Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: A Slice of Life on Marin’s Redwood Highway

By Ron Sullivan
Friday September 15, 2006

I’ve passed Green Jeans at about 65 mph dozens of times, and never stopped to have a look until this month. For a plant lover who had a secret girlhood crush on Mister Green Jeans, Captain Kangaroo’s gardening neighbor, this is an inexplicable lapse. 

Perhaps I’m still in subconscious shock from the day I read the credits and discovered the guy’s name was really “Lumpy” Brannum, which may or may not have also been the first time I saw him take off his hat.  

Or perhaps I’m merely eyes-front on that rather busy bit of 101 in Mill Valley. But if you’re there, just north of all that bridge-and-tunnel stuff and the hill around Sausalito, take a jog off the Seminary Drive exit and along the frontage road on the inland side. 

You’re halfway past Green Jeans’ parking lot entrance before you spot it, but there’s plenty of streetside parking. 

Aside from the usual entertaining nursery assortment—quirky geraniums, grasses, annual color, stuff with interesting red or gold or chartreuse foliage—Green Jeans has rather a lot of tropical stuff. Bamboos, including big timber types, occupy one corner patch by the parking lot; there are more gingers, cannas, ornamental taro, and the like up against the hill that borders the narrow lot.  

The best is behind a fence that’s almost right against the hill. There’s a hidden entrance to this space, near the office/houseplant shop. Most of it is shaded by a grand live oak whose trunk is festooned with strings of tiny lights, and the theme is definitely Understory Wonderland. Ferns, including what’s labeled as “Hawaiian tree fern”—something unusual; the Aussie and New Zealand tree ferns are much more common, including (unfortunately) in Hawaii.  

There’s an appropriate mushroom motif here, including an impressive metal morel sculpture and a wooden table and stools with a toadstool look. There’s also a bit of Lost World going on; one amusing if impractical set of cast cement steppingstones resembles the tracks of a Malagasy elephant-bird—or a mid-sized therapod. Maybe they work for people with good balance or very small feet. I’ve neither, but I coveted them all the same. 

Plants aside, the place has some striking outdoor art. A local artist makes the giant arthropods—ants, a spider, a marvelous stained-glass dragonfly perched on a ten-foot cattail, yard-wide butterflies, at least one of them a solar-powered battery lamp whose colors shine after dusk. It’s a trick to pull off something this unabashedly colorful without being tacky, but go see ‘em.  

Stainless steel hori-hori “mushroom knives” and Felcos, including replacement parts; greenmanure seeds and soil amendments by the scoop as well as the bag; seeds by the teaspoon in an antique wall cabinet. Check it out. 

In the middle of the spaghetti-farm lot is a little hut, Kelly’s Edge Sharpening, where the affable Mr. Kelly can hone your kitchen and garden tools (including flat powermower, but not reel mower, blades) and even hairdressing shears. You’ll be greeted by his equally affable dog. The dog’s name is Rexie or maybe Rexy; alas, in my extensive interview with Rexi I failed to ascertain the spelling.