You’ll find many fine greenhouses and nurseries all around the country with a terrific selection of plants for decorating in and around the house. But Ticos know the greatest concentration of such businesses (viveros in Spanish) lies in and around the western Central Valley town of La Garita, 36 kilometers west of San José, and 13 kilometers west of Alajuela.
While “La Garita” denotes a specific town, in local (and vivero) parlance, the term also describes an amorphous area lining the nine-kilometer stretch of road from Barrio San José on the western edge of Alajuela, across theInter-American Highway
, and to the town of La Garita itself.
Why such an intensity of plant purveyors here?
“It’s the moderate climate,” says Elías Bucardo of Viveros Procesa. “Not too hot, not too cold.”
This warmer western sector of the Central Valley lacks the chill of San José and points east, but neither does it have to endure the intense heat of Costa Rica’s lowland areas. That makes for an ideal plant-growing environment, Bucardo explains.
“Convenience, too,” says Darío Solórzano of Vivero Central La Garita, describing La Garita and environs’ central location, easily accessible from San José and the growing population centers west of the capital. The western Central Valley also sits a few hours or less from the central Pacific coast and the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
Services vary among the 20 or so nurseries out here, but all will answer the basic “What do you recommend I plant in this space?” questions.More intensive, detailed consultations offered by some, but not all, viveros always cost extra.
“Ixora” is seemingly the first word that passes everybody’s lips out here when asked for recommendations. The flowering tropical evergreen remains a longtime favorite in Costa Rican gardens, Bucardo says, and an old standby because of its strength and durability.
The annual or perennial vervain (verbena in Spanish), semi-woody with small flowers in a variety of colors and especially attractive to butterflies, is another old favorite. Jasmine, with its white, fragrant flowers, terrestrial ivy (hiedra in Spanish), and the shrublike croton also bring durability and easy care to a home garden.
The popularity of such plants also stems from their reasonable cost, Bucardo says. A 10-square-meter plot can be planted for about ¢80,000 ($150), as a totally do-ityourself task without the aid of a contractor or designer. Such added services increase the cost, of course.
Also upping the cost are more elaborate plants, of which many Tico households will pick one or two to accent the home garden.
A single palm, bird-of-paradise, or ficus could add about ¢20,000 ($40) per plant to the expense. Expect to pay about ¢70,000 ($130) for a slow-growing, palm-like cyca, which, admittedly, gives a lot of stature for your colones: it can grow up to two meters.
On the topic of large plants, some of the nurseries can arrange for delivery of your purchases – that cocobolo tree just might not fit into your car – for an extra charge. Almost two-dozen viveros line the road. A select few places follow:
Despite the name,Vivero Central La Garita does not sit in the center of the town of La Garita. The larger of its two branches sits just off the highway west of JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport and clocks in as the most mammoth of the nurseries out here.
These folks provide delivery all over the country. Locations: Manolo’s intersection,Inter-American Highway
(433-7364); and 200 meters east of the entrance to the Central American Institute of Business Administration (INCAE). Hours:Monday to Saturday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone: 433-7364 and 433-9113, respectively. Also a large installation, but not to be confused with the business of a similar-sounding name above, Vivero La Garita offers a complete range of plants, as well as design and decoration counseling by specialists. Location: One kilometer west of Fiesta del Maíz. Hours: Daily, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone: 433-7364.
Viveros Procesa falls into the medium range in size, but looms large in helpfulness, friendliness and good selection of indoor and outdoor plants. La Procesa can arrange for delivery around the country. Location: At the entrance to INCAE. Hours: Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone: 433-9587.
In addition to a good supply of plants, La Llama del Bosque keeps a supply of English- and German-speaking personnel on staff. Also along the “in addition” lines, these folks offer a complete range of design and decoration services. Location: Across fromZoo Ave.
Hours: Daily, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone: 433-4015.
One-time purveyor of plants Terrarium del Oeste now focuses mainly on the accoutrements of gardening, namely soil, peat moss, organic fertilizers and pesticides, and tools. Although the regular viveros also sell such supplies, these folks are experts, and offer consultation services in addition to selling their products. Location: 700 m east ofZoo Ave.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon. Phone: 433-2364.
One final bit of advice: Apply sunscreen liberally before plant shopping out here. It will feel cool among all the greenery, and you’ll be walking under mesh coverings that filter out some, but not all, of the sun. You’re still outdoors, and this is a warmer part of the Central Valley.
La Garita doesn’t mean only shopping for plants. Along the same stretch of road that houses all the greenhouses are scattered many semi-open-air típico restaurants. Their names translate as “Party of Corn,” “Party of Chicken,” “Delicacies of Corn,” “Delicacies of My Land,” “Farmhouse of Corn”… they seem to mix and match every combination possible out here.
It’s a ritual as Tico as eating gallo pinto for breakfast. Especially on weekends, the “shop till you drop” crowd takes a break from plant purchases to chow down on casados and olla de carne. These places do an impressively brisk business on Sundays. All generally keep 9 to 9 hours daily, with the exception of La Fiesta de Maíz, arguably one of Costa Rica’s most famous restaurants, which closes
The cast of characters, from east (Alajuela) to west (La Garita): La Fiesta de Pollo (430-8073), Las Delicias de Mi Tierra (433-4233), Las Delicias de Maíz (433-7026), Restaurante Mariel (433-8240), Ranchito Miriam (433-2312), La Casona de Maíz (433-5363) and La Fiesta del Maíz (487-5757).