thank you, Annie!

All is not lost! There is a new owner, Sarah Hundley…

There were worrisome rumors, and then came the confirmation in the Spring 2021 catalogue that arrived in the mailbox this week: Annie Hayes, of Annie’s Annuals and Perennials, is retiring.

Sonchus palmensis budding up, second year of bloom in the garden. Annie says it does not self-sow, but I’m finding some interesting seedlings near where it bloomed last year…

You may need to grab a box of tissues or steady yourself with a shot of liquid courage before continuing with my garden’s tribute to this dynamo of a nurserywoman. Yes, it is a loss, but it’s one we can all bear because Annie is right here with us in our gardens. I’ve got her plants all over the place! Annie’s legacy flows from her garden philosophy, from her selection of so many plants that self-sow and return every year. Generous, exuberant, out of the ordinary — I’ve never met Annie but I imagine she’s a lot like the plants she loves and sends forth into our gardens. And the nursery she built will continue with lots of new customers paying attention in 2021 — “2020 was historically the busiest year ever for nurseries” she writes in the spring 2021 catalogue.

Roldana petasites budding up to bloom in its first year in the garden

Using my own garden, I’m going to try to quickly sketch what this nursery that began in 1989 in her Richmond, California backyard means to plant lovers everywhere. Her taste in plants, her eye for what’s cool permeates my garden now and has done so for decades. (But we’ll try to keep this brief and confined to the present day!)

Can you spot Annie’s plants? Behind the aloe, round leaves of Roldana petasites on the left, Nicotiana mutabilis on the right, Sonchus palmensis in the distance
Clianthus puniceus

It is axiomatic that gardens need plants. Your local nursery has plants. You shop there but, possibly like me, are often frustrated by the pedestrian selection. Annie offered a game-changing alternative: “We select the plants we grow not only for their beauty and/or fragrance, but most often for the natural grace and charm they add to our gardens (so often missing in modern hybrids found at “big box” garden centers).”

Never offered locally, Nicotiana mutabilis, second year top growth, with new basal growth this winter. Lacy leaves belong to Ferula communis

In addition to the adventurous inventory of rare and hard-to-source plants, I think what really made us loyal repeat customers was the fact that the plants sold were fastidiously packaged for shipping and raring to grow in our gardens. Annie’s well-grown plants are sold unapologetically “in the green” — the lush catalogue photos and descriptions and spectacular display grounds at the nursery fill in any blanks in imagining their garden potential. She resolutely resisted all the growing tricks commercially employed to rush plants into bloom to push sales: “Here at “Annie’s,” we grow most of our plants the old fashioned way – from seed – in the wind, rain and sun (no greenhouses), so your plants are already “hardened off,” healthy and strong when you take them home. All of our plants are grown in 4″ pots without the use of growth regulating hormones, commonly sprayed on almost all annuals and most perennials by large scale growers. These growth regulators slow plant growth and extend “shelf life” but can lead to disappointing results in our gardens.”

Annie’s catalogue continually changes and never disappoints, always filled with surprises often sourced from local botanical gardens and even customers. For a while she was in a cussonia phase, and I bought every one on offer. I recently reacquired locally Cussonia gamtoosensis, which Annie first introduced me to.

Annie is a self-described “flower floozie,” yet so many of her plants in my garden are all about the leaves. Under her guidance, the nursery offered a range of plants to satisfy flower floozies and foliage connoisseurs alike. I often felt like we shared the same horticultural brain as far as plant obsessions like puya, nicotiana, echium, sideritis: “Along with offering an amazing number of garden treasures, we also specialize in Mediterranean climate varieties from around the world, including wondrous South African annuals, perennials and shrubs.”

Sideritis oroteneriffae

Annie’s was the zone 10 nursery of my dreams. And now I am so spoiled. I am always caught by surprise if I happen to order from other nurseries and, at the end of the transaction, I am informed that the plant will ship in months instead of days or a few weeks. I forget that their production schedule is zones apart from Annie’s zone 10, year-round growing season. If a plant is listed as available in her catalogue, it’s ready to go, so get that planting hole ready pronto.

Sideritis cypria
calendulas, linaria and gerbera for winter, bought locally but evoking the spirit of Annie’s ethos and about as “flower floozie” as I get!

