It’s time to get those tomatoes going, not to mention your spring flowers and water-frugal native plants. Here are our favorite destinations for this time of year.
690 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena
Third-generation plantsman Frank Burkard Jr. runs this fine, if not downright posh, nursery. Besides a crack staff, Mr. B also has an excellent selection of native plants, fruit trees, vegetables and annuals, as well as a riotous selection of hard-to-find tomatoes and an extensive variety of spring bulbs that thrive in this climate. Did we mention seeds, garden ephemera, pots and hand tools? Oh, and the roses…heirlooms, climbers, English and hybrid teas, too! Burkard is a respected horticultural authority and a frequent guest on gardening shows—garden clubs even drive from from San Diego to seek his advice and buy his wares.
California Cactus Center
216 S. Rosemead Blvd., East Pasadena
On a parched stretch on the east side of town, California Cactus is an oasis of succulents, cacti and tillandsias (that’s air plants to the rest of us). This local fixture has been growing pricklies for 35 years, and hundreds of its 1,500 rotating species are fantastic show pieces, artfully stages in striking pottery, which is also sold either with or without the plants. The helpful staff answer questions about propagation, transplanting and landscaping. Even if you think you don’t like cacti or succulents, this eye-popping place is a must-see.
3555 Chaney Trail Rd. (off Loma Alta), Altadena
This is the only place in Southern California to shop for camellias and azaleas—and we’re not exaggerating. Located at the foot of a great hiking trail, this family operation has six acres covered with thousands of camellias, many of which the Nuccios have hybridized themselves since opening in 1947. Ask for recommendations: Do you like big leaves? Ruffled petals? Variegated? Fragrant? Have a favorite color? These folks are helpful and knowledgeable. The seasonal hours extend in spring and summer, so it’s best to call before visiting, and make sure to wear walking shoes.
3115 E. Sierra Madre Blvd., East Pasadena
This mom-and-pop-and-two-daughters-and-son nursery is another local fave. It’s a big one, so don’t be in a rush. You’ll find gaggles of trees, roses, shrubs, vines, natives, annuals and vegetables, as well as a mondo shade garden on the east side of the parking lot. The region’s best hydrangeas are here, with giant root stock. Got mulch? They do, and they’ll deliver truckloads or less for a modest fee.
San Gabriel Nursery & Florist
632 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel
The granddaddy of local nurseries, this place opened in 1923, and it continues today as a family-owned business, despite threats from encroaching warehouse stores. It carries eye-popping year-round rose selections, bare-root fruit trees (go, dwarfs!), cacti, succulents and orchids, plus tools, pest management and hard-to-find seeds. You’ll get a 10% discount if you belong to any of the local botanical gardens.