Plants were always a part of Nick Wilkinson’s life. His father was a farmer and his mother a gardener. When he first set out on his own, he used houseplants to liven up his so-called “bachelor pad.”
But his true passion for plants took root when he discovered succulents.
“I got my degree in art, so I was intrigued by all the unusual shapes you see,” he said.
In 2005, Wilkinson took over a small nursery in Cambria and renamed it Grow the Nursery at Moonstone Gardens, specializing in rare and unusual plants. The nursery’s main focus is succulents; however, you will also find other exotic plants such as proteas and carnivorous plants. Grow also carries a nice variety of pottery from five local artists, including handmade planters by Richard Rowe of Cayucos Clay Works.
Wilkinson takes at least a dozen trips around the state each year, meeting with growers and seeking out novel plant varieties for the nursery. He also buys from growers within the county. But the truly unusual plants come from other collectors. When he finds curious specimens in an estate sale or a hobbyist’s garden, he jumps at the opportunity to add to his inventory.
Still, his primary goal is education, not entertainment. “It’s not always about having the weirdest plants,” he said. “Just because it’s unusual doesn’t always mean you need a greenhouse or have to be an expert to grow it.”
A little knowledge goes a long way in succulent care, according to Wilkinson. For instance, one of the most common causes of succulent failure is simply not watering enough.
“Too many people equate succulents with the desert, which in turn equates to no water,” said Wilkinson.
He urges people to consider desert conditions where torrential downpours punctuate long dry spells.
“When you water your plants, soak them, then soak them again, then let them go dry,” he advised.
People are so fearful of over-watering their succulents, they keep them segregated in containers. Wilkinson believes gardeners are missing out on a captivating new palette of plant combinations achieved by mixing succulents into garden beds.
“They can adapt to different watering conditions and often add great shapes, color and texture that are hard to replicate,” he said.
Wilkinson’s best advice: learn about a plant’s specific needs when you buy it. And don’t be afraid to try something new in the garden.
“I am first and foremost a plant lover,” he said, “and true plant lovers know the search for new plants never ends.”
Grow the Nursery at Moonstone Gardens is at 7432 Exotic Gardens Road in Cambria, phone 924-1340.