Fifteen Southern Garden Centers and Nurseries We Love

Whether you’re tending a small kitchen herb garden or have acres to play with, these standout Southern garden centers have the inventory and knowledge to assist any project

Photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

Sun-loving native plants bloom at Roots and Shoots in Charleston, South Carolina.

Abide A While

Mt. Pleasant, SC

As the name suggests, this third-generation South Carolina nursery invites customers to linger over rows of Vinca, Penta, Lantana and other annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees that thrive in the area’s intense summer heat. Once situated on the very edge of Mt. Pleasant, which sits across the river from downtown Charleston, Abide A While is now a tranquil refuge at the center of this booming community, and with free Saturday morning classes, including topics such as “Springtime Blooms,” it’s a great place for first-time gardeners to start.

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Antique Rose Emporium

Brenham, TX

When Texas horticulturalist Mike Shoup first encountered antique garden roses, which are hardier and easier to care for than their modern cousins, he was bewitched. Decades later, the versatile heirloom blooms haven’t lost any of their magic and Shoup now grows hundreds of varieties in his East Texas rose fields. You can purchase the plants online or visit the Emporium’s eight-acre display garden and retail nursery. Plan an October trip to ensure peak color and plenty of planting stock.

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Bates Nursery & Garden Center

Nashville, TN

During the early pandemic days, cars carrying Nashville’s newest home gardeners snaked down Whites Creek Pike to browse the comprehensive stock at this third-generation, family-owned nursery tucked into the rolling hills at the edge of the city. A learning nursery with an emphasis on organic and sustainable gardening, Bates caters to both novice and longtime gardeners. In addition to regular educational webinars, the nursery produces a weekly show on Facebook and YouTube, where owner David Bates answers gardening queries live.

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Bedford Greenhouses

Augusta, GA

General manager Tray Simpson knows this family-run Augusta nursery is hard to find; in fact, he’s lost count of how many first-time customers have remarked on the out-of-the-way location. But once they step foot on the sprawling ten-acre property hidden deep within a residential neighborhood along the Savannah River, they’re unlikely to forget it. Onsite greenhouses allow the Bedford team to grow more than eighty percent of the annuals and perennials they sell as well as a good number of the shrubs, trees, and smaller houseplants.

photo: Margaret Houston
TaWanda Wright at Bedford Greenhouses in Augusta.
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Buchanan’s Native Plants

Houston, TX

In 1986, inspired by Sally and Andy Wasowski’s book Native Texas Plants, Donna Buchanan made native plants and organic gardening practices her life’s work, and in the decades since, she’s been converting Houstonians to the ecofriendly gardening tradition one Gulf Coast Muhly, Black-Eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, and Texas Olive at a time. The Buchanan team sources the bulk of their natives from family-run Texas farms, and inside the nursery’s greenhouse, they tend a bumper crop of homegrown organic herbs and vegetables, including Buchanan’s prized collection of heirloom tomatoes.

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Camellia Forest Nursery

Chapel Hill, NC

Many of the glossy ornamental camellias David and Christine Parks grow and propagate on this verdant three-acre plot along State Highway 54, near Chapel Hill, were developed by David’s father. Today, the Parks ship the flowering evergreen shrubs across the U.S., but welcome in-person visitors to the North Carolina nursery on weekends or by weekday appointment. They also maintain a half-acre camellia tea garden, which is open for workshops come spring and summer.

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Chattooga Gardens

Cashiers, NC

With waxy round leaves and delicate white flowers edged in pale pink, Oconee Bells (shortia galacifolia) are endemic to just a few counties in the southern Appalachians. They’re also the passion project of native horticulturalist Jeff Zahner, who founded Chattooga Gardens with his wife Jodie in 1996. This lush mountain nursery specializes in rare regional flora like the Oconee Bells as well as other plants such as bold, dinner-plate-sized dahlias that thrive in the mountain climate.

