[UPDATE] A trip to Platt Hill Nursery Reminds us of Chicago's Gang Problem.

[UPDATE] A trip to Platt Hill Nursery Reminds us of Chicago's Gang Problem.

Recently, I heard that a suburban garden center was planning on doing some marketing in the city to entice gardeners in Chicago to visit their garden center. I posted about this on a social media site because I thought it was unlikely that city gardeners would travel all the way to the northern suburbs for their everyday gardening needs. A friend of mine who works in the business informed me that gardeners come from Winnetka, Lake Forest, and Barrington to shop at Gethsemane.

Perhaps I’m too poor, or not actively participating in our car culture enough, to understand partaking in a long commute for plants you could probably find in the city. But I will admit that visiting independently owned garden centers outside of Chicago is fun. If I happen to find myself near one I will beg who I’m riding with to stop so I can look around.

Over the weekend, my friend behind MySkinnyGarden decided she wanted to buy a fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) and had to have it that day. After calling a ton of garden centers we discovered that Platt Hill Nursery in Bloomingdale, Illinois, had two of them in stock and they were both just shy of $50.00 a piece. Excited to find the ficus she decided we would make the trip and pick up both of them.

Google Maps tells me the trip to Plat Hill Nursery should take just under 40 minutes. Somehow her iPhone and my Android both managed to get the directions wrong and sent us to a different town, making the trip closer to 2 hours.

When we arrived at Plat Hill Nursery we were directed to the back of a greenhouse where the two fiddle leaf ficuses where. One plant was about four feet tall and the other was closer to six feet. The tallest of the plants looked a little ragged and like it had been living in the greenhouse for a while. It had hard water stains on the leaves; a number of the leaves were broken or cracked due to it being brushed against. The tips (new shoots) of the plant were brown, where one would expect green tips to indicate the plant was happy and healthy. One of the tree’s branches showed signs of some distress. The leaves were twisted and distorted as if they had encountered an extreme change in temperature as they were unfurling.

To say we were disappointed after driving around the suburbs for nearly two hours would be an understatement. So there we were in the corner of a greenhouse in the suburbs debating whether or not MSG should buy the plant because of how it looked when someone asked if we had questions. After speaking to the greenhouse staff it was decided that they would go find Mike, the greenhouse manager, to talk to us.

When Mike arrived we explained everything that you’ve just read. We also impressed on him how disappointed we were to find the plant in that condition because the ficus was to be a centerpiece in MSG’s living room. So MSG asked if the plant could be discounted to account for all the broken and damaged leaves that would have to be removed. Then Mike said, “Look, you see a bad plant. I see a happy, healthy tree. You can go into the city and pay three times as much for a plant this size. You can go to downtown Chicago to Gethsemane–if you don’t mind getting shot–and pay a lot more.”

“We’re from Chicago,” we both kind of seemed to chime in at the same time.

“Oh, I dunno, I just heard that Gethsemane is in a really bad part of Chicago,” Mike continued with a chuckle.

We ask if their second location carries the same trees and if there are any better-looking plants there. He informs us that they do carry ficus trees there, but that he doesn’t know what they have. I explain to Mike that on top of being from Chicago we both have experience with plants and gardening, and that we’ll need a minute to make a decision between the tall and damaged ficus, or the shorter one that looks in better condition.

At this point I’m kind of shocked at the nerve of this guy making cracks about Chicago’s violence problem to a six foot tall bald-headed Mexican gardener and need a break from him before I say something equally ignorant about the suburbs. For the record, I have never, ever heard of any shootings happening at Gethsemane. Gethsemane, contrary to Mike’s compass, is not located in downtown Chicago, but in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. Not exactly a slum, in case you’re wondering.

We leave Platt Hill Nursery to discuss whether MSG is going to buy the plants in light of what just happened. MSG is having a crisis of conscious and is wondering whether she wants to give them their money. We jump on our phones and look for the nearest Lowe’s and Home Depot to see if they carry the same trees. We’re both upset enough that we are willing to break our rules and buy plants from big box garden centers.

Eventually, it’s decided that since we drove all the way up there MSG would buy the plant just because she doesn’t want to make it seem like she was just angling for a discount on a plant she can’t afford. She drove there with the intention of buying both plants, but the second, smaller plant is left behind as a protest of sorts.

Back at Platt Hill, we ask for the ficus to be brought to the front and we discover they have cleaned it up by spraying the leaves with a spray that gives them an unnatural sheen. The phrase “lipstick on a pig” comes to mind. Mike continues with the cracks about us getting shot on the way back to our homes. It takes all my will power to keep my mouth shut and not say something that will reflect poorly on MSG.


