Friday, July 10, 2015

Farewell to Sperling Nursery

Retail businesses come and go but no store closure ever bothers me as much as the loss of a good independent plant nursery.  I still mourn the closure of the Begonia Farms Nursery in 1997 every time I drive by the spot it occupied.  Now the closure of Sperling Nursery in Calabasas, long one of my favorite nurseries and the subject of several posts since I started this blog in December 2012, is imminent.  The nursery hasn't publicly announced its closure date.  Rumor had it that it would be open until September or October but, after announcing a 20% off sale in June, it already looks like this (photos taken by a friend on July 4th):

The nursery elected not to refresh its stock during its final months

Purchases are now 30% off but there's not a lot left



It was a vibrant place to visit whether on a busy weekend or a quiet weekday afternoon.  I spent a lot of time in the area from late 2010 until early 2013 attending to the needs of my stepfather and, subsequently, my mother.  After really bad days I'd often drop by Sperling before getting on the freeway for the long slog home through commuter traffic.  Those visits helped me put things in perspective.

It's hard to see the place as it now looks in my friend's photos.  I like to remember it like this:

Photo taken in March 2014

Photo taken in March of this year

For the number of times I've been there, I've remarkably few photos.  Upon arrival, my focus on plant selection was generally so intense I rarely wasted time with picture-taking.  However, I'm not sure I ever left the place without plants in hand.  Here, in collage format, are a few of the photos I managed to take between 2013 and my last visit in March of this year:

Sperling had a wonderful selection of plants, ranging from drought tolerant Australian natives, to roses, to succulents

While the nursery didn't have demonstration gardens, they arranged pots of seasonal selections near the front entrance to give buyers ideas of what they could do in their own gardens

They always had a wide selection of garden ornaments

And a nice assortment of pots

And lots and lots of succulents


When Sperling closes, the 11-acre space will be occupied by a car dealership, making Calabasas a much less attractive place to visit in my opinion.  Erin of Hope Gardens wrote a more eloquent homage to the nursery (with better photos), which you can find here.


All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

32 comments:

  1. Oh no :( so sad to see a cherished nursery go on a decline on its way to closure. Any ideas why they are closing?

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    1. The founder, Joe Sperling, passed away near the end of 2013. The bulk of the family wanted to cash out the business (the sale reportedly netted $17M) and the city of Calabasas is slowly converting that entire strip, visible from the freeway, into yet another car dealership mall, which is just what SoCal needs :(

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  2. It's always sad to see a beloved nursery close. I still mourn the loss of All Seasons Nursery near me, which was sold and had a string of unsuccessful owners afterwards. Sperlings looks like it was a great place.

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    1. When I initially heard that Sperling was for sale, I held onto the faint hope that it'd be sold to another nursery person. Given the size and population of southern California, we have remarkably few good nurseries (or book stores but that's a different rant). What we have no shortage of is car dealerships.

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  3. Dear Kris, I really can relate to how you feel about the closure of this nursery. I also have become really attached to nurseries that I have been visiting often in person or even online. I still mourn the loss of Vintage Gardens, an online nursery specialized in propagating and selling Old Garden Roses. They left a painful gap that is not filled by any other nursery, yet, and it is not likely that this is gonna happen any time soon.
    I guess the only thing we can do is to buy like crazy at the individual owned special gem nurseries that we treasure and hopefully that way keep them alive.
    Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. You're right, Christina. We need to frequent those independent nurseries that remain in the hopes that they won't succumb to financial pressures to sell out. When Sperling Nursery was founded, Calabasas was a small town on the outskirts of suburbia but it's now home to celebrities and mansions which support car dealerships instead of plant nurseries.

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  4. Oh it's so sad when this happens. We've lost a few favorite independent nurseries recently too. Antique Rose Emporium was one and I just happened to post yesterday about my visit to their remaining location.

    Car dealers are continuously consolidating ever farther out in the suburbs around here too.

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    1. Calabasas used to be a semi-rural location with a bit of old-west charm. Primary school kids, myself included, were regularly treated to off-campus outings at nearby Leonis Adobe, one of the oldest private residences in LA County. However, the area is rapidly becoming a community of strip malls and car dealerships, albeit high-end versions of each.

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  5. Oh darn... We drove by just yesterday and it appeared from the freeway that Sperling was alive and busy... guess not.

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    1. In that a huge amount of merchandise was cleared out in just 2-3 weeks on the nursery's 1st round, 20%-off, sale, I suspect the place has been hopping, Eric. I'd planned to go out there but put it off when the heat spiked - I didn't expect the stock to be cleared out that quickly. At 30% off, I suspect there's been another influx of buyers.

