I woke last Saturday with a song on my lips: Today — hooray! — I could pick up my plants.
OK, truth is I always get a little excited going to a nursery, but I’m a get-it-when-I-want-it kind of girl, so it’s made me crazy that I can’t just shop as normal at my favorite plant stores in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic. But on this Saturday, I was picking up a big order of native plants from the California Botanic Garden nursery in Claremont — an oak tree and multiple sages and buckwheats — and was eager to get them in the ground.
The garden (formerly known as Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) closed its 86 acres of California native plants due to concerns about COVID-19 and crowds. But the staff managed to put all its inventory online quickly, so gardeners can order what they want, pay online and then pick up their purchases at an appointed time, curbside, all while practicing social distancing.
When I arrived at the nursery, I was directed to a spot in the eerily empty parking lot, where my order was waiting on a pallet stacked atop concrete blocks. I jumped out and loaded my treasures onto the bed of my pickup. The whole thing took about three minutes, and then I was back in the truck driving away.
So if you’re eager to get digging, call your local nursery. It could surely use the business. And you’ll find that many are happy to take your order, as long as you’re willing to wait several days to pick it up.
Here are some tips getting your plants while keeping everyone safe:
1. Plan ahead
Make a list of the plants and supplies you need ahead of time and, if you plan to order online or by calling, be as specific as possible and consider whether you will accept substitutes. For instance, I am on a quest for the lovely ‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplant, which features light gray-green leaves and large lavender flowers that become orbs of cream-colored fruit, striped with purple. But I’d settle for some ‘Listada de Gandia’ eggplant, another Italian variety that is a lovely violet color streaked with cream, because both varieties are delicious and beautiful additions to my edible garden. If you’re also looking for varieties you can’t usually find in box-store nurseries, check nurseries that specialize in more exotic varieties, such as Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar, Fig Earth Supply in Mount Washington, Sunset Boulevard Nursery in Silver Lake or Two Dog Organic Nursery in Mid-Wilshire.
2. Check before you go
As of this writing, some large nurseries, such as those at big-box stores, Roger’s Gardens and Parkview Nursery in Riverside, are still permitting customers to shop inside, Many more, however, including Armstrong Garden Centers, have closed their doors to “in-store experiences” and are only taking orders by phone or online. Some even make deliveries. Roger’s Gardens, for instance, will deliver anywhere in Orange County on orders of $75 or more, and Armstrong will deliver within a seven-mile radius of its stores for $20. Check the website of your favorite nursery before you go to see if it is only taking orders by phone or online. And remember, sometimes circumstances can change at the last minute.
3. Be patient
Unless you choose to go to a nursery that’s open to walk-in customers, expect to wait at least two days for your order to be filled, and more likely four or five. That’s because many nurseries are operating with reduced staff, juggling multiple tasks such as taking orders over the phone, putting them together and hauling them to the parking lot while trying to keep track of their inventory and add new plants as they become available. These people are putting in 12- to 16-hour days, trying to keep up, so take a breath and start prepping your garden beds while you wait for your plants.
4. Be ready to load
Most nurseries will tote your purchases to the parking lot or curb, but some of the smaller ones may ask you to do the final loading into your vehicle yourself, “just to save our aching backs,” joked Jo Anne Trigo of Two Dog. It’s safer for the the staff to leave the purchases on the curb, where you can pick them up after they retreat, but the bottom line for many is that they just don’t have time to provide curbside service because orders are coming in thick and fast.