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Sunday, May 7, 2017


Things are looking up for my quest to avoid neonics. This week, to my delight, I encountered some new plant sources for ornamental plants that aren’t treated with pesticides.

I want to keep pollinators healthy in my garden

     I made the one-hour drive to Salem, Massachusetts to check out a place I found through a Google search, Thomson’s Garden Center. The owner, Scott Thomson, explained that all his food plants are organic. Despite his motivation, even Scott hasn’t been able to find organic seedlings for some annuals, but his flowers are pesticide-free. 

May offers lots of flowers. Insects need something in bloom through the season.

     That’s the key point for me, because my main goal at this point is to use only plants that are safe for insects in my garden, including pollinators such as bees, leaf-eaters that provide food for birds and other animals, and beneficial insects that keep the garden’s insect population in balance. Thomson’s web site includes a link to an excellent TV segment on WCVB’s Chronicle, featuring Scott as a source, about why neonicotinoid insecticides are a problem for bees and how to make gardens that are bee-friendly.

     Thomson’s seedlings were beautiful, clearly well-grown and healthy. This wasn’t even the full inventory, which Scott said will be coming in later this month. He sources his plants locally. His organic herbs came from Gilbertie's Herbs in Westport, Connecticut, another outlet I’d like to visit. I bought herbs and also pesticide-free marigolds, geraniums, dahlias, cosmos, lobelias, and alyssum.

Marigolds and alyssum, annuals I'd been hoping for

    The next day I scored some more annuals and some vegetable seedlings—tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers--also grown without pesticides, at the seedling sale of the Waltham Community Farm, one town over. With these purchases, I’ll be able to plant out almost all my usual annuals.

Annuals will supplement perennials in the pollinator garden

     What I won’t be doing this year is making a big purchase at my favorite local garden center, which shall remain nameless. It’s a bigger place than Thomson’s with a wide selection of gorgeous perennials, annuals, and vegetables and some shrubs and trees. I love going there. My May shopping trip has long been one of the high points of my year.

Anise-scented sage, Salvia guaranitica, a treasure from my favorite garden center

    But what’s the point of a pollinator garden that kills pollinators? Until this business can certify that their plants are neonic-free, I don’t feel right shopping there. I’ve sent them a letter explaining why. I hope that as customers raise this issue, garden centers will follow the lead of the big box stores that have yielded to pressure and promised to phase out neonics.

     When consumers got interested in planting for pollinators, sellers jumped on the bandwagon, touting plants for pollinator gardens. They just didn’t mention that the plants were treated with chemicals harmful to those same pollinators. Scott Thomson’s attractive stock confirms that marketable plants can be produced without these synthetic chemicals.

Geraniums from Thomson's

     Garden centers understand why consumers want organic food plants. Now we want organic—or at least pesticide-free—ornamental plants too. I’m happy to know that a few growers and retailers are out there supplying them.

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