Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting some goodies at Annie’s

I had a business meeting in the Bay Area today, and I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond. I visited Annie’s for the first time last summer and I fell in love with this quirky nursery. Unlike Green Acres, a large general-purpose nursery in Sacramento which I blogged about a few days ago, Annie’s specializes in the rare and the usual.

Not a lot is in bloom at this time of year, but each plant is described in great detail so you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting. The plant labels are exemplary, as you will see below, and I wish more nurseries made an effort to provide useful information like that to their customers.

To start with, here are some photos that show the overall layout of the nursery.

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In this panorama you can see about two thirds of the nursery. There is more on the left.
 
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Annie’s signature cow, this time sporting a hat
 
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This area is near the entrance; the gift shop and cashier trailer is on the left (not shown)
 
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The succulent area, my first stop. While they carry a few agaves and aloes, the real focus is on groundcover succulents (many types of ice plants, sedums, intergeneric sedum hybrids, etc.), aeoniums and puyas.
 
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Puya chilensis, 3 ft. chartreuse flower heads on 12 ft. stalks when mature  (click here for a photo). It’s a stunning plant, but too large for our garden. Instead, I opted for a smaller and I think even more beautiful Puya venusta. Be sure to check these photos to see the spectacular flower of Puya venusta and other puya species.
 
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Aeonium holochrysum, 1 ft. rosettes on 3 ft. branching stems. One of the rarer aeoniums; in fact, I’ve never seen one anywhere else. More frost-sensitive than other aeoniums, so not a good choice for our garden.
 
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I know a thing or two about succulents, but I had never even heard of greenovias, let alone seen one! Annie’s carries two species; the one in the two photos above is Greenovia aurea. What a stunner it is (click here for more photos)! I didn’t buy one because I wasn’t sure how it would do in our hot summer climate. But it will definitely go on my wish list for next time. (Further research has revealed that the genus Greenovia is now lumped in with the genus Aeonium.)
 
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I had seen a tree euphorbia (Euphorbia lambii) at Ruth Bancroft Garden last year (click here to see a photo of their plant) and was hoping to find a source. One of these babies went home with me. Soon I’ll have my own 6 ft. Dr Seuss tree! It will most likely occupy the spot in our front yard succulent bed where this yucca had been.
 
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Still hard to find in regular nurseries, tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) was well represented at Annie’s. My specimen bloomed last May and June and produced lots of seeds. I’m sure I’ll have seedlings pop up near where the mother was planted, so I didn’t buy a replacement.
 
                                                                                                                                    
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However, I did buy one of these echiums: a hybrid between Echium wildpretii and Echium pininana called ‘Mr. Happy’. I will plant it in the same spot where my Echium wildpretii had been.
 
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I get the biggest thrill out of finding plants I’d never even heard of before. Case in point: this Hebenstreitia dentata. I wonder how many nurseries in the country carry it? The flowers are quite unique, and even though it’s a short-lived perennials, I bought one to try as a container plant.
 
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Pelargoniums are not that unusual per se, but this one (Pelargonium denticulatum) combines beautiful flowers with very interesting leaves. It’s from South Africa—of course!
 
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This Linaria reticulata 'Flamenco' is from North Africa, for a change. It’s an annual, but apparently it self-sows readily. What a cheery plant! How come you never see it in regular retail nurseries?
 
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Another cheery plant: Alonsoa meridionalis 'Apricot' from Chile. A short-lived perennial, but a prolific bloomer in zones 9-10. Self-sows, too.
 
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This one did go home with me: Salvia canariensis var. candidissima. The leaves are super fuzzy, like lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) but pointier. Grows 4-6 ft. tall and wide and tolerates heat, drought and poor soil. Sounds perfect for our climate!
 
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Passionflower, anyone? You’ve come to the right place. I saw six unusual varieties, my favorite being Passiflora edulis ‘Frederick’ for its breathtakingly intricate flower. I just may have to rig a trellis against a section of fence so I can grow one of these!
 
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This Bolivian sunflower (Tithonia diversifolius) was another nice surprise. I’ve grown Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) before and love it, but it’s an annual and I hate having to replace it year after year. In contrast, Tithonia diversifolius is a perennial and would potentially give us years of enjoyment. The reason why I ultimately decided not to get it: it’s simply too big, growing to 10-12 ft. tall and wide.
 
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Another eye-opener was the impatiens table. When I hear the word “impatiens,” I think of run-of-the-mill low-growing annuals planted in rigid formation together with petunias and pansies. These plants are definitely not your grandmother’s impatiens! They are perennial shrubs, some 5 ft. tall! Definitely a new discovery for me.
 
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Impatiens tinctoria—rare, hardy, and fragrant—jumped out at me but it dislikes heat, so not the best plant for Davis
                                                                                                                                             
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Impatiens sodenii ‘La Vida Rosa’ is the one I bought (the plant on the right). It has an impressively thick stem already and was bursting out of its 4 inch pot. It will go in the backyard between the two bamboo stock tanks.
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Another surprise: two orchid cactus (Epiphyllum sp.) cultivars. ‘King Midas’ was the one I chose. Huge golden-orange flowers in the spring (5-7 inches across). It will go in a hanging basket on our front porch. Availability appears to be limited; Annie’s web site lists it as unavailable.

Unfortunately, my time at Annie’s was limited today, but Richmond is only an hour away. There are many more plants to be explored. Annie’s web site lists 490 different species as “available now,” but I know for a fact that the nursery carries many additional species that aren’t available on the web site.

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View of the “California natives” section. I love the pattern made by the different color plant tags (each color stands for a different price).

If I were to choose, I’d say Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is my favorite nursery in Northern California. No other place carries as many rare plants and oddities as they do. This post barely scratches the surface of what they have. If you are ever in the San Francisco Bay Area, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Annie’s. And if you live farther afield, there is always their website, http://www.anniesannuals.com. Many plants can be mail-ordered.

7 comments:

  1. Just what we need on a winter's month, a plant fix from a fab looking nursery! Although I wish we had a nursery near us that is as well stocked at this time of the year with exotics as Annie's!

    Great detour! Grenovia is a new one to me too but good to know it's now lumped under Aeonium.

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  2. I first found out about Annie's Annuals on the extinct HGTV show "Gardening by the Yard" (which I really miss). I never got a tour like this from the show though. Never knew they sold so many unusual species. Sounds and looks like a great way to spend a winter afternoon (and you certainly weren't fighting crowds there it seems).

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  3. I think Annie's has been able to survive because they're so different from a box store garden center. They also have a large section with California native plants. My post literally only showed the plants that caught my eye yesterday, but there is much more.

    @Alan, I was there at 10 a.m. and there were just a few other customers. I bet Wednesday morning is never a busy time :-).

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  4. Next time we're in California we will be for sure visiting Annie's, as well as the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Both had to be scratched from our last visit for lack of time. I have ordered from Annie's catalogue and can report that they ship things very well and have great customer service.

    Annie herself is coming to talk to our local Hardy Plant Society at the end of the month, I'm very excited about that!

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  5. Annie's is the godhead of Northern California nurseries. Seriously.

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  6. Hey Gerhard, sweet post. Annie's has the best plants hands down. Yeah, never heard of Hebenstreitia dentata either. Not much for white flowers, but this one is okay in my book. Have to say, we have a bunch of her plants, and love them all. Thanks for the share. Matti

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  7. Oh my goodness! I got a gift cert for there for Xmas. And I would love one of those Euphoria Lambii. I hope you can get one on line. I love the labels they have for everything. I would like to go there sometime. Great post!

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