Viveros de Chihuahua 1

Los Viveros de Chihuahua (The Nurseries of Chihuahua), begins the third in a series on Mexico. Today, we return our focus to plants by touring one of the Mexican nurseries I visited back in 2021. But first, some context.


We are extremely fortunate in the US, and especially here on the West Coast, to have so many amazing nurseries that sell an incredible array of horticultural plants. There is a history behind that, rooted in our beginnings as a country, and tracing back to England in the 1700-1800s when the British elite were funding expeditions to obtain rare and unusual plants from around the globe. Once those plants arrived back in England, they made their way into the gardens of wealthy landowners who had the money, space, and time to grow exotic plants for their ornamental value rather than as food. Nurseries were established to propagate and sell these plants back to rich landowners for a profit. As availability increased and prices dropped, ornamental plants eventually became affordable by middle and lower economic classes. Thus, the nursery industry was born. English colonists then brought garden culture to and established nurseries in the fledgling US, which ultimately led to the variety of different ornamental plants that we have available to us today.


All of this, of course, is greatly simplified and ignores contributions from other countries and indigenous peoples. But, the main point here is that a lot of what we see in US nurseries today is based on our early connection to England.

A wholesale nursery in Oregon.

Mexico, on the other hand, was largely colonized by the Spanish, who were more interested in spices, silver, and gold than in the ornamental value of plants and gardening per se. As a consequence, garden culture in Mexico is less popular than in the US. Not only that, but Mexico is relatively poor, so there are some very real differences in terms of how much space and money the average person there can devote to ornamental plants. This influences not only plant availability in Mexican nurseries, but also the types of gardens that people have at home. Keep this in mind as we explore the nurseries  and home landscapes in Mexico over the next few posts in the series. Today, we begin at a nursery in a lower income neighborhood.

First impressions as we walked through the gate

Arriving, I had no idea what to expect. I was hoping to see a lot of native, xeric plants or something new that I had never seen before. So, I was a little surprised that the first thing I saw were a lot of familiar fruiting plants, such as fig, apple, pear, peach, and grape.

Figs, apple, pear, and grape (sides and background). Oleander and Pittosporum (front, center)

The nursery manager glommed onto us almost as soon as we walked through the gates and followed us closely. He seemed suspicious and kept a close eye on our every move. This was extremely annoying and I felt awkward snapping photos. It turned out that this was going to be the pattern at every nursery we visited that day. Luckily, L’s mom saw what was happening and diverted the manager away so I could explore on my own. Thinking back, it probably was pretty suspicious seeing a big gringo (me) lurking around the nursery taking photos. I definitely was not their usual customer.

Junipers and lots more pittosporum

It soon became apparent that black plastic bags were preferred over the thick, plastic pots we use here in the US. The advantage being that bags are cheaper, use less plastic, and can be folded up when not in use. The bags are also fairly sturdy and relatively easy to carry when planted, but some handles would be nice (if they wouldn’t just rip off). I don’t know whether they are reusable or not. I imagine most get thrown in the landfill after the plants make their way home.

Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta)? Black plastic bags hold the roots and soil in place.
Bougainvillea glabra in bags
The topsoil in the bags was dug onsite

These fruitless mulberry shade trees were in pretty small bags for the size of tree. Not much room for a good root system, not to mention the poor condition of the trunks. If you look closely, there are a lot of ugly scrapes, scars, knots, and dead stubs.

These were tucked in at the base of one tree

There was a very limited selection of drought tolerant plants, mainly agaves with their lower leaves trimmed off. I guess it makes transporting them home a little safer.

Only a few different agaves
More agaves and yuccas

These were the nicest looking yuccas of the bunch and I would have loved to bring a few home. You can see some sago palms and agaves in the back Unfortunately, there were very few tags to indicate what the plants were. Most were either not labeled at all or were labeled with the common name in Spanish. All of the agaves, for example, were just labeled as “Maguey” regardless of what species or cultivar they were.

A very nice blue yucca and some cycads in the background

This was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Some more topiary boxwood and variegated ivy (Hedera helix). The nursery manager lives in that orange building. Interestingly, most managers are from southern Mexico and live onsite at the nursery where they work. The actual owners of the nursery, however, tend to be more affluent and live elsewhere in the city.

Pine, pecan, and aspen. Again, I was shocked at how big the pine trees were in comparison to their rootball. I didn’t check to see if they had rooted into the ground.

Yucca in a crushed metal container of some sort. This seemed more like downcycling than upcycling, as the final product was not visually appealing.

Heading inside the greenhouse to browse the bedding plant and houseplant section. The bedding plants were pretty standard: zonal geraniums, petunias, impatiens, coleus, and moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora). I won’t bore you with more photos of those.

Although this display of kalanchoe in front of the coleus was quite splashy, it’s a little bit of a nightmare color combination for me, a garish circus blend of pink and orange. The common name for this plant (at this nursery anyway) was cucharita, meaning little spoon. $50 each…

That’s in pesos. To convert to US dollars, divide by 20, so about $2.50 each.

