Spring fever-induced nursery visit

With daytime temperatures in the mid-60s, this past weekend was just glorious. It felt much more like early March than early January! All that sunshine gave me a good case of spring fever—I just wanted to be outside and work in the garden. And we did end up getting a bit of yard cleanup done, in spite of me pulling something in my lower back.

On Sunday I took a break between projects and went to a nursery in Sacramento that I love to visit for its large selection of just about anything: Green Acres, a family-owned nursery with two locations (Sacramento and Roseville). I didn’t really need anything, but looking is as much fun as buying.

The first thing I saw when I walked in was an entire section with nothing but blooming cyclamen. This is not a plant I’m typically drawn to, but seeing this expanse of color made me feel good.

Sea of cyclamen

I’m not a primula fan either, but again, there is something about seeing hundreds of them all bunched together.

Nothing says spring like primulas

I don’t know what the flowering plants in the next two photos are (maybe cineraria?) but they looked particularly cheery. Even the ornamental cabbage—usually a plant I really don’t like—looked great to me. I must have been on a seratonin high from all the sun!

Lots of pretty blooming flowers (cineraria?)
The ornamental cabbage looked good, too

Sacramento is known as the Camellia Capital of the World. The older parts of town, and Capital Park surrounding the California State Capitol, are full of mature camellias and seeing them in bloom is stunning. Needless to say that Green Acres carries a large selection of camellias. Here are just some.

Espaliered camellias
Yuletide camellia (Camellia sansanqua ‘Yuletide’)
Flower of Yuletide camellia (Camellia sansanqua ‘Yuletide’)
Camellia in the Japanese demonstration garden

Speaking of Japanese gardens, Green Acres has a small but lovely Japanese demonstration garden. It includes a small koi pond (currently stocked with gold fish), plants appropriate for a Japanese-themed space, and four beautiful granite lanterns. It’s great to see nurseries go the extra mile and provide design inspirations instead of just selling plants.

Japanese garden panorama
Large snow viewing (or yukimi) lantern between a yew pine (Podocarpus macrophyllus) and a weeping blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’)
Another style of yukimi lantern made of reddish granite
Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') and dried Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra)

While not large, Green Acres’ bamboo selection is still decent compared to other general-purpose nurseries. The clumping bamboos I saw included Bambusa oldhamii, Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’, Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’ and the exquisite Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’). They also had some runners such as the ever-popular black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) as well as Henon (Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’).

For a larger selection, and better pricing, nothing can beat Mad Man Bamboo in Rocklin, CA. Most of the bamboos in our garden come from Mad Man Bamboo, and the owner, Sean Bigley, is a true bamboo expert..

Bamboos for sale, both clumping and running

As is the case with flowering plants, an expanse of ornamental grasses is a much more impressive sight than just one potted specimen, especially of the size typically sold in nurseries. Just take a lot at the next photo: While these are just 1-gallon plants, it’s almost like looking at a mature landscape.

Different types of carex sedge

I discovered similar expanses of texture in the shrub section. Even though in some circles there seems to be a bit of a backlash against variegated plants, I’m drawn to variegation like moths to a flame.

Two cultivars of false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus): ‘Variegatus’ on the left and ‘Goshiki’ on the right
Wild lilac ‘Diamond Heights’ (Ceanothus griseus horizontalis ‘Diamond Heights’)

Another group of plants I’ve recently been paying more attention to are conifers. The are many dwarf varieties that would look great in a container. Clearly growers have been paying attention to the fact that not every homeowner has space for towering trees!

LEFT: Tyrolean mugo pine (Pinus mugo ‘Tyrolean’)
RIGHT: Golden dwarf hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Aurea Nana’)
Korean fir ‘Silberlocke’ (Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’)
Cloud-pruned San Jose juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘San Jose’)
LEFT: Boulevard cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard')
RIGHT: Weeping blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’)
Weeping blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’) and cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus)

Red was the dominant color in the heavenly bamboo section. Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is not even remotely related to true bamboos (it’s in the barberry family), but the delicate leaves are somewhat bamboo-like. I have a conflicted relationship with Nandina domestica because the regular type is overused in our area, often looking ratty for lack of care. However, the named cultivars below looked spectacular in their winter colors.

