San Francisco Flower & Garden Show: Plant & Flower Market

For many visitors to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show the display gardens I covered in yesterday’s post are the primary attraction. However, I was looking forward just as much to the Plant & Flower Market housed in Fiesta Hall, a somewhat smaller space right next to the main pavilion. While Northern California has no shortage of nurseries, this was a great opportunity to check out the offerings of small vendors both from in and out of state.

Air Plants from Owens Gardens, the first booth we stopped at, was a good example. This seller traveled all the way from Washington state. They had the most beautiful air plants I’d ever seen. I’m not an expert—having killed four tillandsias a couple of years ago—but my traveling companion Candy is an aficionado and pored over their offerings.

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Air Plants from Owens Gardens

The main attraction for me in the Plant & Flower Market was the Succulent Gardens booth. It was one of the largest booths occupied by a single vendor and as expected it was chock full of the most perfect succulents. I had visited their growing grounds in Castroville, CA last fall during their 2-day Succulent Extravaganza and therefore had high hopes of finding some cool plants. And I did. I ended up picking out a nice selection of 2” plants reasonably priced at $3. In 6 months they’ll be three times their current size.

Succulent Gardens is renowned for their succulent wall panels, and this one, displayed on the back wall of their booth, was no exception. I started to count the individual plants in this mosaic but soon gave up.

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Wall panel composed of hundreds of succulents

The sales area was packed with plants and navigating through the narrow aisles was a challenge, especially since I was trying to take photos and pick out plants at the same time. As you can see, I wasn’t the only one shopping!

This video taken by Candy  from Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents gives you an even better view of the Succulent Gardens booth.

Succulent Gardens sales area
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Succulent Gardens sales area
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Succulent Gardens sales area
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This was the nicest looking Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripe’ I’d ever seen, completely unmarred by weather or snails. The white beauty on the top left is a Dudleya brittonii, and the plant on the top right is an Echeveria subrigida.
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Picture-perfect aeoniums—no dust, no nicks, no nothing
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Succulent sedums
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Even a variety of epiphyllum cuttings!

Located right behind Succulent Gardens, the Monrovia booth seemed oddly sparse, especially considering that Monrovia is one of the largest nursery operations in the country. But even here succulents (sempervivums and senecios) were displayed prominently—albeit a bit out place at the foot of a twisted drooping cedar.

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Succulents at the Monrovia booth

The Urban Farm Girls were also riding on the succulent and vertical gardening bandwagon. I quite liked their small framed succulent vignettes.

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Urban Farm Girls wall with succulent wreath and vignettes

Urban Farms Girls are best known—at least to me—for their beautiful hypertufa containers. Their booth did not disappoint. If I’d had unlimited disposable income, I could easily have dropped a grand here. Instead, I went home with these photos, which are nice too.

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Succulent-filled hypertufa container
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Hypertufa container with a ruffled echeveria whose color reminded me of blood sausage. I know, it’s not the most flattering association but that’s what popped into my head.
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These lopsided troughs were just about the coolest thing I saw at the show. What an interesting way to present these jewel-like sempervivums!

When I spotted the next booth, my heart started to beat faster. Cacti! Caudiforms! Euphorbias! Sticky Situation came a long way from Tucson, AZ. Co-owner Jana Sweets said that they brought all the plants at their booth in a Chevy van.

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Sticky Situations booth. The guy on the left is the other co-owner, Jim Joyiens.
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Show specials—$3 cacti!
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Speaking of minimalism and reuse, I thought that these Dole banana boxes were a perfect backdrop for these beauties. If there is a more perfect storage and transport container than a fruit box, I haven’t seen it yet.

I know some of you are yawning, so let’s leave the succulents behind and move on.

Japanese maples were big this year as well. I love Japanese maples as much as the next guy—maybe more—but the last thing I need is to become obsessed with trees that are slow-growing and expensive. So I admired them from a safe distance and moved on.

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Momiji Nursery, Santa Rosa, CA

What succulents are to me, orchids are to many other obsessed plant collectors. There were plenty of booths that sold orchids. I didn’t keep track and I steered clear of them. As with Japanese maples, it’s not an obsession I need to burden myself with.

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Orchid vendor

Orchids weren’t the only tropical flowers. Big Island Plants had all kinds of proteas but unfortunately they’re not hardy in our Sacramento Valley climate, no matter what the smiling and reassuring sales lady at the booth was saying.

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Big Island Plants was selling all kinds of tropical plants as seeds and bulbs
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Bouquet of proteas and grevilleas. It’s difficult not to be envious of climates like that of San Diego County where these beauties can be grown with ease.

