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A happy little miracle in dark times: The plant nursery business is booming

Two Dog Organic Nursery
Jo Anne Trigo, co-owner of Two Dog Organic Nursery, is only doing online orders now at her home-based business in Mid-Wilshire, but business is brisk.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

After an economic week so bleak, with thousands out of work and businesses teetering on the edge, a happy little miracle has happened in the world of plants.

People are clamoring to plant vegetable gardens, and Southern California nurseries — deemed an essential service by state and local officials — have found creative ways to meet the demand while keeping customers and staff at a safe distance amid coronavirus concerns.

Multiple nurseries in Southern California are now offering online or phone orders for customers skittish about coming inside. Customers can pick up their orders in business parking lots and some nurseries are even delivering orders to homes.

The home-based, organic Two Dog Nursery near the Miracle Mile in Mid-Wilshire is only doing online orders, but the requests are coming in so thick and fast they can hardly keep up.

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The nursery sets appointments about 48 hours out for customers to pick up their plants, said owner Jo Anne Trigo.

“It’s the rebirth of the victory garden” she said. “We’re doing 50 orders a day; every time I walk in the house to get a drink of water there are six more orders to print. But we’re laying down the law now; we’re all in masks and we’re not letting anyone in. And for the sake of time and our backs, we’re not loading orders into cars anymore. We just leave them on the curb.”

In Riverside, at the Canyon Crest Parkview Nursery at 4377 Chicago Ave., people are still coming to the large outdoor facility, which also sells bulk soils and amendments, but they’re not looking for ornamental plants, said owner Van Brandon.

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“People are wanting home gardens now and they’re looking for vegetables,” he said. “We’re practicing social distancing in the store, but I just had a customer call ahead and give me her list. We gathered it up for her, she pulled into the parking lot with her truck, we put it in the back and she drove away.”

Fig Earth Supply in Mount Washington put its entire inventory online in just two days — “a massive undertaking because we have so much inventory, but we’re blazing a trail,” said owner Conor Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick says staff will either leave the orders for pickup in the parking lot or deliver them for free to customers who live within five miles of the Mount Washington store at 3577 N. Figueroa St.

Like most other nurseries, Fig Earth Supply is still open to customers, but only a few people will be admitted in the gates at a time.

Sunset Boulevard Nursery, a popular source for organic plants and soils at 4368 Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake, isn’t offering online services, said manager Greg Kuga. They’re just too busy helping customers on the telephone or keeping the numbers down in the store. “We’ve been getting a large influx of people buying mostly soil and vegetables. Lots of them are looking for leafy greens but we’re also selling things like tomatoes and cucumbers.”

The nursery has been getting lots of phone orders, he said, “but we don’t do home deliveries, because we don’t have the personnel. Our personnel are mainly focused on helping the people who come in; we’re all outside here, but we’ve been limiting the number to 25 or 30, and keeping people in the parking lot until others leave.”

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Roger’s Gardens, a huge nursery in Corona del Mar, has set up online sales as well as phone orders, offering to walk people through their choices with staff on the phone, said Marketing Director Nava Rezvan. Again, people can pick up their orders in the parking lot, but the nursery is also offering free delivery to anyone in Orange County who purchases at least $75 worth of merchandise (pretty easy at the Disneyland of nurseries).

The nursery is still open but operating with shorter hours and less staff, to try to keep everyone safe.

And Armstrong Nursery Centers, the employee-owned company that operates 29 nurseries in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties and two in Marin County near San Francisco, is also providing phone orders, or online requests. Customers can pick up their purchases in the store parking lots or pay $20 to have them delivered to their homes, as long as they live within a seven-mile radius of a store, said Desiree Heimann, vice president of marketing.

Collectors seeking rare plants flock to “plant drops” at Highland Park plant shop Leaf and Spine.

Armstrong is seeing brisk business from people looking for vegetable and herb seedlings, Heimann said.

“We’re seeing this as a resurgence in victory gardens,” she said. “There are so many unknowns now, we’re encouraging people to start planting their own backyard garden to have a sustainable food supply. Gardening really does reduce anxiety and stress, and what would the drawbacks be? That you have too many strawberries or tomatoes and you have to share with friends? There’s not really a downside to this.”

Gardeners are also looking for flowers and houseplants, perhaps to help keep their spirits up inside, said Rezvan, as well as soil and plants that attract butterflies and bees.

“What we’re saying now is, ‘Create your happy place, plant a garden,’” she said. “Nature brings happiness to everyone’s lives, so you can nurture yourself while nurturing your plants.”


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