Garden center fun and plant tag theft

Why wandering aimlessly for hours and stealing plant tags made me the gardener I am today.

This will be the last week in 2016 where I make my beloved “day-job-lunch-time-trek” to my local garden center.

One last opportunity to score a deal on heavily discounted perennials.

One last opportunity to take selfies with grasses.

One last opportunity to dream up plant combinations.

One last opportunity to run from the “real” job and pretend I work in garden design.

One last opportunity to record an Instagram story happily revealing my purchases as they sit in the back seat of my Honda Accord and soil the backseat eventually resulting in complaints from my kids who I in turn ignore.


These lunch time visits to the garden center go back almost two decades and hold a warm place in my heart.

It is where I first learned the difference between a conifer and an evergreen.

It is where I first fell in love with foliage and learned to look beyond the flowers.

It is where my finely pressed khakis would get covered in mud and would result in stares from coworkers who questioned what I was doing during my lunch hour.

I can’t even begin to name all of the plants I’ve discovered over the years through these trips, but each one of them offered an incredible sense of discovery and were at the time, vital pieces to my garden design puzzle.

As I think back to the early days of lunch time plant shopping, one of my fondest memories is of stealing the plant tags of those plants I considered for future purchase. It was a simple but criminal process:

  • Bend down to look like I am inspecting the plant and/or checking out the price
  • The tag is then stealthily pulled out of the container with the left hand
  • At that same time, the right hand runs over the leaves of the victimized plant as a means of distraction
  • The excess soil on the tag is quickly removed by squeezing the thumb and pointer finger and dragging them along the tag
  • The semi-clean tag is then dropped into the pants pocket at the same time as I stand up

Once I had a healthy collection of tags, I would head right for the exit with my head down so this rugged mug could not be identified. I would head out making sure I wasn’t being tailed by any vehicles. Once safely home, I headed right to the computer so research could commence. It was a criminal enterprise I still miss to this day now that smart phones have rendered the practice useless.


Through the years, I have had a variety of different vehicles and all of them were on the small side. They got me from point A to point B. That is it. I don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that means so little to me.

I am six foot four (and full of muscle … know the song?) and look funny in small cars. I can steer a car with my knees like no one else.

Why is this important info? Imagine big me driving in a tiny little car surrounded by shrubs that are climbing out of each of the windows. It is a sight to behold. I can only imagine what people are thinking as I pull into the parking lot at work. It looks like a tiny jungle on wheels with the faint sight of an actual driver.

I have to be careful when allowing my precious plants to rest in my car for hours on end until the end of the work day. I have killed my share in the past due to extreme heat and for that, I am not proud.

To combat the threat of death and because my cars are not exactly the envy of thieves, I leave the windows down the remainder of the day in the parking lot so the plants can breathe. Even if rain is in the forecast, I leave the windows completely open so the plants can grab a drink. A healthy plant is more important than the suffering that comes with a wet and smelly car.


When I am walking the grounds at my garden center, I stick out like a sore thumb in my business wares; not the typical dress code when shopping for plants. I’d kill to be in my ratty shorts and t-shirt but work day lunch is one of the only times I am free to spend an hour or so just walking aimlessly through a maze of plants.

Sweaty pits be damned.

It is all worth it.

True story: A nursery I used to frequent fell on hard times financially. I don’t know all of the details but the government had to intervene and shut them down. They must have been selling illegal hostas or something. Actually, I think I would shut them down for selling hostas at all.

Too soon?

Eventually the nursery opened back up so I made it a point to check things out during another lunch break. As I approached the entrance, one of the owners asked me “Are you Brian?”. I laughed and said “not this guy” and went on my way.

That was weird.

Upon further review, I determined that they mistook me for a government inspector since I wasn’t exactly dressed like a dude who was looking for the latest Viburnum.

On at least two more occasions, I was greeted in the same manner but instead of laughing it off each time, I gave them a slight nod and simply proceeded inside. I figured it would be fun to keep them on their toes and act like I was on official business. I’m not sure what they thought when I eventually rolled up with a cart full of bee balm, but I do know that I had fun.


I’ve had my fun and had some shady times at the local nurseries over the years during my lunch hour. More than anything else, I valued the escape. The escape from the trappings of the corporate world and mindset and into a relaxed environment that also happens to smell damn good.

I feel at home among plants and people who love them as much as I do.

For an hour each week, I am free to be the obsessive and neurotic gardener.

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