The City Farmers Experience

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Take a day trip to this garden nursery and explore a hidden gem in the heart of our city — and don’t expect to see everything in one visit.

It’s a magical place in San Diego, a true gem, located in the heart of the city, but somehow tucked away from the urban noise and chaos. City Farmers Nursery was founded by Bill Tall, affectionately called Farmer Bill, in 1972 when he was just 16. A family-owned nursery now run by his son Sam Tall, City Farmers specializes in hard-to-find plants and edible gardening on its 1.5 acres of land. Take a day trip and prepare to wander, relax, and dream as you explore the property and all it has to offer.

Find garden inspiration with every twist and turn

As you enter the space, you find yourself meandering along the paths, surrounded by vegetables and herbs, pollinators and native plants, as well as roses, fruit trees, a bonsai garden, cacti, and succulents all surrounding a koi pond. And I haven’t even mentioned the farm animals. There are the mini donkeys, countless chickens, ducks, and turkeys, the goats that are part of a local milk co-op, rabbits, turtles, and tortoises. Walk inside their garden center and you will find rows of seeds, garden tools, and bee-keeping and chicken-raising supplies. They have it all! Sam says, “Even if you are not able to buy a plant, just walking around the nursery should give you joy.”

Homemade garden signs line the paths, upcycled materials are used for retaining walls or garden beds, and anything that can be reused and recycled is. Throughout the property, countless fruit trees are planted, acting as a test garden. Showing visitors what is realistic in an urban setting, how fruit trees can be maintained differently, and what can flourish in our garden zones

The beauty of the nursery is feeling like you are walking around someone’s backyard, and they happen to sell plants. You literally feel the heart and soul of Farmer Bill, his family, and staff at every twist and turn. Sam says, “It's not just a business, it's also home. I grew up at the nursery and I am fortunate enough to live at the nursery with my wife and 2-year-old son. It’s a place that supports the community, keeps people's passion for plants and growing alive. So to wake up in the middle of that every day creates a strong passion that I get to share with so many people.” 

A goal of City Farmers is to give back to nature and the local community. They have created a refuge for local wildlife (and humans) among the plants for sale and routinely give back to local nonprofits and school gardens.

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For plants in and around my house, I truly love growing plants that people have given to me by people that have grown them. That way I can look at a plant and not just know the name of that plant but of the good friend that grew it for me, or that it came from their plant collection.

– Sam Tall

When I asked Sam what his favorite thing to grow was he responded with, “I love growing veggies, fruits, and herbs that you can’t find at the store.” City Farmers breaks away from the highly curated plant list that is often found at chain nurseries. By growing their own vegetables and herbs onsite, you can find unique varieties you won’t find at other nurseries, like luffa or cuban basil. Another unique characteristic is their Dig ’Em Up section of herbs and veggies. In an effort to reduce plastic use and waste you can dig up your own seedlings and take home in a paper bag or bring your own container to reuse.

Pro Tip: In the parking lot, you can buy City Farmers bulk soil. You will not find a better product or deal at $62 a yard for topsoil and $59 a yard for compost they make onsite. To give you an idea, a yard of soil fills up my Toyota Tacoma bed, twice, while preventing roughly 14 plastic soil bags (that would cost double the price) from entering our landfill.

Making gardening accessible through free education

From the day City Farmers Nursery opened, Bill, who passed in 2021, was dedicated to providing free and accessible gardening education and support to all who visited. I remember meeting Farmer Bill during my nursery adventures. Now, I see his son, Sam, and the whole team carry on the same commitment and passion for helping others, education, Earth-friendly practices, and community connection. 

I think if I had to sum up the mission of City Farmers Nursery, it would be to support the community,” says Sam. “So much of our staff has been in the nursery industry for more than 10 years. They are full of great advice and passion for the nursery.”

Every time I have visited or called with questions, I have received such thoughtful and thorough advice. Their dedication to free education is best demonstrated through the monthly classes they host in an outdoor classroom in the back of the property. They have classes on raising chickens, soil health, native plants, fruit trees, seed starting, and more. The list doesn’t seem to stop! I recently attended a three-hour fruit tree and rose pruning class with Sam meticulously taking us through the steps to pruning different types of fruit trees, berries, and citrus along with tips from Max Stromberger from Desert Bloom on rose pruning. The hands-on and visual education completely boosted my confidence to go home and prune my five fruit trees and 10 rose bushes. 

When a trip to the nursery lasts all day

There is a lot packed into the 1.5 acres on the City Farmers Nursery property, where two other businesses operate an eatery and flower shop. It's not a quick trip; it's an experience. I should also note that parking can be an experience. “We have come a long way from our old dirt parking lot with terrible access. And now we have a parking lot with good ADA access and flow,” says Sam, who calls the small size of the parking lot their kryptonite. Be prepared to park in the surrounding neighborhood and walk a block or two during their peak hours. Even better, carpool, if going with others. 

I think if I had to sum up the mission of City Farmers Nursery, it would be to support the community.

– Sam Tall

This is what I tell people about the nursery: Bring your kids or a friend. Take yourself on a date. Wander the grounds, say hi to the farm animals, obsess over a new garden hobby, and then when your stomach starts to rumble, head to neighboring Nate’s Garden Grill. A rustic and welcoming restaurant that boosts a flavorful menu of locally sourced and organic ingredients, where you can sip on a local beer or their home-brewed root beer while listening to live music. In traditional City Farmers vibe, the original Nate’s Garden Grill was a deli opened by Farmer Bill and his father, Nate.

To finish off your day-trip experience, take another short walk across the parking lot and stop in at Inecui Flower Shop. All flowers sold are locally grown in San Diego, in season, and farmed primarily by women. Diana Echeverría and Cristine Juárez of Inecui had a vision to reduce the impact the floral industry has on our environment. With the materials they use and the flowers they source, they work with the seasons to promote sustainability. You won’t be able to leave this eco-friendly shop without purchasing a beautiful, wildflower-inspired bouquet that doesn’t break the bank.


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Laura McLean
Laura McLean
Laura McLean is a native San Diegan who is the plant expert co-owner of Sweet Seedlings, and has spent over 20 years working for a nonprofit and as a marriage and family therapist. She has transformed her yard into an urban vegetable and pollinator garden, and strives to connect mental health, self-care, and a commitment to our earth with every seed she sows.
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