Strawberry Shrub

Monrovia, the "Buyer Beware
Giant of the Nursery Industry


"When in heavy fruit," says the full color extremely fancy Monrovia tag for Eunonymus americanus, "this plant is hard to beat."

Well, that would be true if the plant in the pot had been a wild specimen or grown from seeds or from cuttings selected from floriferous specimens. But what Monrovia neatly fails to mention is you may never see a flower, ever, on the inferior clone they are actually selling.

The tag also speaks of a shrub that grows upright four to six feet, which a wild variety would live up to quite easily. But Monrovia's inferior clone scrabbles along the ground almost like a creeping vine & will never have sufficient woody structure to grow upright unless on a trellis. So on one label that's two deceptions for the price of one.

Actually, make that three, as on the front of the folding label it states even more boldly, "Attractive Fruit," as though this non-feature were the primary feature. Or make it four deceptions, because the inside of the label adds, "Time of Flowering, Summer, followed by fruit in fall." Four deceptions on one label is par for the course for Monrovia.

NanumConsider another example of Monrovia deception. On their offering of 'Nanum' Dwarf Cranberry Bush, their printed literature & webpage has for many years (& still, as of 2003 when I write this) promise such attributes as "showy flowers" "summer flowering" "fruit-bearing" & "attractive fruit." That's a lot of redundant promising of something never likely to happen. In reality this cultivar rarely if ever flowers, hence berries are even more rarely seen. Truth would be that it is grown solely for the leaves & small size. Should it ever produce a random & decidely not showy blossom, that'd be the one specimen out of two-thousand ever to do so.

Some of their labels commit only lies of omission, but they are elsetimes guilty of such exaggeration as to constitute fabrication. For such reasons Monrovia must be regarded a "buyer beware" outfit. Their aggressiveness has made their products among of the most widely available. Their presentation is superb. But one can rarely be certain that the presentation isn't partially or wholly slight-of-hand, arranged to bewilder the customer into making a snap purchase that will later prove unrewarding.

Unfortunately, even "Buyer Beware" will from time to time prove insufficient, & even the wary purchaser will be hoodwinked. If one does avoid the snap-purchase & fully understands that where Monrovia is concerned, caution & research is required before trusting the sales pitch, so that one does check one's own reference books on the suitability of, say, that Strawberry Bush... well, in that case one finds out the species is capable of being everything Monrovia promises; for it is not the species broadly, but only the Monrovia product, that cannot perform.

If I worked for such a company, I would probably get fired for never caving into such dishonesty, daily insisting upon a higher standard. I would storm into the bosses' offices & remind them once again that when labels promise "Beautiful flowers!" no customer should ever have to learn the hard way that in Monrovianese this actually translates "May never flower at all!"

Many do learn the hard way not to trust Monrovia. Selling the best possible cultivars seems to fall vastly lower on their list of things to do right, well below having the fanciest pots, the best color-photo labels, the spiffiest leaflet hand-outs, the most attractive display racks, with elegant signage. Some of their plant offerings are good matches for this slick presentation, but enough of them fall so extremely short of quality that the buyer must always bear in mind that often the pot & the label is the beste part of the purchase, the plant itself being something of a pig in a poke.

I know personally of two nearby nurseries that have learned to check the facts on all incoming Monrovia products, & generate subsidiary labels, with warnings about certain plants' limitations or tenderness four our zone. They add such notices as "Must be brought in in winter" for plants claiming on the Monrovia label to be winter hardy, or "Not Evergreen In Our Area" when Monrovia tags promise an evergreen, or "Grown for leaves only" when Monrovia promises showy flowers & fruits that are about as likely as pterodactyls nesting on one's chimney.

I'm sure these nurseries would stock more Monrovia product (because they are so nicely packaged) if they didn't have to be so leery of passing along deceptive discriptions to us, the independent nursery's customers. A third nursery stopped carrying Monrovia product altogether, because he once too often believed a salesman who assured him something was zone-appropriate that would inevitably die here, & the disgruntled nurseryman said to me, "It's not worth the headaches. When I have a dissatisfied customer, I get the blame, not Monrovia."

I've been ripped off by Monrovia several times, but the Strawberry Bush annoys me most because I did research it beforehand, & sought it out specifically, & it was exclusively due to Monrovia's dishonesty that I did not end up with a plant that would flower & fruit as expected.

Fringe FlowerI finally learned that if Monrovia distributes a plant I am interested in, I must assume the label as likely as not could be lying to me. After being burned a few times it becomes difficult to trust even their best plants. For example, they sell a most appealing variety of Chinese Fringe Flower that I put off buying for a year because I did not trust the hyperbole of their sales pitch. They promised long lasting pink blossoms against plum leaves that hold their dark color year-round, with a litany of other traits that, if true, would be stupendous.

In this case, for the specific cultivar 'Sizzling Pink' which they offer, it has field-tested very well. So for once, the Monrovia label, though it reads like hyperbole, was neither lying nor exaggerating. But having been burned by this outfit before, I had to seek out a university horticultural extension's field testing overview, for Monrovia cannot be taken at their word.

I finally bought the fringe flower, despite that it was from Monrovia, & I've never been the least bit dissatisfied with it. There've been other Monrovia products I never returned to, sometimes because it really wasn't likely to perform as they alleged, but other times merely because they cured me of snap-purchases when their name's on a pot, & any purchase delayed may end up a purchase never made.

Obviously their policy of deception has not kept them from being successful. Still, I cannot help but believe they would have more repeat customers if their name could be associated with reliable quality instead of potential deception.

I do have many things in my gardens from Monrovia I am satisfied with, but because of the times they have deceived, I prefer my gardening dollars to go to other companies whenever possible. When Monrovia sells something I definitely want to have, I try to find it from another source when possible.

I won't spite myself over it; if I can't find another source, & what they offer seems likely to pan out as a quality cultivar, I won't go without it just because it's from Monrovia. But I'll make the little extra effort to support growers who never misled me. When gardeners have to be on-guard against what amounts to malice -- & selling someone a plant promising them showy flowers & fruit when there are never apt to be any at all is malicious -- it is simply better to support other growers where possible.

If ever I discover Monrovia has gone on to entirely new management with an brand new philosophy of honesty, of weeding out of their stocks all plants that cannot perform as formerly alleged, when it is clear they are seeking out better cultivars to supplant some of the poor things they've offered, & when labels are used to fully inform rather than as misleading ad-hype, then I may be able to amend the sorry picture that over time Monrovia has painted for itself by its willingness to deceive.


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