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Bountiful Gardens, a nursery popular with the pros, opens to the public by appointment

June 3, 2010 |  7:12 am

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Ever been on a garden tour marveling at the novel blossoms and elaborately shaped trees, wondering where one buys such exotic flora? One place lies below the 210 Freeway in Lakeview Terrace. That's where plantsman David Diaz runs Bountiful Gardens, a small but prolific nursery where he’s been raising specialty plants and serving as a horticultural guru for six years.

Bountiful_Succulents “David has an exceptional selection of plants. Some of his succulents I’ve never seen anywhere else,” says garden designer Cheryl K. Lerner, whose Windsor Square landscape was on the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour in May. “If you buy something from him, you know it’s healthy and top quality because he starts from seed and takes good care of it as it grows. He does amazing things, clipping and pruning topiary. He tracks down hard-to-find plants. He’s a one-man band.”

Bountiful Gardens, anchored by two commercial-size greenhouses with peeling paint and missing windows, operates primarily as a wholesale supplier for Burkard Nurseries and Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena. But Diaz also has started selling retail by appointment to a growing number of in-the-know landscape professionals and home gardeners.

In spring and fall, the busiest times on the gardening calendar, Diaz is at his one-acre nursery seven days a week. Dressed in a work shirt, jeans and his wide-brimmed straw hat, he arrives early to plant seeds, take cuttings, transplant seedlings and hand-water everything. He also builds his own trellises, twists saplings into braids and labels all plants before loading them onto his truck and making deliveries.

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Born in Durango, Mexico, 52 years ago, Diaz started in the business as a teenager at Burkard, hauling sod, among other chores. What had been a job turned into a passion after he was unable to identify a tree for a customer. “He asked me how long I’d been working there and why I didn’t know the answer. It was so embarrassing,” Diaz recalls, sounding chagrined even now. “That’s when it hit me. I decided I should get the Sunset Western Garden Book and learn every plant in it from one end to the other, and that’s what I did. I appreciated plants after that.”

Diaz stayed at Burkard for 18 years, eventually rising to supervisor of the growing grounds and salesman before leaving in 1994 to help Gary Jones establish Hortus. That upscale nursery, where Diaz was vice president in charge of the growing grounds and the store, went on to become one of the region’s most popular destinations for the latest in plants, garden accessories, classes and lectures. 

“For those of us who were lucky enough to work at Hortus with David, he was our sensei,” says Scott Daigre of Powerplant Garden Design in Los Angeles and Ojai. “I learned so much from him when I was switching from public relations to a career in horticulture -- and still do. He doesn’t know what a huge effect he’s had.” 

Bountiful_Apple But Hortus closed in 2001. “Plants are all I know,” Diaz says. A year later, he launched a plant brokerage firm, hunting down specimen trees and plants for designers and contractors. Then in 2004, he officially opened Bountiful Gardens to specialize in espaliered fruit trees and other “sculpted” plants -- demand largely filled at the time by growers in Oregon.

He set up shop on part of a sprawling but dilapidated nursery that had been defunct for decades. “It took me a whole month just to clear all the debris and broken glass out of the greenhouses I rent,” he says. “The weeds outside were 6 to 8 feet tall.”

Since then, Diaz has built up his business with an occasional assist from his wife and three daughters. He remains inspired by the demonstration gardens he has seen at the Chelsea Flower Show in England and smaller shows in the Midwest. He’s figured out how to braid Champagne grapevines, pelargoniums and peach and nectarine trees into head-turning multi-trunk standards. (the process can take years.) He also painstakingly ties pomegranates, figs, plums and apples into decorative shapes on his handmade trellises.

One greenhouse is devoted to sedum, echeveria, aeonium and other drought-tolerant succulents. In the other, Diaz cultivates organic vegetables and herbs. Depending on the season, he’ll have flat upon flat of lettuces, chard, radicchio, broccoli and carrots or Alpine strawberries, peppers, melons, beans and squash. Many of the rare tomato varieties he raises end up for sale at TomatoMania events.

“Whenever I go to his nursery this time of year, I’m sure to sample all the ripe fruits and berries," says landscape designer Laura Morton of West Hollywood. "He has golden raspberries and things you usually find only in farmers markets. If you’re thinking of starting an edible garden, Bountiful Gardens should be your first stop.”

-- Emily Young

Photos, from top: David Diaz tending to a braided Champagne grapevine; a spectrum of succulents at Bountiful Gardens; Sedum nussbaumerianum; an espaliered apple tree. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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