For decades, there was a ramshackle nursery at the corner of Jackson and Florin-Perkins roads in Sacramento, Matsuda's. They made a very good living selling plant material to landscapers from that location. But if you were a homeowner walking in to buy something, well...be prepared to answer many of your own questions. Yes, they did have a retail staff; and yes, they did have an outstanding selection of perennials. But it wasn't the most inviting facility for the general public: inside was a poorly lit, oversized shed that sometimes reeked of garden chemicals. Outside, long rows of dirt and gravel paths surrounded dilapidated tables holding one gallon cans of plant material (Yes, they called it plant material. That's what they call plants in the wholesale trade. Not very sexy, but remember their primary customer base was landscapers). The larger containered plants were wayyyyyy out back; it was not unusual to see rows of knocked-over trees and shrubs after a windy day, blocking the pathways.
The Sacramento area actually has several nurseries like this: primarily landscaper-based sales operations that open their gate to the public, but you better have a good idea what you're shopping for, and what it looks like. Rows can be poorly marked; different varieties interspersed in the same row; plants in plastic containers with another plant's label on the can. This wasn't necessarily the case at Matsuda's, but there are a few such culprits looming. Their draw: good pricing.
About two years ago, Roseville-based Green Acres Nursery took over Matsuda's retail location in Sacramento. I dropped in there last Sunday to see what they have done with the place.
As you drive by, it looks like the same building, with a new paint job. But inside, they've added more lighting, organized the merchandise and expanded the product lines, both organic and non-organic. And no tell-tale odor from leaky containers of non-selective insecticides.
Outside, the dirt and gravel pathways have been upgraded to concrete. The old plant display tables are being removed for newer, sturdier models. And the large, outdoor plant selection puts other nurseries at a disadvantage.
It's February, so a shopper should expect to see a selection of bare root plants: fruit trees, berries, roses. Green Acres-Sacramento had the largest selection of bare root plants I have ever witnessed in a Sacramento area nursery. Row after row of bare root fruit trees; an amazing selection of bare root grapes and berries; and tables overflowing with bare root roses. And, nearby, one of the biggest displays of citrus trees I have ever seen.
Sure, their prices can't compete with the box stores; but unlike the paltry selection of bare root fruit trees you might find at a box store - low chill varieties that may be intended for Southern California - here was a collection of taste-test winning fruit trees that would be right at home, in any home, in our area of Northern California.
Green Acres did keep several staffers from Matsuda's, so there is still an emphasis on perennials here. And I'm happy to say, that despite requests from customers, they had no tomato or pepper plants in stock. After all, it's only February; tomatoes shouldn't go in the ground here until April or May.
Meanwhile, across town at one of the big box stores, summer vegetable displays filled the garden areas, including six packs of beans and squash. Beans and squash? Beans, whose seeds can be directly sown in the garden? Squash, a vegetable that requires soil temperatures in the 70's & 80's to grow? And don't transplant very well? I guess that's how you get repeat customers: buy and plant summer vegetables in February; plants die in March; customer returns to the store to buy more in April.
But the biggest improvement at this Green Acres Nursery branch? The service. I was approached by four different employees within my first five minutes in the store, asking if I needed help with anything. And no, they had no idea who I was (I'm taller, thinner and younger on the radio).
Independent nurseries currently engage in a lot of self-flagellation over the question, "How do we compete and succeed against the big box stores?" Green Acres has the answer.