Two more family-owned plant nurseries on the ocean-view ridges just east of I-5 are headed toward being developed: one in Encinitas and one in Solana Beach.
Tayama Greenhouses, on Requeza Street in Encinitas, will be closing once the sale goes through; and Feather Acres Nursery in Solana Beach is downsizing from four acres to a half acre — the rest going for custom houses.
The nurseries are similar in their wonderful locations — high enough to have ocean breezes and a view, but just a touch sunnier and warmer than the west side of the I-5.
"Every house will have an ocean view," says Vicki Van Arsdale, who owns Feather Acres with her husband Ted. They have about 50 years at the nursery, which dates back to 1952, she said.
"We're still doing our unique floral arrangement for weddings and events," she said. "We wanted to keep our house and be able to focus on the things that we make money doing."
The nurseries are both small, specialized family operations, as are many of the current and former nurseries along that ridgeline. Tayama Greenhouses was founded by Mike Kimura's mother's father. "I'm third generation," he says. "It's bittersweet."
Kimura's greenhouses are full of healthy orchids and bromeliads. The north edge of the property is its own mesa, with a view northwest of rooftops and the ocean a mile away. It's easy to see why plants and humans would thrive here.
"Between the recession, the cost of water, and competition with the superstores, the family nurseries have been having a tough time for a while," says Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. "There has been a trend of small independent nurseries finding it hard to compete for a while. And they are on such valuable land."
Larson points out that one of the best-known locally owned farms, the Ecke family's 67 acres east of Saxony Road, is still undeveloped. The land is now owned by the Leichtag Foundation and is home to programs on Jewish culture and an organic farm. But many of the smaller growers are gone.
Cedros Gardens closed after 22 years in Solana Beach in 2015. A&G Nurseries also closed last year. A&G (Ades & Gish) was a two-generation family nursery, according to a February 2014 interview with Darrell Ades, who recounts how he grew up around the business his father ran.
Developers are buying the plots of land — just under 4 acres at Feather Acres and 4.5 at Tayama — to build custom houses. The deals are in escrow a long time while developers wait out the permit process that includes getting permission from the city and the California Coastal Commission to subdivide the lots.
Blair Pruett is working with the Van Arsdales and hopes to build seven more houses on the land, according to a permit application.
"We were very pleased with the deal Blair put together and he is trying to preserve the feel of the neighborhood," Van Arsdale said. "He has really worked closely with the neighbors."
The Tayama land has been in and out of escrow more than once already because of the would-be buyer's problems getting permits, Kimura says. The current plan is for 3 houses per acre, as the zoning allows, to yield a total of 12 houses. The escrows go long — this one is six months so far, so they keep growing plants.
"We were more wholesale-oriented," Kimura said. "We keep working it but we are paring down our inventory after we gear up for one final Christmas and New Year's push."
Kimura, like Ades of A&G, didn't want to get into the nursery business when he was growing up. He earned a business degree and started a career before he was drawn back to where he was raised. "My daughter is very sad we're shutting down," he said. "We're sending her off to college to learn a safer profession."
Last year, the family that owns Cordova Gardens sold its growing-operation land, says Joe Cordova. But they kept the four-acre retail yard, just downhill and across Encinitas Boulevard from Tayama. Joe and Martha Cordova opened the nursery to the public in 1987 and brought their children, including Joe Jr., into the business.
"We are here to stay," he said. "I just got my tax bill today." Does he get offers? "Every week someone comes by to talk about selling," Cordova says. But he doesn't know how much they're offering. "I don't let them tell me," he says. "I'm not interested."