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4010 Mt Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, CA, 94549

Life is Beautiful Blog

Employee Spotlight: Geoff Olmstead

Blaire Benson

Hi, Everyone. I'm Geoff Olmstead, the Nursery Manager at Orchard!

How long have you been working at Orchard Nursery & Florist?

16 years!

What is your favorite part about working here?

My favorite part about working at Orchard is the relationships I have built with both the staff and customers. The culture we have developed at Orchard Nursery makes it a fabulous place to work. I love to get staff and customers excited about change, be it in the workings of the nursery, or in the case of customers, in their gardens.

What are some of your favorite memories in your time working here?

Way back when, the nursery staff used to go out line dancing at a local pub. That was a great time!

What are some upcoming projects you are excited about?

This month, we rearranged the layout of the nursery to make more room for plant material. By changing the layout of the nursery, we have gained about 350 square feet of 1 gal retail space, and kept the 5 gal space the same, allowing us to buy more product in larger quantities while still being able to keep the diversity of material. 

What is your favorite season and why?

Like most nursery people, I would have to say spring! It's refreshing to see all the things that come into the nursery with beautiful blooms or colorful foliage after winter. I also love spring because it is a time of year we are extremely busy with customers. There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing someone's eyes light up when I help them pick out plants for their gardens, show them how to care for it, and make sure they walk out the door with everything they need to be successful in their endeavor.

What is your favorite flower or plant to work with and why?

What a question! There are so many! I would venture to say my favorite plant is Geranium 'Rozanne.' What a beautiful creature it is! In Concord, where I live, it is pretty much evergreen (except when I cut it back to allow for new growth) and it never stops blooming! I get color on the plants in my garden most of the year, with a little down time mid-December through mid-January. The beautiful lavender-blue blooms are about the size of a quarter and are so prolific they cover the entire plant. It grows extremely fast with deep watering needed only about every 5 days, so it's drought tolerant as well. You can't beat it for a colorful perennial!

What is your favorite vegetable to grow and cook with and why?

Peppers, hands down. They are super easy to grow, and where I live, they are still producing! I love jalapeños for a favorite spicy chicken dish I make and Shishito peppers just sautéed in oil. Peppers are fantastic veggies that I have never had any issues with - no mildews or other diseases to contend with, and no aphids or other insects have ever damaged any of my peppers. However, keeping our chickens away from them is another story!

What is something that people might not know about you?

There isn't much people don't know about me. I'm pretty much an open book as far as my life goes, but one thing people might not know is when I was in my mid 20s, I lived in an Ashram in India for four months. It was a great experience to see the cultural differences between the United States and a third world country. The experience also gave me greater perspective of myself and of the connection we all have to nature. 

Healthy Recipes For the New Year!

Blaire Benson

It’s that time of year – hopefully you had a restful and somewhat indulgent holiday season, but now it’s time to get back into your regular routine. You might be thinking about how to jumpstart your year with renewed energy and a focus on your health; well, we’re here to help! Below we share three unique and delicious recipes from Kaiser Permanente that are good for you and those you love!

First up, Smashed Cucumbers! This recipe is a quick and fun way to add a refreshing side dish to just about any meal.

Servings: 4

Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

4 Persian cucumbers, or other small thin-skinned cucumbers
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
A few mint leaves, minced
1 sprig oregano, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Trim the ends of the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise. Next, cut crosswise or on a bias into 1-inch pieces. With seed-side down, gently smashed the cucumbers with the side of your knife or the heel of your clean hand. Leaving some of the seeds on the cutting board, transfer the cucumbers to a bowl and toss with the lemon juice, olive oil and minced herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For those frigid January days when you crave warmth, we recommend this Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup!

Servings: 4

Ingredients

3 medium carrots, cut into ½ inch slices
2 tomatoes cut into wedges (or one 15 ounce can of no added salt tomatoes if tomatoes aren't in season locally)
1 yellow onion cut into 6-8 wedges
6 big cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes (You can substitute eggplant if you’d like!)
1 bunch of kale, stacked, rolled up then thinly sliced
1 can cannellini beans, drained or 1 1/2 cups freshly cooked white beans
6 cups vegetable stock
1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme or a palm full of fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a rimmed baking pan. Arrange the carrots and squash (or eggplant) on one end and the onions, garlic and tomato on the other. Roast until everything is slightly browned – about 30 minutes. Scoop the onions, tomatoes and garlic into a blender. Puree the vegetables briefly. Add the stock and mix briefly. Bring the stock with blended veggies to a simmer. Add the kale, thyme and bay leaf. Cook until the kale is tender - about 30 minutes. Add the carrots, squash (or eggplant) and white beans. Cook for about 5 more minutes. Remove the bay leaf and the thyme sprigs if you used fresh thyme. Season to taste and serve hot.

