by Annie Spiegelman
Many years ago, when I was a goody-two-shoes student sitting in the front row of my Master Gardening class, Annie Hayes, owner of Annie's Annuals Nursery, came to speak to us horticultural wannabe's. There she was, Missy Botanist, proudly standing in front of the classroom holding up her healthy, hearty plants and spewing off the Latin names, while most of us gardening eggheads could barely recall the common name. At the time, we both had just given birth to baby boys. While she appeared angelic, blissful, ecstatic, I looked like a sleep-deprived, tearful junkie desperately searching for an emergency escape hatch, a grand siesta or a hotel mini-bar. But I digress . .
Featured in Fine Gardening, House and Garden, Horticulture and Sunset magazines, nursery owner, Annie Hayes, like yours truly, is a flower fanatic or as her company t-shirt reads, a "Flower Floozie." She was passionate about a gardening hobby that now has become a 2 1/2 acre "growing" nursery in Richmond, California. The nursery has one of the largest selections of California and US native plants, annual wildflowers and cottage garden perennials anywhere. I highly recommend that native plants be a large part of your backyard landscape because many are drought tolerant, most need minimal maintenance and all of them are attractive to native birds, butterflies and beneficial insects. It's all good, Baby!
At the growing nursery, the team grows most of their plants from seed without a greenhouse. If you have ever grown plants from seed, you may have found out as I did: it isn't so simple. I believe some people have a knack for it and some don't. I don't. The growing conditions have to be just right and you can't forget about your vulnerable seedlings for a week just because you get a call to go on assignment with Martha Stewart filming Northern California nurseries, as I did. (I also stopped breast-feeding to go on the road with Martha. What kind of mother does that? . . )
These seedlings survive wind, rain, and sun so your plants are basically hardened off, healthy and strong when you purchase them. All of the plants are grown without the use of growth regulating hormones, which are commonly used on plants you buy from large-scale growers. The growth hormones slow done the growth and extend the shelf life at the store and can lead to substandard results later on. The philosophy at the nursery is organic gardening. " Good gardening is about good soil. Topdressing your soil with compost regularly is all you really have to do," says Annie Hayes. "Rich soil and proper watering makes plants grow so healthy, vigorous and pest free. Who needs chemical fertilizer?"
Many of us home gardeners share the same enthusiasm for the look of the dreamy cottage garden. When I moved into my house over ten years ago, I was determined to compete with the suburban lots of my neighbors who enjoy gnomes, trolls, pink pelicans and plastic reindeer on their lawns year round. Not that there's anything wrong with that . . . But I was looking for a more natural haven, less populated by man-made animals. At many California nurseries, I found the Annie's Annuals tags and found a great variety of annuals or perennials that share the natural grace and charm I was looking for. Above each plant species there's a color photograph of what your 4 inch plant will turn into come spring or summer. The plants look as Mother Nature intended them to be; tall, flowering, flowing in the breeze and looking happy! This is rarely found at the big chain store nurseries where plants look crowded, neglected and miserable. Sort of like NYC subway riders, chain-smoking, cursing, mumbling; waiting for the A train just a wee bit too long at the station. And unlike many modern hybrids, a majority of Annie's Annuals' old-fashioned annuals self-sow easily again and again, year after year.
The growing nursery in Richmond is open for shopping Thursdays through Sundays. Plant-a-holics living far away can order online from the website and from the beautiful color catalogue. You can sign up to be on the catalogue mailing list by going to www.AnniesAnnuals.com. Once there, you can also view the lovely plant slideshow but be forewarned. You'll want to buy everything, immediately.
Syndicated eco-columnist and Master Gardener Annie Spiegelman offers practical tips on organic gardening, composting and planting along with guidance and gripes on marriage, motherhood and that so-called 'having it all.' As your cynically optimistic horticultural host, Spiegelman offers positive reinforcement and moral support from a gardener who's made all the mistakes, and has lived to tell how to make peace with snails, fungi, bacteria and...your boyfriend.
Visit Annie at www.dirtdiva.com
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