Favorite Nurseries and Variegated Woody Perennials

Abelia grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope'

Abelia grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’

New Zealand myrtle (Lophomyrtus 'Little Star')

New Zealand myrtle (Lophomyrtus ‘Little Star’)

vareigated rock rose (Cistus 'Mickie')

variegated rock rose (Cistus ‘Mickie’)

Several weeks ago, I made a request of readers of this column to tell me about their favorite nurseries.  Two nurseries which received highly enthusiastic reviews — H & H Nursery in Lakewood and Glendora Gardens Nursery in Glendora – are remarkably, if not uncannily, similar.  Both nurseries are family owned and operated and both were established exactly 39 years ago.  The staff at both locations is courteous, friendly, and knowledgeable.  Both nurseries grow most of their plants on site and, interestingly enough, both nurseries are located under power lines and utility wires.  This last detail would appear to ensure that these nurseries will be around for many years to come, as such utility owned properties are generally leased and never sold.

Christine Kay, who gardens in Long Beach, wrote that her favorite nursery is H & H and “I know better than to just pop over there for a quick something; I can’t leave in less than an hour.”  Carol Norcross, also of Long Beach, wrote: “Our best local nursery is H&H. It has a nice selection of natives mixed in with a large variety of other plants. They also have quality mulches and amendments and a great staff. Their plants are botanically well identified, which I find often doesn’t happen.” Regarding H & H, Mary Mauck of Lomita wrote: “love to poke around and find something unusual there.” Barbara Richardson added that  “their staff members are educated and very knowledgeable.  I have been gardening for about 10 years but still have many questions that they are always able to answer.” Finally, Cecelia Moore, from San Pedro, wrote that “One could search for many hours and not find a brown leaf on anything.  The plants are fresh and well-tended.”
This last point about well-tended plants would seem to be a no brainer where nurseries are concerned but is not something you can take for granted.  Regarding the craft of writing, it has been said that “hard writing is easy reading” and, in a similar vein, it appears that, where growth and maintenance of plants is concerned,  “hard working is fresh looking” (in horticulture, meticulous care is required to produce a fresh and natural look).
Sharon Moran of Upland wrote concerning Glendora Gardens Nursery: “They are knowledgeable, pleasant and their nursery is almost like a park.  Superior quality and variety of plants.  You will not be disappointed.”  You will appreciate the many small demonstration gardens embedded throughout the nursery.  Ideas for garden design and unusual, yet tasteful, plant combinations are everywhere. 
Scott Corwin, who gardens in Glendora and also extolled Glendora Gardens, praised Otto & Sons Nursery in Fillmore as the “best nursery” for roses since they “grow them there” and have the “best selection,” supplying roses to many retail nurseries throughout Southern California.  Corwin, a plumeria connoisseur and grower himself, recommends Upland Nursery in Orange and Jungle Jack Plumerias, where many special selections from Thailand are propagated, as outstanding purveryors of Plumeria fare.
Anita Thomason, of Culver City, wrote:  “I like best a very small nursery called Merrihew’s Sunset Gardens in Santa Monica.  The selection is small but the plants are well-cared for; there’s a small hot-house area; lots of seed packets; gardening supplies; very nice workers; an aviary with finches; and there’s always classical music in the background!” Thomason also praised the “large and knowledgeable staff” at the Marina del Rey Garden Center  in Marina del Rey and the nursery section of Anawalt Lumber at the corner of Pico and Sepulveda in West L.A.
Although she lives in Los Feliz, Francie Klein babysits her grandchildren in Orange County and has explored the nurseries there.  “My two current favorite nurseries are Valley Nursery and Upland Nursery,” she wrote, “both in Orange.  Valley Nursery has a huge selection while Upland is a beautiful place with charming chickens and birds and cycads and plumerias.  Another fun place to shop for plants is the Farm Store at Cal Poly Pomona. There are many types of fruit trees but other very interesting plants as well.  I have a fondness for ferns and cycads, and the ones I have gotten there have proved to be very hardy.”
Jennifer Duclett, from Arcadia, wrote about San Gabriel Nursery in San Gabriel as follows: “San Gabriel Nursery is big . . . a great place to wander and let the plants find you!  It is an especially good source for interesting varieties of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables.”  Of the many nurseries I visited, this one stood out from the rest, and I do not know exactly why except that the words of Duclett, “to wander and let the plants find you” seem so appropriate in describing what this nursery is all about.  At The San Gabriel Nursery, there is something warm and comforting about the close arrangement of an astonishing diversity of plants.  Here you will find yourself surrounded by several hundred varieties of bare root roses. In addition, there are lots and lots of fruit trees, many of which you will not find anywhere else, including twelve varieties of fig, ten different nectarine varieties, and six varieties of jujube or Chinese date (Zizyphus jujube), probably the most drought tolerant fruit tree species that is locally grown.  Add to this the most friendly, knowledgeable, and yet relaxed staff, happy to say “hello, how may I help you,” and voluntarily providing all sorts of information about any plant or horticultural subject you mention, but not at all pushy about your buying anything.
San Gabriel Nursery & Florist is a rare combination of opulence and hospitality.  You have a feeling of secure abundance, of being well looked after and taken care of as you wander through, whether you are looking at ornamental, edible, or indoor plants.
Other favorite nurseries singled out by readers included Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena, Green Arrow Nursery in North Hills (especially for vegetable seedlings), Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria,  Green Thumb Nursery in Canoga Park, Plant Depot in San Juan Capistrano, and the following California native plant nurseries: Rancho Santa Ana Nursery in Claremont, Theodore Payne Nursery in  Sun Valley, Las Pilitas Nurseries in Santa Margarita and Escondido, and Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. Juliet De Souza sang the praises of Desert Creations in Northridge. “It is located behind a little house,” she wrote.  “Once you enter there it is amazing, the number and variety of cacti from far away places that they have.  The people are very friendly and helpful.”
Tip of the Week:  One message that comes through loud and clear from visiting nurseries these days is that the golden age of annual color – of pansies, snapdragons, primroses  and the like – is past.  Beds of these vividly colored standbys are shrinking in favor of more water thrifty and longer lasting fare such as succulents and flowering perennials.  Another noticeable trend, as if to compensate for the loss of annual color, is the increasing availability of perennial plants with multi-colored foliage such as Abelia grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope,’ New Zealand myrtle (Lophomyrtus ‘Little Star’), and Cistus ‘Mickie,’ a variegated rock rose.  

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