Compact heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Compacta’)
Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Gulf Stream’)
Moon Bay heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Moon Bay’)
Thread-leaf heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Filamentosa’)

Speaking of red, this Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ was the star of the Japanese maple aisle. The bark color was so vivid, it looked like somebody had painted the trunk and branches. Just imagine how it would stand out in a snowy winter landscape! This cultivar has medium green leaves in the spring and summer which turn golden in the fall.

Coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’)

New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) is a very popular landscaping plant in the Sacramento area. There are many different cultivars in hues ranging from greens to pinks and reds. The cultivar I found most interesting is ‘Merlot’. The color is a deep purplish red—quite stunning. I wonder if it keeps its color in the hot summer sun or if it assumes a sickly greenish tinge like so many phormiums do.

Matt’s Merlot flax (Phormium tenax ‘Merlot’)

By the time I got to the tree section I was running of time. This is citrus season, and Green Acres carries every conceivable citrus variety.

Citrus tree selection

One I’d never seen before was Mexican sweet lime. It apparently has lower acidity than a regular lime. I’m not sure why you’d want a low-acid lime, but the fruit sure is nice-looking. As with the Bearss lime, the fruit turns yellow when ripe. At first glance it looks like a supermarket lemon but it is more rounded.

Mexican sweet lime (Citrus limettioides)


  1. Funny I'm not a fan of the ornamental cabbage and kale either, yet I found myself admiring some over the weekend.

    I'm also mysteriously drawn to the whole cloud pruning thing. I have no idea where I'd put such a thing but I'm starting to fear I might end up with one.

    Peace man (love the shadow shot)

  2. I'm normally not a Nandina fan (too overused) but I'll research some of those cultivars for sure!

    I really love that Tyrolean mugo pine -- I'll have to look out for that one too. It looks much different than a normal mugo from that photo -- is that what you thought in person too?

  3. @Loree, what is it about cloud pruning? It triggers my kitsch & tackiness radar, and yet, in the right context, it can look incredibly elegant.

    @Alan, when I saw that Tyrolean mugo pine, it looked like a carpet you could walk on because there were so many potted plants all bunched together. Individually, it doesn't look that different from the species (the coloration might be a bit more yellowish).

    According to the ID tag, it has a "dense, mounding habit and thick ascending branches." The listed height is 3 ft with a 5 ft spread. I think that's pretty much in line with the species. They're very slow growers, just a few inches a year.

  4. Hi Gerhard, funny you mentioned about feeling more like March rather than January as that's how we also felt last weekend! We too visited a nearby nursery but didn't buy any plant in the end, only a pot!

    With the cyclamens I like them but not for the flowers but rather for their aroid like foliage. The nursery's Japanese garden section is lovely!

  5. It seems everyone is getting bitten by spring fever, I'm back to work and the primulas are flying out. A field of cyclamen are indeed a beautiful thing.

  6. we also had a spring-like weekend on the opposite coast! Nurseries here this time of year don't look like the ones in your photos though....

  7. Very nice photos
    I should have read more about my black bamboo before I bought it ... but I really wanted one. It is now about 7 years old and turning into quite a large clump in my front garden. It is still one of my favourite plants. It runs a bit but not too quickly... perhaps a walk. The information on the tag said it did not run. ah well, I have given quite a few of these runners to friends. Someday, I would like to get it pleached and thinned out so that the ebony stems become more noticeable.

  8. Maggie, nothing quite beats black bamboo for visual impact. It's a stunning plant, no doubt about it.

    You can easily trim the lower branches in order to expose the culms (stems). I did the same to our clumping timber bamboo (check here).

    The good thing is that once removed, these branches won't grow back.

  9. This post makes me want a camellia plant so badly! Actually I think I'm jealous of every single plant you posted.


  10. I go to the Roseville location quite often. It is a really great nursery. Inside is pretty cool too with their selection of gloves, yard art and other cool stuff. Awesome pics buddy!


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