Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Get Your Supplemental Sunshine on University Avenue

By Ron Sullivan
Friday November 10, 2006

I just had to ask. The charming young salesperson at Berkeley Indoor Garden did have list of what, other than the obvious, customers grow using B.I.G.’s wares: orchids and other tropicals, carnivorous plants, some rare and picky succulents, sometimes lettuce and herbs and baby greens just to have them handy.  

She showed me some Hawai’ian kalanchoes that drop baby plants from their leaf edges, roots already a-reaching, the way good old mother-of-millions does. (M-o-m, a Bryophyllum hybrid, reproduces as advertised in pots outdoors here, as I’ve found out. Want some? Keep it away from wildlands.) 

She showed me dinosaur kale growing in styrofoamy blocks, and calendulas in a test bed with a Brazil-style octopus of silver ductwork—“Not the best way to arrange ducts; they should be straight”—slithering between the light hoods and whooshing fans overhead.  

She showed me a rig with a light fixture in a sort of zippered fabric: just the thing for a few prize poinsettias. They need measured doses of darkness to bloom, and that’s becoming harder to get as city and “security” lights get more obnoxiously ubiquitous.  

I have seen other plants in indoor hydroponics stores: tobacco, chili peppers, a boisterous banana tree that bore several big hands of fruit for its staff. I’ve also explored indoor hydroponics as a possibility for immunocompromised friends, especially one passionate gardener whose beloved cats had bad habits about her potted plants. 

I suppose it’s cheap irony that free light is getting hard to take for granted too, as those trendy “dense” buildings mushroom all over town. 

You can grow mushrooms in the backyard after one such monolith goes up on your south or west border, but good luck with the squash and beans. So maybe we’ll need these elaborate indoor set-ups for food security.  

They’ll certainly drive the utility bills up. Handily, B.I.G. has a chart that tells you how much, for a number of possible setups. There are also lots of growing media—from something approximating soil to something approximating red clay hailstones—and a bewildering assortment of organic fertilizers, including (pricey!) mycorrhizal inoculants.  

The varieties and intensities of light get bewildering, too. This is gardening for wonks, I guess, and though I have wonkish tendencies myself I suspect I’d be flipping coins instead of crunching numbers after a few layers of this chemistry and engineering. If you like that stuff and don’t mind all that fluorescent light, well, you’re trimming your consumption by growing things instead of getting them trucked to you, I suppose.  

When I want a sunshine supplement I go just up the street to the Templebar, especially since they’ve started serving lunch four days a week. 

Time your shopping right and you can catch comedy, or better yet some wonderful Hawai’ian slack-key guitar and song from the duo Pulama, Wednesday the 15th from 7 to 9 and one Wednesday a month through January. And have dinner there to take care of the munchies.  


Berkeley Indoor Garden 

844 University Avenue, Berkeley 

(510) 549-2918 

Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. 

Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 

Sunday 12 p.m.-5 p.m.