The nursery at Lotusland is where the future happens and the next generation of plants is started. Nursery operations are one of the many crucial behind-the-scenes functions at Lotusland. Our globally important plant collections rely on the nursery as a fundamental pillar of support for building and caring for these living collections. The nursery supports many diverse aspects of Lotusland operations, including producing plants for the Garden Shop and for the Fourth Grade Outreach Program; acting as a hospital for declining plants from the collections; and introducing new plants to the garden. It also manages much of the extraordinary Exceptional Plants: Lotusland Auction & Sale event.
It’s hard to be sure what existed at Lotusland in the way of a nursery when Madame Ganna Walska bought the property in 1941. There are remnants of a greenhouse (the foundation) that burned in the 1964 Coyote Fire at the north end of the property. Prior to our current greenhouse, two dilapidated wood and glass greenhouses were in its place that could possibly have pre-dated 1941. Current nursery facilities consist of one greenhouse, various shade structures and a couple of hoop houses. The nursery is dependent upon volunteers for maintenance, watering, weeding and plant production, and they alone produce almost 3,000 plants needed for the educational outreach program. Plants in the nursery are tracked by the curation department, and we continually update the security systems that are in place to protect these valuable plants.
Lotusland staff propagate from many of the plants that date to the original commercial nursery on the property that belonged to Ralph Kinton Stevens in the 1880s. We have produced second generations of the two oldest Jubaea chilensis (Chilean wine palm) on the property that tower over the Sycamore Canyon gate. We grow seedlings of the centuries-old Dracaena draco (dragon trees), although it’s sometimes hard to tell where Stevens’ end and Ganna Walska’s begin.
As plants senesce, they often become vulnerable to attack from pathogens or pests. It is important for these plants to be identified early so an attempt can be made to save them either by bringing the entire plant to the nursery or by propagating from seed or a cutting. Through Lotusland’s many collaborations, we often receive seed or young plants that are new to the collections or have a more detailed provenance. Some of these seeds or plants may not be destined for the garden for another ten or more years, needing to be nurtured and grown in the nursery. For example, Lotusland is part of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Plant Rescue program, and we received 20 confiscated seeds of a rare central African cycad that are still being grown to a size that will be adequate to plant in the garden.
The role of a botanic garden will always be that of a place for pleasure and relaxation, but plant conservation depends on botanic gardens, and botanic gardens depend on their nurseries to help safeguard global plant diversity.