In the same exotic vein, one booth had a bunch of blooming Veltheimia bracteata, a bulb from South Africa with strappy leaves and flowers that look like a cross between aloe and kniphofia flowers. At $20 they were not cheap.

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Veltheimia bracteata

Vertical gardening has gone from being a niche novelty to something that is on the verge of becoming mainstream. This panel contained violets and sedums…

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Violets and sedums in a vertical panel

…and this one all kinds of herbs and ferns, with sedums forming the gray swoosh in the middle.

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Vertical panel at Foothills College booth

Also seen at the Foothills College booth: a green roof for a chicken coop! What a great idea. Fresh lettuce and herbs on top, fresh eggs below.

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A product called The Vertical Garden is a new take on the good old strawberry pot, offering a great way to grow all kinds of plants—not just succulents as shown in the next photo, but also herbs, baby lettuces or flowering plants—in a planter that takes up very little floor or table space.

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The Vertical Garden, a stackable planter for indoor and outdoor use

At another stand I saw these small hanging containers that are perfect for a small vining plant like this one (no clue what it is). The snail shell is too cutesy for my taste, but I’m sure somebody will come out with a more abstract design that will appeal to the minimalist crowd. It’s exciting to see so many approaches to going vertical.

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Miniature vertical garden in a snail shell

To my disappointment, I didn’t see many vendors of plant containers (other than the Urban Farm Girls mentioned above). Made from grain hulls, these Ecoforms pots are eco-friendly and sustainable. They come in a surprising variety of colors and are quite good-looking once you get past that but they’re not ceramic! reaction.

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Ecoforms pots made from grain hulls

The final three photos were actually taken in the main Expo Hall where the display gardens and non-plant vendors were. I forgot to include them in yesterday’s post.

Vecchio Trees had a selection of jaw-dropping specimen trees on display. Check out the size of the olive trees in the next photo! I would love to see how they move them around—and how much they cost.

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Vecchio Trees display in Expo Hall

While bamboo was used as background material in several show gardens, this display was the only one that featured bamboo prominently. The combination of leopard bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra ‘Bory’) and blooming azaleas looked a bit artificial in this context, although in Japan I imagine both plants are used side by side quite harmoniously.

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Leopard bamboo and azaleas

The only bamboo vendor at the show was Bamboo Giant out of Santa Cruz County. I was disappointed that they didn’t have any plants for sale at their booth. They were marketing mostly installation and maintenance services. I did like their use of bamboo as furniture, wall and flooring material.

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Bamboo Giant booth

While I tried to give you a good idea of what it was like to be at the San Francisco Flower & Garden show, I know I wasn’t able to cover everything. But I hope I was able to convey my excitement at what I saw. I will definitely be back next year.

Other 2012 SF Flower & Garden show posts:


  1. Great post Gerhard! Again you out did yourself! I think I have a lot of the same photos as you! LOL

    1. Oh, I bet your photos are different enough. I can't wait to see what leaped out at you as we were walking around.

  2. So didn't you buy anything!!? Oh and those huge olive trees...$1,500

    1. I did buy plenty. 10 x 2", 3 x 4" and 2 x 6" plants at Succulent Gardens and a beautiful 6" Ferocactus chrysacanthus at Sticky Situation. I'll do a separate post about them next week.

      I couldn't get over those olive trees. Very impressive. $1,500 seems reasonable consider how immense they are.

  3. Cindy over on the Succulent Fanatics group on Facebook calculated the number of plants used in the giant wall display at the Succulent Gardens booth (2nd photo from the top):

    14 x 14 plants per panel x 15 panels = 2,940 plants

    Retail value: 2,940 plants x $3 ea = $8820 + cost of the panels

    Just in case you were wanting one of these displays for your own garden!

  4. I keep looking at the vertical gardens and think about how I can create one, but then think about how I'd keep it hydrated, especially late summer when the hot winds start (or now, with the early warm breezy days). Or how to keep raccoons from climbing it.

    (I did a similar grid calculation before seeing the comment. It's an amazing display piece though!)

    Also, the vine in that shell? Obviously a snail vine. ;-)

  5. Actually there are 90 2" plants per panel BUT you can also buy succulent CUTTINGS for much less from Succulent Gardens and just let them grow in a bit! (or just go pillage your hens & chicks, aeoniums, etc. for plenty of larger bits!) Buy a few for accents, but see what you can create from your own collections first; it will be uniquely yours!

    (Can you tell I've made a few of these before!)

    Gerhard, outstanding post, you captured the great atmosphere of the Plant Market at the Show so well, thank you. Our nursery exhibitors are the best; thanks for helping spread the word.

    See you next year!


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