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10 reasons for a gardener to stop in Fresno ... six nurseries, a cooper, two potters, and a tile maker.

To drivers zipping along State Highway 99, Fresno may not look like a gardener's paradise. But if you take the time to get off the highway, you'll find several stops worth the detour.

An ideal growing climate makes Fresno one of the richest agricultural regions in the country, one that also fosters a tremendous variety of garden plants. You'll see the influence of Fresno's Japanese-American community in koi ponds, bonsai, and oriental landscapes. The work of resident artists and craftspeople adds to the diverse shopping opporltunities.

Mapped and described here are 10 outlets specializing in unusual plants, containers, and garden art. Many are home-based businesses whose customers find them by word of mouth.

Because it would be difficult to tour all the shops in one days, we divide them into three groups. Allotting at least an hour for each stop gives you time to linger over hard-to-choose selections and chat with proprietors. Allow 10 to 20 minutes' driving time between locations.

Where no hours are given, you should call ahead: all telephone numbers are area code 209. East of State Highway 99

1. Garden Path Nursery showroom, 1613 Fulton Street; 266-4367. The showroom is in landscape architect Robert Boro's office (take the Belmont Avenue exit from State 99 to Fulton Street); open regularly on weekdays (call ahead) and on weekends by appointment.

Here you'll find handmade pots by Stan Bitters, a well-known Fresno sculptor, and occasionally the work of ceramic designer Pat Hopper. Prices for these collectibles range from $30 to $390 or more.

2. Nee-hai Bonsai Nursery, 4522 E. Belmont Avenue; 252-9036. Open 9 to 4 Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Packed in this small city lot are hundreds of miniature trees, including saikei (miniature forests). The tiny office houses a surprisingly varied selection of bonsai containers. Do-it-yourselfers can also get starter plants and quality tools here.

3. Duncan's Water Gardens, 691 N. Temperance Avenue; 255-7233. Open 9:30 to 5 Tuesdays through Sundays.

Duncan's has hundreds of Japanese koi, some water plants, and everything you need to assemble a garden pond. Preformed fiberglass ponds are a specialty; there's also a small retail nursery.

You're welcome to stroll through the owners' own garden--a 3 1/2-acre landscape of koi ponds and waterfalls; it's ablaze this month with Japanese cherry blossoms, dogwood, magnolias, crabapples, and thousands of azaleas.

4. Henderson's Experimental Gardens, 1215 N. McCall Avenue in Sanger; 251-8393. Open 8 to 4:30 Mondays through Saturdays, 10 to 4 Sundays.

In addition to standard offerings, the nursery sells a remarkable choice of hard-to-find garden varieties--among them camellias and dwarf conifers, hardy azaleas, dogwoods, 27 magnolia varieties, 30 kinds of Japanese maple, 15 bamboos, and numerous unusual perennials.

5. Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery, 574 S. Indianola Avenue in Sanger; 875-6002. This is, without a double, the most specialized nursery in the area.

Here you'll find sago psalms and pines in bonsai planters or handsome big pots for sale, but for Japanese garden enthusiasts the chief attraction is the choice of specimen 28-year-old kuro-matsu (Japanese black pines)--hand-shaped by Mrs Yamaguchi. Through April, the trees can be dug from the fields; after that until November, orders only are taken. West of Highway 99

6. Nichols Cactus Nursery, 570 S. Hughes Avenue; 264-3813. April is the prime time to catch the cactus- and succulent-filled greenhouses in full bloom. Choices, ranging from Acanthocalycium to Thelocactus and Agave to Vanheerdia, include 30 kinds of lithops and many unusual crested cactus.

7. Henrietta's Nursery, 1345 N. Brawley Avenue; 275-2166. Hours are 10 to 4 Mondays through Saturdays.

Another good source of cactus and succulents, Henrietta's is primarily wholesale and mail order (catalog is $1), but retail shoppers are welcome. Collectors in search of rare varieties and kinds too big (up to 15 feet) to ship make it a regular stop. Note the remarkable orchid cactus 700 kinds--flowering this month and next.

8. California Redwood Specialties, 3665 N. Polk Avenue; 275-0996. Hours are 8 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays.

This firm manufactures and distributes redwood tubs and planter boxes sold in california nurseries. here you can get seconds at 40 percent off, as well as the plants to fill them, garden lamps and ornaments, and bulk quantities of redwood sawdust. Two stops to the north

9. Earth Arts Studio, 1946 E. Swift Avenue; 222-2420. The studio is open 9 to 5:30 Mondays through Saturdays.

Fresno gardeners come to this studio, tucked in a residential block off Ashlan Avenue and N. Effie, to buy charming bird and animal sculptures and planters directly from artist Margaret Hudson. Prices range from $5 to $150. You'll also see her larger, one-of-a-kind sculptures.

10. Hans Sumpf Company; 40101 Avenue 10; 439-3214. Hours are 8 to 5 weekdays, 9 to noon Saturdays (March through June).

This one local source, on the northern outskirts of town, produces the thousands of adobe tiles that pave Fresno patios. In addition to tiels and adobe bricks, it sells giant patio pots, a specially designed hose pot (to stash garden hoses), and clay birdhouses.
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Date:Apr 1, 1984
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