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One is Peacock Horticultural Nursery at 4269 Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol. Owner Robert Peacock was a landscaper and plant collector before opening a retail nursery three years ago. He is still collecting specialty plants, but now they?re offered for sale Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.?4 p.m., or by appointment, 291-0547.

This nursery is packed with unusual and hard to find plants that make serious gardeners swoon. Many of its shrubs and perennials are obscure while others are new and different cultivars of recognized species normally available only by mail order. But here they are, halfway between Cotati and Sebastopol.

Besides an increasing number of Australian species, and some from South America ? red-flowering Colletia and vining Chilean bellflower (Lapageria), for example ? Peacock focuses on his favorites: aroids (such as philodendron), variegated plants, spiky forms, and shade plants.

Customers are greeted with brilliant color upon entering the parking area. Magnificent cordylines in pinks and reds trumpet their presence in the sun-loving section where several other species are featured for their architectural shapes, some with an added advantage of drought tolerance: Puyas, desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri and D. acrotiche), and Australian grass tree (Xanthorrhoea).

With so many intriguing species at every turn, it?s slow-going through the labyrinthine recesses of his display area. He loves shade plants of all types, from the rare Savitzii abutilon with delicate creamy white foliage carrying splashes of green to an exquisite, slow-growing maple (Acer), Eskimo Sunset ? bearing pink, orange and cream leaves and green speckles spring to fall ? and on to Ruby Blow witch hazel (Hamamelis), flaunting multihued fall foliage and tufts of coppery red, spidery blossoms that pop out in late winter.

This is a nursery to visit again and again.

MORE THAN HARDWARE

It was the ?All Plants Locally Grown? sign above the door that caught my eye from the parking lot at Ace Hardware, 2552 Guerneville Road at Fulton Road in west Santa Rosa. But the plants themselves are what truly command attention.

On an early October visit there, the usual colorful, cool-weather selections were in stock, but nursery manager Stephanie O?Neill has also brought in a wealth of more interesting species from wholesalers in the area, foregoing shipped-in truckfuls from Southern California.

?I get so irritated at big-box stores,? O?Neill says, ?when they bring in things like bougainvillea that won?t survive the winter. When people buy them, 95 percent fail. If we rely on plants that are grown in this area, we know that they?ll do well. I want my customers to be successful with their plants, and besides, it?s good for the local economy.?

So for the entire stock, she relies on Bloom?s in Glen Ellen; Emerisa Gardens, Gaddis Nursery, and John Wildman?s herbs in Santa Rosa; Red Tail Farms in Potter Valley; and Blue Sky Nursery in Redwood Valley.

O?Neill manages to keep prices extraordinarily low, which facilitates a fast turnover. You?ll find a range of winter vegetables now and robust herbs such as oreganos, Berggarten sage (Salvia) and French tarragon (Dracunculus) that can double as ornamentals.

Among the flowering perennials are a surprising number of heuchera cultivars and an unexpected purple-tinted Ligularia Britt-Marie Cranford. Other standouts are the lime-green Diamond Heights Ceanothus and multihued Kolkwitzia, South African restios, and numerous abutilons.

BUYING OPPORTUNITY

Here?s another chance to support the local economy as you indulge in buying more plants for the garden. The Graton Community Club is hosting its annual autumn flower show and plant sale Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24 and 25, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Proceeds contribute to scholarships for local students.

This charming event is something of a throwback to small-town festivals in the local community center that many of us knew at another time, another place.

Wearing a dressy hat saves you a dollar off lunch, and bicycling there gets you a free raffle ticket.

BROWSE ON SUNDAY

Interested in joining an art or garden club but don?t know where or how? Drop in the Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center, 2050 Yulupa Ave. in Santa Rosa on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 26, between 1 and 5 p.m. as the center celebrates its 50th year as a community clubhouse and its spiffy new exterior face-lift.

Member clubs ? Men?s Garden Club, Redwood Empire Rose Society, Santa Rosa Garden Club, Santa Rosa Iris Society, Santa Rosa Flower Arrangers Guild, Redwood Stitchers, Santa Rosa Photographic Society, Watercolor Artists of Sonoma County and Sonoma County Pagan Network ? will all be on hand featuring their special events and activities.

Other clubs that also use the facility ? Sonoma County Master Gardeners, the California Native Plant Society, the Quilters Guild, the Poyntlyss Sisters, and Sonoma County Radio Amateurs ? will be present as well.

The Center is available for special events by calling 577-7334.

Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author, writes the weekly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Write to her at P.O. Box 910, Santa Rosa, 95402; or send fax to 521-5343.

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