By Cynthia M.

If you're new to the sale, have a plan. If you've seen the catalog, you must realize how large the Plant Sale is. There's almost a sensory overload when you enter the Grandstand. The noise of all of those carts thundering around is deafening. It is easy to be overwhelmed. If you come when it's crowded, the lines can be as long as lines at Disney World.

A plan can keep a grip on your sanity. A plan can keep you focused.

Read the catalog and study the map. The first year I had a rather random list of things to buy, and bought things on impulse, spending more time and money than I planned. The second year, I had four pages of items I cut and pasted from the catalog. The third year, I read each section over a period of days, allowing myself to randomly circle anything I thought I wanted. I wrote a list in Microsoft Word, by category and price. I narrowed it down to either purchase or look at for future reference. Because I'm a volunteer at the sale, I purchased four items Thursday at the presale, but looked at everything on the list, crossing off crop failures, and plants that looked weak, small or unattractive. Sunday, I had a single-page, trimmed-down list and a map in my head. There is a shopping list form online that can be downloaded. Having this prefilled out is another method. (Pat adds: Or use the Find Plants to make your list.)

Wristbands are given out prior to opening for crowd control and to disperse the outside line. If you must be first, get that wristband early, and be prepared to have something to do while waiting. If you are more crowd-adverse, come late in the day, and avoid this procedure altogether.

  • There's an Information Desk. Bring your questions here. The plant savvy (master gardener level) staff are in the information area. Look for people in pink hats!
  • Abandoned plants are brought to the info area to be re-tagged and put back. The info people are happy for you to pick them up, saving them time of putting them back on the shelf. There are also drop-off spots around the building with signs that say "Changed your mind? Leave your plants here." You are welcome to take plants from these shelves as well.
  • Your sales form needs to be filled out before reaching the cashiers. If the line is long, you'll be asked to step aside until your form is filled out. Always list the full price, even on Sunday. The discount is figured out during checkout.
  • There's a single banker's line to the checkout area. Sometimes it's very long, but it moves extremely fast because there are lots of checkout stations.
  • You will see two sets of people at the checkouts. The first are the tallyers who will add up your list and give you a total. Tallyers will also calculate the Sunday discount and the sales tax. The second set is the cashiers who will take your cash, check. or credit card
  • The curbside loading area is set up for cars to come and go. If you come with someone else, send them for the car while you secure a place in the holding area. If you used one of the Friends School shopping carts, unload your plants here to free up the cart.

Consider bringing your own cart or wagon. Friends School has some carts (hundreds), but compared to the number of shoppers, it's not many. I have a Menard's garden cart that was modified with a large piece of plywood (for craft show purposes). Big wheels help get over the bumps going indoors/outdoors and over electrical lines. Look at the pictures in the catalog and on the website of what customers have used. Label your cart with your name.

Consider the size of your vehicle and how much you plan to purchase. Last year, another volunteer bought shrubs and she was on a bicycle. We had our trailer, and loaded it with her plants and bicycle prior to loading our own plants and driving home.

Consider bringing a snack and beverage. The Plant Sale can be exhausting if you stood outside to enter the building, shopped through the crowds, stood in line to get to the cashiers, and then in line to load your car. There's food for sale outside, but nothing inside.

Consider shopping when the crowd is lightest. Hard to predict year to year, but usually it's five or six hours after opening on Friday, 1:00ish on Saturday, and after 11:00 a.m. or noon on Sunday.

Consider the weather. You may have to wait outisde to get in before the sale starts. Some of the plants are kept outdoors. The doors to the building are kept wide open. If the checkout line is long, it may even go outside, making for a miserable wait. This is Minnesota, and it can be wet and cold, or very warm. Be ready!

Bring a good attitude. This is a plant sale, and you buy plants because they make you happy. Others may succumb to being crabby, tired, overwhelmed, but you can be determined to enjoy yourself. Bring something to do while standing in line. Notice other plants as your line moves up the aisles. Talk to your neighbors about their finds. I always see something new each year that intrigues me. This year it was Korean Firs (bought), Contorted White Pines, and Blue Angel Salvias (maybe next year).

Wear comfortable shoes. The Grandstand floor is concrete. Enough said.

I attend the Thursday pre-sale for volunteers. My first year, I was there before the opening time, and stood in line to get in and get out. There is no chance of them running out on Thursday of what I want. So last year I arrived an hour after opening. People were already checking out, so I found a close parking spot. I picked up a cart from someone who was already loading their car, and walked straight in. The checkout line was long and the aisles were still crowded, but it gave me time to browse after I put my four items in a cart and set it in a corner. When I checked out at close to three hours after opening, the line was down to three carts. There was a line of six or eight cars waiting for loading. I left 20 minutes later. That was a total of two hours. Next year, I may arrive at two hours after opening. I hope the aisles will clear almost completely, allowing me to browse faster, and for the car line to completely disappear, cutting my time down to 90 minutes. If I didn't feel a need to browse, I could be out in 30 minutes.