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