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Laguna Nursery -- an emporium of plants, pots, sculptures and surprises for the garden

November 17, 2009 |  1:32 pm
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LagunaNursery10 Landscape designer Ruben Flores "saved" Laguna Nursery from an unimaginable fate when he purchased the 50-year-old plant emporium two years ago. A fixture on South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, the 1 1/2-acre retail nursery was slated to be replaced with commercial storage units when Flores purchased the business and brought back its original name. He combined Laguna Nursery with Visionscape, his 22-year-old landscape design-build firm.

Filled with plants -- as well as art, antiques, artifacts and incredible chandeliers -- the nursery and home decor gallery contain vintage iron gates, salvaged architectural pieces, contemporary sculpture and garden fountains. The 1920s carved stone bull head pictured at top, about 3  by 4 feet in size, came from the Chicago Mercantile Building. The oversized cherry-red sphere, above right, is actually a lightweight planting container. Flores often brings pieces home from landscape design commissions in Europe and Asia.

Laguna Nursery's tiny rooms, courtyard spaces and varied levels make a trip to this destination nursery as magical as a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Enter from the PCH and you can’t ignore the 8-foot female nude, clad in 22-karat gold leaf, perched on the roof. Her name is "Happiness" -- for obvious reasons.

For a photo tour, click to the jump ...

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Among the hundreds of attractive and healthy plants were some really cool Crassula pruinosa specimens that came home with me. I also couldn't resist buying a pruner, a set of hand tools and a watering can -- all embellished with William Morris floral prints adapted from a collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Flores’ penchant for theatrical design shows in his nursery vignettes. Each is a little story or scene. He recently helped his partner Nelson Coates, production designer on the Sandra Bullock movie “The Proposal,” by providing props from the nursery (including chandeliers that appear in the film’s romantic wedding-in-a-barn scene).

Locals and tourists alike find their way here, often on Saturdays when up to 20 people arrive at 10 a.m. to join Flores on his informal walking tour of Laguna Beach’s hidden neighborhood gardens. The free tours last up to 90 minutes and are plant-centric excursions. “You can see a tree in the nursery that is 10 feet tall, but I want my customers to see it as a mature specimen growing in a neighborhood garden,” he says.

Details: Laguna Nursery, 1370 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach; (949) 494-5200.

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Above: Plants, ornamentation and fountains are combined in displays that inspire design ideas – like this Green Man sculpture that shoots water into a carved stone tub (the fountain is $950).

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Above: The maroon-glazed vessel echoes the deep red tinges on a nearby banana plant.


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Above: Here’s a display of vintage ironwork chairs, an antique armoire and imported pottery in Laguna Nursery’s home decor section.

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Above: Lanterns adorn the ceiling of a space featuring Laguna Nursery’s Asian plant collection.

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Above: Turtledoves and an ornate mirror are among the surprises here.

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Above: “Happiness” is an 8-foot-tall gold-leaf nude that greets Laguna Nursery’s shoppers. She's perched on the roof of the shop, above the entrance on South Coast Highway.

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Above: A modern brushed stainless and acrylic fountain from England sparkles amid the plants. It measures 6 feet in diameter and is priced at $24,000. There is also a 4-foot version for $15,500.

-- Debra Prinzing

Photos: Debra Prinzing

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