Sunday, October 20, 2013

Twofer Nursery Trek

This weekend, a friend and I had plans to visit a couple of nurseries in Carpinteria, a coastal California community more than 100 miles north of where I live.  For various reasons, we delayed that trip until mid-November; however, we did make it to one of my favorite nurseries.   Sprawling over 11 acres in Calabasas, Sperling Nursery isn't fancy but it's always well-stocked with a diverse collection of plants, including California natives and a seemingly ever-expanding selection of succulents.  When I was visiting the San Fernando Valley one or more times a week to see my stepfather, who passed away in 2011, and my mother, who passed away earlier this year, I would often pay a visit to the nursery before getting on the freeway to head home as a way of centering myself.  I haven't been there often since March of this year.

The nursery has always had a friendly, family atmosphere, probably because it's family-owned and operated.  The staff, even those who work the check-out counter, know plants.  Founded in 1971 as a sod outlet by Joe Sperling on one acre of land in what was then a largely undeveloped area, it was expanded it to 11 acres in the late seventies, creating a full-service nursery.  When I pulled up the nursery's website, I discovered that Mr. Sperling passed away in August.  I sincerely hope Sperling will continue as an independent nursery - I still remember what happened to my beloved Begonia Farms Nursery when the founding patriarch died and the land was sold to a developer.  Calabasas has been growing at a wild pace for decades so I'm sure there will be pressure on the family to sell.

It was sunny and hot in Calabasas.  That didn't stop me from thoroughly checking out the plant stock but I'm afraid that it did negatively impact the quality of my photographs.  Sperling doesn't have demonstration planting beds but there are always nice collections of pots arranged near the entrance to show possible planting schemes.

Succulent prices have sky-rocketed in the last few years, here and everywhere, but Sperling offers a nice selection.

Aloe plicatilis (Fan Aloe) could be be yours for $200

This large Aloe ferox was offered for $400

More than any other nursery I can think of, Sperling always entices me to buy garden ornaments I don't need.  I somehow managed to avoid such purchases on this trip, although I was tempted.  (I didn't even set foot in the gift shop.)

I've admired this cast iron crow before but he goes for $120

This little frog might look nice with the orange plants off the patio in the side yard

I have a peculiar affection for gargoyles and dragons

This photo screened onto wood planks was interesting but I didn't even bother to look for a price

My friend was attracted to this rhino pot containing an interesting succulent (but she resisted too).

I was tempted by a beautiful Grevillea.  I passed on it because I couldn't think where to put it but I'm still kicking myself.  Maybe I need to move other plants to make room for it?

Grevillea 'Superb'

Here's what I did bring home:

Tulbaghia violacea, Aster frikartii 'Monch,' Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire,' and Allium 'Graceful' bulbs

I was happy enough with my Sperling purchases - they'll fill some empty spaces in my back and side yard borders -  but I have to admit that they weren't that exciting.  So, after leaving my friend in the Valley, I decided to stop at another of my favorite independent garden centers on my way home.  Marina Del Rey Garden Center is conveniently located right off the freeway, not far from the ocean.  I once worked nearby and I've been going there for years, although it's a little more out of the way for me now.  It generally offers a good selection of plants but the staff doesn't always seem as well-informed as I'd like to find.

The garden center had a Halloween pumpkin patch and jumper/bouncey house thing going for kids.  I skirted around that and headed straight for the small-sized perennials.

Alternanthera tenella 'Crinkle Red'

Pennisetum setaceum 'Cherry Sparkler' 

Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'

Solanum xantii

I took a stroll through the larger plants in the back.

Lots of Leucadendron

Lots of Phormium and Cordyline

Lots and lots of Salvia

A garden cat who just wanted to be left alone

I spent a lot of time perusing the center's wide selection of succulents.

A very large Agave 'Blue Glow' with multiple pups (yours for $140)

Unlabeled succulents - some kind of Kalanchoe?

I searched out help to get the name of this small tree-sized succulent.  The horticulturist told me it was called 'Copper Leaf' but  she didn't have the species name and it wasn't Acalypha wilkesiana.

I passed on most of the uber-expensive succulents but I did splurge on a large Agave 'Blue Glow' even though the center offered budget-friendly $10 plants in 4-inch pots.  Here's what I took home:

Agave 'Blue Glow,' Alternanthera tenella 'Crinkle Red,' and 3 small assorted unlabeled succulents

All things considered, it was a good shopping day.


  1. Very nice haul Kris! Especially the Agave blue glow which I'm still on the look out for here for a big specimen similar to yours. And the way they arranged their display pots, you can pick up an idea or two with their combos.

    1. Too bad I couldn't afford that really big Agave 'Blue Glow' that came complete with pups but $140 was too rich for my blood.

  2. What a fun couple of nursery visits! Ours are selling nothing but Halloween decor and mums right now. Love that Agave Blue Glow. I bought one in San Francisco at the Fling, and I love it!

    1. Most of our nurseries have their fair share of Halloween paraphernalia - and mums - too but as fall is also the primary planting season for us, there are also plenty of landscape plants to chose from.

  3. I want Sperling's turtle! It is so hard to resist temptation. My favorite nursery is also family owned. I would be heart-broken if it closed. Plant shopping is a great way to spend a beautiful day.

  4. Bummer. I knew about Joe Sperling not being well from the curator of the botanical garden at Pierce. He told me Sperling was 93. He, in fact, would give Mr. Sperling a tour of said garden via mostly my pictures on Google Earth, since Sperling was a big contributor to its development. I don't have good feelings about the nursery from the discussion we had.

    1. I used to see Mr. Sperling at the nursery occasionally. I overheard the people at the counter talking about cancelling "Joe's" LA Times subscription on Saturday and I had a bad feeling. I really hope the nursery remains in the family or - at the very least - that the property remains a nursery.

  5. But but but that Grevillea 'Superb' needed to go home with you!

    1. I know. I felt bad when I left without it and worse still when I reviewed my photos of it. I'm thinking of pulling some things out and moving others to make room...

  6. Is there a happier time than a gardener coming home with new stock for his/her garden, I think not :)
    You've certainly given both nurseries at glowing report. 2 of my local nurseries are independent and you can always guarantee a good day out but not always a good day out for the bank balance :)

    1. Yes, I suppose it's a good thing that visits to all my favorite nurseries require a bit of freeway travel.

  7. I hope Sperling's stays in business. I know a couple of nurseries around here that went out of business after the owner died, and it is very sad for all. Marina Del Ray has an impressive amount of plants - and I would have had to pick up that Cherry Sparkler! Although, I now have to actually figure out where I'll put a plant before I buy it - running out of room!

    1. I seriously considered that 'Cherry Sparkler' but, although I had some vague notion of where I might put it, there was no size information on the tag (and my ability to obtain reliable information from personnel at MDR has been mixed). I clearly need a smart-phone.

  8. I love the cast iron crow and that little hippo planter! The Agave 'Blue Glow' is beautiful. What is the plant in the photo above the $140 Agave with the needle like spikes?

    1. Welcome to my blog! I'm fairly certain the plant you're referring to is Variegated Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon'). It's a nice grass-like perennial but it requires a lot of water...