Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: A Place with Natives and Edibles for a Good Cause

By Ron Sullivan
Friday May 11, 2007

Ploughshares Nursery is a unique operation. Located off Main Street on the former Alameda Naval Air Station, across from the Rosenblum Winery and the ferry terminal, it’s owned by the Alameda Point Collaborative. The Collaborative describes itself as a “supportive housing community,” with 500 formerly homeless people—veterans, domestic violence survivors, children and adults with disabilities—living in converted Navy housing. It offers counseling, life skills coaching, and job training, through the nursery and otherwise. Proceeds from the plants you buy at Ploughshares go to the Collaborative. 

Good plants, too. With its mix of edibles and California natives, this is a nursery after my own heart. Andrea, the propagator who showed us around last week, joked about specializing in edible natives plants—a niche just waiting to be filled. 

Ploughshares has a couple of neighbors on its four-acre growing site: Kassenhoff, which sells organic heirloom tomato starts at a couple of Oakland farmers’ markets, and Oaktown Natives, which grows plants for restoration projects. Although they don’t do direct retail sales, you can find a selection of Kassenhoff tomatoes at Ploughshares: the likes of Omar’s Lebanese, Black from Tula, Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Momotaro. 

Among other edibles, there’s Four Winds Citrus (improved Meyer lemon, bai makrut), guava, tree collards, red Russian kale, several kinds of raspberry. Andrea says the Chinese spinach isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it is edible. 

“We have weird natives other people don’t have,” she adds. I don’t know about weird, but the variety is impressive. Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’ looks like a spreading variety; blue-eyed grass ‘California Skies’, short and stout, complements another Sisyrhynchum with a tall, slender growth habit. Ploughshares has native trees (coast live oak, buckeye, madrone, holly-leaf cherry, red-twig dogwood, tree poppy), shrubs (toyon, ceanothus, manzanita, coyote brush), ground covers (wild ginger), bulbs (wild onion, Ithuriels’ spear)—a little of everything. The nursery’s web site includes a partial plant list.  

The nursery still bears the fingerprints of its first manager, Christopher Shein, who now runs the permaculture program at Merritt College. You enter through a wide bamboo arch, and the shade house, something between a palapa and a Marsh Arab mudhif, is thatched with palm leaves, some donated by a local church after Palm Sunday. There’s a stump-and-haybale amphitheatre where classes have been held in the past, although none are currently scheduled. Many of the plants are organically grown and/or certified Bay Friendly. 

This place is well worth a trip through the Posey Tube (“Dark Tunnel,” the sign on the Oakland side warns). Keep an eye out for the family of hooded orioles that frequent the nursery’s salvia beds. And consider a lunch stop on nearby Webster Street. Although the somewhat unsettling Ribs n’ Things is long gone, Tillie’s is still dishing up classic diner fare, and you can try an antipodean meat pie at the New Zealander. 


Ploughshares Nursery 

2701 Main Street, Alameda,  

Open Wed.-Sun. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. www.ploughsharesnursery.com 



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