Edible Gardens: Plantopias

Eight nurseries that are produce standouts

Photograph by Lisa Romerein

Full Circle Gardening 
As part of her operation, which provides consulting and fruit tree maintenance, Lora Hall (below) offers vegetable seedlings that know only organic love. The 29-year-old graduate of Berkeley (where she studied food politics) and Cal Poly Pomona (her master’s thesis was on composting) was a regional coordinator for TreePeople before turning her Echo Park yard into a growing ground. She brings her organic babies—heirloom tomatoes, New Zealand spinach, squashes, tomatillos, raspberries, strawberries, and rhubarb, among others—to the Highland Park farmers’ market on Tuesday afternoons and to Atwater Village on Sunday mornings. » 323-533-3235.

Plantopias Box 
Photograph by Lisa Romerein
Green Thumb Nursery
Retail: 21812 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, 818-340-6400.Wholesale: 7659 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park, 818-348-9266. Green Arrow: 8845 Sepulveda Blvd., North Hills, 818-894-8301.

Lincoln Avenue Nursery
Burkard and Persson’s get the attention—for good reason—while this Pasadena old-timer, which opened in 1903, remains beneath the radar. Find it and you’ll discover lower prices than at Burkard and plant life as bountiful as at Persson’s but in a more intimate setting, from the pastoral patch of raised beds overflowing with squash and lettuces to the tables crammed with herbs (lemon verbena, fennel) and vegetables (Spanish onion, Thai pepper). Breathe deeply and you’ll catch the perfume of Valencia orange blossoms—follow the scent to the grove that’s up the long driveway and beyond the pond. » 804 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena, 626-792-2138.

Marina del Rey Garden Center
This Westside establishment is Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to seasonal produce. By August it was already hip deep in winter plants, including such cool-temperature tomatoes as the Siberia, High Country, Oregon Spring, Early Girl Improved, and Winter Northern Light heirloom. Sierra, Bibb, leaf tango, and romaine lettuces abounded, and shelves were packed with broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. » 13198 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey, 310-823-5956. 

Moneta Nursery 
So vast and dense are the fruit trees on this five-acre spread, founded in 1950, you’ll think you’re in the forests of Madagascar: Multiple varieties of cherry, fig, apple, quince, pear, grapefruit, mandarin, plum, and apricot form thick, leafy canopies that almost block out the sky. As at other top tree nurseries, California’s best growers are here: Durling, Monrovia, La Verne, and Dave Wilson. The vegetables and herbs are equally plentiful and include the uncommon, such as Lebanese squash, candy mint, silver mint, horseradish, and lemon balm.
» 13633 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena, 310-324-4077. 

San Gabriel Nursery
The selection of Asian vegetables at this horticultural institution, which also boasts a large florist operation, is without peer. The Japanese eggplants and cucumbers look as if they could go two rounds with a sumo wrestler. Chinese long beans are as limber as Beijing acrobats. There’s even the Japanese momotaro tomato. In the fruit tree gallery, Asian staples such as the Fuji apple and the Thai lime are present. All the plants are well maintained, so they’ll happily transplant to your garden. Low prices are supplemented by frequent discount offerings. » 632 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, 626-286-3782.

Sperling Nursery 
The mythological scale of pomological goods makes this the Mount Olympus of fruit trees. The green gods and goddesses reside at the highest point of the grounds, so go past the ornamentals and roses and hanging plants. Each type of citrus, stone fruit, and exotic bears a tale of its genealogy, use, taste, and texture. Offerings are legion: ten varieties of figs alone, like the romantic Violette de Bordeaux and the white Genoa. You learn that the Bergamot sour orange’s rind is used to make perfumes and liqueurs and that the Chironja is an orange-grapefruit hybrid with gold flesh and a sweet-sour taste. Prices range from the expected ($29.99 for the five-gallon kaffir lime) to the expensive ($140 for the 15-gallon espaliered Dorsett golden apple). » 24460 Calabasas Rd., Calabasas, 818-591-9111.

Sunset Boulevard Nursery
The herbs are knockouts, thanks to old-school attention from a staff who snip off dying leaves or dip into a barrel of recycled water to sprinkle the chocolate mint, French tarragon, and garlic chives with an afternoon drink. At this 50-year-old Japanese American family-owned business, the artistry of display is as essential as healthy plants. Check out the mountains of pots and planters and the manicured paths that squeeze past rows of citrus and nooks of plump tomatoes and peppers. » 4368 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-661-1642.