Thursday, March 29, 2012

Help save Capital Nursery in Sacramento

Capital Nursery has been a mainstay of the Sacramento gardening community since it opened its doors on Freeport Boulevard in 1936. Two other locations—in Citrus Heights and Elk Grove—were added since then. Capital Nursery has always been the go-to place to find a special plant, a mature shrub or tree, or even just your regular annuals, perennials and vegetables. They have been known for providing expert advice and and excellent customer service. I’ve always loved going to Capital Nursery—together with Green Acres it’s my favorite plant-buying place in the Sacramento area.

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I was saddened to read in the Sunday Sacramento Bee that Capital Nursery is struggling to stay open. The effects of the housing crash are lingering in many Sacramento suburbs, and several prominent area nurseries closed in the last few years. Not only are homeowners spending less at nurseries, the all-important professional landscaping market has shrunk dramatically because far fewer new houses are being built now than 6 or 7 years ago.

According to the Sacramento Bee article, this season is make-or-break time for Capital Nursery because they earn 50% of their revenue during March and June. A friend and I decided to swing by their main store yesterday to buy some vegetables and to see what else might catch our fancy.

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Entrance to the Capital Nursery location on Freeport Blvd in Sacramento

From a distance the nursery looked normal enough…

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Looking towards the perennials section

…but it became apparent very quickly that the shelves were quite bare. I would have preferred for some tables to be completely empty because that would have suggested that they’re getting ready for new shipments. That would have been a sign of hope. Instead, seeing individual plants spaced so far apart left me sad and depressed.

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Perennial tables up close

The Sacramento Bee article said that in spite of Capital Nursery’s financial difficulties, which has led to several law suits from suppliers that haven’t been paid, “new stock is arriving daily.” That may be the case, but I saw little sign of that yesterday.

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Tables where the shade plants used to be
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Covered gazebo for larger shade-loving plants like ferns
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Even the succulent selection was very sparse

Another unsettling thing was the reuse of pots without even attempting to remove or cover up the old label. A New Zealand flax in a Roma tomato pot? A strange sight indeed.

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Phormium in a tomato pot

However, not all sections of the nursery were gloom and doom. There were plenty of nice-looking (and large!) trees and shrubs, something Capital Nursery has always been known for.

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Japanese maples in sizes up to 25 gallon
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Double weeping cherry (Prunus subhirtella 'Yae-shidare-higan')
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Flowering quince (Chaenomeles superba ‘Cameo’)

I also spotted three impressive sago palms (Cycas revoluta) which would make an immediate impact in any landscaping. The only downside: the price tag. The first one, in the white pot, was $999!

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Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) for $999
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Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) for $399
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Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) for $299

The Stepables display was all new. Apparently this is a marketing campaign by Under A Foot Plant Company, an Oregon wholesaler, to sell perennials that tolerate varying degrees of foot traffic. The display included many nice plants that I’ve been partial to for a long time, including Highland Cream thyme, Corsican mint and creeping wire vine.

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Stepables display

I also came across the largest monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) I’d ever seen in a nursery. It was a full 5 ft. tall. I was this close to buying it but couldn’t quite talk myself into spending $70. But I’m still thinking about it.

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Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana)

And I was thrilled to find scoria (crushed lava rock) in three different colors: white, red and black. I use it as top dressing for succulents and cacti. If I ever found a source that sells larger bags (40 pounds and up) of red or black scoria, I’d also use it in soil mixes instead of pumice. Pumice is great but I don’t like how white it is.

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Scoria in small bags

And finally I discovered these dwarf Hinoki cypresses (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Rainbow’), perfect little beauties in 4” containers for $4.95. They'll slowly grow to 4 ft. and would be perfect for a rockery or an Asian-inspired garden. I picked one up for a future Bonsai experiment.

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Dwarf Hinoki cypresses (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Rainbow’)

So, what can you do to help save a treasured nursery like this one? Very easy: Shop there. Spend you plant dollars at Capital Nursery or other family-owned operations instead of at a big box store—even if you buy just a few vegetables or annuals at a time. You’ll find a much larger selection and prices are very competitive. In fact, for some things the prices I saw at Capital Nursery were lower than at Home Depot.

Now should I go back and buy that monkey puzzle tree? It could be a belated birthday present for myself!

7 comments:

  1. Saw a Monkey Puzzle tree on Ream Ave. You can check it out the next time you are up!

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    1. Yeah! That's the one I was looking for!

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    2. Good job, Gerhard. I just wish they had stocked some poblano peppers. I would have bought some. I heard from a client at Ace that Osh in Woodland may have some.

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  2. Sparse shelves could still mean they're waiting for shipments... but probably not.

    You would make their day (week? month?) if you bought one of those cycads. You know you want one.

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    1. The monkey puzzle tree is within reach. The cycads not so much :-).

      I'm hoping that the bare shelves will be filled soon, at least more than they are now.

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  3. Yes of course you should by the Monkey Puzzle Tree!!! That's obvious. The only real question (as Alan points out) is if you are going to buy one of the Cycads.

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  4. Sad to see another nursery on the brink of closing down, especially something like that that has been in existence for such a long time now. Cross fingers their finances will have a turn around.

    Go on, buy that Monkey Puzzle tree, you know you want to ;) and you'll be helping them out too! :)

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