Everywhere gardeners go in April, little pots of promise seem to pull at the purse strings.
Nowhere will this be more obvious than at the uncommon convergence of plant sales this weekend at three major centers for public horticulture -- the Memphis Botanic Garden, Lichterman Nature Center and Dixon Gallery and Gardens.
Not only do the sales offer some of the best selections of plants we will see anywhere, but they also give gardeners the opportunity to support the horticultural programs at all three attractions through our purchases.
The staffs are producing and procuring more plants than ever in anticipation of an uptick in sales.
Those plans paired with unusually mild temperatures in spring and winter are responsible for plants that are bigger and stronger, as well as more numerous.
Such a shopping bonanza can be as overwhelming as it is exciting.
"A true plant lover will go to all three," said Suzy Askew, plant activities coordinator at Lichterman Nature Center. "Each has its own specialties."
And, she could add, its own personality.
"Spring's Best Plant Sale" is the name the Memphis Botanic Garden bestows on its one-stop supermarket featuring a huge selection of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, ornamental grasses and tropicals, as well as gardening supplies like tools, accessories and soil mixes.
Organizers describe Dixon's Wildflower Sale, which has been more than wildflowers for many years, as a "high-class nursery" offering the cutting-edge plants featured in gardening magazines.
"It's like shopping at a great Internet nursery without the waiting or the shipping costs," said Ellen LeBlond, a plant sale adviser.
Lichterman's sale has been tweaked to make shopping easy for beginners, those with special focuses like attracting butterflies, those seeking tough, locally raised plants or those shopping on a budget.
For the very best selection at any of the sales, it's best to shop early. But organizers predict plenty of plants will be available even in the closing hours of their sales.
Making a shopping list helps as long as you know what you want to buy and you allow yourself to be a little impulsive. Some of the best plants in our gardens are the previously unknowns we discover at sales, often at the urging of volunteers who have the plants in their own gardens.
It's also a good idea to consult the detailed plant lists published at the websites of the Dixon (Dixon.org) and Lichterman Nature Center (memphismuseums.org).
The Dixon's site features color photos of many plants on the list.
In addition to its overall list, this year Lichterman will distribute smaller lists to customers highlighting "Must Have" plants recommended for specific conditions and/or interests of gardeners, such as attracting butterflies or hummingbirds, surviving in sun or shade or being suitable for young or beginner gardeners. There's also a list of plants likely to sell out the first day.
"We want it to be easy, convenient and helpful," Askew said.
Here's a road map of the sales to guide you in getting the most from your shopping dollars and hours.
Spring's Best Plant Sale
Where: Memphis Botanic Garden, 750 Cherry in Audubon Park.
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. today and Saturday; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
Highlights: Shoppers will find plant-savvy volunteers assigned to help customers make plant choices, as well as vendors offering garden tools, bird houses, unique rocks, fairy houses, decorative accessories, locally raised honey and more.
Plants: 10,000 annual ornamentals, as well as vegetables, herbs and mushroom-growing kits; more than 500 iris rhizomes priced at $4; conifers, Japanese maples and other trees from Fantastic Plants; thornless blackberries, heirloom tomatoes and several fig varieties; sedums in hypertufa pots; tree-form panicle hydrangeas; orchids from the Botanic Garden's greenhouse, native wildflowers including yellow wood poppies; dwarf buddleias, fragrant Abbeville Blue vitex, ornamental grasses and yellow (sulphureum) epimediums.
Tip: If you have limited time and need to find a wide variety of merchandise, this is the place to go. It's the only sale open on Sunday.
Wildflower Plant Sale
Where: Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 4339 Park.
When: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Saturday.
Highlights: Although woodland wildflowers and other native plants are available, the sale now features distinctive and top- performing shrubs, trees, perennials, biennials and vines.
Plants: 25 varieties of hydrangeas including Ryan Gainey and Brussels Lace; 30 kinds of boxwood, many types of hostas, including the gigantic Empress Wu; witch hazels, ornamental blueberries, tardiva hydrangeas trained into standards; astilbes, edgeworthia (paper bush), Harry Lauder's walking stick, native sunflowers, salvias.
Tip: About 85 percent of the plants offered at the sale have been grown at the Dixon from seeds or cuttings. Checkout will be faster with new bar code labels, scanners and credit card machines. Carts are being provided by Brussel's Bonsai Nursery in Olive Branch. Prices range from $3.50 to $100-plus.
Lichterman Plant Sale
Where: Lichterman Nature Center, 5992 Quince.
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. today, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday; reopens at 2 p.m. for half-price sale until 4 p.m.
Highlights: Volunteers have propagated a big supply of the past year's best-selling heat-tolerant fuchsias, ranging in size from 4-inch pots to hanging baskets.
Plants: White trilliums, yellow wood poppies, daffodils, Italian arums, 30 varieties of salvia, Echinacea tennesseensis (Tennessee coneflower), spigelia, native sunflowers, tropical milkweed, turk's cap, spiderwort, dwarf red buckeye, rose campion, evening primrose, scented geraniums, native arborescens hydrangeas, Harry's Garnet itea, baptisia, goldenrod, clethra (summersweet), coleus standards for containers, scented geraniums, five fig varieties, brugmansia and datura angel trumpets, ninebark and sedums.
Tip: Beginning gardeners will find help in selecting the right plants for the right places and plants that are sure to bring satisfying results this season.
Bargain hunters will like the regular prices, $4-$16, and love the half-price sale.