As the spring planting season approaches, why not ask an expert what to do, especially if the advice is free? Several garden centers and nurseries in the area can help you.

Waterloo Gardens customers can make appointments with Paul Lewsey or Liz Caruthers at the Exton location by visiting or by calling 610-363-0800. Appointments are available only during the week, usually before noon. They are not offered at Waterloo Gardens' Devon location.

Technically, the consultations are supposed to last 30 minutes, but it's usually more like 60. "Most times, couples come in together," Lewsey says, "and sometimes, you hear their life story."

Customers are not required to buy the recommended plants at Waterloo, but, according to assistant buyer Melissa Price, almost everyone does. (That's true at all the places that offer consultations.)

"Picking plants can be a pretty overwhelming experience," Price says, "and we've found most people buy what we suggest."

That's been true, too, for Joe Kiefer and his mother, Lorraine, co-owners of Triple Oaks Nursery in Franklinville. For years, they've been doing free consultations by appointment - anytime, including weekends and evenings.

They often see owners of new homes with crummy landscaping or none to speak of, or customers wanting to rip out what's there and start over. "Sometimes people have a vision, and sometimes you have to help them and give them a vision," says Joe Kiefer.

To make an appointment, call 856-694-4272 or go to

Many other nurseries and garden centers, like McNaughton's in Cherry Hill, offer informal advice; some even do sit-downs, depending on how busy they are. If you go, it can't hurt to bring photos and measurements with you.

For native-plant lovers, there are at least two options.

Yellow Springs Farm Native Plants Nursery in Chester Springs offers free consultations, preferably by appointment, but staffers are available otherwise if time permits. For an appointment, call 610-827-2014 or e-mail co-owner Catherine Renzi at The Web site is

Redbud Native Plant Nursery in Glen Mills does not offer appointments, but owner Catherine Smith says free sit-downs are available if time permits. She suggests coming Sundays at 10 a.m., when the nursery is quiet. "If they bring photos and measurements, I can talk their ears off," Smith says.

Information is at 610-358-4300 or

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society also provides a free gardening question-and-answer service staffed by volunteers. E-mail your question by going to or call 215-988-8777 on weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon, January through November.

You don't have to be a society member - just a gardener in need of help.

- Virginia A. Smith