ARTICLE BY: MEGAN HANSEN
Megan Hansen is a Portland gardener, plant nut, HPSO member and founder of plantlust.com — a searchable database with over 30,000 plants from nearly 100 independent nurseries, many of them located right here in Oregon.
[Editor’s Note: PlantLust.com has been an invaluable resource to me as a gardener learning about plants. It provides lots of photos of the plants listed, so you can get different views of them (close up and the whole plant), and see them in different seasons. It also aggregates the information from multiple nursery tags so you can read what the experts have to say about the listed plants from multiple vantage points. We asked Megan to write an article about the beginnings of PlantLust.com and where it’s going next. Enjoy!]
A new homeowner in Portland confided over coffee recently that he was nervous about his first adventure in tree shopping. He imagined something akin to used car shopping, with an unscrupulous salesperson anxiously waiting to pounce on the naïve customer, ready to sell him some doomed-to-fail expensive tree, because he wouldn’t know the difference.
It made me chuckle a bit, knowing a lot of passionate nursery owners who would be more likely to send him home empty handed with a homework assignment to study his conditions and come back later, rather than let him leave with an ill-advised planting.
The plant folk I’ve met didn’t get in the business to get rich. They did it because they fell in love with plants, and found enough like-minded fanatics to make a business out of the obsession. It’s a lifestyle first, a living second.
I started plantlust.com much the same way, with an impulse to acquire ALL THE PLANTS, which could be likened more to an addiction than a hobby. I wanted a quick way to indulge some new captivation. Now I need big leaves! Now black flowering perennials! Now golden conifers! The heart races, just thinking about such things.
As much as I fell in love with plants themselves, I fell in love with independent nurseries. These folks… they blow my mind. Whether they’re driving miles in a winter storm to knock snow off the greenhouse roof, repairing broken heaters in the middle of the night, laboriously protecting plants for unexpected freezes or unseasonal heat waves… the plants themselves demand constant attention.
And then there’s the rush of spring, where orders come in fast and furious, while the nursery adds shipping, weather tracking, and question-answering to their urgent to-do list. The last thing a nursery owner needs is more to do.
At the same time, the way people shop has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. Despite the fondness for paper catalogs, online shopping is changing the way people buy everything, including plants. The expectation is growing that gardeners can purchase plants, any plant, online. Keeping up with those ever-growing expectations can be challenging for small, independent nurseries, along with the other demands on their time. While other types of businesses can take advantage of Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, those platforms don’t quite fit the way people look for plants, or the way nurseries operate, which is why we built plantlust.com.
Our initial goal of creating a platform to let gardeners easily search for and learn about plants has now expanded to help nurseries quickly set up mobile-friendly online shopping, without investing time and staff they need for all the other things they manage. After a two-year pilot program with a select group of nurseries, we’re now opening plantlust.com for independent mail-order nurseries to sign up for a Plant Lust Shop. Shops provide all the mobile friendly searching, filtering, and shopping tools we built for our overall site, with the ability for customers to browse at the individual nursery level.
We’ve been encouraged at how well the Shops have been working for our pilot nurseries, and we’re happy we’ve been able to send new customers their way, and hope we can do the same for even more nurseries in the year to come.