And finally, for a healthy and easy way to start your day, try No-cook Overnight Oatmeal!

Ingredients

1/4 cup uncooked old fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup skim milk
1/4 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried chia seeds
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon honey, optional (or substitute any preferred sweetener)
1/4 cup diced mango (approx. half of a small mango)

Directions

In a half pint jar or container, add oats, milk, yogurt, chia seeds, almond extract and honey. Put lid on jar and shake until well combined. Add mangoes and stir with fork until mixed throughout. Return lid to jar and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days. Eat chilled.

Christmas Dinner Recipes: Citrus Edition

Blaire Benson

Citrus is in season and is a wonderful addition to holiday meals! It is easily incorporated into any course and contains antioxidants, great amounts of vitamin C, iron and even calcium. Enjoy these three citrus-centric recipes from our friends at Kaiser Permanente!

Honey Citrus Broiled Salmon

Ingredients

4 salmon filets, about 6 oz each
3 Tbsp low salt soy sauce
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed navel orange juice
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes

Directions

Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Reserve 1 Tbsp of the marinade and put the rest into a resealable plastic bag. Add the salmon to the bag, turn to coat and let stand for at least ten minutes. Preheat the broiler.

Coat the broiler rack with cooking spray. Remove the salmon and set aside the marinade in the bag. Broil the salmon for about 4 minutes, and then brush with marinade from the bag. Broil another 4 to 5 minutes until the salmon is just cooked through. Serve the salmon drizzled with the tablespoon of the initially reserved marinade.

 

Winter Salad with Roasted Beets and Citrus

Ingredients

4 medium beets

3 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 medium fennel bulb

3 citrus fruit

1 head escarole

1 head radicchio Treviso

½ head radicchio

¼ cup mint leaves

¼ cup tarragon leaves

1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling on beets

1/8 tsp coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Trim the beets of their tops and scrub clean. Pat beets dry and place cut side down, along with the garlic cloves, on a large rectangle of aluminum foil. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Wrap foil tightly, and place the packet on small baking sheet. Roast in oven until beets are tender, about 45 minutes to one hour. Carefully open foil and let cool briefly. When able to handle, use a paper towel to rub the skins off the beets, and cut each beet into eight pieces. Reserve the roasted garlic cloves for the vinaigrette.

For the fennel, trim the green stems and cut the bulb in half through the root. Trim away most of the root. Thinly slice the fennel and reserve in cold water. Drain before using.

For the citrus fruits, cut a little bit off each end, exposing the flesh below. Place the cut side down on a cutting board and trim away the pith and zest by following the contour of the fruit with your knife. Next, cut crosswise into round slices (pop the seeds out if you can) or cut out segments by trimming alongside the inner membranes.

Cut the radicchio into one-inch-wide pieces and tear the escarole into smaller pieces. Pick the mint and tarragon leaves off the stems and wash along with the chicory.

For the vinaigrette, remove the roasted garlic from the cloves and whisk together with the lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, Dijon and olive oil. Season with a three-finger pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

Combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Start by using about ½ to ¾ of the vinaigrette, adding more to taste. Your clean hands make great salad tongs!

 

Gingerbread with a Meyer Lemon Glaze

Ingredients

1 2/3 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger (You can substitute 2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger, if you prefer.)
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup canola oil

Glaze:
2/3 cup sifted confectioner's sugar (I triple the glaze when I double the gingerbread recipe.)
3 Tbsp Meyer lemon juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil a 9" square cake pan, then dust with flour.

