Plant Sales Ideas

Submitted by CScott on

This forum has been started to gather ideas on how to improve Plant Sales, and how to use Plant Sales as recruitment and also education of new gardeners.

My first suggestion would be to run the Sale as a Gardening Festival, and NOT as a box store operation.

Counting every last plant is totally NOT necessary!

Let people bring what ever they want, and Do Not give the impression that your Chapter is a Rock Garden snob group.

Let each gardener selling,--- handle their own money and table.

That way discussion is encouraged between the new gardeners and the person who raised the plants.

I invite you to agree or disagree with my ideas.



Submitted by Lori S. on Fri, 02/17/2017 - 21:27

In response to the points you make, not necessarily in order:

Firstly, why be a member of NARGS, and its local chapter CRAGS, if the focus would not be on alpine/rock gardening and the focus of the sale on suitable plants for that interest?  The Calgary Horticultural Society has its "Plant Share" events which would already seem to fill the "general gardening" niche you describe.  Further, in the years I've been attending or participating in the CRAGS plant sales, the plants offered for sale have not actually been restricted in any way to alpines/rock garden plants anyway.  There has always been a broad selection of border perennials, shade plants, groundcovers, spring ephemerals, cacti, native plants, and other non-alpines, including hardy orchids (in more recent years).  (This is reminiscent of the broader interests catered to by NARGS seed exchange, as I think about it.)  In addition, there are usually people selling tomato seedlings and pelargoniums and whatever else they have in excess (I presume).   My apologies for failing to understand the reference to a "Box Store operation" as it might relate to the CRAGS sale(?), but to me, the things that make the sale a "must attend" event are primarily the availability of rock garden plants, and, secondarily, of those other "broader purpose" perennials  that are not the fare that's available from any of the local mainstream garden centers, let alone the big box stores.   

As far as I've seen, the CRAGS sale sets an excellent example in providing a range of plant material, in keeping with the wide range of experience and knowledge of visitors to the sale... some want to get a start in rock gardening, some are looking for "something for my rock garden that I can't kill", others are looking to expand the variety of plants in their rock gardens, others are hoping to find the special rarities that one can usually count on finding there.  Seems like a good model.

At CRAGS sales, plant sellers normally sell their own plants, and they are free to converse as much with the potential buyer about the plant as is desired by either party.    Commercial vendors also normally sell their own plants, so far as I've seen, and have also always seemed very willing to talk to potential buyers.  This seems like a good model too.  (By "sell" here, I mean they tell buyers about the plant and "make the sale", though the non-commercial plant vendors don't actually handle the money for the sale.  The commercial sellers do handle the money for their own sales.)

As a non-commercial plant seller, I much prefer the CRAGS system of not handling the money, and do not begrudge the cut that goes to CRAGS, nor do I personally have any problem with the pre- and post-sale plant tallying process that's done.  Commercial vendors do handle their own transactions (as said).

As far as "having to count every last plant", I think many amateur growers would like to get something back on their costs of seeds, pots, soil, electrical output on lights, not to mention for their time and efforts, and that this would be something some would consider quite important.  It goes without saying that the commercial growers definitely expect to make a return.  It is also the system by which CRAGS gets a "fair" cut of the proceeds of the sale, to pay for facility rentals and whatever other more general operating expenses.  (Not sure if or how NARGS gets a share of that cut?)  Maybe there's a way of tallying plant units before and after the sale that would be less onerous for the volunteers who do it, I don't know.  

Overall, the points suggested seem to be largely about the mechanics of the sale, and of matters that relate to existing plant vendors and volunteers, rather than to the stated goals of attracting and "educating" potential new ones?  

It is a tough question but here are a few of my thoughts for the sale re. the stated goals, recruitment and education:

- sellers could provide an info sheet for the plants they're selling, e.g. common name, binomial, height, how it's been grown successfully by the seller, easy or difficult.  Keep it brief - a page or two (not per plant but for the list they're selling), not a book;

- more sellers could show photos of the plants in bloom, e.g. colour prints or on iPad or other portable devices, thus boosting sales and general interest;

- maybe make up some larger, laminated posters of members' rock gardens, plants and alpine scenes, set up at the sale for general interest, reusable from year-to-year, or set up a screen of some sort with slideshow of same?;

- give out vouchers at the sale for "free" attendance at an upcoming talk?

