Meet Hortica, The Castro's Full-Service Nursery And Garden Shop

By Roy - Published on November 10, 2014.
Photos: Roy McKenzie/Hoodline
Not many people know that the Castro is home to a full-fledged nursery. Sure, you can pick up pots and soil at Cliff's or Ace Hardware in a pinch, but Hortica is the place to go if you're looking for a full-on garden center. The self-described "little nursery in the city," located at 566 Castro St., specializes in indoor and outdoor plants with a surprisingly large nursery—over 240 flats of flowers, seasonal plants, fruit trees, bamboo and vines—located in the back.

From the front of the store, it may not seem that big, but once you step inside for the first time you'll probably be surprised at the shop's size and selection. 

David Gray started working at the nursery almost 20 years ago, and bought the nursery from the previous owner a decade ago. He's been keeping plants ever since he was 11 and started apprenticing with a gardener when he was 14, going on to study horticulture and botany in college.

As he goes through the shop helping people pick out their perfect plant companion, Gray regularly identifies each plant by its common name (golden pothos) and its scientific name (Epipremnum aureum). He also helps his customers identify the plants they already own by encouraging them to bring in photos of their greenery, and can identify pests if you bring in a cut specimen (safely sealed in a bag, of course). 

Gray has a passion for carnivorous plants, too. At one time the president of the International Carnivorous Plant Society, he carries many types of carnivorous plants in his shop including pitcher plants (Nepenthes varieties) and venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula). 

Since the recession hit, Gray has been running the business all on his own. He has his routine down, coming in  a couple of hours early every day to prune plants and organize the freshest specimens to the front. However, the past eight months of the Castro Streetscape Project were difficult for his business, as the project timeline encompassed his biggest seasons: spring, summer and fall. He told Hoodline that his revenues were down to 15 percent during the construction phase.

Even after hard times, Gray is optimistic about the changes to the neighborhood, saying that he hopes that everyone comes back into the Castro to see how it has been remodeled.

For the winter season, Gray is stocking up on house plants, which he says are popular around this time of year because many people are settling in for the winter and want to add a little greenery to their holiday decorations. Air plants—which require no soil and minimal water—are popular as well, and Hortica is stocked with those, too.

If you make a purchase from Gray, he offers members of the Berkeley Botanical Gardens (which Gray says is "world class") a special discount, and cash buyers get a four percent discount on their total sale. Gray says he'd rather pass the savings on to his customers than pay the extra fee to credit card companies.

So if you're looking to brighten and liven up your place for the season, or were looking for a full-service garden shop nearby, consider stopping in to Hortica, giving David a "hello" and picking up a little something green for your home.

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