- Contra Costa Sun - April 14, 2006
- Contra Costa Times - March 25, 2006
- The Oakland Tribune - Saturday, March 18, 2006
- Diablo Magazine- July, 2005
- Pacific Coast Nurseryman – May 2005
- Landscape Contractor National- January 2004
- Contra Costa Times, Friday, July 11, 1997
- Contra Costa Times , Friday, December 3, 1993
- Other notable mentions


Catch a Rising Star:

Congratulations to Lafayette's Gary Gragg, winner of the "Best in Show" award at last week's San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. Out of 27 show gardens displayed, Gragg won for his whimsical "Livin' Cheap in Baja" garden featuring all the flora and fauna one might find south of the border, as well as a camper, a wetsuit, Gary himself in a serape and - did we see a bottle of tequila? Gragg's Point Richmond business, Golden Gate Palms & Exotics, specializes in subtropical plants suited to Northern California landscapes.

-- Contra Costa Sun - April 14, 2006



By Elizabeth Jardina


PICK YOUR garden paradise, and you'll likely find it this weekend at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.


Do you long far a rocky waterfall lushly planted with clivias and palms? A coolly futuristic garden studded with triangular headed orchids and asparagus ferns? An Indiana Jones-style rainforest, complete with a wrecked jeep? The dusty, high·desert paradise of Baja?


A formal courtyard, edged with water and soft conifers that begs to be enjoyed with a glass of wine and a tete-a-tete in the moonlight?


The flower show is a candy store for hortithusiasts. Where else can you find such a large concentration of people delighted to coo over orchids, debate the merits of digging tools and exclaim about the joys of antique seed packets?


In addition to the 27 demonstration gardens and a lecture series, the show has 360 exhibitors selling nifty doodads, garden gadgets and 60,000 plants, including a wowza selection of orchids and bonsai.


You can hardly miss the garden that won this year’s best in show cup. It’s the one with the broken down VW van in the middle, framed by towering palms. And you’ll probably find its creators – Gary Gragg, proprietor of Golden Gate Palms in Point Richmond, and University of California, Davis student Sarah Hayward – hanging around dressed in serapes and flip flops.


The garden, Gragg says, is a “floristic inventory” of the native plants right here in the Bay Area all the way south to Baja. “Baja’s your backyard and you need to appreciate it,” Gragg says. “ Baja’s part of our California.” He says he’s “stoked” to get the best in show award, especially after “five days of no sleep and constant, intensive labor.”


“It’s like getting voted MVP for the year.”


He and Hayward came up with the premise for the garden at last year’s show: Joe drives his Volkswagon van down to to Baja in 1972; it breaks down and he ends up living in a cove on the ocean, dotted with palms, succulents, cacti, and familiar Bay Area natives like California poppies and blue-eyed grass.


“I thought we were joking,” Hayward says.


Gragg did not. “What I wanted was for people to walk up to the garden and be blown away, and then notice the many subtle jokes.”


Like the roadside memorial to a departed pooch, Fido along the “curva peligrosa”. Or the bikini hanging in one of the palms from the “wild party” the night before. “People are too serious about gardening,” Gragg says. “They make it seem mysterious and foreign. The garden is not just for beauty, it can also be a place to have some fun.”

-- The Oakland Tribune - Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gary Gragg, who owns Point Richmond based Golden Gate Palms and Exotics, won the Golden Gate Cup, Best of Show, and a Gold Medal award at the garden show.

A 1987 graduate of Acalanes High School, Gragg has operated the nursery since 2003.

In addition to working on the Citicorp Center Atrium in San Francisco and San Jose's Santana Row, Gragg is the Oakland Zoo's prime horticultural consultant, designing subtropical-themed habitat gardens.

Gragg beat out 25 other gardens created to win the gold medal and the Golden Gate Cup Best of Show Award.