Submitted by RickR on Sat, 02/18/2017 - 19:43

  Maybe it doesn't work the same way at all the different types of Chapter sales there are, but I always thought one thing would be in common: there would always be a rush in the beginning to get the best plants, the rarities, etc. before someone else snatches them.   Is this not common throughout all sales?


Let each gardener selling,--- handle their own money and table.

I like the idea of the grower being there to explain about their plants.  But this would mean sellers would not be able to shop (for instance, at the beginning) when they might want?  It seems to me that this would discourage members from sharing or selling plants, because it puts them at a disadvantage where they would have a far less chance of procuring a cherished plant purchase.


Would you forfeit your chance to buy a plant that you really really want, because you had to man your selling table?

At the CRAGS sales, there is time reserved for the plant sellers and volunteers to look around and grab what they want prior to the doors opening to the public, which is great!  So, actually the situation you described has been accounted for and there's no problem - the people who are physically contributing to the sale do get that much-appreciated advantage.

To explain in more detail how the CRAGS sales are set up, plant sellers contact, or are contacted by, the person in charge of the sale some months before, so that logistics can be figured out e.g. who will need how much room, number of tables. 

On the day of the sale, amidst all the other setting up, the non-commercial plant sellers (i.e. members) bring in their plants.  Each seller decides the price for each of his/her plants.  There is a simple colour code for pricing, which starts at $3 or $4 and goes to $8(?) in one dollar increments; e.g.  $3 = "yellow", and the plant tag would then be marked with a yellow dot. Then a volunteer visits each seller and totals up and records the number of plants he/she has at each price (i.e. 15 "yellows", 8 "blues", etc.); the seller signs off on the agreed-on count.

Then, as the sale goes on, the seller is usually there standing behind the table with his/her plants, answering questions from buyers, making recommendations, etc..  As the sale proceeds, people wander around and collect plants they want to buy from the non-commercial sellers, using the cardboard trays/boxes provided.  When they're done, they then go a table where the bills are made out by a few volunteers; then they go to another table near the exit, manned by a couple more volunteers, who look at the bill and take the buyer's money, and then the buyer can leave with the purchases.  (Only the volunteers at the door handle the money, but all the vendors "sell" their own plants in terms of talking to the public.)

The non-commercial seller, at the end of the sale (or when he/she is ready to leave), just asks the volunteer to total up the plants that are left at each price increment.  After that tally is agreed on by the two parties, the seller can then leave, and gets a cheque later on for the sale total (compared to the previous tally), minus the CRAGS share.  

It seems to work very well, so far as I've seen.

For the various commercial sellers (a small number of specialty nurseries), they also man their own tables to tell people about their plants.  The difference is that these vendors get paid then and there by the buyers, at whatever prices they've set.  I don't know what any arrangement with CRAGS would be.


Submitted by RickR on Sun, 02/19/2017 - 19:48

Thanks for the clarification, Lori. Really, I was just trying to guess (as any non CRAGS member would) what was actually going, knowing that certain critical information was lacking.


Our sales are very different.  Members selling their own plants is a foreign concept for us.  We have never invited commercial vendors and all proceeds go to the club.  We have considered buying plants from vendors and reselling them, but since we are both a state and federal nonprofit organization, there is way too much red tape.  On the other hand, since we are a nonprofit, donors can deduct the full value of their donations on their government taxes.


Since we don't have vendors that participate, the number of choice plants is relatively low, I would assume.  It has always been our tradition that plant donors get to pick just one plant prior to the sale start, and I have been resistant to change that, fearing that it would foster ill feelings.  For instance, if donors could pick all they want prior to the sale, what would be left?  And would it be fair between donors that bring choice alpine they grew from seed compared to someone who brought divisions of daylilies they dug a week before?  I suspect most chapters have worked out safeguards against things like this.  This is just the way we do it.


Since our main spring sale went public more than a decade ago, we stopped using color coded price tags.  We deemed them too confusing for the uninitiated non-members, and not having to commit to memory which color goes with which price was welcomed by members, too.  Even color coding and placing color legend placards in multiple place at the sale was apparently too much of a burden.  For many years, the price (in dollar increments only) was written on the tag with the name of the plant.  Now we have a system that works oh so much better, in my opinion....


