How does your garden grow? | March 13, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

- March 13, 2009

How does your garden grow?

Danville has four nurseries ready to help

by Geoff Gillette

If the adage about a man's home being his castle is true, what does that say about the yard surrounding the castle? For many Danville area residents, it is a refuge, a place to sit out on a balmy summer night watching the stars and enjoying the company of friends and family.

For others it is a place of artistic expression, where arrangements of flowers, shrubs, plants and ornamental decoration nourish the creative temperament of the owner.

Regardless of how it is viewed, residents have a virtual cornucopia of choices when it comes to finding the right plant or decoration for their yard. Danville is home to four nurseries, scattered throughout the town, each offering something a bit different to satisfy every buyer.

Navlet's Garden Center

Navlet's (pronounced Nahv-layz) Garden Center is enjoying a nearly brand new commercial space where they reopened in April 2007. The company has been in existence since 1885 with the current owners taking over in 1947. They built at their current location at 800 Camino Ramon in 1964 and provided a wide range of services until 2006, when they closed down as part of the development plan for what is now the Rose Garden.

Store Manager Alex Flores said that since reopening, Navlet's has been working to provide a broad range of items to customers. The store has a large air-conditioned indoor showroom packed with fertilizers, seeds, tools and a wide variety of gardening implements.

Outside, there are rows and rows of plants, shrubs and trees delineated by such factors as shade, water consumption and size. In addition, plenty of outdoor ornamentation is featured, including terra cotta pots of every conceivable shape and size.

Flores said that what sets Navlet's apart is variety.

"We're not the cheapest store in town and we're not the most expensive one either. What sets us apart is we carry a wider range of plants, a wider range of products. Synthetic and organic fertilizers are a real boon for us. We carry a lot of the organics. People are being more conscious about how they raise their plants and so they are buying fertilizers or insecticides," he explained.

Navlet's is part of a chain of four stores, which Flores said gives them the ability to control inventory more carefully and alter inventory to answer a need.

"One of the things we're expecting to see this year is drought tolerant plants or plants that are water wise," he said.

Another area they will be focusing on this summer will be edible gardening. Flores said that with the worsening economy more and more people are looking at planting gardens and raising their own vegetables.

Sloat Garden Center

Sloat Garden Center has become well known in the neighborhoods in and around its 828 Diablo Road location. East Bay General Manager Dustin Strobel said that in the seven years the company has been in this location, where Diablo Road turns east at El Cerro Boulevard, the nursery has gotten to know area gardening groups and Scout troops by offering horticulture classes and tours.

"The way we look at it," Strobel said, "is that we're serving the customer. We care about the person, we care about their vision."

He said that service is something they pride themselves on. "We do house calls for free. We give classes all the time. I go out and give talks to the garden clubs. We really try to stay connected with the community," he said.

Sloat's facility is almost entirely outdoors, spread out over a broad area. Strobel said that as the customers' interests have changed over time they have adapted to meet those needs.

"One of the things that sets us apart is that we have very substantial sections of edibles, for those who want to start growing some of their own vegetables, and natives, too. And all of our edibles are all in one spot, from all the little tiny herbs all the way up to our 24-inch box fruit trees," he stated.

The various plants are also grouped by type, connected by wide rows peppered with outdoor statuary, fountains and other ornamental decorations. Strobel pointed to one of the store's highlights, its large collection of ceramic pots, which they offer at a lower price because they obtain them directly from Asia.

Sloat also provides mulch and top soil in bulk quantities through their adjoining facility. "If you have a big project and can get your mulch at bulk prices, you can save a ton on that. That's huge," he said.

pstyle:24head>Sunset Color Nursery

A Danville business since 1985, Sunset Color Nursery has actually been around for much longer. Established in Oakland in 1906, the business has had four locations, the most recent at 1435 San Ramon Valley Blvd.

Owner Judy Sandkuhle is the third generation of her family to continue the family business, one that she feels she was born to do.

"I realized that I had a gift for working with plants and I needed to work outside. I found I just loved the propagation of plants," she explained.

Sunset Color is a wholesale nursery open to the public, specifically in the area of perennials. Sandkuhle points to the rich color of the leaves as her reason for picking this niche for her business.

"It complements the garden in that even when the flowers are gone, the leaves are still there to give you the color you need," she stated.

In their four greenhouses, Sandkuhle grows all her own plants and ships her product all over the Bay Area. One area of specialty for the store is geraniums. Sandkuhle said she has one of the largest collections of geraniums in the area.

The nursery stays busy in the off-season, working in the greenhouses on the next season's crop of perennials.

They also hold a Christmas tree sale, in which Sandkuhle incorporates some of her late season plants as well as raising her own poinsettias. Even after the season, you could still find some of the colorful plants in one of the greenhouses.

"We keep them around," Sandkuhle said, "because they are so beautiful and they can last a long time."

In addition, she said she mixes her own potting soil on site.

"I have a soil mixing machine and I put together my own. People come from all over the Bay for my potting soil," she said.

Tassajara Nursery

Driving down Camino Tassajara you may not see it immediately, but there is a wide open space filled with an abundance of greenery. Tassajara Nursery, located at 2550 Camino Tassajara, has been in business since 1979, occupying 5.5 acres of land chock full of a wide assortment of lawn and garden necessities.

Landscape designer Matt Akabane said they have worked hard over the past 30 years to amass a remarkable assortment of plants for use inside the home and out.

"We're one of the largest nurseries in the Bay Area, so we carry almost anything that will grow in the region," he said. The store carries a variety of fruit trees, including several "4 in 1" fruit trees, which have been grafted from four different types so that they provide the different fruits on one tree.

Akabane's father, Kunitoshi, besides owning the business, is also a Bonsai master.

"It's kind of a specialty niche for us," said Akabane. "We have some great quality plants. He goes out and gives classes on Bonsai, he's actually the sensei of the Diablo Bonsai Club."

Dotted throughout the wide open area are patio furniture sets, fountains, statuary and other, more esoteric, pieces.

"We have these unique iron pieces from Italy that are taken off of churches and buildings. We have a gentleman who goes to Italy and brings these back," he explained. "We can incorporate these into people's fences, or as wall art in the garden or in stucco walls, which is really neat."


Like this comment
Posted by Sou
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Thanks for a great mini-guide to local garden centers and nurseries, as a beginner, these places can offer a lot of experience and knowledge.

Like this comment
Posted by Hal Bailey
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Dear Dolores,

My pal Ted, a master gardener, offers some reality:

Happy Spring! Happy Gardening!

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like
dirt. -- Margaret Atwood

I love spring anywhere,
but if I could choose
I would always greet it in a garden.
-- Ruth Stout

This exceptional pal is across our country in Virginia Beach, but within our home we call EARTH. Touch it!!

Hal Pal

Like this comment
Posted by cyrilo colino
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Hello! i'm from Brazil,I live in north part of the country in the Brazilian Amazon.I was in Danville doing an exchange program in march 1990 and my host family was the wonderful Akabane's family.I'm very proud to see Matt get success in the landscape business.All the best for the Akabane's(Matt,Mark and Mr. and Mrs Akabane).I never forgot you.