Starting the season

Local nurseries join forces, invite plant lovers to stop by for the weekend

Visitors to Hodge’s Nursery & Gifts in Durham will enjoy 5 acres of fruit trees and other plants.

Visitors to Hodge’s Nursery & Gifts in Durham will enjoy 5 acres of fruit trees and other plants.

Photo courtesy of ken hodge

Join the tour:
There are 12 stops on this year’s Nursery Crawl, which takes place Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26-27, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.: Sousa Dynasty Herbs (Red Bluff), Spring Fever Nursery & Garden (Yankee Hill), Goodin’s Rock Garden (Proberta), Hodge’s Nursery & Gifts (Durham), Kinney Nursery & Topsoil (Vina) and Mendon’s Nursery (Paradise). And in Chico: Geffray’s Gardens, Floral Native Nursery and Restoration, Little Red Hen Nursery, The Plant Barn, TJ’s Nursery and Gifts, and Magnolia Gift & Garden (the crawl’s host). For more information, visit

Three years ago, Magnolia Gift & Garden employee Trish Howard was inspired by Chico’s Boutique Crawl, an event that promoted local resale clothing stores by providing a map to various shops during an evening of celebrations. She liked the idea so much, in fact, that she thought, “Why not apply it to the plant nursery world?”

And so the Nursery Crawl was born in 2014 as a two-day event hosted by Magnolia, during which participating nurseries in Chico and surrounding areas welcome guests to come and get prepared for spring, learn about each business, exchange ideas about plants and gardens and participate in workshops, raffles and other green activities along the way.

“I thought that if people would go to the nurseries, they’d be hooked,” Howard said. “Besides the amazing plants, we have a lot of amazing nursery men and women who can answer virtually any question. This community is so lucky to have so many nurseries, it’s insane … people come from the Bay Area and go, ‘What? How are there so many?’ But we have an ideal climate for growing here.”

With so many nurseries in the area, the day-to-day competition may seem stiff, but as Courtney Paulson, owner of Magnolia points out, they all support each other. “We all have our own specialties, and the plant world is so vast, so we can’t carry everything. And if we don’t have something, we encourage people to check out what the others offer; Hodge’s has great fruit trees, Geffray’s has such a selection of succulents, The Plant Barn has amazing greenhouses … we specialize more in pottery and drought-tolerant plants. I think the knowledge that people have at each nursery is an amazing resource.”

Each year, the crawl has added another nursery to its lineup, and Sousa Dynasty Herbs of Red Bluff is the latest to join the ranks—which number 12 this year. “I heard about the crawl last year and wanted to get involved; with our nursery, it’s all about teaching from what we have here,” said Michele Sousa, who, with husband Tony, has run the 2-acre business for the last three years.

“We specialize in herbs, and we only want to grow things that have adapted to our area. We only grow organic and people often think ‘organic’ means more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be that way; it’s very reasonable,” she said, offering techniques like using natural mint repellent sprays instead of pesticides. “At the crawl, we’ll be making teas from our herbs, like lemon verbena and fresh stevia. We’ll have five different raffles, too, and with any purchase of $10 or more, we’ll donate a plant to a local school.”

Crawlers who make the trip to Yankee Hill will find David Walther, who features perennials at Spring Fever Nursery & Garden, a nursery that’s open to the public only part-time in April, or for special occasions, like the Nursery Crawl. “We’re known for our display garden; I designed the crooked trails after Caper Acres,” Walther said. Event goers can expect bright bloomers like Lenten roses for sale, some of Walther’s favorites. “With perennials, you only have to plant them once; they often outlive you, and it’s much less labor.”

And, over at Durham’s Hodge’s Nursery & Gifts, owner Ken Hodge will be giving clinics on planting, growing and maintaining small fruit trees.

With warmer months approaching, crawl attendees can expect expert tips on springtime gardening. “It’s a good time to be around a nursery,” said Paulson, who’s eager to start her own gardens soon. And while spring is prime planting time, Howard points out the importance of patience. “People tend to start planting too early; the roots need warmth to expand.” But with warmer temperatures of recent years, spring planting in February and March is fitting for many plants. “Most growth is in the spring,” Hodge said. “In California, the conditions will be better this year because we had a little more rain than before.”

Both Paulson and Howard are especially excited for this year’s event. “This business is seasonal, and with the drought, times are tough, but we’re all trying to keep up,” Paulson said.

“You’ll never get rich working with plants, but you’ll have a really nice life!” Howard added.

Planning community events like the Nursery Crawl is a prime example of that. “It’s fun!” Howard said. “And it’s educational. You get a sticker to put on your map with each nursery you visit, and everyone who visits six nurseries gets a free tote bag, so it’s like a treasure hunt. We’ve gotten really good feedback in the past. Chico really seems to support local businesses. We’ve met so many great people and it’s been wonderful.”