It is no easy thing for independent nurseries to compete with discount chain stores. So when Ahly Mueller opened Earthly Delights in Nipomo last year, she made sure visiting would be nothing like strolling the aisles of your local big box.
First there’s the location: an idyllic slice of rural countryside surrounded by pastures and farmland. Instead of pushing a cart down aisles of rigidly categorized plant stock, you crunch down gravel pathways lined with thoughtfully arranged groupings of plants, shrubs, trees, and funky garden art. There’s a gazebo to sit beneath to take in the view or the antics of the nursery’s resident cats, chickens and rooster.
Then there is the way Mueller stocks the nursery. She focuses on plants that do well in our Mediterranean climate. With small adjustments to placement and care, most can do well in any of our area’s microclimates.
The plants primarily fit into one of three categories. There are New Zealand/Australian natives such as pittosporum and phormium (New Zealand flax). Mueller is particularly fond of plants from New Zealand because their native climate is so much like our own. She also carries a wide variety of drought-tolerant succulents, as well as California natives like manzanita, and native varieties of sage.
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What you won’t find are run-of-the-mill species that are plentiful at most chain store garden centers — unless it’s an unusual variety. Escallonia is commonplace, but the type that Mueller offers grows flat to the ground. She carries agapanthus, but only the type with striking black flowers.
Mueller cultivates some of her own stock. This allows her to offer around 200 varieties of iris and many types of lilies, including Asiatic, tiger, Oriental and 50 kinds of daylilies.
Interspersed among nursery stock is a selection of garden furniture and art, most of it picked up at yard and estate sales.
“I have a pretty good eye for what will survive outside, what can get wet, and what looks OK rusty,” she said.
You can find metal bistro sets, plant stands, vintage pottery and wall hangings. Flowers sprout from old coffee pots and pewter pitchers. There are also items creatively repurposed as garden art, such as kids’ wagons, tricycles and bowling balls — an eco-friendly version of the classic garden gazing ball.
Mueller, who acquired her love of plants from her master gardener grandmother, tends lovingly to her stock without using chemicals. And because she operates the nursery on her own and has low overhead, she is able to keep her prices down.
“I get so excited when people find a cool plant and realize they can afford it,” she said. “My goal is just to get the plants out there and keep people happy.”
Mueller, who was a graphic designer in her previous life, lends her artistic eye to landscape design consultations. For $65 per hour, she visits the site and then drafts a plan for the garden that can include hardscape, irrigation and a plant list. Design clients then get a 10 percent discount at the nursery.
Earthly Delights is at 652 N. Thompson Road in Nipomo, 245-2420, www.earthlydelightsnursery.com.