Sunday, August 11, 2019

Visiting Mountain Crest Gardens succulent nursery in far northern California

We're so used to online ordering, we often forget that the stuff we buy comes from a real place where real people work. It's no different for plant enthusiasts who purchase from sellers all over the country, maybe even from other countries. That's why I get so excited when I have the opportunity to visit one of those “anonymous” businesses.

Mountain Crest Gardens (MCG) is a leading online succulent nursery. Billing itself as “The Ultimate Succulent Store,” they carry 700+ varieties of succulents. On the MCG website—one of the best designed, in my opinion—they're organized in two major groups: “soft” (tender) and “hardy.” The nursery also caters to wholesalers and landscapers with bulk offerings, both plugs and 2" pots.

The beginnings of MCG go back to 1995 (click here to learn more about its history). Initially, they sold pre-planted succulent dish gardens and wooden birdhouses with succulent roofs through big-box retailers and later through their own website. In 2005, they switched to their current format: growing and selling a large variety of named succulents directly to consumers through an easy-to-navigate and richly illustrated online store.

Mountain Crest Gardens is located in an unlikely place for a succulent nursery: the small town of Fort Jones (population 850) in far northern California, about 40 miles from the Oregon border. Fort Jones is in USDA hardiness zone 7b, i.e. its average annual extreme minimum temperature is between 5° and 10°F. According to BestPlaces.net, “there are 136.7 days annually when the nighttime low temperature falls below freezing.”

For me, the location is actually quite convenient. My mother-in-law lives in the Northern California town of Mount Shasta, only 50 miles from Fort Jones. She and I had been talking about visiting Mountain Crest Gardens for over a year, and it finally happened a couple of days ago.

The fastest route from Mount Shasta is just under an hour, taking Interstate 5 to Yreka and then Highway 3 for the remaining 20 minutes. However, my mother-in-law and I decided to take the more leisurely and more scenic route over hill and dale. This part of California is sparsely populated. We only passed through two very small towns; most of the drive looked like this:


And this:


While Mountain Crest Growers welcomes visitors—everybody was very friendly and accommodating to us—bear in mind that this is a hard-working nursery, not a fancy retail store. Here's a view of the greenhouse where visitors can shop:

Final glimpse of greenhouses from the parking lot

There is a small display garden outside the office building right next to the parking lot:

A nice cross-section of succulents that are hardy here

Mountain Crest Gardens carries hardy opuntias from Waterwise Botanicals in San Diego County


My focus during this visit was on sempervivums. With some exceptions (especially the spider-web varieties, Sempervivum arachnoideum), sempervivums are challenging to grow in Davis; our summers are simply too hot. In contrast, they do well in my mother-in-law's garden, and we wanted to add to her small collection.

Newly installed sempervivum bed

Mountain Crest Gardens has a huge selection of sempervivums; a search on their website yielded 356 results, with 131 items in stock. I was thrilled to see they have dedicated sempervivum display beds stocked with particularly showy varieties—and they are labeled! This may not seem like a big deal, but to me it is.

Sempervivum display beds



Clockwise starting bottom left: Sempervivum ‘Grammens’, Sempervivum ‘Neptune’, Sempervivum ‘Sunwaves’, Sempervivum ‘Glowing Embers’

Sempervivum ‘Lavender & Old Lace’

Sempervivum ‘Suixie from Slovenia’

Sempervivum ‘El Toro’

Sempervivum ‘El Toro’ and Sempervivum ‘Triste’

Sempervivum ‘Irazu’

Sempervivum ‘Pink Pearl’

Sempervivum ‘Othello’

Clockwise from left: Sempervivum ‘Purple Passion’, Sempervivum ‘Emerald Empress’, Sempervivum ‘Brunneifolium’, Sempervivum ‘Pixie’

Sempervivum ‘Frost and Flame’

Sempervivum flower, big and bold considering the size of the plant

View of the main greenhouse where visitors are allowed to roam:


Outside the greenhouse I noticed a few succulent planters that provide inspiration for customers:




The inside of the big greenhouse is pretty much exactly what you'd expect:


Thousands of trays filled with succulents of all descriptions:



Mountain Crest Gardens employee (orange shirt) picking orders, my mother-in-law (blue shirt) doing her own picking

Sempervivums: if I could grow them reliably, I'd want one of each

Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cebenese’

Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Sultan’

Sempervivum ‘Pink Lemonade’

Sempervivum ‘Traci Su’

Sedum japonicum ‘Tokyo Sun’

Hechtia tillandsoides

Echeveria agavoides 'Frank Reinelt'

LEFT: Echeveria minima hybrid    RIGHT: LEFT: Pachyphytum oviferum

Echeveria ‘Blue Bird’

Echeveria ‘Caribbean’

Echeveria ‘Mira’

Echeveria ‘Blue Sky’

Echeveria setosa var. minor

Aeonium ‘Lily Pad’

Aloe macrosiphon ‘Cielo’

Aloe dorotheae ‘Canary Yellow’

Aloe ellenbeckii

Aloe ‘Freckles’

Aloe ‘Firebird’

Albuca spiralis ‘Frizzle Sizzle’

Crassula ovata ‘Variegated ET's Fingers’

Crassula perforata ‘Variegated’

Euphorbia polygona ‘Snowflake’

Soft succulent sampler trays

Trays of assorted echeverias

Picked orders... 

...waiting to be boxed and shipped

We were only able to shop in a designated area of the greenhouse, but even so, the selection was overwhelming. The MCG online store has even more to choose from, including hardy opuntias from Waterwise Botanicals and about a dozen mangave varieties from Walters Gardens. I assume these plants are in the off-limits area of the main greenhouse, or in one of the other hoop houses, because I didn't see them.