And though her nursery ships across the country, it often feels like my own private horticultural resource, tailored to the growing seasons of coastal California, including our mild winters. Cloud forest exotics and Canary Islanders that flourish in zones 9 and 10 rub elbows in her catalogue with many of our wildflowers and natives.

Tree daisy Montanoa grandiflora, a plant discovered in Annie’s catalogue although purchased locally
Yucca aloifolia ‘Magenta Magic’

Yucca ‘Sapphire Skies’ and self-sown poppies sizing up for spring

The jubilant tag “self-sows!” she adds to catalogue descriptions is a signature flourish that always grabs my attention: “I also love the old-fashioned annuals because they self-sow so easily (again, unlike modern hybrids), delighting us with lots of free plants each year, along with the serendipitous and surprising flowering combinations they provide.”

Nobody offers a list of poppies stronger than Annie. Nobody.

I grew these sweet peas from seed a few months ago, but it’s a comfort to know where to find the heavily scented varieties every spring.
Succulents are well represented too — Aeonium tabuliforme
All my glaucium are seedlings from Annie’s
Biennial from Greece, Silene fabaria ssp. domokina started from seed last summer

Annie Hayes, you have had a profound and transformational impact on my garden. And, coincidentally, inspired by your example, I’ve recently become reacquainted with growing plants from seed. You make it look so easy! (Most of my efforts that germinated suspiciously resembled nicotianas — and because of a fatal mistake of mixing in garden soil into the growing medium, they mostly were!)

from seed last summer, Geranium maderense ‘Alba’

Annie’s influence is everywhere in my garden. This winter I’m finding seedlings of the annual Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Tiger Stripes’ (“self-sows!”) — thank you, Annie! Keep us posted on your new adventures in plants and gardens.

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10 Responses to thank you, Annie!

  1. Elaine says:

    What a legacy to leave behind and a glowing tribute to how Annie has influenced your gardening. Thankfully another is there to carry on Annie’s plant selections. More and more of these small independent nurseries are disappearing. It’s a wake-up call to support them as much as possible.

  2. Denise says:

    Elaine, at least I can feel certain that I solidly supported Annie’s! Just mailed off another order this week…Have a great weekend!

  3. hans says:

    Well said. I wasn’t aware she was retiring. Her plants have been around in all the nurseries I visit for so long I have taken them for granted. Her unusual plants and unique signage have always been inspiring (and useful)

  4. Madeline Marrow says:

    I live 10 minutes from Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, CA. For all of her fans, if you think the catalog is great, you will be shocked if you ever get a chance to visit the nursery. Hundreds and hundreds of plants, most varieties never make it into the catalog. The next time I go, I’ll post some photos of it here.

  5. Denise says:

    @Hans, we’ve got a couple nurseries in SoCal that carry her plants, but it’s a hit-and-miss selection and nothing like what’s fully on offer.
    @Madeline, that would be fabulous. I’ve been to the nursery quite a few times and it is such a treasure hunt!

  6. Kris P says:

    This testimonial to what Annie Hayes achieved and the business she created is well-deserved. I can’t even begin to count all the plants I obtained by mail order from her nursery, including so many of my favorites. Actually, I probably can’t even count the number I ordered just last year! It’s still my objective to get to the nursery in person one day. I hope that it’ll be living up to its stellar reputation when I finally realize that aim.

  7. Wonderful Annie tribute! I wish I had more of her plants in my garden, but shipping and being in a cooler zone limited my expenditures. She spoke to the HPSO a few years ago, it was a fun talk—here’s hoping she enjoys here well-deserved retirement!

  8. ks says:

    Well said Denise. I’ve never taken for granted my ability to jump in the car and drive down to Annies on a weekend morning if I have the urge. I always take a list , and always make numerous un-listed impulse purchases. I hope the outstanding business she built from scratch continues her legacy.

  9. hb says:

    A well-deserved tribute! May the new owner continue the great thing Annie started.

  10. Debbie Lefkowitz says:

    Fortunately looks like she has sold do someone who will carry on her legacy. Hope so. I visit the nursery all the time. During the Pandemic wait to get in was often 30 minutes. Well worth it. Recommend a visit for anyone coming to the Bay Area.

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