Monday, May 27, 2013

Going Native!

"I'm going to buy native plants for our garden," I said sipping a crisp Chardonnay.
"Good," Mr. Wonderful said popping an olive into his mouth.
"At a nursery specializing in natives."
"In San Diego."  
"Good--huh? WHAT?!"

I didn't blame my husband for being shocked at the prospect of me driving four hours--round trip--to buy plants. Personally I thought I had reached a new level of koo-koo because on this beautiful spring day--one that I did not have to work in the office--I would willingly hole myself up in a space smaller than a cubicle and go inland (read: scorching heat) where it would feel like the air conditioner had broken down 10 years prior. It was craziness! 

The only thing that made me stick to my plan was the manzanita tree. After reading up about the gazillion varieties of manzanitas, I'd decided we needed the Dr. Hurd manzanita variety, better known by plant people as: Arctostaphylos manzanita. I know, the name just rolls off the tongue, right? After calling nurseries in 26 different area codes, this San Diego spot was the only place east of the Sierras that had a 15-gallon (read: big) Dr. Hurd manzanita.  So I packed my music, maps and snacky-snacks and drove south, young man! 

This nursery was located 20 minutes northeast of San Diego in a place called Escondido, which is Spanish for "hidden". Driving to it proved my fears had been well founded--the car was small, the sun was hot and the nursery in Escondido was very "escondido". I followed my map's directions but after driving up and down the same road for 30 minutes without finding the street that the nursery was located on, in complete frustration, I turned into a street that didn't have a name, a street sign or any sign of life. Of course this was the street of the nursery--Las Pilitas

Once parked I approached the two Las Pilitas nursery workers, who both wore cowboy hats. 
"It's hard finding your nursery without a street sign," I said stretching my legs.
"Someone stole it," the woman with the tan hat said.
"Why don't you get a new one?" 
She shrugged, "Everyone knows where we are." 
Not me or the other 349 million Americans who don't live in San Diego! You've added even more time to my drive, which means I'll be stuck in L.A.'s rush hour traffic going home--is what I wanted to say. Instead I smiled because I was here to buy plants, not cause trouble.

According to the woman's name tag she was "Liz" and after talking to her for six seconds I discovered she was an expert on natives. I showed her a picture of a California native and asked for its genus and species, with one glance at the photo she said it was a Verbena lilacina "Paseo Rancho". I asked about salvias and she gave me a 40 minute treatise on how bees, hummingbirds and every person on the planet--which included me even though I didn't know what they were six weeks ago--loved verbenas. When I asked her for the 15-gallon Dr. Hurd manzanita trees, she marched me to their spot. 

"They're small," I said trying to mask my disappointment at how the 15-gallon pot was bigger than the 12-inch plant.
"They'll grow," Liz said. 
"I'll take two."
"No," Liz said putting her hands on her hips. "You can't buy two manzanitas."
"But I want two."
"I don't care."
"I'm paying you!"
"I don't care."

Not only was this nursery "hidden" but so was its capitalistic nature. I'd never heard of an American businessperson not selling anyone what they wanted. Usually my problem was buying too much. Today Liz was going to ensure that I bought too little. 

"Look," she said locking her eyes with mine over her reading glasses, "You don't have the space for two manzanitas in your garden plan, so I'll sell you one."
"But it's so small," I whimpered.
"Natives don't like being in pots. They dislike being bound. But you put them in the ground and wham-o they'll take off." 

I took her word for it. But as we loaded the plants in my car I looked at my natives--an unassuming collection of small pots holding smaller twigs. My husband already thought I was crazy to drive all the way down here to buy plants but if I came home now with a couple pots of soil and twigs he would completely freak out.

I shared my concern with Liz. She said to get the natives in the ground and take a picture of them. Then one year later take another picture of them and then we'd see how much they'd grown.

A year?! 12 months?! 365 days?! Nooo! But what else could I do except believe her? 

That night I greeted Mr. Wonderful with a carful of plants.
"I'm home," I said.
"Good," he said.
"This is what I bought," 
"It'll take a year for them to grow."
"Good--huh? WHAT?!"

I told you.