Friday, June 5, 2009

The Secrets Behind Success: Roberta's connection to Sierra View Nursery

Sierra View Nursery is a wholesale nursery - a growing ground that provides plants to landscapers and designers. The nursery itself is set against the ridge of a hill - the bank of a railroad track as it happens, in Loomis, California. Sierra View Nursery is comprised of two small, shingled huts with flower boxes – resembling leftover movie props - that act as sentries in the Orlando vicinity of the Florida shaped nursery. Those huts are where Lara, Sierra View’s owner, does her business. Generally there are two or three large trucks nosing in on the porch: a delivery truck, a nursery employee vehicle, and perhaps a visitor. The atmosphere is serene: the nursery hums with sprinklers and the occasional train.


It was a warm day when we visited Lara’s nursery.  She escorted us through the long, narrow expanse of the grounds, stopping to point out plants of interest along the way. “That’s a California Anemone, it’s a California native,” Lara pointed to a tall flowering shrub. “Do you want to see my cauliflower?” Lara asked us, and of course we did. In the middle of Sierra View Nursery - maybe Polk county, if you’re still with me on the Florida reference - Lara has created an example garden of the plants she carries.  We walked through a living trellis of apple trees to a round bed of metallic blue foliage. Lara bent down and pulled open a group of leaves to show us the knobby head of a beautiful, white cauliflower. “I tie the leaves up, it’s supposed to keep the bugs out. It’s probably going to make the cabbage grow into a funny shape though,” Lara commented. We continued on, and Lara, amongst day lilies and rows of tomatoes, would bend down to pull weeds from the bases of plants. “She’ll be doing that all day,” Roberta said in smiling approval, referring to Lara’s plant preening.


Roberta and Lara have been working together for the better part of seven years. They have cycled through contractors and landscape crews, attended children’s birthday parties, graduations and a myriad of other social gatherings. Before Lara and Sierra View Nursery, Roberta’s designs were at the mercy of the limited stock of other local nurseries. There was always something being substituted, something too small and twiggy, something that had to be brought in from that other nursery, even though “I can’t stand working with them!” Roberta would lament. The problem was, other nurseries stocked for their retail customers that generally wanted colorful annuals, large varieties of shrubs that Roberta avoids such as privets and camillias – plants that require shaping and copious amounts of water, and usually didn’t have drought tolerant sections. Roberta works with specimen plants, dwarf varieties that have the same shape and color but are half the size or less maintenance than their giant counterparts. When Roberta was introduced to Lara, through a friend incidentally, her use of other nurseries died off almost immediately. Lara stocks specimen and drought tolerant plants, California natives as well as landscape workhorses such as miscanthus, pennisetums, junipers and berberis. Another thrilling aspect of her plant stock for Roberta was the size and quality of Lara’s plants. “I like to wait,” Lara said in regards to how lovely her plants always look, “and in fact I think I tend to wait too long with some of them.” Even the one-gallon pots - a standard size for plants that will go into a new landscape - are nearly bursting through their containers. The effect is, when a client sees her newly planted yard, the plants she has just spent thousands of dollars on are identifiable, not a field of barely-living-stems.

            Lara’s care of plants began in January of 1999, more as a happy mistake than anything else. Her father suggested that she start selling some tree starts and well, “someone has to be with plants all the time” Lara remarked, and thus she became the full-time caretaker of what was to become Sierra View Nursery. It wasn’t a complete left field decision though – Lara has a degree in plant science from the University of California Davis. Though Lara’s nursery is strictly wholesale, she brings her wares to the farmer’s market. She sells her flowers, some vegetables and vegetable starts along with anything else that happens to be looking good. Being at the farmer’s market is a way for Lara to interface with the public, which she can’t always do from her out-of-the-way location in Loomis. The market helps her bring awareness to the existence of her nursery, as well as bring in business via the designers and contractors she works with, “I have a brochure with the names of landscapers and designers I work with for people to take… although that needs to be updated,” she said slightly apologetically. The landscaping world is tough, as both Lara and Roberta know, and finding a contractor that can maintain the quality of work as well as the ethic that they desire is difficult. 

             The symbiotic relationship between Roberta and Lara has evolved over time. Walking down the aisles of bursting roses and rambling sedums, Roberta picked up a Salvia East Friesland she wanted for her own yard, “I’ve been using these a lot because I know you have so many of them, and they’re just as beautiful as May Night.”

“Good,” Lara said, “but we’re nearly done with those, just so you know. Have you ever used this plant?” She asked pointing towards a red-barked tree, nearly four feet tall and decked with tiny white, bell-like flowers. The tree is a Styrax or “Japanese Snowball Tree,” Lara informed us.

Roberta got giddy over the new specimen, “Wait, let me get a pen to write down the name.” Lara’s stock is influenced by what Roberta uses, just as Roberta’s plantings will change depending on what’s in season and thriving at Sierra View Nursery. When questioned about her drought tolerant selection, Lara rattled off a few plant names before saying, “I try to have what Roberta uses.”

As we loaded up Roberta’s truck with the plants she had chosen, I carefully leaned the two tomato plants that Lara had insisted I take against the back seat, excited and nervous to test their metal back in the big city where I live. One was already sporting two striped and shiny green tomatoes. We waved goodbye to Lara and she waved back before ducking into the little shingled office to continue on with the day’s work.


Sierra View Nursery

(916) 652-3908 ph/fax

3170 Delmar Avenue

 Loomis, CA 95650


No comments:

Post a Comment