Just about everything grows in Los Angeles, from Mojave yuccas to South American ginger to Himalayan impatiens. Large chain nurseries are convenient and can set you up with basic plants as well as tools, statuary, and potting soil, but they can’t match the thoughtful selection and longtime experience of the region’s independent establishments. Many of them are family owned and operated and produce their own inventory. Whether you want to re-create a chaparral canyon, install a miniature jungle, or add a Ceres-worthy vegetable patch to your backyard, these places will get you started.
Don’t be fooled by the commonplace geraniums and petunias out front at Xotx-Tropico. The real finds, looking in some cases like stick figures from another planet, are scattered inside among the more than 100 species of palm. Proprietor Leon Massoth is a modern-day Indiana Jones, traveling the world in search of the rarest tropicals—a kola tree from Nigeria, a passionflower tree from the Amazon, a Caribbean acacia bush. He propagates his own seedlings, which explains the dense-jungle vibe. Be sure to sniff the heavenly Jamaican allspice. » 900 N. Fairfax Ave., West Hollywood, 323-654-9999.
Cacti and succulents are enjoying a revival as decorative additions to midcentury and Spanish-style homes. California Cactus Center carries staples such as flowering echeveria and hardy kalanchoe. While La Cienega Nursery near Melrose and Cosentino’s in Malibu also have a formidable stock of arid-weather varieties, the staff here is eager to educate, and labels indicate points of origin: Mexico, Brazil, Madagascar, South Africa, the Canary Islands. A giant saguaro keeps watch from a corner near an array of containers and colorful planting pebbles. » 216 S. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena, 626-795-2788.
There are multiple terraces at the expansive Sperling Nursery, each devoted to a different horticultural category. The bottom level features manicured rows of healthy herbs (Italian parsley, tarragon, sage) and veggies (golden beets, pumpkins, shallots) that can stir up recipe ideas. The top tier is a fruit tree showplace, where Meyer lemon, dwarf olive, pluot, and pomegranate trees await. In the middle are ranks of roses, but if annuals and perennials are what you desire, you’ll find them organized in rainbow hues near the checkout-adjacent greenhouse. » 24460 Calabasas Rd., Calabasas, 818-591-9111.
At Hashimoto Nursery, a family-owned fixture for more than 80 years, go for the cottage look, with hanging baskets of fuchsias and well-tended bedding and container plants (lantanas, asters, zinnias). Or for an Asian-inspired aesthetic, explore the shade-loving ferns and moss ground covers. Loyal customers return for the personal service and the extensive pottery selection. While you’re here, pop into Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery a few doors down, which counts among its gems a $1,500 mini bougainvillea. » 1935 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A., 310-473-6232.
For a modest-size operation, Sunset Boulevard Nursery has few peers in the realm of edibles. Even in the fall its attractive assortment includes about a dozen kinds of tomatoes and at least three types each of strawberries, mint, and basil. There are scores of seed packets from cult companies such as Renee’s Garden, Botanical Interests, and Franchi Sementi. You can pick up other items for the table, too, like hydrangeas, camellias, and gardenias. » 4368 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-661-1642.
What grabs your attention at San Gabriel Nursery is the range of plants on the two-acre property, where shoppers use charming old Radio Flyer wagons to cart around purchases. Founded in 1923, this institution offers citrus, plum, cherry, and fig trees from California’s best growers, like Durling, Monrovia, La Verne, and Dave Wilson. We haven’t seen as many grapevines, including a deep purple Japanese variety called kyoho, anywhere else. » 632 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, 626-286-3782.
Practitioners of drought-tolerant gardening seek out the Theodore Payne Foundation, a resource for California native plants since 1960. Signs for each specimen indicate soil preference, flower color, and natural habitat, among other characteristics, which is handy when considering such varietals as the canyon gray sagebrush (“excellent for erosion control”). Endangered species like Nevin’s barberry are for sale, as are California poppy seeds and a native grass mix. » 10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley, 818-768-1802.