MSG seems happy to finally have a plant she has coveted on design blogs for her living room.

I’m part of a Facebook group made up of independent garden centers, nurseries and media. There is always talk about how the little mom and pop garden centers can survive in an era of big box garden centers and online plant merchants. One thing that independent garden centers need to do is provided better customer service than the big box garden centers. If you’re lucky enough to operate a garden center with two locations the least you could do is check to see if a better plant is available to customers at the other location. Given the popularity of smart phones it would not have taken a lot of work to email/text an image of the plants available at the other location to give us options.  At the very least you shouldn’t insult your customers to their face.

This particular ficus would/should have been discounted and found in the “TLC” area of Home Depot’s greenhouse. If you can’t keep your merchandise looking its best during prime gardening season, maybe you shouldn’t be selling it.

I’d rather have no customer service at a place like Lowe’s and Home Depot, than to walk away feeling like I just gave a jerk my money. I live in a neighborhood plagued by gangs and violence. I don’t need to be reminded of it when I’m shopping for plants.

Related: Take a Visit to Chalet’s Garden Center.

UPDATE: Over on my garden Facebook page, Mike has replied with the following:

I was told about this blog and was suprised [sic] about how a comment I made was turned into something not funny at all. First of all I am truly sorry that you did not have a good experience at Platt Hill Nursery. I try my best to make everyone happy, but I obviously did not with you two. The Ficus that was purchased did have some ”retail” damage, but I did fix that for you. I will be happy to guarantee the plant 100% if anything isn’t well with it. I do not sell plants that are sub prime. Those go in the garbage. The picture of it looks very nice. I think we all appreciate that you try to buy from smaller/local businesses. I know I do. To let you know, if you are willing to give Platt Hill Nursery another try, I special order plants for customers all the time. If you don’t like one we have, I will call Florida and see what is available and check prices for you, and place the order. I appreciate all our Chicago customers, we have alot [sic] of them. I did not say you would get shot at a garden center in Chicago and I do not appreciate that you said I did. Again, I’m sorry you felt disappointed with the service and hope I can offer my services to you again.

I have replied asking for clarification as to whether he denies making the comment about getting shot at Gethsemane. MSG, has replied to the thread before I comment further. But If I am reading Mike correct, and he is denying making the comment about getting shot visiting Gethsemane, then which comment did he make that I have turned into something “not funny at all”? For the record, I’ll share MSG’s tweet from that same very day. Note that the tweet was two days before I made this post.


If, in fact, Mike is denying that he made the comment then why do MSG and I remember this incident?

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  • We have been going to Platt Hill for 5 years now - almost monthly. Mike has helped us almost every time. He is extremely knowledged and helpful. Every single plant he has given us advice on surpasses our expectations.

    As far as the shooting jokes, if those were said thats all they were. After all "The city of Chicago registered more homicides than any city in the nation in 2012, surpassing even New York — despite the fact that the Second City has only one third as many residents as the Big Apple." I am sure that many people come out from Chicago and dont get lost, and have that put them in a negative mood. A few years ago on a trip to Gethsemane I nailed a pothole leaving their parking lot and had a flat tire... Didn't make me have buyers remorse... I would still return there... After all Chicago AND it's suburbs is still the best place to live.

    It is common practice to clean and shine houseplant foliage. Mike was doing his best to make his healthy ficus look its best... And... It looks amazing in the photo above.

  • In reply to MstrGardener:

    There is NO SUCH THING as a shooting joke.

    Don't forget. You can get shot in the suburbs as easily as the city. Potholes are everywhere, city and suburbs.

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    Im very sorry to hear about your experience at platt hill we live in Elgin but are from Chicago, I know Gethsemane very well and will always love it. You would have had a much better experience if you would have come all the way out to the other location in Algonquin just my opinion but that would have been a real trip for you but the selection at least to me is 2nd to none,I know its way way after the fact but did the Ficuse tree make it ok ?

  • I grew up in the inner city of Chicago and lived there for 30 years, and now am in the NW suburbs. This complaining, over sensitive plant buyer needs to get a life and grow up. If minor issues like this upset you to the point where an entire article is written about it, stay home and order stuff online, away from the rest of the world. Or do like the rest of us adult human beings, DEAL with it and stop whining over the little crap in life.
    PS. Platt Hill is a great place, and I'm sure that Gethsemane is fine too.

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    Ugh, making comments like that and making excuses for those comments leave a horrible taste in my mouth. We lived about a mile from Gethsemane for 5 years. Anyone who things you’ll get shot traveling there has never been to the city past the downtown museums to Lincoln park zoo. We now live in the western suburbs and would be happy to point you in the direction of wonderful greenhouses out here.

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