Raleigh spring plant sale – a perennial favorite


A Perennial Favorite

Spring Plant Sale Held

On the Grounds of the NC State Fairgrounds

There are certain things in nature that just make sense. Like the early morning being the best time to water the garden, it also best time to be in the garden! It also makes sense with the arrival of spring, plant sales abound. For North Carolina gardeners, the mother of all plant sales is at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds each spring just when Carolina Gardeners are itching to plant.

This mega plant sale has no official name, but rather it is made-up of five non-profit gardening and civic concerns. Independently, but coordinating the date of the weekend, each sets up at the NC State Fairgrounds to sell plants as a fundraiser for various interests, primarily horticulture interests.

This annual event started in 1980 when a younger Tony Avent (owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh) suggested to his garden club, the Gardeners of Wake County, to hold an event – an azalea sale – to help raise money for scholarships for horticulture students at NC State. With Tony’s connections, as well as others in the garden club, they were able to offer many more varieties of azaleas than were currently available in local nurseries. This helped feed the wants of local gardeners and newcomers to the Triangle.

Over the years, other gardening concerns and a civic organization joined the plant sale with each selling a specific plant species so as not to complement each other and to attract a larger group of plant buyers. The first to join in the mid 1980’s was the Wake County Junior Master Gardeners 4-H Program selling Rhododendrons and Camellias. In 1990, the Pilot Club, a civic organization to help people with brain-related disorders and disabilities, joined selling germanium, other annuals and hanging baskets. In 1996, the Raleigh Garden Club, looking for a venue to also raise money for scholarships and to provide donations to other horticulture related activities, approached Betty Cook, then president of the Gardeners of Wake County.  The two garden clubs negotiated an arrangement allowing the Raleigh Garden Club to sell plants along side the Gardeners of Wake County as long as they sold plants that did not compete with their agenda – azaleas.  The Raleigh Garden Club focuses on native perennials and ground covers, as well a less common new plants and forgotten favorites. The latest to join this mega plant sale is the Herb Society of Wake County.

The common thread for this annual event is to raise money to aid the community. According to Carol Norden, who is in charge of the Wake County Junior Master Gardener 4-H program and chair of the plant sale on their behalf since1996, “We see approximately 60 young people a year; from all over Wake County and some from Johnston County. Our program is very diverse and includes youth of all abilities, ethnicity, and school situations (public, private, charter, and home-schooled.)”

In 2008, the Gardeners of Wake County were able to support six bachelor’s degree candidates in NC State University’s Department of Horticulture Science.

This annual event takes the entire year for planning and preparation. “If we added the hours spent on the sale and paid them a minimum wage our sale would not make a profit. Volunteers do make a difference.” Say past President Anne Clapp.

The azaleas sold by the Gardeners of Wake County, come from 5 nurseries offering some 6,500 azaleas for sale with 120 varieties including deciduous and Encore. Plant varieties are presented for sale in the flower show area of the Fairgrounds with signage showing a photo of the plant in bloom along with growing information. Recently, they began selling gardenias, as well.

Raleigh Garden Club members setting up before the sale

Raleigh Garden Club members setting up before the sale

The perennials come from nurseries but also from divisions from member’s gardens.  Each year, The Raleigh Garden Club plant sale committee ensures accurate handling of inventory and labeling.  Plant information is entered into a spreadsheet by common and botanical name, bloom color and season, size, light and moisture requirements, and landscape value such as deer resistance, drought tolerance, southern heirlooms, native plants and plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

There is also a wealth of information to be had from the member volunteers on-site who will answer your gardening questions. Members and volunteers at the plant sales are a variable who’s who in the gardening community and they are also just like us, buying plants!

Inevitability, not all the plants sell. Many of those that don’t sell are donated to various community concerns such as Habitat for Humanity. Again, there is the consistent common thread to aid the community.

Each group is passionate about the plants they sell, as well as, the concerns for which the money is raised. Mark you calendar for this most unique plant sale, support good causes, and enjoy a happy spring.

The annual plant sale is held the 3rd week in April. At the flower show area of the North Carolina Fairgrounds, Gate #6 at Youth Center Road, Raleigh.

2009 dates are:

Friday, April 17th from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Saturday, April 18th from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Sunday, April 19th from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

The GWC also offer a 20% discount to club members on the “members only” sell day on Thursday, April 16th from 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.

With a cost of an annual membership of a mere $15.00 or $25 for two people at the same address, it is worth becoming a member just to take advantage of this sale.

To learn more about the Gardeners of Wake County, please visit Gardeners of Wake County

To learn more about the Herb Society of Wake County, please visit Herb Society of Wake County

To learn more about the Raleigh Garden Club, please visit Raleigh Garden Club

To learn more about the Wake County Junior Master Gardener 4-H Program, please visit Junior Master Gardeners Kids

To learn more about the Pilot Club, please call Betty Moore at 1-919-787-7467

By Helen Yoest

Gardening With Confidence



  1. TC said

    It’s nice to see how other MGs are active in their community when our bunch is so…. well, they act like a snooty bunch of hort heads! I’m seriously considering leaving, if it weren’t for volunteering on the consumer hot line phone ins, I’d already be gone. I best hush up, they might be lurking!

  2. Les said

    This sounds like a great event on several levels. We hold your part of NC in high esteem horticulturally. There seems to be a lot of gardening going on there.

  3. TC, we have our share here too, but not as many as one might expect given the number of greats in this area. Actually, maybe that is the reason…not just person, or 6 even, stands out in this crowd. It’s hard to act all uppidy when someone like Tony Avent is in the room and he is sooooo grounded.

  4. Indeed Les, there is a lot of gardening going here. In fact so much, that I couldn’t understand why our gardens were not getting the national attention they deserved. As such, I started chipping away, yadda, yadda, yadda – Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Tours, scouting for Better Homes and Gardens, Nature’s Garden, Country Gardens, Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living Magazine, and many more. This attention brought focus to our gardens and brought much needed attention to great places like the JC Raulston Arboretum and others. Every little bit helped towards telling the world about the great gardening goings-on we have here in the Piedmont area of North Carolina.

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