-- Contra Costa Times - March 25, 2006






IMAGINE THAT YOU'RE AT A REALLY GREAT PARTY. The guest list includes the most interesting people for miles around, and you're having the time of your life chatting them up and picking their brains on everything: the best new restaurant, what their kids love to do, and where they found that perfect little black cocktail dress. Before you know it, you've met someone who posed for Playboy, someone else who went on Oprah, and a very nice fellow who can fix your BMW.


What's that? You don't have an outfit? It's too hard to get a sitter these days? Not to worry.


We've set up this issue as a virtual party full of the East Bay's hottest movers, shakers, and gossip makers. Plus, there are tons of great tips for enjoying the best of everything our area has to offer. So mix yourself a cosmo, settle into your favorite chair, and turn the page. It's time to get this party started!



Turn Your Yard into an Oasis


When GARY GRAGG'S father cut down the New Zealand grass tree that graced the front yard of their Concord home, the youngster had a fit. When little Gary came home from the neighborhood park, he was usually carrying a palm frond. Clearly, Gragg had a special attachment to tropical plants from an early age.


As an adult, Gragg has parlayed that affinity into a booming business.


His GOLDEN GATE PALMS AND EXOTICS is the Bay Area's biggest and most diverse tropical plant business, offering more than 100 different species of palms alone. "I've been so obsessed about this for so long that I'm ahead of the curve," Gragg says.


During his 18 years in the field, Gragg has transplanted the tallest Canary Palm ever to be moved (70 feet), and helped design and install many sections of the Oakland Zoo. But what really excites him is influencing our local landscape. "20 to 30 years from now, there will be a huge diversity of rare palms in the East Bay," says Gragg. "That's cool!"

-- Diablo Magazine- July, 2005



Usually when PCN puts one of the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show photographs on the cover, as we have for the past several May issues, we use a fairly wide shot of one of the display gardens that highlight the annual event. This year, however, we couldn’t resist the artistic look and color contrast from deep inside a display garden designed and created by Gary Gragg, Golden Gate Palms and Exotics, Point Richmond. Beautiful Aeonium arboreum v. atropurpureum ‘Sarah’s Saucers’, a diminutive form of the cultivar ‘Schwarzkof’ with its magnificent dark burgundy leaves, is a beautiful contrast to the surrounding rocks. The “Desert to Jungle” display garden won a Gold Medal as well as the American Horticultural Society Environmental Award for “Best demonstration of skillful design that incorporates environmental stewardship in the garden”.


-- Pacific Coast Nurseryman – May 2005


Landscape Contractor National- January 2004

PALM TREES: a Popular Residential Accessory

By Gregory V. Harris, regional editor, Gary Gragg, main Contributor

Some Excerpts from Golden Gate Palms Website, “Palmcare” page

Factors such as size of the mature tree; temperature where the tree will be located; available sunlight; and water source all need to be taken into consideration before purchasing palms.


Nick Popovich, lead designer and operations manager at Palm Trees of South Carolina, said the growth of the palm tree industry has been rapid, primarily because property owners want something unique for their landscapes.


"The biggest challenge is tempering people's enthusiasm and pointing them to more hardy species like Canary Island Date Palms that can handle nine of 10 winters here," Popovich said of his customers in the Carolinas.


An enthusiastic yet uninformed customer visiting a nursery may select a juvenile species of palm, thinking its diminutive size ideal. At maturity, however, the palm could grow to 50-60 feet, probably too large for most properties. Oversized trees can of course interfere with overhead lines and underground conduits, and possibly threaten buildings if the tree was planted too close to the structure.


"Homeowners should consider the aesthetics of how palms will improve the architecture," Popovich said.

In the Carolinas, popular palm tree species include the Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) and the Sabal Palmetto, the state tree of South Carolina. Colder climates can sustain palm tree species such as the Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllwn hystr;x). According to Gary Gragg, owner of Golden Gate Palms and Exotics, the Needle Palm can handle temperatures of -10 degrees.


"These types of palms have insulated tnunks, which makes them hardy to the colder weather," he explained. "There are many species of hardy palms, but overall, as temperatures rise, the palm tree species count rises."


