December 7, 2021 by LAM Staff
On a sunny September morning, a black box truck rolled into a suburban California neighborhood playing a catchy jingle of insect sounds. The truck stopped and, within minutes, transformed into a verdant plant nursery: The rear door rolled up and its sides folded out, revealing a pop-up shop bursting with native ferns and forbs, saplings and starts. With the addition of decomposed granite, yellow loungers, and recycled crates, a curbside neighborhood hub emerged. Over the course of the day, the quiet residential street came alive with dog walkers, bicyclists, and neighbors interested in buying plants and learning about native vegetation.
The idea for the nursery came about in 2019 as a low-cost and flexible alternative to traditional retail spaces. Miridae, a landscape architecture and construction firm based in Sacramento, California, purchased a graffiti-covered produce truck and slowly started converting it into a plant shop on wheels. Then came COVID-19. “We saw this immense and urgent need for community and super-localized shopping, so we fast-tracked the project,” says Billy Krimmel, Miridae’s founder. In six weeks, the team transformed the truck into a fold-out nursery equipped with misters, irrigation, solar panels, and rows of shelves for showcasing an inventory of native plants sourced from local wholesale growers.
Krimmel says that since launching in the spring of 2020, the Miridae Mobile Nursery has held some 70 events in the region, selling more than 2,600 plants (their best seller list includes Salvia apiana, Bouteloua gracilis, and Elymus condensatus). Miridae employs professional ecologists and landscape architecture students at the University of California, Davis, to staff the truck and provide customers with localized gardening advice. “Our goal is to promote habitat restoration at the neighborhood scale by bringing people together through plants and gardening,” says Kate Hayes, ASLA, Miridae’s design principal. “The mobile nursery provides communities with opportunities to introduce native systems into urban areas where there typically isn’t a lot of biodiversity.”
According to Krimmel, the mobile nursery is all about accessibility to build support for native habitat in neighborhoods and to create community through that. Profits from the nursery help fund the work of Miridae Living Labs, the firm’s nonprofit arm focused on native plant and arthropod research. “Ultimately, we aim to design experiments into all of our projects,” Hayes says, “and to take the data from these experiments and bring it back into our design and build work so that we are continuously learning and adjusting our design process with the findings.”
Emily Schlickman is an assistant professor of landscape architecture and sustainable environmental design at the University of California, Davis.