Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Shopper’s Diary: Clement Nursery, San Francisco’s Oldest Garden Store

Search

Shopper’s Diary: Clement Nursery, San Francisco’s Oldest Garden Store

March 14, 2024

I frequent San Francisco most weekends, so when I learned of a very old nursery nestled into two full city blocks, I knew I needed to make a bee-line there. What I encountered was a unique space filled with history, well-chosen plants, and friendly staff. In essence, Clement Nursery feels more like a quirky garden than a retail business. To get the full story of this place, I asked longtime avid gardener and owner Phillip Feemster for the insider scoop on the origin, trends, and future plans for this neighborhood nursery.

Photography courtesy of Phillip Feemster, unless otherwise noted.

A recently discovered image of Clement Nursery at \1\1 years old, in \1948.
Above: A recently discovered image of Clement Nursery at 11 years old, in 1948.

The buildings that make up Clement Nursery date back to 1904 when they were part of a dairy farm—yes, cattle once roamed San Francisco’s Richmond District. In fact, the former hay barn is now the nursery storefront and the back building was originally the dairy’s cookhouse. The nursery was founded in 1937 by Anthony Manzanetti and has changed hands several times since then (Phillip purchased the business in 2013). “It’s also one of the few independent nurseries still operating here, and I believe it’s the only gay-owned and operated nursery,” says Phillip.

A 60-year-old wisteria is still going strong at the nursery.
Above: A 60-year-old wisteria is still going strong at the nursery.

“One of my favorite connections to San Francisco is the fact that Clement Nursery was the inspiration and important location in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City book series. In the first few books, the nursery was called God’s Green Earth. But in later books, the main character purchases the business and renames it Plant Parenthood,” shares Phillip.

The nursery&#8\2\17;s vintage VW truck.
Above: The nursery’s vintage VW truck.

Aside from its rich history, Clement Nursery is also known for its inventory of particularly resilient and tough plants. The nursery sits just a few blocks from Baker Beach, basically in the harshest of city environments. “We specialize in plant material best suited for the Richmond District—species not minding the coastal winds and extra frigid temperatures. Fortunately for us, if a plant can survive here, it will thrive anywhere in the Bay Area.”

Clement Nursery at times feels like someone&#8\2\17;s private garden. Here, the blurry line between the nursery and a neighboring cottage.
Above: Clement Nursery at times feels like someone’s private garden. Here, the blurry line between the nursery and a neighboring cottage.

Focusing on sustainability, the nursery offers a selection of California native plants that have low-water needs once established. The nursery also carries drought-tolerant species from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand—places that have a similar climate to California. “We use large soaking trays to water as much of the inventory as possible, so that there’s no water wasted in the process,” shares Phillip.

Clement Nursery is a resource for native California grasses.
Above: Clement Nursery is a resource for native California grasses.

What plants are trending at the nursery? Not surprisingly, houseplants are popular. Roughly 30 percent of their space is dedicated to tropical houseplants, with a huge greenhouse for climate control. Top sellers: the families of Dracaena and Ficus, including Dracaena Massangeana, Dracaena Janet Craig Compacta, Ficus lyrata, and Ficus decora.

The indoor spaces at the nursery are filled to the brim with popular houseplants. Photograph by Kier Holmes.
Above: The indoor spaces at the nursery are filled to the brim with popular houseplants. Photograph by Kier Holmes.

In landscape plants, hardy hellebores for winter color and colorful fuchsias sell well in the shade section of the store. In the fern section, staghorn ferns are always trending, plus all varieties of maidenhair ferns. In their full sun section, phormiums and cordylines are very popular due to brilliant colors and low-water needs. “A favorite Cordyline is a newer introduction: ‘Charlie Boy’, which sports leaves striped with red and pinks,” says Phillip. And both California native and non-native Salvias are constantly desired due to their ability to attract pollinators.

The exterior of Clement Nursery. Photograph by Kier Holmes.
Above: The exterior of Clement Nursery. Photograph by Kier Holmes.

Their best sellers, though? “Our top selling plant, year over year, in sheer quantity, are succulents.”

See also:

(Visited 9,717 times, 1 visits today)
You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

Frequently asked questions

When was Clement Nursery founded?

The nursery was founded in 1937 by Anthony Manzanetti.

Who is the current owner of Clement Nursery?

The current owner is Phillip Feemster who purchased the business in 2013.

What are some unique features of Clement Nursery?

Clement Nursery is known for its rich history dating back to a dairy farm in 1904, its focus on resilient and tough plants suited for the harsh city environment, and its offering of California native plants with low-water needs.

Which plants are currently trending at Clement Nursery?

Houseplants, hardy hellebores, colorful fuchsias, staghorn ferns, maidenhair ferns, phormiums, cordylines, and Salvias are currently popular at Clement Nursery.

What is the best selling plant at Clement Nursery?

The top selling plant at Clement Nursery, year over year, in sheer quantity, are succulents.

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0