Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I discovered a great nursery—and it's a Home Depot!

I don't do a lot of plant shopping at big-box garden centers although occasionally they're good for a surprise. More often than not, though, their selection is less than exciting, and sometimes their plants are not exactly healthy (see this recent post).

Last weekend I discovered that it doesn't have to be that way. For years I've been hearing rumors of the Home Depot in San Rafael, CA having a fantastic nursery. More than that, some Bay Area gardeners talk about it in almost reverent terms. In an old post from 2010, landscape designer Michelle Derviss raved:
I thank my lucky stars every time I shop at my local San Rafael Marin County CA Home Depot nursery. The nursery is on par with some of the best nurseries in United States. The guy who runs it, Charlie Rossi, is a seasoned horticultural veteran of the nursery industry. Your eyes would be blown out of their sockets if you walked into ‘his nursery’. Simply amazing. 
More praised can be found in the comments to this blog post on Garden Rant.

Plants outside the store

Why is this Home Depot garden center so good when so many others plain suck? Easy: It has a dedicated nursery manager who prides himself on sourcing the best plants.

Last weekend I finally had the opportunity (or, rather, created the opportunity) to visit this fabled place. Did it live up to the hype?

Read on to find out.

The first thing I noticed was the amount of space dedicated to plants. In the photo above, you can see how many plants there are outside the store—more than most Home Depots have inside their garden centers!

The selection of succulents was quite decent. Nothing too exotic but that's not a surprise considering the big Southern California growers that provide most of the plants don't specialize in rarities. However, all the plants I saw seemed to be happy, healthy and better maintained than usual.

So much to look at!


Pedilanthus macrocarpus, not exactly mainstream in Northern California

Very nice agaves

Agave pygmae 'Dragon Toes'

Agave colorata 'Supreme', a choice selection



Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light' is not the kind of plant you'd expect to see at Home Depot


Something else I hadn't seen before: mixed sedums/sedeverias in one container. Usually it's one variety per container.

In addition, the plants were arranged with much more care and an eye towards what looks good. This is what I expect to see in a full-service nursery, not at a Home Depot.


Nice selection of shrubs and small trees:

Arbutus 'Marina'

Even grevilleas, including some I had never even heard of:

LEFT: Grevillea 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'   RIGHT: Grevillea 'Dwarf Pink'

Eye-dazzling color against the muted gray of junipers and lavender—whoever arranged the plants knows what looks nice:


The outdoor area inside the actual garden center was both large and well-stocked:

 
It was wonderful seeing such a cornucopia of plants in what is the middle of winter (I know, it's hard to think of it as winter when temperatures are in the 70s):


Australian finger lime, not exactly box store material!

My local Home Depot nursery does NOT carry such a big selection of landscape-size shrubs and trees

In spite of the sheer number of plants for sale there were some empty tables left. I have to go back when they're stocked as well.


Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'

Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt', anyone?

Bambusa multiplex 'Fernleaf'

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'El Dorado', not rare but oh so pretty

Nice and bushy Australian coast rosemary (Westringia fruticosa 'Wynyabbie Gem')

I didn't take a lot of photos inside the "real" garden center because it looked like most Home Depots. In essence, then, the San Rafael Home Depot has the same kind of garden center any Home Depot has PLUS a large outside area attached to the garden center PLUS plants upon plants outside the actual store.

Two colors of bougainvillea on one plant

Ornamental kale and cyclamen

Flats upon flats of groundcovers

Avocados!!

The house plant area wasn't large but it has a good selection:
  

And there were even more succulents:


Echeveria 'Colorshift'

For years I'd been looking for a reasonably priced Sansevieria trifasciata 'Bantel's Sensation'. Here they had half a dozen! (I didn't buy any because I already got one last year at Poot's Cactus Nursery.)


If I hadn't already bought so many plants on recent shopping sprees, I would have loaded up. Instead I limited myself to two plants: a small Sansevieria trifasciata 'Moonshine' (gray-green plants in the middle in the photo above), and a swoonworthy Grevillea 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' (a hybrid between Grevillea rosmarinifolia and Grevillea alpina):

My Grevillea 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'

One look at the flowers was all it took for me to know what I had to have this grevillea. It's already planted in the front yard. I don't waste time these days because I hate hand-watering plants in nursery containers.

