RSS Feed

Historic Sperling Nursery closing


June 28, 2015 by Hope Gardens

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.


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.


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.

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.

No other place does this.

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.

{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.}