Gragg's home turf is the San Francisco Bay Area, and in this part of the country, the most popular palm tree is the queen palm (Arecastrum romanzoffianum).


'This is just a great tree, and in Northern California, it is very prevalent," he said.


Gragg describes the Queen Palm as a pinnate beauty with plumose, gracefully arching, and spineless fronds of dark green color. The trunk is 12 to 24 inches thick and ringed. This tree has ivory colored flowers, and orange, sweetly edible fruit that is made into jelly in its indigenous region of South America. This palm tree is a fast grower, two to three feet per year, and reaches 50-60 feet.


"There were just a few of these trees in the Bay Area 15 years ago or so, but once stores large chain stores began selling them, they became very popular to the masses," he said.


Gragg said palm trees are a great addition to the landscape because of their root structure.


"Most trees have roots that can go from being hair roots to becoming three feet thick, which can lead to foundation and sidewalk damage, depending on which way they grow," he said. "Palm roots are at their maximum thickness right away, and they sponge next to materials, rather than displace them."


Gragg observed that with residential hardscapes getting larger and gardens smaller, palm trees are replacing larger species of trees as features of the landscape.


The Queen Palm has no thorns, but that's not indicative of all palm trees. Some species, such as the Canary Island Date Palm, have sharp thorns, nature's design to keep animals away from the palm's base. The thorns release an irritant that makes the wound ache for several days. Despite the dangerous thorns, Gragg said the Canary Island Date Palm is a must have for custom residential landscapes.


"This is the most beautiful, awesome tree around, and we recommend the homeowners looking to build a palm tree garden include two or three of these trees," he suggested.


Though the Queen Palm and Canary Island Date Palm can grow to 60 to 80 feet respectively, other popular species of palm trees mature to a somewhat smaller size.


"The Pygmy Palm is a great little palm that grows to about 10-12 feet," Gragg specified. "The Mediterranean Fan Palm is also a good smaller palm."


Gragg said a typical palm garden in Northern Califomia may contain two or three Canary Island Palms, several Queen Palms, Pygmy Palms and the Mediterranean Fan Palms. To add color contrast, Gragg recommends the installation of a blue foliaged palm like the Mexican Blue Hesper Palm (Brahea armata), or a blue form of Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chaemerops humilis 'cerifera').


"Palm gardens can be mundane if only one species of palm is used," he offered. "Ideally, you want to use between three and eight different species for a good-looking garden. More than that, and the garden may look chaotic."


Some species, such as the Canary Island Date Palm, have sharp thorns, nature's design to keep animals away from the palm's base.


Gragg offers the following tips to ensure the health of palm trees and viability of the palm garden (from Golden Gate Palms Website):




When planting a containerized palm, dig a hole as deep and slightly larger in width than the pot size being planted. Mix equal amounts of a high quality compost with the native soil for backfill. Several handfuls of slow release Palm Pro fertilizer can be mixed into this backfill to promote lush growth and dark green color. Palms that have been freshly cut from the field (bareroot) need to be treated differently. Since these palms have fresh cut roots, they need to be completely encased by four to six inches of salt free sand to prevent the roots from rotting. The sand and the hole must be free draining. Built up water in the planting hole can become foul and cause rotting of the rootzone, and if left unchecked, eventually death of the plant. The root zones of these field dug or "bareroot" palms must remain constantly moist, hut not saturated to promote future root and top growth.




Although drought tolerant when established, most palms love water. Most palms derive from moist environments, such as rainforests, along streams, rivers, or near subterranean water sources such as an underground stream. And therefore, to look their best, keep palms constantly moist- before, during, and after planting. Deep watering is suggested, by pulsing spray heads at set intervals to allow seepage to the bottom most roots or running a slow application rate drip system to achieve the same effect. Sago Palms (and most cycads for that matter prefer to go dry between waterings, since a constantly damp situation can cause rot).




