Stuck on Succulents
Interview with Janet & Ian Price, Lone Pine Gardens
by SCMG Anne Lowings
MG. You both come from Britain originally. How did you end up in Sebastopol?
Ian I emigrated in 1959, to continue my education. I went to the University of Arizona to study Horticulture and Botany.
Janet I went to agriculture college in Wales for a while but realized I preferred to work with plants rather than study. I came to stay with my sister in New York State to escape a disastrous engagement.
Ian We met at UC Berkeley where we both worked in the Botany department, and married in 1968.
Janet It was ironic because my maiden name was Price, so everyone thought we were already related!
In 1972 we returned England, to join Ian’s sister and brother-in-law in a nursery business, but we couldn’t stand the cold, damp, grey weather there.
Ian I particularly hated the “cold feet” syndrome of living in England. Incidentally succulents also hate having their “feet” cold and wet. I came over to search for a place to buy. I drove from San Francisco to Vancouver en route staying with a friend in Sebastopol, and the climate was perfect here.
Janet This four acre property had been an apple orchard. There was nothing here, only weeds. The soil is “Goldridge” sandy loam. It drains well making it ideal for growing grounds. We opened the nursery in 1975.
MG. Your nursery specializes in succulents and bonsai, how did you chose these two specialties?
Ian I became interested in unusual plants as a boy. An aunt grew succulents in a window, I started my collection from hers, and brought them with me when I came to the United States. My time in Arizona deepened my interest; it is a wonderful place to see succulents in their native habitat.
Janet We had shipped Ian’s succulent collection across the Atlantic several times. When we settled here I looked at all his pots on the deck and decided it was time we started to make some money off those plants. The bonsai came later; Ian’s sister introduced us to them.
Ian They have meshed very well commercially, both are frequently grown as indoor plants, and the South African caudiciform succulents make wonderful bonsai.
Janet However, people do tend to have their specific hobby. When they come into the nursery half will head to the succulent greenhouse and half will head to the bonsai.
MG Do you each have one aspect of the business that you focus on?
Ian I have handled most of the propagation over the years. I still decide what to propagate but now have three employees who make the cuttings. We grow about 1000 different varieties of succulents.
Our son Steven works with us, and we are particularly pleased that he has taken over the wholesale deliveries. We supply plants to nurseries all around northern California.
MG Many local nurseries have closed in recent years. How have you managed to stay in business?
Janet If we weren’t specializing we wouldn’t be here.
Our overheads remain relatively low thanks to Ian’s Scottish grandmother—she taught him how to make-do. Ian is very good at mending things.
Ian We produce all our own plants. Large numbers of the more general ones for wholesale to nurseries, and small quantities of specialty items for collectors. The specimen bonsai have value added with carefully chosen planters, rocks and precise shaping.
Janet The demand for succulents has surged dramatically in the past 4-5 years. We now have landscape professionals coming to us for advice, as their clients are asking them to use succulents in their designs. Many people have second homes in Sonoma County, they like the succulents because they don’t need constant care and water.
MG Do you have a particular favorite plant or species?
Janet It’s best not to have favorites or bond too closely with a certain plant, then you don’t want to sell it. It has happened in the past particularly with the bonsai.
Ian I am fond of the Mesembryanthemums The stemless ones, Lithops, look like stones, and Delospermas are easy to grow and make lovely, colorful ground covers.
MG One last question as we wind up. Do you ever get a day off?
Ian Sometimes on Sunday. We like to go to the ocean as we are both bird watchers.
Janet I have to admit I was upset to read one review on the Internet that states that we operate the nursery as a retirement project!
MG We can see that nothing could be further from the truth.
Lone Pine Gardens
Bonsai · Cacti · Succulents · Unusual Ornamentals
6450 Lone Pine Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Tel 707 823 5024 wwwlonepinegardens.com