About 30 minutes after we arrived, a thunderstorm rocked the greenhouse. The accompanying downpour hitting the plastic roof caused such a ruckus that it was difficult to have a conversation. It didn't last long, but I'll forever associate Mountain Crest Gardens with the sound of thunder and rain.

Rain coming down over the mountains beyond Mountain Crest Gardens

Since this trip to MCG was spur of the moment, I didn't have a shopping list. Next time I'll be better prepared, but we still came home with a nice selection. The plants on the left in the photo below are mine, the ones on the right my mother-in-law's:

Our purchases: mine on the left, my MIL's on the right (two of hers are missing from this photo)

Clockwise from bottom left: Sempervivum ‘Pacific Shadows’, Sempervivum ‘Red Beauty’, Sempervivum ‘Black Lotus’ (all of them my MIL's). They looked particularly stunning the next morning after they'd gotten rained on half the night.

My mother-in-law's purchases:

Anacampseros telephiastrum ‘Sunrise’ 
Sedum japonicum ‘Tokyo Sun’
Sempervivum ‘Black Lotus’ 
Sempervivum ‘Kelly Jo’  
Sempervivum ‘Pacific Shadows’ 
Sempervivum ‘Pink Lemonade’ 
Sempervivum ‘Red Beauty’ 
Sempervivum arachnoideum ssp. tomentosum ‘Gorges de Daluis’ 
Sempervivum arachnoideum type (without label) 
Sempervivum assorted 

My purchases:

Agave pablocarilloi ‘Ivory Curls’ 
Aloe dorotheae ‘Canary Yellow’ 
Aloe macrosiphon ‘Cielo’ 
Crassula ovata ‘ET’s Fingers’ (variegated) 
Crassula × perforata ‘Ivory Towers’ 
Echeveria ‘Blue Prince’ 
Echeveria ‘Sagitta’ 
Echeveria agavoides ‘Frank Reinelt’ 
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cebenese’ 
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Sultan’ 

Most of the plants sold by Mountain Crest Gardens are in 2" square pots; a few are also available in 3.5" round pots. Visitors who make the trek to Fort Jones receive a sizable discount over the prices in the MCG online store.

As I mentioned earlier, Fort Jones is tucked away in the far northwestern corner of California but it's an easy 20 minute drive from Interstate 5. Be sure to make the short detour the next time you drive from California to Oregon or Washington, or the other way around.



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20 comments:

  1. Nice. What a great place for your inlaws to live for visiting! When I met Lia her parents lived in Duck Cove up near Point Reyes N.S. Spoiled me from ever wanting to have our own 'weekend place'. https://www.google.com/maps/search/Duck+Cove,+near+Tomales+Bay+state+park/@38.1442318,-122.9371218,13z

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    1. Believe me, I really appreciate my MIL living in such a beautiful place!

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  2. You really need to write a tour guide for plant lovers one day, Gerhard!

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    1. Thanks for saying that, Kris! Maybe it'll be my first retirement project.

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  3. You get to the coolest places Gerhard. Your mother in law is lucky to have such a knowledgeable son in law. Semp. 'Red Beauty' is a real stunner. Will have to keep a look out for it.

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  4. Oh man, I wish we had a trip planned, I could go sempervivum crazy! Can I ask what they’re prices are like? We’re spoiled with Fred Meyer selling Little Prince of Oregon sempervivum 2 for $5 sometimes over the summertime.

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    1. 2 for $5, wow, that's virtually impossible to beat, unless you're in the trade and get wholesale pricing.

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  5. Also it’s a good thing it’s only Zone 10 hardy, otherwise I might be purchasing some Hechtia tillandsioides right this very minute.

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    1. I think it's hardier than that. My H. tillandsioides has some pups, I'll save one for you so you can experiment.

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  6. I just received an order of Mangaves from Mountain Crest 2 weeks ago. I was impressed with how well my order was packed for shipping. Everything arrived in great condition. They are getting acclimated before I plant them in their permanent homes. I will definitely be ordering from their website in the future.

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    1. I saw the packaging material at Mountain Crest Gardens. The boxes looked very sturdy. Packaging is the key to success as an online plant seller!

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  7. I've been to this website several times-mostly to look at photos-which are excellent as an ID aide- but never realized where the place was located ! Thanks for the heads up-this goes on the agenda for my next I-5 run to PDX.

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    1. I was actually thinking of you. A nice 20-minute drive from Yreka.

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  8. Thanks for another educational tour, Gerhard. Your photos and IDs were beautiful as well as informative since there seems to be thousands of Semps to choose from. Overall, your Blog is my favorite daily dose of Succulent and Cactus knowledge, photos and simply joy!! You bring both hidden gems of places and well known succulent gardens , some of which I never heard of. What a treat....I agree with the above commenter “ you should write a book with your photos and comments of your visits to all these wonderful gardens, nurseries and private areas. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. You're so kind! You made my day. I love traveling and exploring, and there's nothing better than sharing my adventures.

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  9. If I stopped at MC I know I'd be tempted to bring home some semps! What an amazing selection.

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    1. It's hard not to. Plus, there's always the hope that you're going to magically find some semps that do well for you!

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  10. Excellent! That would be a great project: "Traveler's Guide For Plantaholics"

    So many gorgeous Semps. 'El Toro', yes yes. Interesting: the 'Yellow' Aloe dorotheae--does it turn yellow instead of orange/red under stress?

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    1. Aloe dorotheae 'Canary Yellow' has yellow flowers, as opposed to red. Right now, it's all green, so I don't know what it will look like in full sun. I have two dorotheae clones already: one is apple green and doesn't turn red, the other is a deep tomato red.

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