Monday, March 5, 2012

Grand opening of largest nursery in Central Valley

On Saturday I blogged about the closure of Flora Tropicana, the largest water-garden nursery in California. In an ironic twist of fate, the day Flora Tropicana closed another Sacramento area nursery held its grand opening.


The 3-acre Folsom location of Green Acres, the nursery I wrote about a couple of months ago, is supposed to be the largest retail nursery in the Central Valley. This is a locally owned, family-run business and I’m excited that the market in the Sacramento Valley, which has sustained tremendous economic damage from the collapse of the housing bubble, has improved enough to support a brand new nursery of this size. What’s even better, the space Green Acres took over used to be a Circuit City mega store which closed after less than a year in business. From electronics/appliance store to nursery, that’s what I call a great story!

When I arrived at noon, the huge parking lot was filled to capacity and people were parking along the street. The air was festive and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. Yes, lots of lookie loos, but also lots of people buying stuff. The employee-to-customer ratio was higher than at any nursery I have ever visited, and even though that might be a temporary phenomenon, it made sure that questions were answered quickly and people directed efficiently to whatever they were looking for.

The 30,000 sq. ft. main building, i.e. the former Circuit Store, is filled with landscaping and gardening supplies, pottery and outdoor living products; the checkout line has 14 registers. Outside there are 38,500 sq. ft. of covered shade area and greenhouse space and probably another 25,000 sq. ft. of uncovered space. It is certainly the largest nursery I’ve ever been to.

The selection of plants was impressive, especially shrubs and citrus trees. To my disappointment they hadn’t gotten any avocado trees in yet (two more weeks, I was told).  Unfortunately, the lighting was very harsh so most of the photos I took in the covered areas didn’t turn out very well due to the mottled light streaming in through the lattices overhead. But here are some plants that caught my eye:

Pieris japonica
Pieris japonica in a half barrel
Rhododendron ‘PJM’
Camellia japonica ‘Tom Knudsen’
Grevillea lavandulacea ‘Penola’
Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’
Grevillea ‘Fanfare’, a prostrate groundcover grevillea
LEFT: Alpinia formosana ‘Variegata’, a variegated ginger I’d never seen before.
RIGHT: Farfugium japonicum ‘Argenteum’, one of my favorite shade plants. I spotted a large specimen in Santa Cruz last fall.
Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) in various sizes but no other cycads
Impressive specimens of a fruitless olive cultivar called ‘Swan Hill’ (Olea europaea ‘Swan Hill’). These would be perfect for a classic Mediterranean garden. Any faux Tuscan villa needs a few! Not cheap at $500 each.
I had to chuckle when I saw these elephant ears wrapped in yellow Caution tape. I never knew they were so dangerous!!

In the greenhouse, there was color everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many annuals in one place. And from what I observed, quite a few customers fell under the spell of these gaudily colored beauties and hauled them off en masse.

Primulas galore!
More annuals
And even a few flowering perennials like columbines
Flats of annuals waiting in the wings
I’ve never seen this coloration in a calla lily before

Green Acres’ selection of vegetables was impressive as well. I meant to take a closer look but got sidetracked by the succulents—gasp!—and didn’t go back.

Artichokes (edible), Jerusalem sage (not edible), both in the vegetable section

My first reaction to the succulent section was disappointment because I had hoped it would be bigger. But when I started to take a closer look, I realized that there are lots of plants crammed into the space. The selection of 2-inch pots is similar to what you find in a big box store, but these plants looked perfect—something frequently not the case at Home Depot or Lowes.

A sea of succulents in 2- and 3-inch pots
They do look enticing, don’t they?
Sempervivums, one group of succulents that abhors our summer heat
Groundcover sedums
Nice to see more unusual aloe cultivars
Echeverias of many colors and textures
Echeveria subrigida. I couldn’t resist and bought one.

It took me a while to find the landscaping succulents—appropriately, they are outside in the full sun—and the selection here really was dismal. In the next photo, you can see 75% of what they had. Nice specimens, but not a big selection. I realize it’s only the beginning of March and they might add more plants over the months to come. I sure hope so because with water rates on the rise in our area, there is an increasing interest in xeric landscaping.

