Historic Sperling Nursery closing

Sometimes life is very hard to understand. Finding a silver lining or figuring out a place to file it is pointless. It just sucks. With tragic irony, the beloved Joni Mitchell is speechless and recently re-hospitalized in Los Angeles after an aneurysm. I can’t help but acknowledge this as I tell you that the Sperling family and Nissan are paving over paradise for a parking lot.

Sperling Nursery in Calabasas is what they used to affectionately call an “institution.” For 35 years(ish), Sperling Nursery provided Los Angeles with bedding plants, container plants, trees and sod. It is still loved and, in fact, busier than ever, but it will be closing shortly.

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Since the death of Joe Sperling, the nursery’s founder and namesake, in 2013, the nursery has been on the chopping block. As a regular customer and fan, I have known for the past few months that the property had been sold to the Nissan car dealership next door.

So they can put cars on it.

Details of the sale have remained private and the price the Sperlings received has not been disclosed. Sources say close to seventeen million. There has been no online public announcement from the family. I found on June 25th a short article at the online San Fernando Valley Business Journal which only outlined the vaguest details of the sale.

To understand the immense hole that will be left in Los Angeles culture from the closing of this nursery, to comprehend the detriment to natural life and beauty, not to mention the detriment to forward progress towards a greener, more balanced world, I have to tell you how magical this nursery is.

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First of all it was designed and built by Sperling himself. He “tamed” a beautiful hillside in Calabasas so that container plants and trees could sit as if in their natural habitat. The hillside, complete with many “It’s Rattlesnake Season…Beware!” signs is like an idyllic park. There is hardly a delineation between the natural environment and the plants for sale. The property is 11 acres and studded with tall oaks. There are paths and arches, cobblestoned steps, landings, arbors and gazebos.
IMG_5456Birds of all kinds, bees and butterflies point the way to the best plants. In this day and age of box store nurseries spraying plants with toxic neonicotinoids thereby pretty much guaranteeing the end of civilization, we really need private nurseries who insure a product both natural and whatever-organic-means. We want to be certain we are buying a product that isn’t going to kill the very organisms that keep them (and us) alive.
And because the employees of Sperling took such good care of their plants, their plants were BEAUTIFUL. I mean, this is Calabasas. They damn well better be beautiful. And they were. The best. Period.

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In my work as a landscaper, many of my clients (all) expect the plants I deliver to be perfect. They have to look gread. Many plants at nurseries don’t look great when you buy them. And this is understandable. They live in 1 gallon black pots, bake in the sun, dry up, are neglected, survive a hard frost and still hang in there. (These are good plants actually…tough and hardy) Give these sad specimens a happy home and they’ll perk up!

But clients don’t want to hear all that. They want their plants and their entire new garden to look nice NOW. And I don’t blame them. I want it to look nice now too. And you know where you go? When it’s got to look nice. You go to Sperling. That’s where you go. But that will be where you went.
It’s a tragedy. That probably sounds overblown but trust me, it’s not. The loss of the actual site, the natural gift to the world that is the oxygen-spouting subculture of plant life at Sperling’s 11 acres and the loss of the service they provided, almost spiritually, to the people of Los Angeles. It’s an epic loss. No other place looks like this.
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No other place does this.

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Sperling’s magic is its people. The staff is one part snooty aunt, one part bleeding heart environmentalist, one part horticultural genius, one part drinking buddy, and like all gardeners, half therapist. A lot of praise goes to the buyers and garden designers. They way plants were placed around the nursery not only inspired me but educated me. I would come upon a display of plants and be like, oooohhhh…click of my phone. My photo library is full of Sperling’s employees artistry and plant pairings…they haave extraordinary talent.
Sperling had plants no one else would dare to have, they took chances with their inventory. They also had a vast selection of succulents and a fantastic greenhouse as well. I won’t even get into the gift shop…that’s cause I wouldn’t let myself go in there. Please. I have enough trouble with the nursery. The gift shop was curated in the most delightful way, I can assure you of that.

They’re paving paradise to put up a parking lot, ya’ll.

I think that’s all I can say about that. Except I love you Sperling, and I miss you already. (I’ve also spent $1500 there this week so you’re welcome family trust.)

I can only hope that this event springboards into something else. I was thinking a movement towards co-op nurseries that offer veggie seedlings and drought-tolerant plants at a discount? Just throwing it out there. But no matter what comes out of this, it will never be something better. Cause Sperling is the best. There’s nothing like it and never will be again. Cheers Joe!