Shake off excess. (I often double the recipe and use a 13" by 9" pan — the gingerbread is a little thicker and there is more of it to share.) Mix the dry ingredients. Mix in the beaten egg, sugar and molasses. (If using fresh ginger, add it here.) Add oil and boiling water. Stir until smooth. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in comes out clean. Stir the lemon juice and confectioner's sugar until dissolved. Brush this all over the gingerbread as soon as you remove it from the oven. It will soak in and make a wonderful glaze.

Winter Care for Citrus

Blaire Benson

Citrus is in season; it's beautiful, fragrant and a delicious addition to meals! Below we share some helpful tips on caring for your citrus in these winter months.

Fertilizing

Use Master Nursery Master Bloom (0-10-10) or EB Stone Organic Ultra Bloom once a month from October through January to improve fruit production, taste of the fruit and overall health of the tree.

Pruning

Generally citrus need very little or no pruning and it is best not to prune at all in the winter. If you need to prune your citrus for shape or size, wait until after mid-March.

Protection from Frost

Frost susceptibility varies by variety and maturity (for example, limes are the most susceptible to frost damage). In general, established plants can withstand short exposure to freezing temperatures with no damage. However, severe or prolonged frost will damage most varieties. Water-stressed plants are always more susceptible to frosts, so water deeply about every two weeks if it hasn’t rained. When freezing temperatures are predicted, protect your citrus using one or all of the following methods:

  • Cover citrus with tented sheets of frost cloth (tented so the frost cloth is not touching the leaves); uncover during the day.

  • String Christmas lights (not LED) under and around the plant, and turn on at night.

  • Spray with an anti-transpirant spray such as Cloud Cover or Bonide Wilt Stop.

  • Move potted citrus under an awning, patio cover or indoors.

Traditional v. Modern: Holiday Wreaths and Décor

Blaire Benson

There are as many styles of holiday décor as there are days in December, and luckily, Orchard has something for everyone! So whether you’re looking for a traditional, white-haired, red-suited Santa figurine or a rustic tree made from reclaimed wood, we have you covered!

Traditional Wreaths

Red and green are a classic combination for the holidays, and pinecone and fruit accouterments are a staple that won’t be going out of style anytime soon. These wreaths are sure to remind everyone just what time of year it is.

 

A More Modern Take

A monochromatic take on holiday wreaths is a bit more modern and lends itself well to industrial designs. These wreaths are simple and beautiful, but the varying textures add an element of visual interest.

 

Traditional Décor

Santa figurines, candy canes, Christmas trees and plenty of sparkle guarantee a house that reminds its visitors of their childhoods and most beloved memories.

A More Modern Take

For a more modern take on holiday décor, go for pieces made from natural materials and that contain a bit less color.  The wooden trees featured in this photo have become an Orchard must-have.

Q & A: Hydrangeas

Blaire Benson

Hydrangeas are one of the most beautiful blooms, and we tend to get many questions around their care. Today we are providing answers to the two most common questions we get! If you have other questions about your hydrangeas, get in touch and we'll happily help!

The most common question we get about hydrangeas is “How do I change the color of my hydrangea blooms?”

Many varieties of hydrangea blooms change color because of the acidity of the soil (more acid generates more blue hues and more alkaline generates more pink hues). That means you can change the color of your hydrangeas by changing the acidity of your soil! But before attempting to change the color, it is important to note a few things:

  • White hydrangeas cannot be changed to pink or blue, although a slight coloration will show as blooms age.
  • There are no ‘true red’ hydrangeas, so no matter how convincing those pictures in the catalogs are or how much lime is added to the soil, at best you'll achieve a very dark pink.
  • The intensity of a bloom's color (how deep or pale the color is) develops for a number of reasons including plant heredity, weather conditions, health of the plant and other natural factors. A regular fertilizer program is one way you can help create a more intense color.
  • A few varieties of hydrangeas have color that is extremely difficult to change, such as Pia, which wants to stay pink. The way to change the color to these more complicated varieties is to alter the soil chemistry. These soil additives should be applied four to six months before blooming begins.
    • If your soil is alkaline (more common in Contra Costa), then the color will naturally be pink/lavender. To change the color to blue, add Master Nursery HYDRA BLUE Aluminum Sulfate. Hydra Blue should be applied at a rate of 1 Tbsp. to ¼ cup, depending on the age and size of the plant. Make three applications, starting late fall, and going through winter (December, January and February).
    • If your soil is acidic, the color will naturally be blue. To change the color to pink, add Dolomitic Lime (or Superphosphate where available). Dolomitic Lime should be applied two to three times during late fall and winter. Sprinkle 3-4 cups around the base of a large shrub. It is almost impossible to add too much lime, but too little will give disappointing results. It is common for blooms on a hydrangea shrub to be several colors – from pink to lavender to blue. This is especially true the first year the hydrangea is planted and after the soil chemistry is altered.

