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Program delivers free plants for the cost of shipping

There is such a thing as a free bunch — of flowers, trees and shrubs — thanks to a one-of-a-kind program that benefits gardeners, sheltered workshops and the environment.

Through agreements with growers and nurseries, Free Trees and Plants.com, obtains millions of unsold plants that are destroyed each year and hires workers with disabilities to package them and send them free to anyone who orders them at the company’s Web site. Consumers simply pay for processing and shipping, which amounts to $7.95 for each unit of plants.

In addition to plants, the Web site offers care tips and a map that plots customers’ growth zones to ensure successful plantings. Visitors may even purchase gift certificates for family and friends.

“Each year, millions of healthy, high-quality plants go unsold and are destroyed,” said Cheryl Richter, a garden writer and photographer who created the program with her husband, Greg, in their hometown of Lincoln, Neb., in February 2004.

“They go to the dump, are plowed under or get burned or buried. Every plant we save and select for our program is as good as, or better than, those featured in garden centers and renowned garden catalogs,” she continued.

The Richters’ industry contacts advise them of plants that have not been sold and are scheduled for destruction. They then obtain the plants at little or no cost and arrange for delivery to sheltered workshops that provide employment for workers with disabilities. The workers process and package the items for shipment using packaging systems devised by the Richters.

A visit to the Web site reveals a bounty of offerings, including evergreens, flowering and shade trees; perennials such as columbine, fountain grass and hostas; and shrubs that range from viburnum to mock orange.

“Everything shown has been selected as an easy-to-grow gardening or landscaping favorite,” said Greg Richter. “Our concept began when we recognized that there is a terrible waste of living things when unsold plants are thrown away. We have worked with sheltered workshops on other projects in the past and the program quickly took shape. We are believers in direct action and social responsibility, and we do not ask for or accept donations. Our program does not seek charitable designation.”

For more information and an available list of plants, visit www.freetreesandplants.com.

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