dog days of summer take toll on local nursery

I’ve been scouring local nurseries for calamint recently and stopped by Brita’s Old Town Gardens in Seal Beach, California, last week as the likeliest possible local source for Calamintha nepeta. Brita always has interesting stuff, the kind of plants the chain nurseries don’t even know exist. No calamint this time, but there were some gallons of the Achillea ‘Terracotta,’ which I’m planning for large drifts next year. I grabbed a couple gallons of the yarrow, at which point Brita informed me she’d be having a big sale this weekend, and to come back then for a better deal.

Which says it all about Brita: knowledgeable, great eye for plants, scrupulously honest and fair.
There were also a couple large, ever-spendy Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ that I was hoping to catch marked down.

photo found here.

Saturday was busy all day, but I returned early Sunday, to find a huge banner on the fence with the icy words LIQUIDATION SALE, along with this little note attached to the fence:

“I love what I do, I enjoy all the reasons you come to visit this
nursery, but this summer’s heat has kept most of you at bay.

To stock for the next season;
Everything and Anything that is not tied down is on Sale.

This is a Liquidity Event!!!

Iron display stands, the Old Metal Gazebos are up for grabs. Amazing pots can be yours!

Many ‘One of a Kind Items’ so come early for the best selection.”

Last week Brita hadn’t mentioned the sale was anything but a routine end-of-summer sale. As soon as the gates opened (yes, I was that early), I rushed up to Brita and stammered, “You know, for a minute there, seeing that banner, I thought you might be…I thought this was…but when I read the little note I realized you’re just clearing stuff out for the new season. What a relief!”

Brita replied, “Actually, no. If this sale doesn’t do the trick, I’m done. On top of the recession, with the extreme heat of the last two months and everyone just staying home, I can’t buy in new stock for fall. We sold about one-sixth of what we needed to sell yesterday. Tell your friends.”

My stomach hurt all day Sunday after hearing this news. Sure, there’s always mail order sources for rare and hard-to-find plants, but there’s no substitute for browsing at a good nursery. For example, I’ve read catalogue descriptions of Phylica pubescens before and been intrigued, but it was only after seeing it at Brita’s yesterday that I became truly smitten with this tender South African shrub for zones 9 and 10. (The unsuspecting ballota that had this spot in my garden Saturday had become woody, so it was about time to remove it anyway. Both the ballota and phylica are wonderfully textural and fuzzy, though the phylica may get taller, possibly up to 5 feet.)


Brita’s prices are going to continue to drop until…well, the future is uncertain at this point, and let’s not dwell on that. If I had any shade left, I’d have brought home Bergenia ciliata, which I’d only read about before, and if I had any more room for trees that dark-leaved mimosa would be mine. There’s tree aloes, more South African shrubs, huge agaves, a wonderfully curated succulent selection, ironwork, enormous pots. This is my selfish appeal to supporters of independent nurseries to get over to Brita’s ASAP!

Brita’s Old Town Gardens
225 Main Street
Seal Beach, California 90740
Monday – Saturday
9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
10:00 AM to 5:00 PM

(562) 430-5019

It’s not as easy for small, independent nurseries to recover from the dog days of summer as it is for…well, small dogs.


Update 11/4/12 – The “Liquidation” sign has been removed. Noted was a small sign advising “Christmas trees available November 23.” Fingers crossed…

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8 Responses to dog days of summer take toll on local nursery

  1. Wolf says:

    There’s a local, family owned nursery here that I’ve been going to for ages. They have a gorgeous Koi pond inside their main building, and greenhouse after greenhouse are harder to find plants, along with the usual fare.

    They’re where I can find my heirloom tomato plants and the rare herbs that no one else seems to ever carry.

    If they went out of business, I’d be lost without them. Yes, there’s mailorder and other nurseries around, but there’s just something special about this particular nursery.

    Here’s hoping Brita can make enough to keep going!

  2. Jason says:

    If I lived in the area I would definitely go and buy! Best of luck to Brita. I love our local independent garden centers, would hate a world that was limited to the Big Box stores.

  3. Gosh I wish I could stop in and spend a few dollars there, how sad. Here’s hoping she gets the business she needs to stay a float.

  4. Pam/Digging says:

    Extreme drought and heat are killers for small independent nurseries. We saw that last year in Austin, which prompted me to declare October Support Your Independent Nursery Month in hopes of sending readers to the wonderful independents we still have. Loree shared your post on my current SYIN post, and I hope your plea brings enough readers out to Brita’s to save it. We need nurseries like these.

  5. Sue says:

    What a shame! With any luck the blog world publicity will bring her the business she needs. I think I can honestly say 100% of my plant buying dollars this season went to independent nurseries.

    Now find a spot for that Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ and run back and get one. In my garden it’s a rock star :).

  6. Denise says:

    @Wolf, your nursery sounds like a gem. Thanks for the kind wishes for Brita.
    @Jason, the independents bring so much personal detail and knowledge to a nursery that the chains just can’t duplicate.
    @Loree, I’ll be checking back in, maybe this weekend, so I’ll keep you posted.
    @Pam, yes, this dovetails perfectly with SYIN. So glad you started that for the Austin nurseries.
    @Sue, it’s supposed to be a 20-footer here. I asked Brita if it could be a cutback shrub, even though I’ve sworn off dealing with those too, and she wasn’t sure. I don’t care about sacrificing the flowers, just want those leaves.

  7. Grace says:

    I’m with you. I hate to see the good nurseries close their doors. I hope people will support Brita and drive in droves to buy her remaining stock. Fingers crossed.

  8. Denise says:

    10/11/12 comment from Romina/ deleted by recent wordpress problems:
    “Hello, I just wanted to write in that as a result of your blog post I DID go to Brita’s and bought plants! In fact, I had been there a couple weeks ago and was eyeing the Phylica you just bought (having been very tempted to buy it from Annie’s annuals). I was hoping they still had another one available but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Still, I hope Brita’s survives, they are such a great nursery with an interesting plant selection, often with smaller sizes so you can try out more plants without breaking the bank.

    I found your blog from Googling “echium gentianoides tajinaste” wanting to see more pictures – I had just bought the plant from Annie’s. I’m in Lakewood and I work in landscape design, and I was delighted to find a local garden blog so thoughtfully written and photographed! Excellent work, looking forward to updates on that Phylica :)”

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