in perennials, are now working at Patuxent, so I take that as a vote of confidence. According to Karen, Patuxent prices are better than Behnkes, so that’s something.
Patuxuent is about a 30-minute drive.
Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville is also on the way to Annapolis, about 32 minutes away. In size and assortment of plants it reminds me of Behnkes, but more upscale. In recent years it’s transitioned from garden center to “lifestyle” store, with pet supplies and beachwear becoming increasingly on display, which has turned off some gardeners.
Homestead does still, however, have many knowledgeable employees to answer customer questions, plus weekly educational offerings like talks, free monthly Pollinator Club meetings and Golden ID Club meetings.
Their Christmas Shop is unparalled!
In their landscaping division, all the designers are Chesapeake Bay-certified.
A Diagnostics counter to answer all manner of gardening questions is a good sign that knowledgeable people work here. This is where beloved educator Gene Sumi held forth for many years until his retirement last year.
Greenstreet Gardens is in Lothian, near Annapolis, about a 38-minute drive from Old Greenbelt. I found at least one very knowledgeable plant person on the floor, and there are probably more. I’m told they carry 180 varieties of tomatoes.
I love the vibe of this place.
Goats live on the premises,enclosed by a paddock. And there’s at least one free-ranging cat who lives there.
Looking for HOLLAND GARDENS NURSERY in Beltsville? It was suggested to me and I drove there to find that it’s gone, soon to be the site of a church.
MORE, NOT YET VISITED. SEND ME YOUR COMMENTS
Three more garden centers were recommended to me but I haven’t visited them:
- Smile Herb Shop in College Park calls itself a “comfy shop offering an array of herbal supplements, teas & holistic items plus garden plants.
- Gambrill’s Flower Farm in Gambrills, Maryland. One customer commented: “I live near Gambrills Flower Farm. They are family owned, very knowledgeable and have grown in the last few years. Since I moved from Beltsville they are my go to for herbs, flowering plants and shrubbery. They are kind and knowledgeable. They also have produce to rival Spicknalls.” About 45 minutes away.
- Eco Oasis is located in Bowie, not far from Homestead Gardens. A customer wrote that “They aren’t huge or fancy, but they have plants there I often can’t find other places, plus many of the normal annuals, perennials, veggies and greenhouse plants. They also carry birdbaths, garden decor, rocks, mulch and other stuff. But the best part is their plants are always healthy and prices are usually lower than most area nurseries.”
- Crownsville Gardens is about 45 minutes away.
- Chesapeake Natives in Upper Marlboro is open by appointment or on 6 open days through the season. It’s about an hour away. A customer wrote, “I can tell you that Chesapeake Natives carries a nice selection in a lovely setting where they have incorporated many of the plants they sell and can offer excellent advice and suggestions. Chris Puttock is so kind and patient whether you come by appointment when he is in the middle of a work day there or you come during a plant sale day. They have an online list of the plants that are available. http://chesapeakenatives.org/plants-currently-available/
In Montgomery County
Meadows Farms Nurseries and Landscape is one of three garden centers I visited in Burtonsville and the only one I can recommend as a true garden center. This is one of Meadow Farms’ 18 locations in the DC area, and has been open here for 36 years. Like Behnkes, it has a VIP program customers can sign up for to learn about special deals, and can also be followed on Facebook for this location in particular, where I found at least one knowledgeable person helping customers. Open all year except for January and early February, it’s just 28 minutes away.
COUNTRY NURSERY AND FLORIST
Country Nursery has been in business since 1975 and from its appearance, has had no renovations or (seemingly) cleaning since then.
The counter and really the whole store looked filthy, and the plants not much better, with many either dead or in need of attention, and lots of weeds among them. I got the impression this place stays in business by selling mulch.
Located in Burtonsville, it’s about 28 minutes from Greenbelt.
Country Nursery’s plant offerings, such as they are.
FEHR’S NUSERY AND GARDEN CENTER
Fehr’s Nursery and Garden Center is similar – small, shabby and dirty, with no staff to be found when I visited mid-day. About 25 minutes from Greenbelt.
Its interior was almost as dirty as Country Nursery’s.
BUT a customer wrote, “I shop a LOT at Fehr’s. Yes, the inside is dirty but heck, it’s a garden place with dirt! But they have a wide variety of annuals, perennials, veges, hanging pots already planted, roses, and shrubs and trees. They aren’t as knowledgeable as Behnke’s but they have the usual suspects that you might want, same as Behnke’s had.”
IN POTOMAC, AMERICAN PLANT
It may be worth driving to Potomac for its 3 close-by garden centers, all within about a 35-40-minute drive from Old Greenbelt.
American Plant‘s largest retail outlet is just inside the Beltway (the other location is smaller and farther.)
American Plant carries all categories of plants, and has some knowledgeable employees available to help customers, one of whom wrote to tell me it’s “convenient and usually helpful though expensive.”
IN POTOMAC, PETALS AND PLANTS
Petals and Plants is on River, on the site of Behnkes’ former Potomac location. While some of the display space formerly filled with plants is now used for gifts and a thriving florist business, the manager told me their plant prices are lower than those of the other two Potomac garden centers – so there’s that. One of their most popular plant items is hanging baskets. They’ll even pot up containers for customers at no charge, assuming they’re purchased on location.
Gifts and cool stuff galore!
Petals and Plants is also sells “tons” of orchids, and does a big business in repotting them. Customers can bring in their own orchids for repotting, though many simply bring them in for the staff to replace orchids no longer blooming with ones that are just coming into bloom. Nice!