Go see Sperling Nursery while it is still open. They are running out of inventory quickly. Grab a plant for sentimental reasons. Hug the staff and watch out for rattlesnakes. Breathe the air. Goodbye Sperling Nursery. Goodbye.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

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{Luckily, there is another wonderful nursery in the Valley that I love: Green Arrow Nursery on Sepulveda in North Hills. What it lacks in natural beauty (in fact, this nursery is a true oasis as it is located on one of the least attractive streets in all of Los Angeles), it makes up for in wonderful, intelligent employees, an expansive and wonderful selection of well-tended plants and more veggie seedlings than any nursery in L.A.}

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Historic Sperling Nursery closing

21 Responses

  1. Thanks Erin for your thoughtful writings about Sperling and the news of it’s unfortunate closure. I feel blessed to have worked there and have so enjoyed all that it it is. From the mixture of nature and it’s elements, it’s constant flashes of beauty from rainbows, and the ever changing sky above, to the deer, fox, skunks, rabbits, butterflies, birds, snakes and even spiders that gave us the everyday experiences we were so lucky to have, to the sacred land it sits on that whispers quietly to those who chose to listen, the amazing people that through sweat and the love of their job worked so hard to make it what it was ( I know I will never find another group like them throughout it all the good and the bad….all in all we were like family), and last but not least the customers from all walks of life that I got to share special moments with and help to try and achieve their beautification goals 🙂 I will miss Sperlings on so many levels, but I will never be without it as it’s embedded in my soul and will remain a part of me forever more.
    Xoxo Shawna Faith

    Shawna Faith July 2, 2015 at 3:39 pm #
  2. I received a link to this post from a friend. Even though I currently live more than an hour away from Sperling, it was one of my favorite nurseries. I visited several times a year (more frequently when I was spending time in the Valley caring for elderly parents) and I’ve featured photos of my visits on my own blog many times. Last Saturday, my friend sent me photos of the nursery’s bare shelves and it just about made me cry, even though I knew this sale had been in the works for some time. Nurseries and garden centers of this quality are harder and harder to find. I’ve been thinking of posting my own homage to Sperling – if I do, would you have any objection to my inclusion of a link to your post? It’s written eloquently and captures the spirit of the place.
    Kris P

    Kris P July 8, 2015 at 12:39 am #
    • Absolutely! I’d be honored. Thank you.

      Hope Gardens July 8, 2015 at 3:03 pm #
      • Hi… So sad. I’ve been beck in NC since April and drove straight to Sperling this week when I got back and almost cried in shock when I saw the sign:(. Do you know where Rod is? I would love to connect with him. He taught me so much about succulents and I thought I knew a lot. Let me know if you have his info. Janinedesign@gmail/.com or 310-857-8969. Thanks for the beautiful story you told.

        Janine August 9, 2015 at 3:53 pm #
  3. A lovely obituary, albeit some incorrect information. Number one: the city of Calabasas zoned the street for car sales some years ago. Unless the family had kept it going the city was unwilling to allow a nursery to be there. Bluntly put, they want the sales tax revenue. One car versus a week of plant sales. Figure it out. Nissan wanted exposure in the area, after closing the facility they built next to Target in Woodland Hills, for whatever reason. The city was approached by at least two groups who wanted to continue it, but no soap. It will likely close by the weekend – July 24.

    I. too, worked there, since 1987, more or less. Now I will retire, and continue to keep in touch with the friends made over those years

    Carolyn Arthur July 21, 2015 at 12:50 am #
    • Thanks for that info Carolyn. I also heard that the amount of sale was much less that I proposed.

      Hope Gardens July 21, 2015 at 4:31 am #
    • Very sad that the City chose $$$$’s over maintaining a beautiful spot.

      anne friel August 7, 2015 at 8:40 pm #
  4. Could you tell me where Peter (who did personal succulent arrangements), will be working/ He was a pleasure to work with and would like to follow him,

    Many thanks,
    Nancyreisner2@gmail.com

    Nancy Reisner July 27, 2015 at 12:11 am #
    • I don’t know but I will post this here. Maybe someone will respond. 😉

      Hope Gardens July 27, 2015 at 3:31 am #
  5. Thank you so much for this beautifully written tribute to Sperling Nursery. I am so sad that we will not have this wonderful resource. I have,however, also been going to Green Arrow Nursery on Sepulveda since I was a child and we could look forward to a visit there after church on Sunday.