Palms appreciate moderate to heavy amounts of fertilization to keep their best color and to promote rapid growth. Spring, Summer and Fall are the growing seasons for most palms in the San Francisco Bay Area, and this is when fertilizer will be most useful to the palm. Slow release fertilizers are best. Amounts to apply would be a cup full every three to four months for a 15 gallon plant, two cups for a 24-inch box, three cups for 36-inch box, and four cups for large 48-inch boxed or field grown palms. Also a quick acting foliar feed can be applied in the early spring to jump start the palms after the cool winter hiatus.


Trimming Techniques/Options


For the most part, palms should be trimmed at least yearly if not more often (resorts trim monthly to keep a perfect look to the trees). Most palms look best if trimmed to the horizontal point, or 90 degree point. Palms should never be trimmed back past the 45 degree point. Always trim the palms back to the point of termination on the trunk below thc last spines (if any). Clustering palms, such as Phoenix reclinata or Chaemerops humilis, can be trimmcd to a solitary structure, cutting off all the suckers at the base, or, more artistically, a clumping structure whereby one selects the best five or seven trunks, while cutting off all the remaining suckers.

When it comes to installing and trimming palms, Gragg noted that it's best left to professionals.



Contra Costa Times, Friday, July 11, 1997

Landscape contest winners show a little H2O goes a long, long way

(selected excerpts)





PLANTING A drought-tolerant garden doesn't have to mean all cactus and rocks. In fact, you won't find a single tumbleweed in the gardens of this year's winners of the Water-Wise Landscape Contest.


The contest, sponsored by the Contra Costa Water District and the Contra Costa Times, judged 25 gardens based on their use of drought-tolerant plants, hydro zones, effective irrigation systems and aesthetic balance and creativity. The winning gardens all highlighted the many beautiful and water-conserving plants that are native to the Bay Area. Winners received gift certificates to local nurseries and bronze sunflower sculptures.


Second-place winner Gary Gragg is a huge fan of automatic irrigation systems. His garden has 12 different watering zones for several distinct areas. A professional landscaper Gragg owns Exotic Flora - he loves the lOOK of unusual plants.

His front yard is inspired by Mediterranean gardens and includes plants such as lantana, princess flower, tibouchina, dwarf agapanthus and dwarf escallonia. "I like to call the front yard the 'contemporary exotic garden,' because it has lots of jasmine, queen palms, Mediterranean fan palms - all low-maintenance and drought-tolerant plants.


"The idea is to make it look as lush as possible while using as little water as I can get away with," Gragg says. He also uses evergreen plants that look good year-round, such as hibiscus and starflower.


Most of the flowers are pinks, purples and blues, but he has a focal point of orange, red and yellow cannas arranged in a mass planting. The front garden also has an 800 square-foot lawn of dwarf fescue, a drought-tolerant grass.


On the shady side of the house, protected from the sun and wind, is a rain-forest garden filled with tree ferns, tropical palms, ginger and bromeliads. "I've actually found that the rain forest uses less water than the lawn, because rain-forest plants have adapted in their natural habitats to going through prolonged dry periods, whereas a lawn needs constant watering," he says.


Farthest from the house is a dry desert area covering a barren hillside that gets a lot of exposure to the sun and wind. The garden has cacti, succulents and plants native to the deserts of South Africa, Mexico and the US Southwest.


"You definitely want to keep the lushest areas closest to your house, because that's what you see and use the most. You need to get the most impact from the water you're using," Gragg says.


By creating so many different watering zones (and installing seven different irrigation system methods), Gragg is able to give his plants exactly the amount of water they need to flourish.


He always groups plants that have similar water requirements close together. Among his methods of watering are a system that shoots water out 30 feet to cover the hilly desert area, pop-up spray heads for watering the lawn, a system that waters the rain forest from 9 feet above the ground to simulate actual rain, and the traditional spotdrip system for container plants. And he recommends a new rain sensor, available from local contractors or irrigation suppliers, that stops your automated irrigation system when it's raining.


