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Greg Salmeri Talks Pumpkin Succulents, Faux Plants, and More at Rolling Greens Nursery

Greg Salmeri is a man who’s in love with the process of creating a masterpiece—this began with Art as he studied painting alongside California greats like Tony DeLap, John Paul Jones, and Craig Kauffman. He then began curating commercial spaces with plants— this soon flourished into his parent company the Associated Group. Later he’d dive soil deep into the ever-changing nursery industry with greenhouses throughout Culver City and a storefront space on Beverly in Los Angeles– enter the beloved Rolling Greens Nursery.

Below, we speak with Salmeri about how his companies have evolved throughout the years given Los Angeles’ ever-changing economy and the imminent California drought. We also asked his opinion on trends in plant-scape design, DIY holiday projects (including some fairytale pumpkin succulents and geometric wreaths that we are very excited about) and the Do’s and Don’ts of using faux plants and flowers.

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GC: When did you fall in love with gardening?

GS: I grew up in Laguna Beach with a mom that was an avid gardener, artist, and designer. She took me out in the yard all the time. Gardening was always a family thing; my aunts had houses with gardens, as well. I’d go there and we’d plant or pick something in the yard. Later, it became a thing I did when I didn’t have anything else to do.

When I graduated from college I was dating someone who had a furniture leasing business. She needed someone to put plants throughout an office building. It soon became a business but it wasn’t planned, it just happened. So we were in the plant business from the late ‘70s on. The business changed, grew, and dropped off as the recessions came. But I use to buy at this nursery in Los Angeles called Rolling Greens. I’d go there and it was such a bit of fresh air for me. It wasn’t like anything else that I was experiencing. I thought one day I’d love to own this, so I approached the owner and he said I don’t want to sell. I followed up a few months later and he said the same thing. But one day in December of 2000, I drove up the hill and he was knee deep in thousands of poinsettia’s. He said I’ve got to get out of here. I laughed but that’s when we started talking about actually buying the space.

“People come in saying ‘tell me how to take care of succulents’. It’s really made a difference in a positive way for our industry. People are ripping out lawns and buying drought tolerant plants…” — Greg Salmeri [addtoany]

GC: Tell me about your arrangement bar at Rolling Greens…

GS: It’s a big part of our business! There’s a few different ways that it can work: A customer can bring in a container of their own that they want to get planted. They’ll pick out plants (or we’ll advise), they can plant them at our arrangement bar or we can plant it for them. You can also come in with nothing, pick a container, pick the plants, and we can create something for you. The third option is arrangements on the go. We have DIY classes that are held at the bar, as well, so there’s a number of ways to interact with the space.

GC: I saw that you have an upcoming workshop on succulent pumpkins. Details?

GS: Our succulent pumpkin workshop is a DIY event where guests can learn how to plant a miniature succulent garden on top of a fairytale pumpkin. It’s a really fun class that we do every October. You’re welcome to make one at home, with the guidance of our blog, or sign up for our workshop [if you’re in the neighborhood]. We also have a geometric wreath making and snow-globe workshops slated for December!

GC: I love that. Speaking of succulents, I wanted to talk to you about the drought. Are customers conscious of it or do you find yourself educating them?

GS: Everyone knows because it is affecting their pocket books. When somebody is affected monetarily they pay attention. Plus I think Southern California is very environmentally-orientated. We listen to these things and respond because Californian’s genuinely care. People come in saying “tell me how to take care of succulents”. It’s really made a difference in a positive way for our industry. People are ripping out lawns and buying drought tolerant plants. We’ve gone through some really difficult years with the recession but this drought [ironically] has spurred a lot of landscape jobs that hinge on designing spaces with plants that don’t need a lot of water.

GC: So the drought has prompted a revival in the industry?

GS: Absolutely. People are paying attention to their yards in ways they haven’t for years. The drought called attention to it, they want to save money, and they want to participate in being environmentally correct.

GC: Can you talk on trends in plant-scape and garden design?

GS: Well clearly a trend is in drought tolerant plants but in that there is also an appreciation of the structure of plants. We’re not selling a lot of leafy greens, people are looking for plants with an interesting aesthetic. Beautiful branches or interesting leaves, and there’s a trend towards less planting and more interesting selections. It’s very clean, each plant or flower is an art piece placed carefully into the landscape. People aren’t buying flats of Impatiens: they’re using succulents for color instead. It’s more about this natural, rolling feel, as opposed to a planted garden.

GC: What about planters?

GS: Everyone has turned away from the usual planters that we see coming in from China and Vietnam. What’s trending now is clean, modern, stark-looking planters. White, grey, black, planters with lines in them that really touch on a cleaner aesthetic.

GC: What are those made of, concrete?

GS: There is concrete but a lot of things are being made out of fiber clay. These man made fixtures are light weight and you can use them on your deck and rooftop. They’re also very clean and durable, they rarely chip and crack.

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GC: How do you assimilate plants that you import from places like Hawaii and Florida to the weather conditions in California?

GS: Plants from Hawaii and Florida are mostly interior plants. The interior plant market hasn’t really changed over the years because there are very few plants that do well inside. People love to use succulents inside, but they don’t last long. We look to tropical plants like prasinas and palms. When we bring plants in from different states, it takes them about a month to adapt. They’re getting less air (because it’s so dry here) so we make sure they don’t get stressed. We make sure they get enough water to their roots and this prevents the plants from getting pests.

GC: When they get stressed their immune system weakens?

GS: Yes! Just like humans.

GC: What’s the most unrated plant/flower?

GS: It use to be succulents, but those days are gone. I love perennial plants. When you look at plants like echium and rockrose, and a lot of what we call drought-tolerant plants, thats the kind of stuff that I fall in love with. I’m not as excited anymore about an orchid or a peony. I’m more excited about things that grow here, live here, and produce amazing flowers. They are the same plants and flowers that people don’t pay much attention to until you call their attention to it. The plant that’s the most inspiring to me right now is grevillea. We’re using a lot of Australian plants right now because they have such amazing, low key flowers that are well-suited to the California climate.

GC: Let’s talk faux plants. How do you advise customers on this topic? Indoors only, mix with live plants as an accent, or what?

GS: Faux plants were difficult in their early stages because they were so artificial. But now there are so many amazing faux plants that sometimes you really can’t tell the difference. Especially with succulents. I recommend faux plants to customers who aren’t home enough to take care of them. We advise this for our customers with second homes– but if you can use live plants, you should.

Rolling Greens Nursery offers cool seasonal workshops including their Succulent Pumpkin Workshop in October and Geometric Wreath-making around the holidays. Find more information here.
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