    17 million is a chunk of change and not to be sneezed at, I guess. Sad, however, that it will be only a beautiful memory.

    anne friel August 7, 2015 at 8:38 pm #
  6. Sperling Nursery was the crown jewel of Calabasas, and now its gone. Its beyond sad. Its down right sickening. The resounding statement that this makes about the values of those at the management helm in Calabasas is alarming. What comes next? Calabasas Saddlery? Sagebrush Cantina? Leoni’s Adobe? Heck – in a few years time you just might be successful in wiping out all the wonderful elements that made Calabasas so uniquely charming in the rolling metropolis known as Los Angeles.

    Deborah Houtsma September 1, 2015 at 9:10 pm #
    • I heard from one of the owners that they had many offers to keep the property a nursery but the taxes were way too high for a business with such a small profit margin and a high overhead. Calabasas was not willing to budge on the tax rate.

      Hope Gardens September 2, 2015 at 2:49 pm #
  7. Just got back from Sperlings about 1 hour ago. Went to green thumb for some sage. Very poor selection. Got some varieties at Sperlings last year but cut them back too much and 3 died. After green thumb thought i will go to Sperlings. Very sad to pull into the driveway and read that it is closed. Mom passed away in 2012 and she introduced me to the nursery when i bought my house in 1984. It was her most favorite nursery. Glad that she is not hear to be as sad as i am to see it is closed. Where o go now?

    keith September 21, 2015 at 11:13 pm #
  8. I have never responded to a posted until now, after reading this blog I feel compelled. I had no idea Sperling closed until I went there today. I was so upset it took me out of the mood to garden. It was my favorite nursery in Los Angeles. If the comment above is accurate about the City of Calabasas, that is horrible and disgusting greed. I’m sure there could have been other ways for the city to make money. The nusery brought joy to so many and helped create a sense of community. I don’t know where I will go now. There is not another nursery close by like Sperling. 🙁

    Melissa September 26, 2015 at 10:38 pm #
  9. I cried while reading this. My grandfather had a vision and he made it reality. He was a,hard working man up until the day he died. He spent every day at his nursery, Nurturing it, making sure his employees and customers were pleased and overall loving the what he loved most the beauty of nature and watching a dream come to life. I wish I could have visited the nursery one last time before closing but was not told it was for sale. I am heartbroken to know cars will be sitting on what once was a tranquil oasis of beauty at its best. A place to wander, enjoy colors like you have never seen, pick up some popcorn and just enjoy. Thank you grandpa for creating such a majestic place to relax in. I will always remember. Your vision because a reality that brought so much joy to many people. You were one of a kind.

    noelle October 16, 2015 at 5:37 am #
  10. I also was saddened by the closing of this nursery. Shopped there for over thirty years. I bought plants and unique gifts. The big box stores are far from being nurseries. Too bad we can’t sustain these wonderful businesses We all need to support unique businesses or our communities will become full of big business and their profits.

    Nonairene October 25, 2015 at 9:32 pm #
  11. I found out the hard way by pulling into the driveway December 12th blocked by locked gates and the sign “Nursery Closed.” Yes, it was a long, hot summer, too hot for nursery crawling or planting and so I missed any announcement of the closing.
    Sperling Nursery was a botanic garden and oasis where you could take the plants home with you should you desire. It had the best selection of pottery and garden ornaments, bulbs, superb gift shop, and plants and seeds hard to find anywhere else. An enormous variety of citrus, unusual roses, fantastic house plants, succulents, California natives, even Japanese flowering cherry trees. When you bought a fruit tree, you knew it would fruit for you (no high chill varieties unsuitable for LA so often found at big box stores). It’s said that gardens only last as long as the gardener, looks like it’s true of great nurseries too. I’m really going to miss Sperling Nursery.

    Mary Harrington December 14, 2015 at 5:37 pm #
  12. I agree with all that has been said above. Now that Green Thumb Nursery is closed,
    don’t forget about Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery in Sunland, though it focuses mainly on
    drought tolerant plants. Oh yeh, and box stores.
    The ultimate problem is us. Too many of us, people. All coming here, weather, jobs. People need apts, and cars. These have more dollar value than plants. Also, the regulations and demands on employers buy fed gov’t and state government costs or will cost employers too much money. Can’t charge ten dollars for a small tomato plant can you?

    Jerry July 22, 2016 at 6:56 pm #
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