Hope Merkle of Los Osos Valley Nursery touts the many virtues of native plants — but not the natives you might expect.
“So many people come in wanting California natives because they are drought-tolerant and deer-resistant, but South African and Australian natives often do better than our own,” she said. “They are usually prettier, flower more and are hardier.”
Merkle, who manages Los Osos Valley Nursery for her parents, owners Lee and Tish Linsley, has stocked the grounds with plenty of natives of all types, along with other types of trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and edibles.
Among their South African plants are the flowering shrub, Leucadendron; Leucospermum, commonly known as pincushion flower; and Protea, with its impressive blooms.
“We carry a lot of Protea because they’re deer-resistant, drought-resistant and absolutely gorgeous,” she said. “It’s useful as a screen or cut flower and has a very tropical look.”
Among the nursery’s Australian natives are the aromatic, flowering shrub Chamelaucium; Grevillea with its brilliant blooms; the blue bell-flowered Sollya; Leptospermum, or teatree; and Banksia with its large, flowering spikes. It carries Boronia, whose pink or purple blooms have traditionally been used as a cut flower. Just recently, it has become popular as a drought-tolerant yard plant.
Among other water-saving plants at the nursery are over 500 varieties of succulents, cacti, bromeliads, and tillandsias (air plants). One of Merkle’s personal favorites is Epiphyllum, or orchid cacti.
“It breaks out in these giant cactus flowers that last for one to two days, but the colors are absolutely incredible — bright, iridescent colors. It’s an epiphenomenon,” quipped Merkle.
Los Osos Valley Nursery specializes in sustainable planting methods. It cares for its plants almost exclusively with chemical-free fertilizers and pest control. When new plants come in, they are inoculated with beneficial bacterial to help them grow better, even after they are taken home and planted.
The nursery is now selling its special blend of organic compost tea that includes kelp, alfalfa, cottonseed, humic acid, four manures, mushroom compost, earthworm castings and 19 beneficial fungi and bacteria. Merkle claims the tea makes plants resistant to sucking insects and diseases, and improves overall health.
“If you have a plant you don’t think is going to make it, come and get some tea and check it out,” she said. “Everything we add to the tea has a special purpose in allowing the plant to grow better naturally.”
Los Osos Valley Nursery offers weekend workshops on a variety of topics including vegetable gardening, creating living walls, and even how to build a raised garden bed out of a discarded wood pallet. Check out its Facebook page for dates and times.
The nursery is located at 301 Los Osos Valley Road in Los Osos, 528-5300.