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Thornhill Nursery Offers Wide Variety of Trees and Plants, By: Ron Sullivan

Friday February 10, 2006

Thornhill Nursery is a bit out of the way, not so much in distance from Berkeley, but tucked away on Thornhill Drive in the Oakland Hills. It’s most easily accessible from the freeway, if you don’t mind a little daring on- and off-ramp dodge’em game. Take the Thornhill Drive exit, drive on past the entrance to the Foothill business district and through a tiny patch of school and mini-mall on Thornhill. Keep it slow—you ought to anyway; the sidewalks are narrow and foot traffic can be a tad chaotic and full of rompity schoolkids. The nursery’s not hard to see once you get to its block, and the parking area, though small, is handy on the right. 

Thornhill employees told me the place specializes in Japanese maples. I guess so; it’s set off from the surrounding woodsy lots by a hedge of sheared Japanese maple. Since I made a buck or two back in the day by taking sheared and poodle-balled maples out of that form and turning them back into something that looked like a tree, I was a bit ambivalent about that. But there are certainly a lot of tree-shaped trees in the area, and the maples looked healthy enough, at least so far as I could see in winter. 

There are a couple of other radically pruned trees—a threadleaf “cypress” type in front of the shop building, and a pine behind it—in rather a different style, and integrated into the place’s architecture. Both are kept way open, even a bit bare, showing mostly trunk and major branches; both are at startling angles; both clearly have frequent attention to keep the foliage under control and healthy-looking. And both times I’ve asked who was responsible for them, I’ve heard very general answers: most recently, “Oh, that’s the grounds crew…” Either there’s a singularly talented mow-and-blow crew running around being underpaid, or someone else set that tree’s shape and showed them how to maintain it. 

When I first saw the place a decade ago, I made much of those trees and of the cement ’gator loafing so fetchingly in the flume of creek that runs through the lot. I didn’t see him this time, until a second look—maybe 15 feet from his original spot under the footbridge, where all several-hundred pounds of him were shoved by the New Year’s rainstorm. He looks undaunted after his impressive little trip. 

There are lots of Japanese maple varieties for sale, and ornaments that match that ’gator for interest. The setting makes the place relaxing for a stroll—birders, take your binocs!—and on visits over the years I’ve found staffers friendly and helpful but not intrusive. Plants are healthy and in good variety, too. There’s always something, plant or gadget or objet d’ whimsy, that makes me stop and point. And don’t miss the hood ornament on the roof. I wonder if the business bought someone a Jaguar or it’s where the Jag money went instead ... Either way, I like it.  


Thornhill Nursery 

6250 Thornhill Drive 



Open daily 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.