Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Reading Palms from I-580 in Richmond

By Ron Sullivan
Friday June 22, 2007

We’ve driven past the place dozens of times on the way to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and it’s become a private landmark rather like San Quentin. But last week was the first time we’ve ever managed to get off I-580 and get our feet on the ground at Golden Gate Palms in Richmond. 

My goodness. The place is vast, and it has more than just palms. 

“Just palms” on the other hand includes such an assortment that it kept my attention quite well, while Joe wandered off among the succulents. Gary Gragg, the owner, says he sells some palm species and varieties never before on sale in California, or even the world.  

I’m not equipped to say Aye or Nay to that proposition, but I do know there was stuff there I’d had no idea even existed. Yet another blue palm, for example, a European variety. Trachycarpus wagnerianus, cousin to the familiar T. fortunei “windmill” palm—the one with the brown fiber netting growing in rags around the trunk—but with a sort of silvered underside on each leaf.  

There was one huge specimen in the ground that looked like a Jubaea chilensis, Chilean date palm, but it wasn’t labeled. Sure enough, though it is what it looks like, and over a century old.  

It, like some others in Golden Gate’s inventory, was a rescue from a site where it no longer fit, or where something was going to be built. Gragg specializes in such rescues; he’s not alone, as palms are more easily transplanted with a smaller rootball than other trees. That’s why you see them with their foliage done up in topknots along new boulevards or shopping centers.  

Gragg does seem to take on the big jobs even in that area, though: that wine palm, and what he says is the biggest Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) ever moved, and some of the tallest fan palms I’ve ever laid eyes on, a couple of matched pairs sporting his banners.  

Aside from all that, Gragg has succulents in a dazzling (even for succulents) variety of shapes, and tropical oddities and stalwarts like cannas and gunneras (“dinosaur chow”). He’s got ocotillos! They’re under a huge palm, more or less in the ground, on a big shale mound.  

The open site is windy and can be dusty, so bring a jacket and your shades. You’ll thrill to the crash of industry and harbor noises. Or maybe you’ll just wince and jump occasionally, as I did. Impressive place to be raising so many supposedly tricky plants.  

Gragg told us he’s making a series for HGTV, to be aired starting this fall or winter; the working title so far is “Full Throttle Gardening” and evidently it will include some examples of Gragg’s own design-build work in the Bay Area. He did seem to be having a good time charging around on a front-end loader, and there was a serious crane along with his various trucks and machinery on the site.  

Go see the place. Great fun! 


Golden Gare Palms & Exotics 

420 South Third Street, Point Richmond 

Just off I-580; Look west for the palms and banner. 

Monday-Friday: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 

Saturday: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Sunday: Closed 

(925) 325-PALM