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checking out the nurseries in August

It might seem kind of pointless to check out the local nurseries in the dog days of August. A lot of the inventory can look frazzled, but roaming the mostly customer-less aisles in August, armed with sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and smart phone for reference, is the perfect time to discover the true survivors. What shrubs are still managing to look respectable in gallon cans? (Westringia, adenanthos, ozothamnus, leucospermums are a few.) What stalwarts have I overlooked? Did anyone buy that Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ I’ve had my eye on? What’s on offer in the “color” section in August? Will Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit,’ the new seed strain, be durable or a meltaway type? August is where the rubber meets the steaming road, where all the buzz and fanfare evaporates under a punishing sun. That any inventory can still look at all presentable I find astonishing. Since these kind of retail nurseries oftentimes don’t sell plants until they are in bloom, many times it’s the only opportunity to grab August-blooming plants locally, even if it’s not the friendliest month for planting. Other than the California chain of Armstrong Nurseries, with one of their stores just a couple miles from me, most of the nurseries I check on frequently are independents. None of the nurseries on my circuit are boutique, rare plant nurseries, which don’t exist in Los Angeles, but a lot of their stock comes from solid growers like Native Sons, San Marcos Growers, Monterey Bay, Monrovia. (Northern California’s Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is available at Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach, Brita’s Old Town Gardens in Seal Beach, International Garden Center near LAX, and Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena.) Other than Roger’s Gardens, none are “destination” nurseries. Yet it always surprises me how each nursery’s unique choices from the same pool of growers sets their inventory apart from other local retail nurseries. If you visit often (and I do!), a specific taste can be discerned even in the chain nurseries. Some may subtly favor edibles or succulents or native plants, while others may have strong selections of South African and Australian plants. So I really do have to visit them all.

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For example, Crocosmia ‘Solfatare’ was recently available only at H&H Nursery on Lakewood Boulevard near the 91 Freeway, right under the power line towers. I once had a huge clump of this crocosmia in the front garden, before Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ moved into its place. It’s always described as one of the slowest-growing crocosmias, but it seemed to multiply at good clip from what I remember. The leaves strike me as more a dull olive green than bronzish, as it’s often described. The flower color is a galvanizing egg-yolk gold.

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Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Gold,’ was available at just two nurseries, Village Nurseries in Orange and their next-door neighbor Upland Nursery.
This is a great new gerbera strain, a long-blooming cross with some sturdy alpine species, and the first time I’ve seen it offered in this color.

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The pink form, ‘Drakensberg Carmine’ was an outstanding plant a couple years ago, that was almost too much of a good thing in that color. For me, anyway.

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Phygelius in the Portland garden of Bella Madrona got me pining for phygelius again. This one may possibly be ‘Salmon Leap’ or ‘Devil’s Tears.’
I have no memory of phygelius growing in this splendidly upright posture, always being somewhat of a sprawler in my garden, but this vision was enough to spur me to give ‘Diablo’ a try.

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I found ‘Diablo’ at the local Armstong, just this one gallon available. Phygelius is another plant I grew years ago, usually in its chartreuse forms like ‘Moonraker.’

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I recently extended my nursery hopping down into Orange County, where I found this small size of Agave franzosinii, just one available. Cindy McNatt at Dirt du Jour blogged that a beloved nursery, Laguna Hills Nursery, had found a new home on Tustin in the city of Orange. They had just opened and were getting settled in, but were extremely welcoming and friendly. Rare fruit trees and edibles look to be their specialty, but someone stocked this agave that’s rarely found for sale, which I think counts as a good omen. This is an enormous agave when mature, so I’ll keep it in a pot as long as possible to contain its ultimate size.

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Snow on the Mountain tucked in by the little water garden. The Sagittaria lancifolia ‘Ruminoides’ was found at the International Garden Center.

There were a couple other nurseries on that same street, Tustin, so I made an afternoon of nursery hopping in the OC, and each one had something unique to offer. At M&M Nursery, “home of the original fairy garden experts since 2001,” (who knew?) I found the annual Euphorbia marginata amongst a very good selection of out-of-the-ordinary annuals. At Village Nurseries, as mentioned above, I found the ‘Drakensberg Gold’ gerbera as well as ‘Storm Cloud’ agapanthus. Upland Nursery was literally next-door to Village, so even though the heat was way past oppressive by mid-afternoon, I stopped in at Upland before swinging home. They specialize in plumeria, which sounded interesting though not really up my alley, but I was up for a quick first-time visit.

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Variegated Swiss Cheese Plant, Monstera deliciosa, seen in an LA garden last May.

