Monday, May 16, 2016

Where spiky meets stylish: Grow Nursery, Cambria, CA

My personal highlight of our spring break trip to California’s Central Coast in March was Grow Nursery in the small town of Cambria, about 20 miles from our home base of Morro Bay. Grow is owned and operated by Nick Wilkinson. Although he wasn’t able to make it this year, he has been a semi-regular vendor at the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society’s annual Show and Sale so I was familiar with the caliber of plants Nick sells. I had high hopes for his nursery, and what I found far exceeded my expectations.

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As you can see from the photo above, Grow isn’t your run-of-the-mill hometown nursery. It’s actually part of a larger complex called The Shops at the Garden Shed. Located on 2024 Main Street in Cambria’s East Village, the original tin building dates back to the 1890s when it was a creamery. Grow is located in a smaller building in the back.

This is what you see as you approach the Garden Shed:

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Just follow the sidewalk sign:

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To get to Grow, you walk through The Garden Shed proper, a separate store that deserves closer examination (for which, unfortunately, I didn’t have time).

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You then end up in a courtyard, the gardener’s equivalent of a candy store. The merchandise displayed here comes from the various stores in the complex. Most, if not all, of the plants are from Grow.

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Wondering where Grow is? Follow the signs!

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Grow’s straight ahead.

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Oops, got sidetracked. Turn left to get to Grow.

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But before we check out Grow, though, let’s take a closer look at the treasures in the courtyard.

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Quite a few gardening folks I know would go crazy here. Not just over the plants, but also over the other stuff (for a lack of a better word that isn’t pretentious and/or French).

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Invariably, my eyes returned to the plants.

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LEFT: very large Echeveria hybrid  RIGHT: Leucospermum reflexum

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Unlabeled bromeliad

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Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum)

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Drool, drool

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Aside from Grow, my favorite store in the courtyard was junkgirls. I wish I’d had time to explore their store, but my family was waiting for me at the French Corner Bakery nearby. (I know, life is hard when you’re on vacation.)

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Space in our car was limited so I made my one plant purchase count. Grow had three perfect Agave pumila of a size I never seen before. This species (some say a naturally occurring hybrid between Agave victoria-reginae and Agave lechuguilla) is hard to find in a small size, let alone as a quasi-mature specimen, so I jumped at this exceedingly rare opportunity. It’s planted out in our front yard now.

More junkgirls goodies:

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Standing in front of junkgirls and looking towards Grow:

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OK, we’ve finally made it:

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While not large, the interior of Grow was packed with a wide variety of items (and plants) that begged to be examined up close. Knowing I didn’t have the time, I snapped this photo…

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…and this…

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…and then walked into the outside space behind the building. Can it call it the “backyard?”

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There is no retail space like this where I live. The closest in Northern California would be Flora Grubb in San Francisco, although that’s a larger store with a different vibe. If anything, Grow reminded me of the garden shops you find in Portland, Oregon. I’d love to hear what the Portland peeps think of this comparison.

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Large, and perfect, Agave not-titanota-so-let’s-call-it ‘Felipe Otero’

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Equally perfect variegated Agave parryi var. truncata

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Agave chazaroi, so tantalizing, yet not hardy in Davis so bypassed

More “backyard” vignettes:

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This massive sphere is a Deuterocohnia brevifolia (formerly known as Abromeitiella brevifolia), a terrrestrial bromeliad native to Argentina and Bolivia

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Same plant. Check out this photo Candy ‘Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents’ Suter posted a couple of years ago.

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Leucadendron ‘Margo’

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Grow also has a large selection of rocks and minerals

Succulents of every description and size:

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Metals drawers, possibly for screws and such originally?

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Yes, Grow has air plants, too!

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So many different textures

When putting together this post, I found this very interesting 2012 interview with Nick Wilkinson, the owner of Grow. I didn’t know that Nick has a strong arts background. In fact, he has an art degree from San Diego State University in painting and printmaking. But in hindsight I’m not surprised. Everything I saw at Grow—from the store design to the plant selection—was artfully curated.

While this post contains a lot of photos, it only scratches the surface of what’s waiting to be discovered at Grow. I can’t wait to go back.

And Grow is just aspect of Nick Wilkinson’s retail vision. In the spring of 2015, Nick opened Left Field, an art gallery cum home décor store cum plant shop in nearby San Luis Obispo. I wasn’t able to check it out on this trip, but I will soon. This piece in the San Luis Obispo Tribune is a good introduction:

Left Field is named for the seeming randomness of its objects and art. The space is filled with items that are unexpected, charming and sometimes unsettling. Animal pelts covered part of a walkway, and hand-painted movie posters from Africa were hanging over the gallery’s handrails as Wilkinson prepared for his show last week.

The movie posters are part of Wilkinson’s private collection.

Besides owning Left Field and its sister store, Grow Nursery in Cambria, Wilkinson creates and shows his own art. He turned the back room of Left Field into an art gallery almost as an afterthought to opening the retail space that sits in front.

“This art is my world,” Wilkinson said, then smiled, adding, “I thought, ‘I have 7,000 projects; why not add one more by creating this space?’"

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12 comments:

  1. Well Gerhard, your post explains why I could not find the place when I drove through Cambria--my GPS took we maybe 4 or 5 blocks west of the actual location. I saw the garden Shed complex too !I'll know better next time.

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    1. I must admit this was the first time I've ever visited "downtown" Cambria. Usually we stick to the road that goes along the beach.

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  2. Could easily spend a fortune there. And snap! Was also about to say it reminded me of Portland nurseries!

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  3. I like that business model of shared space and displays from a like-minded group. Thanks so much for doing the "hard work" of discovering great places like this!

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    1. I agree! I wish more small businesses worked together like that. Of course the fact that Cambria's climate is so mild that people don't mind shopping outdoors even in the winter is a big plus...

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  4. I had no idea that Grow was part of a complex of like-minded stores, how fabulous! Your A. pumila purchase is scrumptious and even though I'm more of a shiny metal lover I would have had to get one of those rusty VW generators!

    While we've got fabulous nurseries here in the Portland area I can't think of anything quite like Grow. Maybe if you could combine Digs, Pomarius and Cistus all into one?

    And finally, that Deuterocohnia brevifolia sphere...OH MY GOD! So is it self supporting? I always assumed it was growing over something to get that shape.

    I simply must get my self there sometime soon...

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    1. It would be a lot of fun visiting Grow (and the other Garden Shed stores) with a small group of like-minded aficionados :-).

      That Deuterocohnia brevifolia just sat there. Like you, I used to assume the shape is because it completely covers a roundish object, but I recently learned that's how it grows. Check out this photo from this post.

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  5. A great place, we don't really have anything like that all in the UK, you either get good plants in very boring setting, or a good setting but standard plants.
    Got to agree that sphere of Deuterocohnia brevifolia is amazing. Seen large ones grown over rocks etc, but the sphere.

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  6. Grow's owner certainly knows how to build the suspense upon approaching his nursery but he delivered too! I love that tractor outfitted with succulents. On your next visit, I think you need to bring a larger vehicle...

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  7. Have gone to Cambria for many many years (was a stop on our honeymoon 33 years ago!) but NEVER saw this place. What a tragedy! On our way up to SF, we stopped here again last week and I purchased a boxful of beautiful specimens. Will definitely re-visit upon our next trek north.

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    1. I'm so happy to hear I helped you discover Grow. It's one of those places that make you happy when you see their plants.

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