Weird and Wonderful Nurseries … Killer Plants and All

Fort Bragg, California is home to three unusual nurseries with plants from around the world. They are Hortus Botanicus (carnivorous plants), Celeri & Sons (rhododendrons) and Simply Succulent (succulents).

Carnivorous Pods, Cacti and Weird Flowers Pervade

This tiny seacoast town in Northern California, once known for its logging industry, now boasts of the world’s biggest and oddest nurseries. And whether you are a tourists or local, you’re encouraged to browse, photograph, relax, picnic, gawk, or buy. At Hortus Botanicus, you’ll find greenhouses and garden beds full of carnivorous plants. Rows of Venus flytraps are poised to consume large numbers of small crawling and flying insects. In a shaded shed nearby is the seemingly benign Nepenthes Rajah. When full-grown, the gallon-size pods of this meat-eating plant are big enough to devour small monkies and rodents.

Less than a mile as the crow flies is Celeri & Son Nursery where 20,000 rhododendrons are spread over 1.5 acres. From the newly propagated to large potted plants, there are more than 100 species and hybrids normally found on the slopes of the very deep valleys that border the eastern Himalayas and southeastern Tibet, or in the mountain ranges stretching between mainland Asia and Australia, including the islands of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, and the Philippines.

Just a mile north of downtown Fort Bragg is Simply Succulent, a half-acre plot covered with 35,000 succulents, from tiny cacti to giant Agave.

The World of the Carnivorous Plant
Like most pre-teen boys, Robert Goleman loved frogs, lizards and bugs – all the little creepy crawlies you find in the average home garden.  But his love of getting his hands dirty went a step farther than most kids, when, at age 12, he started filling his bedroom with exotic and carnivorous plants.

After years in the food industry, Goleman’s early interest in rare and unusual plants led him “back” to a new career: for 14 years he has owned and operated Hortus Botanicus, www.hortusb.com, more than 2 acres of rare and beautiful plants, located 1.7 miles east of Highway 1, off Highway 20, at 20103 Hanson Rd. (off Benson Ln.).  Today, he thrives on propagating, selling and shipping seeds and plants all over the U.S., as well as selling to locals and tourists.

Along with greenhouses full of otherworldly plants, his nursery is a welcoming maze of intimate paths and gardens.  An arbor and pond with a small, man-made waterfall provide a quiet retreat.

The Wonderful World of Rella
Her name is simply “Rella” – no last name – and her business is called Simply Succulent.
With plant names like Sedums, Aeoniums, and Epiphyllums, the business of selling succulents seems anything but simple – beyond the average person’s grasp. Yet, Rella communicates – in her words – “the wonders of succulents” in a way anyone can understand.

“One of the reason succulents are so fabulous,” she gushes, “is because they are so robust. They love to grow. They are not demanding. They don’t need a lot of water. They don’t need much fertilizer. They are just full of life. There are small ones, big ones and architecturally formed ones. They are the ultimate water conservationists.”

Jim and Frank’s Rhody Hideaway

As he stood surveying his massive collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, Jim Celeri recalled that the land and house where he lives and maintains Celeri and Son nursery was purchased by his dad well before he was born. In those days, the 100-foot trees that ring this bucolic garden were mere seedlings.

The trees provide a stunning backdrop that gives you the feeling you’ve discovered a hidden valley in a faraway land.“It’s such a beautiful spot,” he said, viewings the rows of rhododendrons he has raised by hand. There is a progression of plants, from the newly sprouted to those in 5-gallon containers that are nearly five years old. “We are very proud of the fact that we have hand raised these plants,” said Jim. “These aren’t mass-produced and sold at local drugstores. Our nursery is more than 20 years old.”
“They are hardy and healthy,” adds Frank, his son and business partner since 2007. “I think people like the idea of buying from a family that takes so much pride in what they do.”

Celeri and Son is located just at the end of Summers Lane, opposite the Mendocino County Humane Society, just a few miles from Highway 1, marked by a tiny sign.

Says Frank: “The public is welcome to just picnic if they like or wander the field, looking at our Rhody collection. March is when we see our first blooms, but visitors are welcome all year round.”

May is the month when the Rhododendrons begin to reach their peak, according to Jim Celeri, who notes that the first week of May marks the west’s second largest rhododendron competition (behind Florence, Oregon) at Fort Bragg’s Dana Gray Middle School. The Celeris compete each year as part of the 70-member Noyo Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.

Although the Celeris also raise azaleas, a cousin of the rhododendron, they say about 30 species of Rhodies are their best sellers.

“But if you’re looking for the more unusual species, we’ve got those, too,” said Jim.
For more information on what to do when you come to Fort Bragg, visit www.FortBragg.com.