I ended up walking Upland’s entire long and narrow length, investigating each of its specialty rooms off the main path, because it became quickly apparent that Upland had some surprises up its sleeve, like the variegated swiss cheese plant tucked into a corner, the first I’ve ever seen offered locally, or an agave I’d neither heard of nor seen before, like Agave ellemetiana.
Upland is the first local nursery I’ve found to carry Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon.’

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Fatsia ‘Spider Web,’ still unavailable in Southern California.

Upland was just an extraordinary place, with a personal, mom-and-pop atmosphere, where you’d bump into such amazing sights as grevilleas grown on standard. I searched it thoroughly, because I half expected to find the ‘Spider Web’ fatsia lurking in a shady corner. There was lush hanging rhipsalis and big, mature display plants to give an idea of what the little 2-inch succulents would grow into. The entire back section was devoted to Japanese maples. I asked the owner about the possibility of getting the monstera in a smaller, more affordable size, and she said spring would be the time to check back. When I asked if there was a drinking fountain, she reached into her fridge and handed me a bottle of water. With that gesture, they made a customer for life.

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Seeing a huge display pot of Senecio haworthii at Upland Nursery sealed the deal on a succulent I’ve passed over many times.

Up in Pasadena, at Lincoln Avenue Nursery, a big, lusty Agave ‘Mateo’ had me checking the label for its identity. At a mature size, it looked nothing like my wispy-leaved ‘Mateo.’ The venerable Burkhard’s just around the corner continues its mysterious decline, with the plants in a sad neglected state, but wouldn’t you know they had the variegated vilmoriniana agave I’ve been coveting, $60 for a big specimen. Not a bad price, especially at Burkhard’s, but I passed. The nursery is a shambles but still worth a prowl. Poorly maintained plants sold at exorbitant prices is the perplexing current state of affairs, but even so there’s many gems you just can’t find anywhere else. Also somewhat of a surprise recently is finding Sunset’s line of plants, like the new ‘Amistad’ salvia, astelias, dianellas, carex, digiplexis, and the ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia, at Home Depot. International Garden Center, Village and H&H have the most extensive grounds and probably the most sophisticated inventory, and each could easily swallow an hour’s time. IGC is the place to find water plants, and their succulent selection is one of the best. At IGC plant stock past its prime isn’t thrown out but moved to a row way in the back, where it can be had for cheap. Many times unsold stock is potted on to larger sizes, such as the currently available Echium simplex. I also check in with the exceptional Marina del Rey Garden Center when I work out that way and have noticed their increasingly fine selection of bromeliads and unusual edible plants.

And that’s the August nursery report. They may not have the rarefied atmosphere of botanical gardens, but retail nurseries are the places to experience where culture, commerce, and plants collide.


17 comments to checking out the nurseries in August

  • It is a sad thing when nurseries decline. I hope you eventually find your ‘Spider Web’ Fatsia.

  • Curious: in your area with the much, much longer growing season do the nurseries start offering crazy discounts, almost willing to “take any offer” for certain plants like they do here? It’s a fun time to pick up some new inhabitants. :)

  • Denise

    @Alison, Hoov/Piece of Eden has located a mail order source, so there’s always that way to go.
    @Alan, there’s nothing like the fire sales you guys get in the shorter growing season. And a lot of stock is not held on to but just thrown out during the year to make way for new — shocking but true.

  • Funny, I’ve been wanting to check some nurseries but thought it was pointless in the middle of summer. Your post has me thinking otherwise for the exact reasons you stated. Sacramento area nurseries, here I come!

    Upland Nursery sounds awesome. We need a nursery like that around here!

    What’s up with that Fatsia ‘Spider Web’? It seems like very other gardenen we visited in Portland had one. I thought it would be easy to find, but I guess not.

  • Denise

    Gerhard, I don’t need much incentive to visit nurseries, but August really does have its unique perspective. Maybe there’s a propagation issue with that fatsia?

  • I got my mail-order ‘Spider Web’ last week. Beautifully grown, healthy plant, well packed–but not very webby. An email ? brought the reply that they are not webby when small in summertime. Age and winter will web it up. Okay, time will tell…

    I’m looking for that same variegated Villamoriniana.

  • That’s our kind of activity Denise, nursery hopping! Great adventure there and nothing like covering as many as you could to have the best perspective of what’s actually out there in your area.

    August is a funny transition month when it comes to buying plants. Could be too late to plant out some purchases, and with sales and discount promos looming ahead. Still nursery hoping is a worthwhile activity for a plant lover, whatever the month is.

  • Denise

    @Hoov, the one at Burkhard’s is in remarkable shape, either a 3 or 5-gallon. I think Pasadena is even hotter than where you live tho…
    @Oh, M&G, don’t talk to me about nurseries! When I think of what you guys have at your fingertips! Yes, for plant lovers, whatever, wherever, whenever, it’s all worthwhile.