IN POTOMAC, GOOD EARTH GARDEN MARKET
Good Earth Garden Market, with locations in Olney and Potomac, was recommended by a long-time Behnkes staffer. I visited the 4-acre locaton in Potomac and was delighted to find a real garden center with knowledgeable plant people on staff, including at least one former Behnkes person and several Master Gardeners. I was proudly informed also that three of its employees are Certified Professional Horticulturists. Good Earth has been open at this location since 1997 (and in Olney since 1979).
Other signs that Good Earth is a real, full-service garden center are its many in-store seminars and workshops on natives, seed-starting, pollinators, etc. Their website has lots of reliable information on it, as well as an Ask the Expert feature. Good Earth has a loyalty program and an up-to-date Facebook page, plus a landscape design/install department.
IN GAITHERSBURG, JOHNSON’S FLORIST AND GARDEN CENTER
Johnson’s Florist and Garden Center closed its Tenley Circle shop in DC but still has two locations – in Kensington and Olney. A reader wrote that “Johnson’s in Kensington is cute, but smallish and fairly pricey. Nice little gift shop, too.” But I visited the larger one in Olney/Gaithersburg, which is very close to Grey Goose and Stadler.
I wish I could say more about the place but I was told to direct my questions to the owner at “corporate,” and he’s on vacation.
IN GAITHERSBURG, GREY GOOSE FARMS
I was surprised (and jealous) to find three good-sized garden centers very close to each other in Gaithersburg, all about a 40-minute drive using the ICC (with tolls). Definitely worth making the trip for their combined offerings.
At Grey Goose Farms I was pleased to see a recent Behnkes employee – Randy Dorman, whom I recognized from his helpful presence in the Garden Pharmacy. Grey Goose has a large selection of plants (except for houseplants) for both retail and wholesale customers, plus fountains, bulk products (mulch, etc), and large-caliper trees (larger than Behnkes sold).
They offer no in-store seminars or workshops, but do have a Facebook page.
IN GAITHERSBURG, STADLER NURSERIES
Stadler’s Nurseries is just 2 miles from Grey Goose, so also a 40-minute drive. It’s a large (12-15 acres), established store for retail and wholesale customers, selling all types of plants, including houseplants and large-caliper trees (and a free tree-planting service in the spring and fall).
Stadler’s has educational programming at its Frederick location only. Customers at both locations can enjoy and learn from its blog, web resources, and Facebook page.
ONE MORE, NOT VISITED BY ME
White’s Nursery in Germantown carries 300 varieties of evergreen azaleas, according to owner Mike White. One customer wrote to say that it “has a reasonable selection and good quality.” White’s is only open Friday-Sunday, and closes completely from July 1 to September 6.
Drive to Virginia??
I’m as averse to crossing the river into Virginia as any Marylander BUT a garden designer friend in Takoma Park urged me to include Merrifield in this round-up because it’s her favorite garden center in the whole DMV, so I made the schlep to see for myself.
Merrifield Garden Center is a family-owned business founded in 1955, with 3 locations today. These photos are of its largest location, in Gainesville. Driving times were measured at 6 pm on a Saturday in June.
- The Gainesville store covers 43 acres (versus Behnkes at a little less than 12). It’s about one hour+14 minutes from Old Greenbelt
- The Fair Oaks store covers 20 acres and is about an hour drive.
- The Falls Church store covers 4 acres and is about a 50-minute drive.
When I visited I found eight varieties of Oakleaf Hydrangea alone! (Hydrangea quercifolia). That’s the kind of selection we’ve gotten from Behnkes lo these many years.
The Gainesville location is the only one that has a cafe and sells wine, too. All locations have plant clinics.
So, any chance Merrifield will open a new store in Maryland, where we need one? I asked the manager, who told me they couldn’t find the acreage they would need to do that in a Maryland suburb. Well, crap.
Moving on, I asked local gardeners, especially the plant geeks, if they ever buy plants from catalogs or online and was surprised by how many said yes, with good results. Here are their favorite sources:
- Izel Plants for natives.
- For bulbs: Brent & Becky’s (they’re near Williamsburg), John Scheepers and Old House Gardens. – “good stuff at reasonable prices.”
- Bluestone Perennials was recommended by several local gardeners for high quality plants.
- Miri Talabac, the woodies buyer at Behnkes, recommends “Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina. “They’re known for unusual plants and zone-pushing plants, and get good reviews for quality. I’ve only ordered once or twice but the experience was a good one.”
- Miri also recommends Logee’s in Connecticut. “Their greenhouses are something else (has to be experienced) and their plants are a bit expensive (just my opinion) but they are known for having unusual things as well. They grow hardy and tropical plants.” (Think houseplants in particular.)
- One more from Miri is Rainforest Flora in California. “For the Tillandsia crowd. LOTS of different species, hybrids, and cultivars (yep…Tillandsias have cultivars!) and better prices than retail on many plants.”
Local Plant Sales
One last but very savvy recommendation comes from Kathy Jentz, editor of the Washington Gardener Magazine. Kathy told me she buys almost all of her plants at garden festivals and sales. Most are in the spring. Her favorites are:
- Friends of the National Arboretum Garden Fair/Plant Sale
- Brookside Gardens Plant Sale
- Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival
- Silver Spring Garden Club Mart
- Beltsville Garden Club Sales
- Green Spring Gardens Garden Day
- River Farm’s Spring Garden Mart
- Franciscan Monastery Plant and Herb Sale
- The Washington National Cathedral’s Flower Mart
- Landon Azalea Festival.