Experience the Tree of Life Nursery

This scenery is only half of what is so great about the Tree of Life Nursery in Orange County, California. You have to understand that much of where we live has been gobbled up by six-lane freeways and sprawling suburbs of cookie-cutter houses with peach-colored roofs. But if you head east in the southern part of the county along a super windy, two-lane road called the Ortega Highway, you get a view like this for about seven miles before you reach Tree of Life.
(My friend, Ellen, was a good sport as I snapped this photo out the window while I was driving. She only mentioned once that more people died in car crashes on the Ortega than any other road in OC.).
The other half (or more) of what makes this place special is that it is 100 percent dedicated to one thing: plants that are native to California. That’s all they raise and sell. The people who own and run this place have a mission: to preserve and promote the plants that belong in California. Although they are quite serious, there’s  no self-righteous attitude and everyone is always friendly, informative and helpful. I love them!!

Tree of Life is the kind of spot where photos never do justice. I think that’s because it’s an understated place, and you just have to go there to get it. My friends and I like to come here to feel the warmth of the sun, and smell the sage and just wander around the place. It’s dusty and dry and feels SO GREAT!! With the adobe buildings and huge old trees, you feel like you are stepping back into old California.

You come here even when you don’t have room left in your garden for even the smallest plant.
Blue-eyed Grass!!!

Here’s the gift shop, but you have to save that until last!
The middle of February has even fewer plants with color.
  But if you have an appreciation for natives, you just don’t care about that. (That’s my friend, Ellen. She probably won’t appreciate this butt shot, but I think she wore the perfect color shirt!)

 Native plants have a subtle beauty that start to make you have an aversion to non-natives. 
Plants with lots of pink and purple blooms start to look like women who wear too much make-up, almost garish and off-putting. 
Instead, you seek out those subtle shapes and textures of leaves, and delicate blooms and petals. 

Like this mallow. If you didn’t care about this plant, you might just walk past it.
 Like a lot of natives, they can look kind of scruffy to the untrained eye.

 But just look closely and check out that ORANGE!!!
They always put out some fun annuals in the front.
 I bought some of  these and have no idea what they will look like. Always a surprise!

The coolest thing about sticking to natives is that you will run into the same plants hiking!
And suddenly you will find the wild critters coming right to your yard–ranging from the Monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, California Quail, and even an occasional Greater Roadrunner!

Giant Chuparosa on the left there. I bought one here several years ago, and it’s finally taking off!!  With natives, you don’t have to do much. These plants are happy to be stuck in the ground with no amendments necessary–it’s all good!! And they barely need watering or other care. 
These plants are simply happy! Maybe that’s why I feel so happy there, too!

I love how they just leave this dead agave to do its agave thing.

Check out that giant sycamore and the clumps of mistletoe in the upper branches!

Tree of Life sells retail and wholesale.

 That massive vine on the overhang is a “Roger’s Red” Wild Grape.
 In the spring, it will be covered with bright green leaves, and even produces edible grapes.

Inside. Some fun pots.

You can buy wildflower seed in bulk.

Mixing it up.

 Anyone else get total spring fever in February??

The restrooms are down that way. Worth the walk just to check out the ancient coastal and scrub oaks!
Now that we’re done cruising the nursery, it’s time to SHOP! (Just like museums, you can’t shop until you have seen the exhibit!)

Usually they have out sugar cookies and coffee. But only on weekends.

I bought a great guide to identifying caterpillars on my last visit.
 (They still all look the same to me, though.)

Nice selection of garden books.
A peek out back to one of the courtyards. 

Golden Currant. (Much better looking than mine, although mine is making a comeback this spring.)

I believe this is last year’s yarrow.
You can wander along paths under the big trees, where they have a small outdoor amphitheater 
for their classes, such as how to “Kill Your Lawn.”

Yes, spring in February. Our state flower, the California Poppy!
This is another adobe office building. Interesting plantings all around it.
Simple vignettes of cacti and succulents.
Not a single hip thing about this place.
 Only the best selection of California natives in the entire county.

Such a lovely manzanita.
 You just want to crawl under there and climb around in those red limbs!

Bummer, time to leave. Such a relaxing place! But it’s OK because you get to drive back along the scenic Ortega Freeway!!
Thank you Tree of Life!!

9 thoughts on “Experience the Tree of Life Nursery

  1. Thanks for taking us…I still have never been there. I was going to go this summer while in San Diego, and I forgot to drive up!

  2. Hi Janine, we've been away for a week so just catching up on some of the blogs we're following 🙂

    Superb photos as always (hope you'll never get tired of me saying that all the time as it's true!), and what a good insight on a nursery specialising in California native plants.

    Some gorgeous plants indeed, not to mention the nursery which looks immaculate (in a Cali dusty sort of way :)). Funny seeing a feature on 'native plants' that are exotic here 🙂

  3. I love tagging along on your field trips! Always tons of inspiration when I stop by which is why I'd like to nominate you for the stylish blogger award! If you'd like to participate just stop by my blog. If not, no worries, just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog!

  4. aloha

    what a cool nursery and i love all those wildflowers – i'm really curious to find out what that native fuschia type flower is also? i really enjoyed the tour of the area – thanks for sharing this.

  5. Janine, I just had to check out your blog after you happened on mine. I really enjoyed these photos of Tree of Life – it's on my list of "must see" native plant nurseries, and is really not that far from my neck of the woods – just have to drive down to the other end of Ortega Highway from Lake Elsinore. From the looks of it, I would probably have no problem spending a couple hours (and probably more than a few dollars) there. You said that you got the "bird call bible" for Valentine's – well, my hubby still owes me on that one, so I think a trip down to SJC for some native plant shopping is in order…

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