Agaves and yuccas in 5-gallon containers

As small as this section was, I did find my favorite plant right here: A variegated Agave attenuata cultivar called ‘Ray of Light’ from Monrovia. Priced at $40 for a 5-gallon plant it was not cheap. Agave attenuata just doesn’t do well in our garden so I decided to skip it. But if I ever see a 1-gallon plant for $10, I will give it a try.

Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’

While Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’ was my favorite plant, the most “interesting” (substitute any adjective you prefer) sight was this:

Spartan juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Spartan') pruned to resemble a saguaro

Just when I thought I had seen it all!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Saying goodbye to a special nursery

The Sacramento gardening community was stunned last week when an article appeared in the Sacramento Bee announcing that Flora Tropicana Nursery in nearby Elk Grove was closing. Established in 1997, Flora Tropicana was California’s largest water-garden nursery. With dozens of koi ponds, several hoop houses filled with water plants, a pool and pond supply store, pottery, Japanese granite basins and lanterns, and an extensive selection of bamboo, this 5-acre nursery had been a Sacramento area mainstay for 15 years.

Ironically, it wasn’t the economy that forced the closure, at least not directly. The Sacramento Bee quotes co-owner Wendy Tjaden as saying “People assume that it's the economy, but we survived the economy…We hung on—barely—but we did.” Instead, the 100-acre parcel that includes the grounds the nursery had been leasing went into foreclosure, forcing Flora Tropicana to close operations. The owners had been planning to open a 2nd location in the San Jose area this spring, and now the new Cupertino store will be the only one.

Elk Grove is a 35-minute drive from my house but I decided this morning to visit Flora Tropicana one last time. Water gardening isn’t a primary interest of mine so I had never been a regular customer. Still, I had enjoyed strolling through the nursery occasionally, typically ogling the granite lanterns, basins and fountains that were way beyond my budget. And even now, in spite of their big moving sale with discounts up to 66%, many prices were still on the high side. But that didn’t seem to deter customers because the parking lot was overflowing this morning and I saw people hauling lots of stuff to their cars.

As for me, I left empty-handed, feeling vaguely depressed. Even though Flora Tropicana had not been a regular hangout of mine, any nursery closure is a loss to us gardeners.


Yard art and palm trees in front of the pond and pool supply store
I like this fountain of basalt (?) columns surrounded by horsetail rushes (Equisetum hyemale)
One of several display ponds
Fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense) very similar to the one I just planted
(except ours has dark purple leaves)
Another pond with a picnic gazebo
Customers routinely brought food and had picnics on the nursery grounds
What was left of the succulent section—yes, just a dozen plants
I was intrigued by the 3-ft. concrete face on the left. Unfortunately, both it and the metal Eiffel Tower on the right were still $200—after the 50% discount.
I’m a sucker for this kind of fountain. Some day I’ll have one.
This is the one item that tempted me the most. A hollowed-out piece of granite like that would look awesome in our Asian-inspired woodland garden. But $180 still seems like a lot.
LEFT: Only a few Japanese granite items were left.
The pagoda is super cool and super pricey: $1500 – 30% discount = $1050.
RIGHT: All pottery was 66% off, but there wasn’t much left that spoke to me.
The water plant greenhouses were mostly empty. In its heyday, Flora Tropicana had the largest selection of water plants in California.
Even now Flora Tropicana has a large number of potted bamboos ranging from 3 gallon pots to 24” boxes. Most are running bamboos, which I don’t quite understand. I would imagine that most customers would prefer clumping bamboos unless they have acreage and/or are willing to do the requisite maintenance to prevent the uncontrolled spread of rhizomes.
Phyllostachys aurea ‘Holochrysa’. The culms were a stunning yellow color.
Unlabeled running bamboo. I have no idea what this is, but the coloration of the culms was breathtaking.
Could this be Phyllostachys makinoi? If anybody knows, please leave a comment below.