''An automated system is really important, because if you miss your watering once during a hot week, your plants can die or go into shock and then they don't grow for a year" he says. "You end up saving a lot of money with a well-designed watering system. It also saves you time and you can be more exact in watering different plants."



Contra Costa Times , Friday, December 3, 1993
Mini rain forest in Lafayette

Exotic array of plants is flourishing by design

By Doris B Gill


Leslie Collier's front yard is a traffic-stopper, thanks to son Gary Gragg's Landscaping

LAFAYETIE - Until last year, Leslie Collier was not satisfied with her front yard. Yes, there were a few nice trees, but thick clumps of 30-year-old junipers had taken over and the lawn looked tired. Collier wanted something unique, something different.

Gary Gragg, her 23-year-old son who is a landscape designer, agreed to do the front yard at cost - if he were allowed a free hand. Collier agreed, and he began last May, creating an unusual setting which includes a miniature rain forest with 16 species of palms and many other exotic plants. He put in a curving dry creek bed which combines function (it's a drainage system) and beauty.

Gragg designed the garden in sections to be enjoyed in all temperatures. The "winter" area is protected by a warm, sun-reflective wall. When temperatures dip to 60 degrees, this area can be 15 degrees warmer. The north side of the yard is cool when temperatures soar to three digits. Except for the rain forest, all plants including the lawn are drought-tolerant. The rain forest has a special irrigation system and is misted three times daily. The plants are also deer-resistent, Collier said.

The hillside garden with its giant palms swaying is easily spotted from the road.

In November, the hardy banana tree sported a flower with a huge seed-filled pod. Behind the blossom was the stubby beginning of a bunch of bananas. Gragg planted the 6-foot Musa basjoo banana - native to islands south of Japan - last year. Now, it's more than 20 feet tall.

"It could grow 15 feet per year," Gragg said.

The Ethiopian red banana trees (Musa mourellii) are red- and green-stalked, and prolific. Sixteen months ago, Gragg planted 1-gallon plants that now are 15 feet high.

Under the protective cover of trees, black mondo, dwarf mondo and giant liriope, grasses flourish. Their delicate spears and spring blooms add to the exotic ambience of the garden.

Branches of an existing shiny-leafed Xylosmo form a protective tunnel through the garden, thanks to Gragg's creative trim job. On a branch clings gray-green Spanish moss.

From Mexican rain forests are cold-hardy bamboo and low, shrubby palms with berrylike seeds that turn red in winter. A Brazilian spider plant does well outdoors and is growing from a 2-foot-high carved Mayan container.

Deep-green South American bromeliads usually grow indoors, but the tough fronds do well here, as does a giant-blooming calla lily.

Common ginger plants are spaced throughout the garden. The yellow variety is sweetly fragrant and is offset by bright red stamens. The shell ginger has variegated leaves and the flowers are white, yellow and orange.


A red brick planter abuts the front of the house and is filled with more exotic flora. A dark, green-leaved red ginger is heavy with blooms. The red stalks bend as the mother blossoms fade, arching to the ground where baby offshoots root to form new clumps just as they would in their native forests.


An Australian tree fern splays its fronds in the shade. It's delicate look is deceiving, as it can stand temperatures to 25 degrees. The New Zealand tree fern grows more slowly and tolerates freezes to 20 degrees.


"Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" is a Brazilian evergreen shrub. One day it is white, the next day pink and finally bright purple, Collier said.


The Livistona palm, or Chinese fountain palm, resembles a water fountain with its glossy finish.

A gently curving path is constructed of decomposed granite and bordered with recycled material: trimmed tree branches on one side and, on the other, rocks uncovered when the entrenched junipers were bulldozed.

Drifting over the mounds of earth is a carpet of fast-growing Aptenia. The succulent has tiny red, fuchsia and yellow flowers.


Other notable mentions:

-- SFGate.com - March 16, 2006

-- San Jose Mercury News

-- HGTV Landscape Smart  Woodlands Retreat

Palm Society