by Janelle Krug
photography by Veronica Garcia
Southern California, for a vast majority of the year, is characterized by a rain-starved, dank, desert-like landscape. The hillsides that roll across the region have shed their short-lived winter green and surrendered to becoming lifeless humps of sun-scorched brown. But La Verne holds one refuge to this resounding lack of life. Just off San Dimas Canyon Road lays a sea of green.
Started in 1973 by Dieter Lodder, the La Verne Nursery has grown to more than 20 acres in San Dimas and La Verne, and will soon move to its other location, a 43-acre plot in Ventura County, Calif., near Magic Mountain, within the next two or three years.
But in the 30 years that the La Verne Nursery has occupied that dot of green in the La Verne landscape, it has put the area at the heart of the avocado map. Wholesale to the trade, meaning that they do not sell to the general public, the La Verne Nursery distributes fruit trees to farmers, landscapers and retailers.
Lodder started La Verne Nursery when he grafted ornamental pears on his kitchen table in the early 1970s. His business grew, and in 1973, he purchased a chunk of land in San Dimas. Expanding his horizons, he grew apples, pears and avocados. He then added citrus fruits and eventually subtropical fruits. In the late 1990s, La Verne Nursery expanded to a second location in Piru, Calif. in Ventura County.
But mere Ventura County and San Dimas properties cannot bind the La Verne Nursery. It also leases “power line” properties all over San Dimas and La Verne. Power line properties generally go unused, creating brown, barren wastelands, so the La Verne Nursery fills that space with its trees and keeps the city looking green and alive.
The 11 varieties of avocado trees—Bacon, Little Cado, Fuerte, Hass, Mexicola, Pinkerton, Reed and Zutano, among others—comprise 20-30 percent of La Verne Nursery’s total sales. However, the most popular variety is Hass; most people know Hass as the variety that frequents most grocery stores and backyards. The Hass variety was grafted off a mother tree in Southern California, which died last year.
“Everything that we produce is grafted,” Lodder says. Grafting, in the simplest terms, refers to taking a growing fruit tree, cutting off a limb and replacing it with another limb from an already blossoming “mother tree.” As a result, the fruit produced will be the same variety as the mother tree.
“We are farmers. We don’t have cows and sheep, but we are farmers,” says Lodder as he explains the hard work that goes into working at the nursery.
For those do-it-yourselfers, the best variety of avocado to plant in your yard is Holiday avocados, according to Chris Shreenan, sales manager of the La Verne Nursery. The Holiday avocado, named such because it ripens just in time for Christmas, is an offspring of the Hass variety. Although the Holiday avocado produces a smaller tree at just less than 18 feet, it typically bears larger fruit.
Hass Avocados grow well in areas where the temperature does not dip below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. To grow, avocados need warm temperatures. The ideal spot sits on the hill of a valley; the cold air will fall into the valley, and the warm air will rise along the hillside. Also, planting the tree on a hillside allows for proper drainage. Putting Christmas lights on the tree may assist in keeping it warm through the winter, helping it stay alive and thriving.
In addition, the trees also need to be in an area that gets plenty of sunlight. However, bear in mind: Young avocado trees are very sensitive to sunburn. Paint the trunk of the tree with a whitewash or water-based paint to this, according to the nursery.
Avocados have some great health benefits. They have 60 percent more potassium than bananas, only five grams of fat, and are sodium and cholesterol free.
However, despite all the benefits of growing and eating avocados, La Verne will soon lose its direct connection to the avocado world. The La Verne Nursery has been a part of the city for more than 30 years, but it will soon move to a larger location in Ventura County, where Lodder will hand over the business to his daughter and son-in-law.
“It’s been a lifetime ambition,” says Lodder as he reminisces about the uninterrupted, soothing green that characterizes his nursery.
“It was interesting and a lot of fun. I enjoy what I do.”