Home & Garden Columns
If you’re a weekday plant shopper, you have only a week to get on down to Magic Gardens on Heinz Street and grab some of those nifty Japanese red-twigged variegated willows or those ’lebenty-seven rose varieties all in a row. If you’ll stoop to rubbing elbows with the weekend crowd and want to keep the place open as a retail nursery, plan on spending time and bucks there some Saturdays. As of Feb. 11, Magic Gardens, sole location will be open for retail sales only on Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to start.
Magic Gardens has been through changes in its relatively short life, so many that the rest of us get dizzy trying to keep track It started out an instant star, with arrays of plants jewel-like in their condition and rarity—big enthusiasm. Aerin Moore’s charismatic promotion of gardening in general and his and other local genius’ techniques in particular certainly helped make the place popular. There were classes and nifty things to buy and all was apparently hunky-dory in this welcome new item on our nursery smorgasbord. (Today’s spread here features mashed metaphors with a piquant gossip gravy.)
Then the place got to looking a bit ratty for a few years, and its hours and ambition seemed to contract somewhat. Rumors abounded in the garden community, heads were shaken, tuts were tutted, the usual. Then suddenly Magic Gardens was open in a new location, up the frontage road from Central Avenue toward Richmond alongside American Soil’s new retail place and The Urban Gardener. Then it was bi-locating like somebody’s patron saint. Then it had returned to concentrate on its original Berkeley location, on Heinz Street west of Seventh. Now it’s de-concentrating, as it were, by limiting its retail hours and spending most energy on the landscaping arm of its business.
Over a decade ago, a fellow garden pro pointed out a couple of Magic landscapes that she found scandalous. One was imaginative enough, with a flag-circled lawn and pie-slices carved out of the ivy slope and planted with azaleas for visual impact. But those azaleas (and that turf) were under old California live oaks, which tend to dwindle and die slowly with summer irrigation. The water-lovers were planted downslope from the trees, which would help, but it’s an opportunity for oak-dangerous fungi to flourish. The other scandal was basically a heap of deer chow, planted in deer-friendly Orinda. It had evidently impressed the deer; what I saw looked like the wedding buffet after the guests had gone.
But they’ve done much better things too, and there’s some good stonework around with Magic’s fingerprints on it. Evidently they’ve learned better. Certainly one can expect imaginative plant choices from these folks. I hope the rest of us will still get to have a taste of that, at least on Saturdays, and that the landscaping part of the business can support the retail nursery. Magic has been offering Saturday classes with some of our best garden mavens. I hope that continues too; it’s certainly a good omen that speaks well for its learning curve.