The second most common question we get is "Why won’t my hydrangeas bloom?"

Timing is everything when it comes to pruning hydrangeas! The most common reason that hydrangeas don’t bloom is that the shrub was pruned at the wrong time of year.  While it is fine to cut off blooms for arrangements or just to neaten the plant at any time, unless a hydrangea is quite old and the blooms have become small, it is not necessary to prune a hydrangea to maintain good health. If pruning is necessary to revitalize the plant or reduce its size, the following guidelines should be considered:

  • For pruning purposes, hydrangeas can be placed into two categories: those that bloom on new wood (‘new wood’ are the branches that emerged on the shrub in the spring of the current year) and those that bloom on old wood (‘old wood’ are the branches that have been on the shrub throughout at least one summer and winter before spring bloom).
  • If a hydrangea blooms on new wood, it can be pruned almost any time of the year, as close to the ground as one wishes. It will still bloom at its normal time since blooms form on the current new growth.
    • Two popular hydrangeas that bloom on new wood are ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Pee Gee’ hydrangeas. Both bloom creamy white and can be pruned regularly. Other Hydrangea paniculata varieties would also fall into this category.
  • Most commonly grown hydrangeas bloom on old wood (last year’s branches). Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood set their flower buds in late summer or early fall to bloom the following spring. It is important that this type be pruned before the end of July to assure abundant blooms the following spring. Do not prune ‘old wood’ types in the fall, winter or early spring because most of the flower buds will be removed and few blooms will appear.
    • The best known species in this category is Hydrangea macrophylla. This group includes the commonly grown ‘mophead’ varieties with blooms of pink, blue and occasionally white. There are also many lovely lacecaps in this category. In addition, the following are ‘old wood’ bloomers: H. quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea), H. aspera, H. serrata (such as ‘Grayswood’ and ‘Preziosa’), H. petiolaris and some other lesser known species.

 

Last-minute Recipes for your Thanksgiving Table

Blaire Benson

Thanksgiving is two short days away, and it’s time to get your menu set! If you’re still looking for a few delicious, but healthy side dishes, look no further than our friends at Kaiser Permanente.

Roasted Sweet Potato Medley

This recipe is simple to prepare and full of beautiful color, not to mention, leftovers are a great addition to salads the next day!

Servings: 4

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes

Ingredients   

1 large garnet yam (or other type of sweet potato)
1 pound assorted small potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs, such as sage, thyme and oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel sweet potato and dice into 1/2 inch chunks. Wash small potatoes and cut in half, depending on size. Mix potatoes in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Roast for 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

 

Kale with Sautéed Apples and Onion

Kale combined with Fuji apples and a sweet onion from your local farmers’ market or personal garden creates a sweet, yet hearty side dish that’s easy and full of flavor.

Ingredients

1 bunch of kale, about 1 pound
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 apples, any kind
1 large onion, sweet or not
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste

Directions

Trim the kale leaves from the stems and the main central ribs. Slice the leaves into strips. Peel the onion and slice it into 1/4 inch wedges. Do the same with the apples. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onions for a while until they begin to soften, but not brown - about 5 minutes. Add the apple wedges and curry powder. Sauté another 2 minutes. Add the sliced kale and water. Cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes or until the kale is tender. Season with salt and enjoy.

 

Garlic Green Beans

Here’s one Thanksgiving green bean recipe you don’t need to add a can of mushroom soup concentrate to!

Servings: 6

Ingredients

1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut however you’d like
1 clove garlic mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Mix the garlic, vinegar and sesame oil. Steam the green beans in your steamer over a scant inch of water until crunchy tender – 3 to 5 minutes. Toss with the dressing; season and serve hot, cold or at room temperature.

Cheers to lots of happy eating!

