With the return of nice weather and a much-welcomed coat of green across Bay Area hillsides, home landscaping is on the mind for many of us. Big box stores may offer convenience and savings in the short term, but visiting a specialty nursery is a different experience with plentiful benefits. Jake Mikolajcik of Mid City Nursery in American Canyon says it all boils down to “quality, selection and knowledge.” With a more varied selection of plants to meet different needs, knowledgeable staff can assist if you’re interested in creating something special like a food forest, bee and butterfly garden, drought tolerant garden, or just adding some fresh components to existing landscaping. These nurseries will also have a larger selection of organic, native, exotic and heirloom annuals and perennials to choose from, and some have their own specialties within these categories.  Depending on your landscaping focus and goals, there may be a nursery well suited to your needs. With specialty garden centers around the Bay, we are not limited for choice.

Annie’s Annuals, Richmond
If you’re interested in a cottage-style garden with vertical layers of beneficial-insect attracting flowers, Annie’s is the place for inspiration. Coming from humble beginnings 20 years ago, Annie’s is now a two and a half acre growing nursery. Starts are organically grown from seed outdoors in the dirt and are already adjusted to the elements at the time of purchase. On her website, Annie says,  “I myself am partial to cottage gardens … I love plants that grow as Mother Nature intended, adding height and movement to the garden, plants that sway with the breeze.” Annie’s offers the largest selection of California native annual wildflowers and perennials available for retail. Anniesannuals.com

Navalet’s/Sloat Garden Center, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Concord & Danville
The four Navalet’s stores have been among Bay Area gardener favorites for many years. Navalet’s was just taken over by another independently owned Bay Area nursery, Sloat Garden Center. Navalet’s staff is all staying on board and the stores just re-opened with fresh upgrades in mid-February. Sloat makes their own fabulous organic compost, soil mixes and mulches to build and enhance soil nutrients. They offer workshops and seminars around the bay and have a unique search feature on their website that allows a search by both plant categories and properties. Sloatgardens.com

Urban Tree Farm, Fulton
Whether you’re searching for cornerstone pieces for completely new landscaping, seeking to create a backyard orchard, or simply looking to add a few large shrubs or trees to your yard, Urban Tree Farm is the go-to, boasting over 20 acres and 2,000 varieties of container-grown perennials, shrubs, fruit trees and ornamental trees. It’s worth searching their website to narrow down choices before you arrive at the nursery to cut down on overwhelm. Qualified staff can answer questions about which varieties thrive best in a low-water environment, what’s best-tailored to your growing conditions and how to plant and care for trees so they’ll thrive. If you’re interested in backyard orcharding, there’s a comprehensive fruit tree help section on their website complete with how-to videos. Urbantreefarm.com

Mid-City Nursery, American Canyon
Mid-City has been a family-owned business since its humble beginnings 62 years ago. Jake Mikolajcik, the grandson of founders John “Mickey” and Wilma “Dollie,” says for him it’s all about service. “We love to serve the people and help them learn to garden. We’re here to help people have a good experience getting outside and growing things.” The nursery offers a wide variety of fruit trees, roses, shade trees, perennials, shrubs, conifers, water plants, houseplants, cacti, succulents, annuals, vegetables and many others. Midcitynursery.com

Orchard Nursery & Florist, Lafayette
Started in 1946, Orchard offers a formidable collection of roses as well as all the other garden standbys, specializing in rare and unusual varieties. It’s worth a visit for the gift shop alone, the Lazy K House, nestled in a historic building on the property. The gift house is especially decked out around the holidays, with an impressive selection of blooming gifts for Easter. Orchardnursery.com

Morningsun Herb Farm, Vacaville
Rose Loveall-Sale and her husband started Morningsun 21 years ago, on a farm and walnut orchard her parents had owned since 1956. The walnut orchard still stands, surrounded by beautiful gardens. All plants are grown on site, which is different than many retail nurseries. Their specialty is culinary herbs, pollinator plants and highly drought-tolerant plants. They also grow medicinal herbs and orchard rootstalk. Rose says, “People can wander the whole property through the gardens and the sales area. We have chickens on site to help with composting and three donkeys that we feed all edible scraps to. We offer a lot of classes and all kinds of fun events and talks. People often bring their own lunches and make a day out of it and enjoy the gardens.” Morningsunherbfarm.com