The bloggers over at Gardening Gone Wild recently published a post on favorite independent garden centers -- local, not mail-order. It so happens that two of my favorite local nurseries are mail-order, but one is open to the public 5-7 days a week (depending upon the time of year), and the other has 4 open houses every year.
My favorite is Niche Gardens. It's about 10 miles from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (home of the Tar Heels) and has a lovely display garden and wonderful selection. A lot of natives, but not a natives-only nursery. Elizabeth Lawrence once wrote that few people would buy a plant based on a catalog description. She would have changed her mind if she had had the opportunity to read the descriptions in the Niche Gardens catalogs. I believe that most of the entries were written by Bob, who has worked at Niche for years, and Kim Hawks, Niche's founder and former owner.
I don't have pictures of Niche Gardens, but I do have plenty of pictures of plants that I bought there. :)
Phlox divaricata 'Clouds of Perfume', 'London Grove
Blue' and 'Louisiana'.
Goldflame Honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii)
Running Green and Gold and Dwarf Crested Iris
Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'
Gulf Coast Penstemon (Penstemon tenuis)
Louisiana Iris 'Sinfonietta'
Carolina Bog Mint (Macbridea caroliniana)
Seashore Mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica)
Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'
Aster 'Miss Bessie'