Three Palms Nursery: a horticultural treasure in my own backyard

Whenever I visit a city where independent nurseries still thrive, I can't help but wish for a more active gardening and nursery community where I live. While it's unlikely that the greater Sacramento area will ever rival Portland or Seattle in that respect, we do have a few small nurseries that quietly do their thing on the edge of the mainstream.

One of them, Three Palms Nursery, is right here in Davis. Well, not in Davis per se, but just a few miles outside of town in the middle of the fields. To get there, drive west on Russell Blvd until you reach the intersection with County Road 95. You can't miss the nursery.

Yucca rostrata outside the nursery

This year, Three Palms Nursery is celebrating its 30th birthday. Given the fact that so many small nurseries have been squeezed out of existence by garden centers and big box stores, this is an impressive milestone. Even more remarkable: Three Palms Nursery is still owned and run by its founder, Phil Kitchen. The nursery was established in 1988 at the Schmeiser Ranch in rural Yolo County; the nursery name was inspired by the three 50 ft. California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) in front of the ranch's historic 1868 home. Since 1996, Three Palms has been at its current location on Russell Blvd.

The sign is five years out of date, but it's easy to do the math: 1988-2018

As the only production nursery in Yolo County, Three Palms specializes in plants that can handle our hot and dry summers and alkaline water. The selection may not be largest (about 250 varieties of ornamentals as well as fruit and shade trees), but Phil Kitchen is very careful about what he sells. This means that customers can be sure that their purchases won't turn out to be duds—a common problem with large garden centers that carry plants grown in a different climate (like the Central Coast or Southern California).

A few years ago, Phil started to bring in plants from Mountain States Wholesale Nursery in Glendale, Arizona to expand Three Palms' water-wise selections. These plants are marketed under the "Arizona Collection" banner and include not only succulents like agaves, dasylirions, fouquierias, yuccas and opuntias but also shrubs like calliandras and leucophyllums as well as trees like desert willows, palo verdes and mesquites.

Just inside the nursery entrance. The parking lot is to the right and left behind the fence.

Beyond the Arizona Collection, Three Palms carries unthirsty ornamentals from Australia and New Zealand and a good selection of California natives.

Some of these plants are fairly common, others aren't

To make it even easier for customers to plan in advance, the Three Palms website contains the nursery's inventory, complete with prices. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is to me. I like to browse plant lists ahead of time so I can arrive prepared with a shopping list in hand (or, rather, on my phone).

A teaser of what you can expect to find as you walk through the nursery

And that's exactly what I did on Sunday. I knew what I wanted, and I was able to find everything I was looking for. To see what I bought, scroll to the bottom of this post. 

Arizona Collection

Since Three Palms is a small operation, with Phil Kitchen doing just about everything from plant propagation to ringing up customers' purchases, it's easy to get your questions answered. That's what sets independent nurseries apart from garden centers where trying to get useful information is often an exercise in futility.

If I had room and a higher plant budget, I'd get one of these Yucca rostrata

There's something else about Three Palms I want to mention: its prices. While the trunked Yucca rostrata above may seem expensive at $400 (not really, considering they're easily 10 years old and had to be cared for all this time), the prices for everything else are extremely reasonable. 1-gallon plants are in the $7 to $10 range, 2-gallon $18 to $25, and 5-gallon $18 to $35. Three Palms also carries some plants (especially shrubs and trees) in 10- and 15-gallon sizes; these are $65 to $100.

Dasylirion texanum, a greener version of the more common desert spoon (D. wheeleri)

Blue barrel cactus (Ferocactus glaucescens)

Unlabeled barrel cactus (possibly Ferocactus pilosus)

Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans 'Azureum'), another member of the Arizona Collection

Pine cone prickly pear (Opuntia turpinii)

Silver spurge or gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida)

Eucalptus 'Moon Lagoon'

Grevillea 'Canberra Gem'. Look at the price!

Yellow-flowering Alyogyne hakeifolia, commonly called the blue hibiscus. Does that make this form the yellow blue hibiscus?

Fruit trees

Blooming nectarine trees

'Sunred' nectarine

Peek inside the greenhouse

I assume these babies will come out later this year

After I was done in the nursery, I strolled through the Greg Lynn Memorial Arboretum—the "wild" part of the 4-acre property accessed via a set of stairs from the nursery. Towering native oaks provide shelter for the plants Phil has planted along Putah Creek (which is dry most of the year). The Arboretum honors Greg Lynn, a lecturer in the UC Davis Design Department who inspired Phil to pursue his career as a nurseryman many years ago. This article on Davis Life Magazine has more information about the Arboretum.

Stairs up to the nursery

As you can see in these photos, the oaks haven't leafed out yet so the Arboretum looks a bit bare. In a month or two, it will be quite different. I will post updated photos later in the spring.

Hellebores in all their late-winter perfection

Daphne and red cordyline

Fuchsia-flowering gooseberry (Ribes speciosum)

I have a weakness for face sculptures anyway, but combined with aloes, it's a killer

Phil Kitchen said that the nursery will receive a lot of new inventory in March—the perfect time for me to go back. Check out Three Palms' website for updated information on inventory and plant sales. Right now, through the end of February, you get 20-50% off on all container plants.

And here are the plants I brought home from my outing to Three Palms Nursery:

Variegated Murphy agave, native to Arizona
2x2 ft.
Groundcover buckwheat, California native
1x4 ft.
Wax flower, native to Australia
2x3 ft.
Fine-leafed mallee, native to Australia
4x6 ft. (if pruned)
Australian bluebell creeper
3x6 ft. (if supported)

I forgot to photograph my plant haul, but I'll show you were they went in an upcoming post.


  1. Both the nursery and the arboretum are wonderful! I hope the owner has a succession plan to safeguard the nursery - I've been saddened to see too many of these independent nurseries close up when the owner retires or passes away. One of my favorites was turned into condos and another was annexed by a car dealership.

    Re the Sollya, be careful about where you plant it - I had one strangle a small tree before I realized it.

    1. Fortunately, this nursery is in a rural area surrounded by fields. It will never be turned into condos. But I don't know what will happen when Phil Kitchen retires.

      I planted the Sollya against the street-side fence near my Aloe 'Hercules'. I'm hoping it will cover the fence.

    2. Phil retired and turned most of the nursery area into an orchard. I worked with him for 15 years at the nursery. It was a great experience

  2. I’d like to visit it sometime soon. Several plants you mention are the same we saw on Saturday, with better prices!

  3. Looks like a wonderful place, I’d love to drop by this weekend!

  4. It's so nice to see an actual nursery where plants are being propagated instead of just a plant store. Great haul from this cool place!

    1. Isn't it ironic that today we're surprised when a nursery produces its own plants? Says a lot about the current state of affairs.

  5. Very nice, and the arboretum looks fine -- nothing wrong with bare trees on a warm winter day! Also, I need to get a Opuntia turpinii now.

    1. I like bare branches, too. They showcase the structure of the tree.

  6. A fine tribute to independent nurseries. May they survive and prosper (somewhere, somehow). What a wonderful way to spend the day working!

    Lately I've been cutting back 'Moon Lagoon' and just shoving the cuttings into a big vase--instant and beautiful decoration. :)

    1. Let's do what we can to support small nurseries! It may seem like I buy a lot of stuff at large garden centers but I actually do more looking than buying there. Most of what I've bought this year has come from independent nurseries or family-owned garden centers.

      I'm still smitten by 'Moon Lagoon'--and happy that it's becoming more available in our neck of the woods.


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