  • You do get around! Your may want to try Marina Del Rey Garden Center at the end of the 90 freeway if you’re ever out that way – they’ve greatly expanded their selection of succulents (although they’re not offered at bargain prices) and they always seem to have a nice range of perennials in 4-inch pots. I’ve been trying very hard to steer clear of nurseries and garden centers, having generally lost more than I’ve gained when planting at this time of year. I was already wavering in response to the combination of holes in my garden and notice that Rogers is offering 20% off California-friendly plants through Thursday. (If it wasn’t virtually impossible for me to get there this week, I probably would have caved already.) Now, you come along with your report and I feel myself sliding again. I haven’t been to International in years, even though I’m in the vicinity at least once a week on average. I’ve never heard of Upland Nursery so I’ll have to plan a trip out there one day (just to check it out). Maybe if I confined my purchases to succulents…

    BTW, I bought 3 Phygelius ‘Salmons Leap’ last year – they’re not dead but I can’t exactly say they’re thriving either.

  • Oh I love a good nursery report, good to know I’m not the only one wandering the isles in August. Glad to read Hoov found a ‘spiders web’ source, be sure to let us know if/when you find one for your very own. I the mean time I’ll keep my eyes open for one I could send you.

  • Denise

    @Kris, I gave the Marina Del Rey GC a shout out at the very end. I like them a lot too. That’s a shame about your phygelius. From what I remember growing them, I don’t think they want our full afternoon sun here in SoCal. Thanks for the tip on Roger’s sale!
    @Loree, I first saw this fatsia at Terra Nova and assumed they had tissue cultured it, but apparently not since it seems to be scarce. And glad to hear you’re my partner in crime — other than plant nurseries, I am the worst shopper!

  • Kim G

    Denise,
    Thanks for the wonderful list of nurseries. I started visiting nurseries after my father passed away, I found it so peaceful.
    I keep hearing about Glendora Gardens Nursery, in Glendora has a wonderful selection. It’s at the top of my list to visit.
    I also recently learned about Dream Garden Nursery in Hollywood, sound interesting.

  • Denise

    Kim, thanks for suggesting Glendora and Dream Garden, which I’ll check out when I’m out that way. I’m glad you found a peaceful place to go when you needed it. I always find them very tranquil places too.

  • Surprised that you’re finding Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ so difficult to find, they propagate quite quickly from cuttings with the heat of summer, and there’s a Japanese nursery here in San Mateo that had a half dozen two gallons when I was shopping for my sister’s Hillsborough garden a couple of years ago. I like it also, have one in my garden for years now that I’ve neglected to get into the ground. The one I had planted couldn’t take the competition of a neighboring Schefflera pueckleri; I wasn’t watering enough to compensate for those super aggressive roots.

    I never think of mid summer as a down time for garden i terest or nursery shopping, but tend to confine my browsing to wholesale growers, being in the business. This summer I’ve been having lots of fun with xeric plants shipped in from Mountain States Wholesale in Arizona, and got some fantastic new to me selections that will stand up to any potential water rationing, should we get another failed rainy season. My favorites this summer have been the electric red blooms on Echinopsis huachis grandiflora, Erythrina x bidwillii, and yummy soft orange blends of new Tecoma hybrids and also Mimulus, plus planting out a hundred Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’ along with a dozen budded up to bloom Echinocactus grussonii, with a few yound Solanum pyracanthifolia,(from Annie’s of course), for backlighting effects. They’ll combine nicely with all the other desert species such as the existing Boojum trees, Joshua Tree, Yucca rostrata, Dasylirion wheeleri, and various mature columnar cactus already in the garden.

    A real learning curve for me, as I have never designed a cactus garden previously. Now watch, we’ll probably get monsoon rains this winter!

    Have you never been to XOTX Nursery in Hollywood? I went once, and it is a retail nursery with the most exotic selection I’ve ever seen, somewhat similar to our local Oakland The Dry Garden Nursery.

  • Denise

    David! that nursery has come up in conversation, but no, I’ve never been so thanks for mentioning it. I’ll get out there as soon as poss. I’ve gone from living in West Hollywood to never going back even to visit! Funny you should mention tecoma, because I’ve been inclined to give some of the hybrids a try too. How exciting it must be to design your first cactus garden. Looking forward to it showing up in your Flickr stream.

  • Denise, I’m not keeping current on my Flickr feed, have switched over to posting on Facebook as loading phone camera shots is just so much easier, and I also need a new laptop and more memory to even download my full 35mm camera photos. I need to get down south again myself, it’s been years since I’ve hit nurseries down in LA/San Diego/Santa Barbara. Hopefully XOTX still has it going on, I don’t think I’ve ever actually met Leon, the owner.

  • Denise

    David, I’m glad that I finally sorted out my Facebook account, if that’s where I can find your photos.

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