Controlling Fruit Tree Diseases with Dormant Sprays

Blaire Benson

Peach leaf curl is one of the worst diseases afflicting peach and nectarine trees. Symptoms include abnormally thick, puckered and curled leaves. Infected trees are weakened, and the crop may be seriously reduced. Leaf curl can only be controlled when sprays are applied during the dormant season. Spray the first application after 90 percent of leaves have fallen (around Thanksgiving). Spray once a month with Liqui-Cop or Copper Fungicide in late November, December and January. In February, spray once a week with Copper Fungicide (not Liqui-Cop). If it rains within 4-5 days of application, reapply after rain. Adding 1 percent Master Nursery Pest Fighter Year-Round Spray Oil (2.5 tablespoons per gallon) improves control.

Now is also the time to spray for shothole fungus on almond, apricot, cherry and plum trees. Use Liqui-Cop after leaf fall. To help control scab on apples, fire blight on pears and anthracnose on dogwoods, use dormant spray late winter/early spring in cool weather, just after dormancy ends. Finally, sanitation is key to preventing next year's pests and diseases, so be sure to pick up and dispose of fallen leaves, twigs and fruit!

Tablescaping Ideas for Thanksgiving (and Beyond)!

Blaire Benson

With Thanksgiving about a week away, it’s time to begin thinking about tablescaping! Decorating your table can be fun and have a great impact on the holiday atmosphere in your home, since that’s where you and your loved ones will be spending a great deal of time. Here are a few ideas that you can mix, match and make your own!

Personalized Place Settings

What guest doesn’t love to feel thought of and personally cared for? You can hand write name cards on beautiful craft paper, place an old photo of each person at their seat, or if you’re looking to spend a little more money, purchase cloth napkins and have each guest’s initials embroidered on them. (This item doubles as a party favor!)

Coastal Thanksgiving Table

If you’re spending Thanksgiving on the coast this year, there are beautiful ways to mix the aesthetics of the sea and the season. For example, opt for white pumpkins and a soft blue tablecloth with metallic accents and silverware. Or mix starfish décor with cornucopias in complimentary colors. Don’t be afraid to have fun and try something new!

Rosemary

Rosemary acts as a beautiful décor accent and smells amazing, too! Use twine to tie it to name cards or floral wire to make small wreaths. The hunter green hue will pair beautifully with almost any color palate.  Any leftovers you have can be added to your holiday cocktails for a chic garnish!

Kids’ Table Décor

The kids’ table at any holiday gathering should be full of fun, laughs and most importantly, something to keep them busy while the food is being prepared! We recommend using a large piece of craft paper as a tablecloth – this allows for doodles, tic-tac-toe, turkeys made from traced hands and simple clean up!

Floral Arrangements

No party is complete without a beautiful floral arrangement (or two)! We recommend shorter bouquets that won’t interfere with your guests’ line of sight as they eat. You can opt for traditional Thanksgiving colors or a more neutral combination – either way your guests will be sure to appreciate the beauty of fresh flowers in your home.

We hope these ideas allow for a more stress-free Thanksgiving hosting experience!

Baking Persimmons v. Eating Persimmons

Blaire Benson

Persimmons are a wonderful fruit for baking, dehydrating and eating; but knowledge on which types to plant and harvest, depending on your desired use, is important. Persimmons ripen from October to November and are very attractive trees that add beautiful color to any landscape in the fall. They are low maintenance and practically disease and pest free.

Baking Persimmons

You can allow astringent types, like Hachiya, to ripen to soft by letting them ripen on the tree or picking them when they are firm ripe and allowing them to soften at room temperature. Harvesting persimmons at the firm ripe stage will prevent losses, as birds and animals are not as likely to eat firm fruit. Astringent types are ideal for baking and dehydrating. Persimmon pudding and bread recipes call for astringent persimmons. Fruit should be ripened to jelly soft for baking. If you take a bite out of a firm astringent persimmon, prepare to pucker up!

Eating Persimmons

Harvest Japanese non-astringent types, like Fuyu, when fully colored. Cut the fruit from the spur with pruning shears, leaving the calyx (the green collar on the fruit) intact. Non-astringent persimmons are delicious when eaten firm ripe. They make a tasty accent on a salad, and compliment pork dishes nicely.