I have a moderately large collection of rare tropical and succulent plants, at least by most standards. My collection is far less impressive to true aficionados with specialty collections, but most others might marvel at a collection such as mine and wonder how I came across all these plants, many of which are not widely available, or how I could afford such a collection. One of my ‘secret' sources is the flea market.
Flea markets, at least in climates where tropicals and succulents grow (I cannot attest for flea markets in the northern U.S.) often have vendors selling common plants very cheaply, and/or selling rare plants you might not find in most plant markets. Here in Southern California I can often find something worth buying at a flea market, even though I already have a pretty nice collection.
This particular booth is always a good source for hanging plants- nothing super rare, but the prices are unbeatable
there is always at least one booth selling great cacti for super cheap; orchids are always a popular offering
I periodically attend one of the larger flea markets, located at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (held every second Sunday of the month, even on Easter). This is a giant flea market compared to most others I have seen in this area of the country. Most attendees seem to go for the entertainment value as much as anything else. Each event is attended by thousands of people who seem to like wandering about on a Sunday morning, gawking at all the bizarre things vendors think other people might want. This particular flea market's ‘specialty' seems to be antiques and about half the square footage is taken up by hundreds of collectors and sellers of antiques, offering their wares. You can get just about anything at this sort of flea market, and the prices--for the most part--seem awfully cheap.
Pasadena's Rose Bowl is a huge flea market I attend frequently
And that goes for garden supplies and plants as well. I don't know how many other gardeners come to this particular flea market just for the plants (as I do), but there are enough buyers to keep these vendors in business. Recently the plant sellers seem to be feeling the economic pinch and many have stopped coming to the event, much to my chagrin. But in years past I could count at least a half-dozen plant ‘booths' with some of the most amazing deals I have ever seen anywhere. I can't say all the vendors have something rare or spectacular to sell, but most have prices that are impossible to beat anywhere else I purchase plants. It makes me pause and how much I pay for plants elsewhere when these vendors can afford to sell such large or rare plants for so little money.
A few items I have gotten at flea markets: Aechmea fasciata 'Lauren', and Albutilon sp. and Begonia 'Ramirez'
I also am always searching for interesting pots and outdoor furniture, though I have run out of room for the latter at this point. Both which are almost always in good supply at this flea market: wrought iron chairs, tables, plant stands or other garden furniture structures are very popular items to recycle at a flea market, and we have obtained most of ours from flea markets. There are always some large, antique-looking cement pots for sale, though one needs to bring a furniture dolly or a lot of friends to get them home.
two fountain varieties seen at the local flea market
And a flea market is a fantastic source of ‘garden art' (I use this term very loosely). To me, garden art is anything vaguely artistic that I might be able to put in the garden. Some of this ‘art' is temporary as it was not made to be outdoors. But at a flea market, these fascinating sculptures or objects are sometimes so cheap, they are worth getting, even if it means seeing something slowly deteriorate in the garden over a few years. Then they can be tossed and replaced by new oddities acquired at the next flea market.
I have masks all over the back yard from flea markets
Some really fun garden art, and some useful, too (left); got this chunk of amethyst for the garden at the flea market (middle); shells make great planter box adornments (right)
Here are few of my flea market acquisitions:
inexpensive but high quality wrought iron arch with seats and iron bench; this huge chunk of drift wood is one of our favorites
Asplenium nidus 'Plicatum' Bowiea volubilis (one of our favorite plants) Caesalpinia giselle
Ferocactus glaucens 'Nudum' and Melocactus azureus; Caesalpinia pulcherrima; Ceratozamia mexicana
variety of Alocasias and Colocasias; skulls and succulents Disocactus flagelliformis
Ferocactus pilosus Echium wildpretii Musella lasiocarpa
Sedum 'Harry Butterfield' Manihot grahamii Schizolobium parahybrum
and of course one of my favorite pots
The next time you see a flea market, keep your mind open for possibilities, and be sure to check out the plants and pots!