Every turn on Route 193 outside Placerville, Calif. seemed steeper and tighter the further up the mountain I got. Around each corner, a new ravine dropped below me, while just parallel with the car, hawks let the updrafts off the foothills buffet them one way, then another. Other than the Chili Bar – which is, I might add, a river rafting place rather than an eatery – there were no signs of businesses anywhere.
Mapquest had sent me up the dramatic two-lane on my way to visit The Golden Gecko Garden Center, home of Trey, The Blogging Nurseryman, and his wife, Monica. I’ve been reading Trey since I started blogging, and have commented on his posts about how nurseries run their businesses. “If I’m ever out in Northern California,” I emailed him, “I’ll have to stop by and visit.”
Just at the point when I thought there was no way I would be able to find the center without making a phone call, there was the correct turn, and then, there it was, tucked behind a video store at the intersection of Marshall Road and Black Oak Mine Road in Garden Valley.
I know this is going to sound like I’m just sucking up to my new offline friends, but people, this garden center made me drool. From the thoughtfully-arranged groupings of plants to the pondless waterfall to the creek along the back of the property to the Guacamole Hut (Headquarters of all kid-sized activities) to the soon-to-grow flower cutting garden, the place doesn’t just invite you to shop, it invites you to relax and stay awhile.
“Does this look like your garden center back in Iowa City?” Trey asked.
“No way,” I said. “Everything there is in a big, crowded greenhouse.”
I must at least qualify this with a note that the weather in Iowa is significantly different from the weather in Northern California, particularly this time of year. It’s windows-down driving weather here, and while Trey told me how hot it gets in the summer in the El Dorado Valley, that’s hard to believe when the perfect temperatures and infinitely blue sky invite you to lie down in the grass somewhere and get lost in your own thoughts.
Still, it’s clear from every little detail of The Golden Gecko, and from how much fun Trey and Monica seemed to be having — even on what’s usually their day away from the place – that this center, which just celebrated its third anniversary, is the special spot that they’ve dreamed of creating. If I had a garden center near me with twenty percent of the ambience and personality that theirs has, I would spend an awful lot more money on plants and accoutrements.
Oh, and Trey would have me tell you that you don’t have to take 193 to get up there – there are less death-defying drives. But I will say this: it’s the most stunning commute I’ve ever seen.