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Atlanta, GA

This community-focused garden center in historic Grant Park is one of Atlanta’s last independent retail nurseries. Relationships matter here, and on your first visit, the friendly, well-trained staff will help you choose from the nursery’s selection of both popular and hard-to-find plants, shrubs, fruits trees, edible herbs, and vegetables. They’ll also build a personal profile that records the details of your backyard or home garden and tracks plant purchases to make repeat visits a breeze.

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Gingko Gardens

Washington, DC

An in-town oasis of greenery on Capitol Hill, Gingko Gardens is geared toward the urban gardener. The experienced staff offers off-site garden design services but are also on hand to help city dwellers choose from the nursery’s inventory of small-scale plants designed to thrive in D.C.’s diminutive greenspaces—courtyard plots, terrace gardens, window boxes, and balcony planters.

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Ivy Nursery

Charlottesville, VA

There’s no denying the serene beauty of this rural seven-acre showplace in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was founded by landscape architects George and Clare Carter in 1975. Today, in addition to offering a range of design services, the Carters’ knowledgeable staff is eager to help aspiring green thumbs navigate Ivy’s seasonal inventory of largely organic and regionally grown plants. Naturally, you’ll find a robust selection of Virginia favorites such as boxwoods and hydrangeas as well as an impressive collection of pots and containers. If you just want to come by and sit a spell, that’s fine too.

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Just Fruits and Exotics

Crawfordville, FL

This Gulf Coast nursery and orchard located on a fertile ten-acre plot near Wakulla Springs State Park does brisk online business, shipping fig, peach, pawpaw, guava, mayhaw, kumquat, and persimmon trees—many of which they grow themselves—all over the country. But Just Fruits and Exotics is worth an in-person visit if only for the tasting table, where customers can sample in-season fruit to aid in the decision-making process.

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Maple Ridge Nursery

Decatur, GA

Not only is this small family-run nursery in Decatur, Georgia, home to one of the largest collections of Japanese maples and conifers in the country, but it also propagates nearly all its inventory in-house, which results in plants uniquely suited to the Southern climate. A full show garden, planted in honor of the nursery’s late founder Mike Francis, allows customers the rare opportunity to view mature trees in a lush natural setting. Come spring, it’s a riot of bright bold hues.

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Birmingham, AL

This dreamy garden shop in Birmingham’s leafy Forest Park neighborhood opened its doors in 2017 when co-founders Jay Draper and Mark Thompson rescued an aging 1920s bungalow and erected a greenhouse on the adjacent empty lot. Oozing charm, Shoppe is not a gigantic one-stop-shop for local gardeners. Instead, the quaint, design-focused garden emphasizes quality, stocking a well-edited selection of small-scale plants, seasonal color, perennials, shrubs, and topiaries. Give the shop dog, Cedar, a scratch behind the ears before you head home.

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Roots and Shoots

Charleston, SC

With a degree in bioengineering and environmental studies, Roots and Shoots owner David Manger recognized the importance of native plants, which are relatively easy to maintain and also support a healthy ecosystem and combat habitat loss for insects, birds, and other wildlife populations. If you’re just cracking the book on native plants, Roots and Shoots is an ideal place to begin your education. Lowcountry residents should be sure to ask about the nursery’s salt-tolerant inventory.

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Urban Roots Garden Center

New Orleans, LA

It’s okay to drop by this colorful New Orleans garden center, located across the street from the Mississippi River, just to see the menagerie of chickens, ducks, cats, sheep, and goats as well as the pig and giant tortoise that mingle amongst Urban Roots’ carefully selected inventory of plants, trees, shrubs, cactus, and succulents. In fact, owners Tom Wolfe and Matt Frost hope you do. Built on one-on-one relationships with customers, Urban Roots is about community and accessibility and is centered around the belief that gardening shouldn’t be intimidating; it should be fun.

photo: Rush Jagoe
Urban Roots in New Orleans.
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