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  6. It's so sad when a nursery closes. One local to me closed back last year.It had been in the family for years but there was no one who wanted to take it over. It's now a housing estate. I still miss it as the customer service was superb and there was no question too stupid for them to answer

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    1. Sperling was in business 35 or so years (a long time by standards here). It too was a family-run business and, similar to the situation you described, the family just wasn't as passionate about running it as the patriarch and founder had been. Land here has also become ridiculously expensive so it's not entirely surprising that the family chose to cash-out on its current value. Its replacement by a car dealership galls me, however.

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  7. How very sad that this nursery, which gave you comfort, is closing. It looks like it was a great nursery in its heyday.

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    1. It still had steady business and, from all appearances, was doing well financially but the bottom line is that the land (which, after 35 years, I suspect the family owned outright) was worth a LOT.

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  8. Too bad :( There's no place like a good nursery to refresh the heart. It just makes life better. I wouldn't say that of any car dealership I've visited yet!

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  9. It's terrible to see nurseries close; it has been happening for years around me as the land prices are just too high to keep these sorts of businesses going.
    Now you have to drive an hour or so or rely on mail-order for specialist plants :-(

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    1. I suspect Sperling's business was profitable but still worth less than the land on which it sat. Simply put, the family elected to cash out the land's value. The valley in which the nursery was located, where I grew up, has very little going for it these days. Once populated by ranches and orange groves, it's now a concrete heat sink, so it's especially sad to see once of the few remaining green spaces turned into an extension of the concrete jungle.

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  10. I feel your pain! There is a wonderful family-run nursery close to me, and I have often wondered what I would do without it. I shop there even when the prices are higher than the nearby big box store, though I have found that generally his prices are very competitive and the plant selection and service is far superior. The owner has told me that times are difficult for his business; he keeps it going because he loves it.

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    1. I hope the owner of your family-run nursery has kids that love the business as much as he does, Deb. That wasn't true of Sperling (or Begonia Farms).

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  11. It took me a while to write anything here because the closing of this family run nursery is so sad and I realized how much I tend to take for granted my ability to make a short trip in my car to pick up a wide variety of carefully curated native and xeric plants. A long established nursery just north of me was just closed after the owner/patriarch retired. Where is our next generation of nurserymen and women going to come from?

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    1. I don't know, Deb. In the case of California, where real estate is appreciated primarily for its monetary value, I expect the day will come when all we'll have available will be big box stores offering the same 25 plants - and mail order. I've spent most of my career in white-collar roles in business but, had my passion for plants bloomed earlier, I like to think I'd have gone into horticulture. Maybe I'll start propagating plants and selling them from my driveway - I bet the foliage-hating neighbor up the street would love that!

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  12. There was an empty nursery!
    I hope it is not you who emptied it !!! ;)
    Wish you filled water tanks and fine summer days
    Mariana

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    1. Sadly, it wasn't me who emptied it. I didn't even make it there before it was emptied. Thanks for the good wishes, Mariana!

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  13. Ouch! I am sorry to see this. A car lot? Not progress, not progress at all.

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    1. No, it's not. I don't understand why cities don't recognize the importance of creating diversified communities that offer value for residents' souls (if only because such places attract long-term residents and regular visitors rather than people who make infrequent purchases). Calabasas is on its way to becoming as unattractive as much of the rest of the San Fernando Valley.

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  14. Oh, how sad. I'm sorry to hear about your loss of a good nursery. Is it anything to do with water restrictions?
    I must admit I did wonder what they would be doing with those shelves, I'd love some like that.

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    1. No, the death of the founder was the catalyst for the sale - that, and the current value of the 11 acres on which the nursery sat. I suspect they'll sell the shelves too before they level the place - I can't see the car dealership having need of them.

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  15. PV Begonia Farm, Sperlings, special places with a unique stamp that we won't see again in this franchised world. My most vivid memory of Sperlings is coming home at night on the 101 from NoCal, very close to Christmas. We stopped at Sperlings in the dark, bought a tree, strapped it to the roof and headed home. In their prime, nobody but maybe Roger's rivaled Sperlings, and nobody had that unique oak-rich environment that's about to be a car lot. I hope somebody speaks up for the trees!

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    1. Hopefully, Calabasas has some kind of ordinance to protect old trees like those but then relegating that strip for expansion of yet another car dealership when dealerships line the 101 already doesn't speak highly of the town council.

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  16. Car dealerships = sales tax that goes directly into city coffers. Every city wants lots of car dealerships. I was able to visit Sperling's a couple of times. It was a wonderful place.

    It is the classic nursery story: land on the main drag, out of town, becomes the owner's retirement account (or his heirs). I am a little surprised Roger's is still there--the land must be worth much much more than 17 million. Pack in a couple of hundred condos at a million plus a pop...

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