Grevillea 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'

The nursery was busy when I was there on Saturday morning. From what I saw, it appears to be very popular with landscapers. I saw two guys leaving with four 15-gallon bamboos on a flat-bed cart. Heck, I've never seen a 15-gallon bamboo at any Home Depot before! 

I don't know if Charlie Rossi is still the nursery manager. If he isn't, he has left a legacy that continues on—and is clearly successful. It doesn't take a finance degree to figure out that nicer plants and a bigger selection translates into more business. So why don't more Home Depot stores (or Lowe's, Orchard Supply, etc.) invest in their nurseries?

The San Rafael Home Depot is at 111 Shoreline Pkwy, San Rafael, CA 94901.

25 comments:

  1. Welcome to the Charlie Rossi fan club! It truly is the best stocked HD in the Bay Area, which in some ways is a drag as it would be great if the El Cerrito and Emeryville HD'S had half the selection. You'd only bump into Charlie on weekdays, so that's why you didn't see him.

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    1. Yep, I'm a member of the Charlie Rossi fan club now. Like you, I wish his "recipe" would magically transfer to other HD locations...

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    2. know that ALL home depots (the vendors) spray the plants with pesticides BEFORE they are placed on sale - whether they need it or not - so you are handling chemicals every time you pick up the plants...all the big box stores do this (and they use neonics - which kill our bees) - we have been writing them for years to change this practice - but home depot still does it...i do landscape design and will no longer purchase any outdoor plants at home depot for my clients or my own garden....i think it is important to know that...lisa rini (steve wallet is my spouse)

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  2. It is really surprising that Depot allows so much local control in this store. I would be interested to know what the buying process is here.Our Napa HD has a joke of a garden center, though I think OSH is even worse. Back in the mid-80's there was a chain called Woolworth Garden Centers.We had one here in Napa and the manager was named Charlie, with an Italian last name that I don't remember. He was revered here. Now I wonder if it was the same person.

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    1. I bet it's the same guy, Charlie Rossi. Not many nursery managers have that kind of following :-)

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  3. Oh ya! I was smitten with Grevillea 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' as soon as I saw it. It’s quite the looker, desire it’s ridiculous name.

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    1. Don't get me started on silly cultivar names!

      'Bonnie Prince Charlie' is named after Charles Stuart, the last Stuart to claim the British throne. I only know that because I watch "Outlander" :-)

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  4. Wow their selection is vast, almost like an independently owned nursery!

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    1. Totally! Although my loyalty is still primarily to smaller independent nurseries.

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  5. Totally jealous. We have nothing like this in Nashville. I wish our independent nurseries offered as many plant choices.

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    1. We don't either in the Sacramento area. The Home Depot in San Rafael is over an hour from here.

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  6. I’ll try to go over there to see it soon. It’s definitely a head above the run of the mill HD.

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    1. I bet you'll find something. They had more Australian shrubs than I showed, including yet another Grevillea lanigera cultivar (in fact, they had 'Coastal Gem', 'Mount Tamboritha' AND 'Little Drummer Boy' side by side).

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  7. Remarkable! It just goes to show how much difference one or more knowledgeable employees can make. As a former human resources professional, I wish more companies would realize that and give such employees rein to stretch their creativity. Why a company the size of HD doesn't study successes like Rossi's and apply the lessons to other stores eludes me (but then there is a reason I'm not in HR anymore).

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    1. Amen to everything you said. My company works exclusively with freelancers, but as a manager, I try very hard to empower them to do their best. From 25+ years of experience I know that investing in people works and pays dividends year after year.

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  8. I am so jealous. Please enjoy it for me!

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    1. I just wish it were closer. I won't be able to go more than a few times a year.

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  9. So this is where David and Michelle shop...amazing that this mega-corporate chain could be bent to Charlie Rossi's will. Resistance! Bravo!

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    1. I know! I want to meet Charlie Rossi and find out how he does it!

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  10. I shall have to have a word with ours. But then again our climate demands a more limited plant selection and I wouldn’t want them to put our local nurseries out of business.

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    1. This is the only Home Depot I've ever been to that has that kind of plant selection. I wish others would step up their game, too.

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  11. Wish I had discovered your blog when I still lived in the Sacramento area. I would definitely road trip to this Home Depot. (Wait! Did I really just type that?) A bit far from Austin though.

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    1. Yeah, Austin is just a tad too far. And I know what you mean: It does sound odd to say that you're willing to go on a road trip to visit a Home Depost :-).

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