Mention Annie’s Annuals to any garden enthusiast in the Bay Area or Sacramento, and they get a dreamy look on their face. I had never been there before, but I’d been drooling over their catalog and web site for years. Located in Richmond in the East Bay, Annie’s Annuals is less than an hour from my house, but it took a visit from my plant-loving mother to get off my duff and go.
Davis was basking under a perfect blue sky when we left, but when we got to Richmond, the area was shrouded in high fog and temperatures were in the low 60s, 20 degrees lower than at home. Richmond gets this kind of fog quite frequently in the summer, and it contributes to what is one of the best growing climates in the entire state. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing and rarely go above 90. No wonder the plants at Annie’s Annuals looked perfect. They truly are in paradise there.
Virtually all plants Annie’s Annuals are in 4-inch containers and were grown at the nursery, typically from seed. Prices at the nursery range from $4.50 to $10.50 and are appreciably lower than on their web site (which is understandable, considering how labor-intensive picking, packaging and shipping is). The nursery is in a less-than-picturesque part of town, but considering how expensive land is in the Bay Area, I didn’t expect it to be any different. Having been to many nurseries over the years, including many who seem to care little for plants or for customers, I would give Annie’s Annuals a full 10 out of 10 as far as cleanliness, health of the plants, display, and especially labeling is concerned. It is very obvious that the nursery is run by people who love plants and who want to make sure their customers know what they’re getting. I wouldn’t be able to name a nursery that is better organized than Annie’s Annuals. For plant lovers, it doesn’t get better than this!
|Looking toward the parking lot from right inside the entrance|
|I love the lavishly landscaped garden rooms…|
|…and the whimsical garden art|
|Teetering on the edge of tacky, but still this side of cool|
|I never used to be a dahlia fan, but seeing this type of dahlias with lots of smaller flowers could make a convert, especially after reading a recent post on Alternative Eden|
|Every nursery needs a cow!|
Annie’s Annuals has a large selection of smaller succulents, with a heavy focus on aeoniums—Canary Island natives that thrive in the mild Bay Area climate. While our aeoniums at home are in their summer dormancy and look a bit ratty, the ones at Annie’s Annuals were picture perfect.
|Fantastic succulent combination featuring purple dyckia, aeonium and a mat-forming ice plant (Delosperma nubigenum)|
|Aeonium species and Delosperma nubigenum|
|A rare crested form of Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’|
|Pig’s ear (Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculata)|
|Pig’s ear (Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculata)|
To my delight, I found a handful of different Puya species. Puyas are terrestrial bromeliads, just like the pineapple whose fruit we all love. They are native to South and Central America—many of them from Chile—and produce remarkable flowers once mature. Today I bought a Puya mirabilis, the smallest puya and the quickest to bloom, to go with the Puya coerulea I’d bought earlier this year at a UC Davis Arboretum plant sale.
|Sapphire tower (Puya alpestris). The flowers on this puya are a bluish turquoise color with a metallic sheen that looks unreal. Like all puyas, this species forms a dense mound of overlapping rosettes with spiny leaves.|
|Close-up of Puya alpestris flowers. The silvery leaves in the background belong to a Puya laxa.|
Annie’s Annuals also carries a large selection of exotic plants that aren’t succulents, especially from South Africa. Since our climate is very similar to that of South Africa, many South African natives do really well here. Before my next trip, I will do more research in advance and come prepared with a wish list!
This stunning flower grows on top of a wickedly spiny stem. Not a user-friendly plant, but beautiful and exotic and hence very desirable to me.
An entire section of the nursery is dedicated to California natives. It was astounding to see the selection they carry, ranging from large shrubs like flannel bush and ceanothus to small succulents like Dudleya and Lewisia.
|Datura metel ‘Belle Blanche’. Daturas are considered weeds by some and they can look gangly in their native desert environment, but with richer soil and regular water they are stunning.|
|Lewisia cotyledon ‘Sunset’. A small succulent from California and the Pacific Northwest (the rosette is about 5 inches across), the flowers are truly spectacular.|
|Another lewisia with longer and more narrow petals (Lewisia longipetala ‘Little Plum’)|
|California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in a range of colors|
|Eschscholzia californica ‘Red Chief’, my favorite poppy color|
The range of colors, shapes and textures was simply astounding. While I typically gravitate towards drought-tolerant perennials that are at home in xeric or Mediterranean gardens, I spent quite a bit of time looking at perennials and annuals more typically found in cottage gardens.
|Variety of flowering perennials and annuals planted in larger pots so customers can see what the small 4-inch plants they buy will look like|
|Yellow fig-leaved hollyhock (Alcea rugosa). Unlike the common biennial hollyhock, this Russia native is perennial and blooms from summer through fall. Now I wish I had bought one…|
|Convolvulus tricolor ‘Royal Ensign’. These flowers are like a beacon that you can see from a hundred feet away!|
|Cosmidium x burridgeanum 'Brunette'. One of the showiest cosmos I’ve ever seen. An annual, but reseeds.|
Considering the smorgasbord laid out in front of me this morning, I had a hard time reeling myself in. While in hindsight it’s clear that I shouldn’t have been quite as conservative, especially considering that Annie’s Annuals is almost an hour away, I only bought seven plants. They’re all very different, though, and fill niches in our garden—including some niches that were created by me buying them :-).
My haul this morning. It includes three succulents (Dudleya pulverulenta, Puya mirabilis, Aeonium hierrense), a native lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), a sweet black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), a coral-colored perennial from Uruguay (Dicipliptera suberecta), and a rare palm-leaved begonia from Brazil that will be confined to a pot because it needs protection in the winter (Begonia luxurians)