While the recently released 2010 Orange County Crop Report held some gloomy signs for nurseries, there are some bright spots at San Juan’s nine nurseries, with succulents, herbs and vegetables selling especially well.
Countywide, inventory is down 30 percent. Part of that drop is attributable to the relocation of three large nurseries out of the county, said Donna Barnes, program supervisor in O.C.'s agricultural commissioner's office.
In San Juan, however, people are fueling local nurseries, because, as one employee put it, they're catching onto the "I grew this" trend.
The Hines, Bordier’s and El Modena Gardens nurseries have left Orange County, though Barnes said she wasn't sure if they relocated or went out of business. She could not comment specifically on San Juan’s nurseries, because the numbers reported to the agricultural commissioner are kept confidential.
But at on Del Obispo Street, tomatoes, peppers and beans are among the produce selling especially well, said employee Bill Albert. Customers “want to have fresh vegetables in their garden,” he said. A number of people have said that home garden vegetables taste a lot better than those found at the grocery store. Plus, “they can brag about ‘I grew this.’ ”
It’s more about the enjoyment and satisfaction of growing their own food than it is about saving money, he said.
There are more home vegetable gardens because people are a “lot more conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies,” said Jennifer Kittle, manager of . Plus, gardening is something that families can do together, she said.
There has been an explosion in interest in growing food, said Sharon Stolen, the Master Gardener coordinator at the Orange County UC Cooperative Extension. She said 500 people attended a recent five-part seminar that the Master Gardeners gave about food gardening. The Master Gardeners provide research-based gardening information to the public that includes sustainable practices and pest management.
The interest is growing because of the economy and because "people are looking for ways to eat healthy food that tastes better and they know where it's from,” Stolen said.
She said the office has been getting more calls asking where community gardens can be found; cities are responding by making .
The Master Gardeners are telling people that even with limited space, they can grow food. “You can have a lettuce bowl out on your balcony, a bowl with herbs and a pot with a tomato, and have a salad just on your balcony,” Stolen said.
Herbs are also popular at Plant Depot, with basil, thyme and oregano among the top sellers.
Succulents are among the biggest sellers at , said Doug Ito. Agaves and kalanchoe are among the most popular succulents, he said.
Locals have seen their water bills go up, and they’re trying to figure out how to cut back on water use, he said. “If water rates go up, it's just like the effect of rising gas prices.”
But in addition to saving water, succulents are also trendy, Kittle said. Numerous landscape design magazines are featuring succulents as a design element, she said.
“It’s the aesthetics of it more than the water consciousness,” she said.