Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Antiques, Nurseries and a Coffee Break in Alameda

By Ron Sullivan
Friday August 04, 2006

The Alameda Antiques Flea Market happens on the first Sunday of the month. It’s a good show for five bucks, a stroll through the surreal, and, if you’re my age, just a bit unsettling to see so many of your own childhood artifacts labeled “vintage.”  

If you’re half my age, you can explain to the sproggen that no, Mommy and Daddy didn’t have cell phones when they were in kindergarten; Yes, we did think just making that thing go ’round and ’round was fun. Wear sunscreen and wind-resistant hats, and pony up for a sausage or a churro or two and lots of drinks—there’s no shade at all—and start early, 9 a.m.-ish. Things are winding down by 3 p.m. 

That’s when you make a nice side trip for coffee and greens. Live greens that you can bring home and grow. Encinal Nursery is modestly tucked into a lot on (surprise!) Encinal, one of the parallel streets that cross the island heading away from the old naval station. Good for citrus trees; among others, including bai makrut, I saw a calamondin with variegated leaves.  

Lots of things there with variegated leaves, in fact, including a couple of tri-colored rubber plants and other interesting houseplants. I grabbed a four-inch sago palm for inside, and for outside, a four-inch coleonema, a handy small size. Roses, Japanese maples and other traditional stalwarts, and a stack of firewood, too, if you want to Be Prepared.  

For the coffee, you’ll need to go ’round to Lincoln Avenue, another of those parallels, to Thomsen’s Garden Center. The Vines coffee and gift shop is upstairs, for a cup and a pastry and some coffee beans to take home. The gift shop displays jewelry, scarves, and assorted handsome things to look at; it’s more of the artist and artisan persuasion then the faux-country ruffles-and-chickens sort. You can sit on the deck and survey the little nursery, or take your coffee around as you shop.  

The day we dropped in, this was the most fragrant nursery around. The jasmine was still blooming—including one-gallon vine-trained specimens—and a table of big lilies greeted us. Someone brushed the mints in passing, and I couldn’t resist a pot of intensely bright-scented Moroccan mint, for tea. Of course, the coffee from the shop perfumed the air too. Lots of other blooms, and lots of foliage color.  

One showstopper was the single (so far) bloom on one of the five-gallon semi-hardy hybrid Dutchman’s-pipe vines, which one of the workers there showed me when she saw me taking notes with my camera. Atop that weirdly scrotal “pipe” was a soft, silken flare of petal, patterned like burgundy gingham and big enough to cover the palm of her hand.  

Iris and John Watson run the paired enterprises. Iris also writes for Alameda magazine, a handsome glossy bi-monthly that might pay even less than the Daily Planet, and I hear she has a TV show too. She and her staff are friendly and smart, and the atmosphere of the place is quite engaging. Even the bashful lovebird in a cage by the lilies hailed us cheerfully. 


Encinal Nursery 

2057 Encinal Ave., Alameda  


9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday–Saturday  

9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday 


Thomsen’s Garden Center  

1113 Lincoln Ave., Alameda 


9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday 

9 a.m.-5:50 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.  

Closed Thurdays. 

Vines Coffeshop open 8 a.m.-5 p.m.  


Ron Sullivan is a former professional gardener and arborist. Her “Garden Variety” column appears every Friday in East Bay Home & Real Estate. Her column on East Bay trees appears every other Tuesday in the Daily Planet.