Ashley Gill Rossi remembers when her family opened its Green Acres Nursery & Supply in Roseville. That was on the Fourth of July 2003, but any fireworks were pretty subdued.
“That site had been a (waste) transfer station and recycling center,” Rossi recalled. “We held our grand opening and our first customer brought in a big load of trash. He thought the recycling center was opening up again.”
The scene was far different at the recent grand opening of her family’s fourth Green Acres Nursery & Supply location. Built from the bare ground up in Elk Grove, the newest Green Acres welcomed thousands of gardening shoppers on its first day.
“I couldn’t help but think how far we’ve come in just 12 years,” Rossi said. “At Elk Grove, instead of trash, we had a load of customers.”
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With California’s ongoing drought, some experts wondered if this was a good time to open a nursery. On a glorious early spring weekend, pent-up gardening urges trumped water concerns.
“(The opening) exceeded all expectations and predictions,” Rossi said. “The community has embraced it. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Gill family, which owns the Sacramento-based chain, chose March 21 – the first full day of spring – to officially unveil its Elk Grove store at 9220 E. Stockton Blvd., just east of Highway 99 at Bond Road.
“At 9.a.m., I was driving to the store and the traffic was backed up onto the freeway,” Rossi said. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, they must be coming to the grand opening.’ I was joking – but it was real!”
The new business did more than 2,000 transactions on its opening day and 1,700-plus sales the next day.
“That Saturday was the single-best day in our company’s history,” she said. “Obviously, we expected the new store would do well, but not like this.”
With 7 acres of growing room, the new nursery ranks among the largest in Northern California. The main building boasts 33,000 square feet of retail space, devoted to irrigation equipment, patio furniture, barbecues, fertilizers and other outdoor needs. Packed with plants, its lighted greenhouse covers another 15,500 square feet. A lath house shelters 26,000 square feet of vegetables, annuals, perennials and more.
Outdoors, low-water demonstration gardens offer landscaping ideas among rows and rows of shrubs and trees, many of them drought-tolerant, water-wise alternatives to traditional landscaping.
Enthusiasm for Elk Grove’s Green Acres remains strong. On a recent Friday morning, most of the 236 parking spaces were full. The 14 cashier counters were humming as shoppers checked out this new destination nursery and outdoor living center.
“This is our first store that we built out of the ground ...,” Rossi said. “Our previous stores were all retrofits. Elk Grove is just the way we want it. You can walk in the door and see all the way to the back.”
Besides Roseville’s recycling roots, Green Acres’ Folsom store bloomed out of a vacant Circuit City in 2012. The Sacramento location on Jackson Highway was a retooled nursery that had been geared to daylight-only sales.
“We have lights in both the greenhouse and the lath house, so we can have extended hours,” Rossi said.
Among the 85 employees at the new locale are many who worked at local nurseries that were shuttered during the Great Recession.
“We have a lot of people from Capital (Nursery), a lot of people from Matsuda’s,” said Green Acres’ Greg Gayton. “We recruited a lot of local talent. We’re all horticulturists.”
Green Acres acquired Matsuda’s 160-acre wholesale nursery last year. Many of the plants sold at the Elk Grove store are products of Matsuda’s local growing operation. These shrubs and trees are already acclimated to the area because they’ve always grown here, Gayton noted.
Most of the vegetables and annuals are locally grown, too. They’re from Eisley Nursery’s Auburn propagation houses.
Store manager Mary Bettencourt feels like a Green Acres lifer. She started as a cashier at the company’s Sacramento nursery before working at both Folsom and Roseville.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she said of the Elk Grove greenhouse, as a tapestry of flowers seemed to bloom all around. “We’re having so much fun.”
Key to Green Acres’ success is that it tunes in to what local gardeners want now, Rossi said. That includes edible landscaping; The nursery boasts more than a dozen varieties of potted blueberries and a huge selection of citrus trees. Water-wise shrubs such as new varieties of grevillea, euonymus and Indian hawthorn catch people’s attention.
“We’ve been selling a lot of veggies, a lot of drought-tolerant plants and (California) natives, a lot of patio furniture,” Rossi said. “We’ve had a lot of requests for food for butterflies, especially milkweed for monarchs. That’s a little unusual but very cool.”
In light of ongoing water concerns, the nursery wants to be more than a place to buy plants, she added.
“The drought is very scary,” Rossi said. “We consider ourselves part of the solution, not the problem. We want to help people learn about conservation, to retrofit their irrigation, to make their landscape more water efficient. We’re helping to educate gardeners every day.”
Green Acres isn’t resting on its laurels and water-wise natives. The company is building a garden center in Rocklin with a planned 2016 opening next to the Walmart and Bass Pro Shops stores under construction at Sierra College Boulevard just off Interstate 80.
“It will be a completely different concept from what we’ve done so far,” Rossi said. “We’re up for it.”
Newest Green Acres
Where: 9220 E. Stockton Blvd., Elk Grove
Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday in spring-summer. Winter closing is two hours earlier.
Information: (916) 714-5600, www.idiggreenacres.com