Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Surviving Oaks Still Shade Alden Lane Nursery

By Ron Sullivan
Friday March 07, 2008
Whimsical sculpture at Alden Lane Nursery.
Ron Sullivan
Whimsical sculpture at Alden Lane Nursery.

I’ve liked Alden Lane Nursery ‘way out in Livermore since I first set foot in it over ten years ago. The big valley oaks that shade parts of the place won my splintery old heart immediately, and I saw evidence of real community involvement along with the more concrete stuff: primo nursery stock, interesting ornaments, good tools, less-toxic pest controls. 

They kept doing things I like, too. They were among the first I saw promoting small-space orchards done via multiple grafting on a single tree, pleaching, espaliering, and cordoning. They also pushed planting two or three saplings in a single hole, then pruning them so they didn’t interfere with each other-taking off the branches in the middle of the new group-and letting the various roots work it out among themselves.  

Even in the relatively spacious lots you see around Livermore, a more compact orchard is a good idea for variety and length of harvest; one household or even several can be hard-pressed to deal with 20 or 30 pounds of apples in a week. (Though a cider press does come to mind: cider is what Johnny Appleseed was thinking about, after all.) 

If you mix early- with later-ripening fruit, you solve part of that problem and you don’t get bored with a single variety.  

Along with good ideas like that, Alden Lane has a more or less perpetual canned-food drive for local relief agencies, hosts fundraisers for good causes, and has free tastings, talks, and shows several times a month.  

Alden is generous with printed information too: free handouts are in strategic spots all over the nursery and the monthly newsletter, available in newsprint or email form, has a pretty good ratio of good advice and bright ideas to in-text ads.  

Despite my respect for the institution, it had clearly been way too long since my last visit when I ventured inland last week. I’m almost used (though not reconciled) to the way the places I knew out there have been paved and built over and my landmarks have vanished, but once I’d navigated the straits of stucco and standard plantings to the front gate, I was still bewildered.  

The driveway was new. The fencing/walls/plantings around it all were new. There was a great big chateaufiquated building that I swore I’d never seen before. It wasn’t until I got inside and recognized some of the oaks that I felt oriented.  

Fortunately, most of those great old oaks are still there. They were alive with yellow-rumped warblers and other birds: I had red-shafted flicker, robins, blackbirds (probably Brewer’s), juncos, bushtits, and cormorants (OK, flying over) on the daylist; there was an Anna’s hummingbird nesting on one of the biggest oaks by the building entrance, and she came down to give me the stinkeye.  

There was a visible casualty, and it was an important one: the grand oak in the driveway had fallen in the January storm and parts of it still lay shattered in the median circle.  

It hurts to see, but, like us, trees are mortals.  



Alden Lane Nursery 

981 Alden Lane, Livermore 

(925) 447-0280  


Email newsletter sign-up on website. 

Open daily 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. 




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.