Each plant gets two tags.  (Blanks are provided by the club.)  One tag has an orange dot folded over the top with the price on it.  One tag has the plant name and any other information the donor wishes, like cultural info.  I try to encourage donors to put their own names on the tags so the buyer can reference them; unfortunately, few people do.  So then, at checkout all the (easily seen) orange dot tags are remove and tallied for the purchase total.  These price tags are reused at future sales, just as the color tags used to be.


I suppose having an auction wouldn't work under your system.  For us, an auction has a lot of advantages, besides the very significant financial gain.

We don't have a NARGS Chapter over here but I belong to two rock garden groups: one is the Rock Garden Group of the Ferny Creek Horticultural Society and the other is the Alpine Garden Society Victorian Group which was originally set up as a "foreign chapter" of the UK Organization.

At the AGS VG we have an annual plant swap (known as "The Bun-fight") where members bring "spare" seedlings, divisions, bulbs and seeds spread them out on trestle tables and wander about to see what others have brought. At the starting time everyone can help themselves to what's available! We encourage people to "take in relation to what you bring" but there is no restriction really. New members do not have to bring anything but can if they want to.Some members bring dozens of donations and take home half as much so things do seem to even out. When we hold special events we ask members to donate plants for a plant stall for the participants which raises funds for the group.

At the RGG we have an annual "Buy, Swap or Sell" where we invite members to sell their own plants at their own stalls as well as some smaller local/specialist growers. Stall-holders donate a % of their "take" to the FCHS. We also have a "Swaps Table" where members donate plants and at the starting time donors can take as many plants as they donated; after an hour non-donors can purchase plants (at a very low cost, usually $1 or $2!). FCHS also runs Plant Stalls at its 4 Flower shows each year; the club has a propagation group that produces potted plants for sale as well as members donating from their own gardens.



Submitted by CScott on Thu, 02/23/2017 - 19:00

The problem for all gardening clubs is that they are declining!

I am an old woman (having had 76 birthdays) so clubs are not important to me.

However, the younger people are turned off by the same things as I was.

They expect a democratic and respectful process.

Others, younger than I ,have had the same treatment.

I am surrounded by young people: children, grandchildren and their friends.

None of them have time for any clubs let alone gardening clubs.

They do everything on line!



I suppose having an auction wouldn't work under your system.  For us, an auction has a lot of advantages, besides the very significant financial gain.


There are usually several donated items auctioned at each CRAGS sale, things like troughs (planted up or not), highly desirable plants, books, etc..  The auction is conducted by way of a sign-up sheet for each item on which people write down their bids, with bidding closing at some designated time, and I assume that the proceeds all go to the organization.

For as long as I have been attending it, the CRAGS sale has been quite a big affair, running from noon(? I think) until 4(?) and there has been no shortage of plants for sale from both member growers and the specialty nursery growers.  (Obviously, it's an advantage of living in a larger center that there is both a fairly large member base and a number of participating specialty nurseries.)  

I have not been involved with CRAGS administration, and my only involvement with the sale to date has been twofold - selling some of my excess seedling, and buying vast numbers of other people's offerings, LOL! -  and it seems to me that the way the sales have been conducted has been very well thought out and executed. 

Submitted by LaFond on Thu, 03/02/2017 - 20:09

Here in Michigan at the GLC our sale is not open to the public. We have two sales a year always at someone's garden that we visit, one in spring one in the fall. Members bring their plants,seedlings, divisions, trees & shrubs. The only real restriction is we ask that they not bring house plants, tropical's and entire flats of sedum acre or some other really common plant. We ask to have plants labeled at home with their name on the tag.

The plants are arranged on tables and a couple of us decide what is special or rare enough to auction. For each plant chosen for auction the owner gets a first pick tag. Also for every 10 plants donated to the sale that person gets a first pick tag. First pic tags holders still pay for their plants .The auction is done first, then usually we let people that want to say something about what they donated speak to the group. The real fun part is getting everybody to step back 3 steps then go. Elbows fly. Each plant has a colored tag corresponding to the price, minimum is $1 up to $10-15.

When I attended a meeting at the Berkshire chapter I saw people speaking about the plants they brought. This allows them to mention if they have something unusual or of interesting providence, this plant is from Fred Case or Betty Blake for example. It adds a nice touch  to the sale.

Don LaFond

Great Lakes Chapter NARGS


Submitted by CScott on Fri, 03/03/2017 - 07:19

Sounds like a nice plant share between members.

It is good to hear how different Chapters run their sales/shares.