This nursery did their own braid grafting of ficus stems.

A healthy display of ponytail palms, dieffenbachia, and other assorted tropicals all planted into bagged topsoil dug directly from the ground onsite. There were a few plants here and there that had soilless potting mix, but I didn’t see any pattern why those few had that versus the topsoil used in most of the other plants. Digging your own topsoil is, of course, cheaper than buying commercial potting mixes (and more readily available too), but the practice is problematic at best.

Codiaeum variegatum
Adenium obesum
Agave in an old hanging basket
Calathea and Opuntia, an unusual pairing in terms of water requirements

Pine needle mulch. I never did dig down to find out what type of soil is underneath. If I had to guess, I would say it was probably topsoil based on the number of weeds that were sprouting in many of the pots elsewhere. I like the rusty can aesthetic and am thinking how I might replicate this idea back home.

Ceropegia woodii grown in a rusty can. I actually like this look.

I wasn’t a big fan of the styrofoam cups though. The drainage holes (?) seem awfully high…

Curio rowleyanus grown in styrofoam cup with a drainage hole on the side

I’ll end with this, a photo of succulent Euphorbias grown in beer cans. This was fun, though Budlight would not be my first can of choice.

Next time, we’ll visit a nursery in a mid-income neighborhood, though I might drop in an update on the garden. There’s been a lot going on this summer that I haven’t written about yet.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Kris P

    The emphasis on fruit trees makes a lot of sense. The braided ficus trees were interesting. A decent mix of drought tolerant plants but short on flowering shrubs (beyond the bedding specimens) based on appearances. Digging their own soil to fill pots or bags for the plants they sell seems like a short-lived strategy (not to mention the impact on plant health). Maybe they replenish the soil onsite with homemade compost?

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I agree, short sighted. Reminds me of field-grown plants here in the US where they dig up the soil with the plant and pot it up or B&B it for sale. Here, many nurseries do add compost back, but that doesn’t replace the mineral soil that is lost. I didn’t happen to any composting there and the soil looked pretty lean, but hard to say for sure.

  2. Scott Orr

    Really interesting contrasts to US nurseries. I also wonder about the top soil removal and how long that could be sustained before you start getting into really poor soil horizons for plant growth. Do you know how about long the nursery has been there and roughly the area they remove soil from?

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      The nursery has been there for a long time, but I don’t know how long exactly. But, to be honest, it is very similar to a lot of our nurseries here in the US that sell field-grown plants that then get dug up and sold as balled and burlapped (B&B) or are otherwise potted up. We’re doing the same thing on a much more industrial scale. Not to mention all the housing developments and shopping malls we put over prime farm land. I don’t think we have a history of valuing our soil very much. I don’t know what amount of area they excavate the soil from. There were a few areas that looked recently scraped, but I didn’t keep track beyond that.

  3. Anna K

    This was an interesting post, Jerry. The fall out from the preferences of our various overlords makes total sense. And I appreciate the reuse of old cans and growing things in plastic bags as opposed to those hard-to-dispose-of cans. I think the standard black nursery pots can be recycled, but – to my knowledge, anyway – all those branded white, blue, green, burgundy pots, are not. As for the rusted pots – I like that weathered look, too. If you do a little dumpster-diving in the trash containers behind local restaurants, you can find nice, big metal cans. Trust me – I have! LOL!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Ah, I miss my dumpster diving days. Those big cans would make a nice pot. We tried recycling our plastic pots where I work, but Republic stopped taking most of them. I end up taking a lot of them to local nurseries to re-use.

      1. danger garden

        When I lived in Seattle I worked in a building with a popular Italian restaurant. They used a lot of great big metal cans; tomato sauce, olive oil. I hauled home a lot of them for various uses. Of course this is before anyone recycled…(the 1990’s).

        1. Botanica Chaotica

          Sounds like fun. I used to work in a restaurant and never had the foresight to see how useful they could be. I wonder how much pintrest has contributed to all the upcycling trend.

  4. danger garden

    I appreciate your taking the time to once again do a very thorough post. I too like the rusty can and pine needle mulch look you shared, and the yucca in the downcycled metal container scares the hell out of me. How would you get it out of there with out taking a chunk of flesh off in the process? We are very lucky here in the U.S. and the Portland area specifically.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I was so happy to see what nurseries were like down there, even if selection was limited. I still wish I had been able to bring a couple plants back to try. Mexico hasn’t had nearly the price inflation that we have here.

  5. danger garden

    Also, you were right about the powdery mildew on the ajuga, it’s back. I don’t remember if there was anything you advise I do?

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      There really isn’t much that can be done. I like to think of it as nature’s frosting, or like powdered sugar on a doughnut. Powder mildews are more superficial than anything and don’t usually hurt the plant very much at all, a cosmetic issue. Depends on how much the look bothers you. If it does, some people use baking soda with some success, but it would have to be done every year – Linda Chalker-Scott has an article on it online.

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