The other side of Annie's Annuals

Annie's Annuals (and Perennials) is a nursery in Richmond, CA, about 60 miles from where I live. Recently, several of my fellow bloggers have posted enticing blogs about the fun to be had there, just have a look at Gossip in the Garden and at Interleafings.  I always want to get in the car right away and join the fun -- but truth be told, I'm not a professional garden designer and have to do other work weekdays. According to Google maps, a trip to Annie's takes 1 hour, or 2 hours in traffic. And though I sometimes throw caution in the wind and drive away to see some spectacular wildflowers, spending 3-5 hours on a plant shopping expeditions is usually too much time for me.

Fortunately, Annie's offers an easy way out: Mail order. Readers of this blog might remember that I was not completely thrilled with the offerings at the Flower and Garden Show -- going on Sunday did not help, of course -- and that I put an order in with Annie's right away when I got home from the show. One of Annie's Totally Useful Plant Lists is California Natives, so I was able to order some unusual plants and stay native at the same time.

A little over a week after I placed my order (Annie's ships once a week) I heard a thump on my doorstep on a work-from-home day. When I went to investigate, I found the two boxes above. I'd ordered from Annie's before, and I know they encourage customers to open the boxes right away, so I did.

Who could have resisted? I was very pleased to find large healthy plants. Sometimes, when I order  early in the season, the plants are a little on the small side, but I've had a very good survival rate.

Annie's has perfected plant shipping, using cardboard stencils that hold the plant in place so they can breathe (the boxes have holes). Before shipping, each plant is removed from its 4 inch pot, wrapped in wet newspaper and a small plastic bag. The plastic-wrapped root ball is returned to the pot, which is anchored in the stencil. Because the stencil fits tightly, the worst that can happen is that some dirt is shaken lose.

I set to work freeing and unwrapping the 12 plants I had ordered. 3 Gilia capitatia chamissonis, 3 Claytonia sibirica, 1 Clarkia speciosa immaculata, 3 Lupinus densiflorus aureus, 2 Clarkia Cocinna 'Pink Ribbons' and 1 Lupinus succulentus 'Rodeo Rose'.

After I had unwrapped all my plants, I had to plant them right away, of course. They were quite large, and had to be freed from the confines of the small pots.

And there went the morning, which meant I had to work rather late that day. Did the plants start blooming in time for the tour? No, but they're all looking very promising, and I'm looking forward to the first blossoms in a few weeks. And I enjoyed spending my time planting instead of sitting in the car in traffic. Yes, the shipping isn't cheap, I think I spent $20 just on shipping, but when I consider the 2-4 hours it would have taken to drive there, it was a bargain.

I used the "extra" time to plant the gallon pots of Phacelia I had grown from seed. Or maybe there was really no extra time, but I was already dirty. Regardless, the Phacelia actually did bloom for the tour and have been a big attraction for the bees, all thanks to Annie and her amazing mail order service.


I was just at Annie's this past Saturday.

If you have any extra seeds, I'd trade you for them. Not that I have anything special.
Country Mouse said…
I love that phacelia - it was a big hit on the tour, too. Those plants look amazingly good in their shipping containers! Today I was limbing up the trees and big shrubs along the driveway and removing weedy grasses from the driveway hump all the live long day. I'll put up a couple pictures tomorrow.
Christine said…
I've always wondered what they looked like after their journey. I'm a tidge closer to Richmond, so I'll throw caution to the wind and drive over every once in awhile- it usually gets me in the end as I get snagged in "let's go to SF today" traffic, but it's such a lovely nursery to wander around in.
Great post TM! I've never gone to Annie's in person...the drive is a bit daunting from here. I've never ordered from Annie's either, but I might now. My local garden center has quite an array of Annie's, but when I looked yesterday, they weren't stocking many of the natives. Yes, your Phacelia did bloom in time for the tour, and it was gorgeous too!
Chandramouli S said…
Sometimes we just have to compensate our precious time with money and you did that wisely. I'll be waiting to see what places the new babies fit into in your wonderful garden...
ryan said…
You know, I'd never actually seen their packaging system for mail orders. I'd heard it was really good, but living nearby, I never mail ordered anything from them. It's a clever system.
ryan said…
Also, on an unrelated note, one of our clients sent us a link to a Country Mouse post about Monterey Pines from last fall. The clients are taking out some old ones and she felt bad about it. I think the post made her feel a bit better, that maybe the pines weren't supposed to b there. Thought it would be nice to know that people are reading some of the things in your archives.
Cool to get plants by mail order! I order from High Country Gardens on a regular basis and their shipping design is pretty spectacular too. Things have certainly progressed from the days 20 years ago when things were shipped bare root and arrived dead on a regular basis. It never bothers me when shipped plants are a little small, they always seem to hit the ground growing.

It will be fun to see this in situ when it has grown up a bit.
Noelle said…
I just love getting boxes in the mail and when they are filled with plants....well, that is just my idea of heaven :-)
I can't wait to see the flowers of your new Lupines.
susan morrison said…
Great post - of course you know I'm an Annie's fan as well. It's only about a 30 minute drive for me, but I still find it problematic to use their plants in client designs, because the contractor expects to be able to pick up everything wholesale. I've been thinking about having the clients just place an order themselves - your detailed review of the mailing process makes me more comfortable with the idea.

P.S.Even though we're garden designers, we're STILL playing hookey when we go to a party there! :-)
rebecca Sweet said…
I'm so glad you wrote a post about their fabulous packaging efforts! It's the details like this that makes Annie's such a fabulous place all the way around....(and thanks for the mention, too!)
Country Mouse said…
Ryan, thank you so much for passing along that message. I'm so glad the Monterey Pine post was helpful to the owner who felt bad about removing these large trees. This year many more Monterey pines were removed in our neighborhood. They just seem to grow old quickly, and become fire hazards. I wonder what she will put in their place?
I've resisted Annie's so far--the drive would be daunting from the bottom of the state. It's good to know the shipping gets plants there in good condition but plant shopping for me is so much more wonderful in person. Some people go to movies or concerts, but I spend much more time at nurseries.
Kaveh said…
Trust me when I say that you and everyone reading this MUST visit Annie's in person. Make a day trip of it. Visit one of the many other Bay Area attractions if you can't justify a long drive for a shopping trip but the nursery is worth seeing in person.

The first time I went I was so overwhelmed by the selection that I felt like sitting on the ground and rocking back and forth for a while.

But best of all are the many little display gardens. Sure you can see pictures of them on the site or the slide shows that Annie e-mails out but seeing them in person is a treat that you won't soon forget.
Town Mouse said…
Kaveh, I'm not sure I agree. Annie's plants are very small, only few are blooming. The nursery is in a not-very-nice part of Richmond.

For the native plant enthusiast, Yerba Buena or Rana Creek are much better choices.
Christine said…
Alright, TM- I must say that you especially have to go visit the nursery now. It is in a sketchy neighborhood, but you would be surprised by the wonderland you enter. It really is like falling though a rabbit hole of botanical treasures and totally worth a field trip if you happen to be in the area.
Town Mouse said…
OK, OK, I promise I'll visit when I'm in the neighborhood. It sounds as if it changed a bit since my last visit, which was maybe 7 years ago. (Then again, I don't regret having done the trip to Pinnacles instead...)
Gail said…
Your phacelia is like a flower on steroids compared to ours! It's gorgeous~I would love to order from Annies, but shipping from California is way to expensive, but she does have some beauties. gail