Ed Grossi’s Sweet Lane Nursery has cultivated a thriving horticultural niche by providing “instant gratification” for wealthy clients who don’t blink twice about spending $3,000 for a mature tree to adorn their landscape.
Indeed, Grossi’s clients include some of the wealthiest people in the San Francisco Bay Area, customers like Larry Ellison, cofounder of software giant Oracle, who has an estate in Woodside. Rich enclaves like Woodside and Atherton as well as the multi-million-dollar estates in the hills and valleys of Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties become the permanent home for the specimen trees and specialty shrubs shipped from Sweet Lane Nursery.
“That tree has been growing for 30 years and will one day become part of new landscaping around a winery or estate home and it will look like it’s been there for 30 years. That’s instant gratification for those who can afford not to wait,” said Grossi, 71, driving around his nursery in a golf cart and pointing to a very tall Ginkgo biloba tree.
Ginkgo, one of the world’s oldest living tree species, is among the nearly 1,400 different varieties of trees and shrubs, spreading over the 10-acre wholesale nursery that is part of Grossi’s 43-acre ranch off Petaluma Hill Road in south Santa Rosa.
Sweet Lane’s collection of Japanese maples – Grossi’s personal favorite of all the trees in the nursery -is the largest in the San Francisco Bay Area in both quantity and selection. Grossi loves the Japanese maples for their brilliant reddish hues and aesthetic qualities, with each tree’s twists and turns becoming a horticultural piece of art.
Over the last 21 years, Sweet Lane Nursery has become the go-to place for wineries and Wine Country estates developing landscapes that want mature or specimen trees, like 150-year-old olive trees, for a Tuscan villa or towering maples for the long driveway leading to a Tudor style mansion. The plants are sourced from 30 to 40 different production nurseries in Oregon and California. After more than two decades of dealing in specimen trees for high-end landscape architects and designers, Grossi knows where to go to get what his clients want.
“If it’s grown on this planet, we can get it,” said Grossi, who founded the nursery in 2000 with three other partners. The business was launched when Grossi and his partners sold two truckloads of plants from Oregon, offering trees and shrubs that couldn’t be sourced locally. That business model continues today.
“I believe that it’s our job to introduce new trees to California,” said Grossi, noting the amazing breeding programs in Oregon that develop new tree varieties for the landscape trade. Trees like the Pacific Sunset maple and Norwegian Sunset maple that offer incredible fall colors and hold their leaves later and longer.
Grossi attributes much of his nursery’s success to the level of service offered to the high-end customers who demand professionalism. His well-seasoned staff helps customers get what they want and then seamlessly deliver the trees and shrubs to often remote locations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Today Grossi, fit, healthy and endlessly engaged, is the sole owner of Sweet Lane and plans to keep running his wholesale nursery business for many more years, eventually hoping his children will take it over.
Ever since the gates of Sweet Lane Nursery opened, Grossi has been loaning his trees and shrubs to Sonoma County Farm Bureau to decorate the Grace Pavilion for Farm Bureau’s Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest, one of the biggest and most popular crab feeds in the North Bay.
One of the reasons for the Crab Feed’s success is that the Grace Pavilion becomes such a magical venue when Sweet Lane’s trees and plants are bedecked with sparking lights. Farm Bureau director Kathy Denner Reese, a Santa Rosa rancher who once owned a florist business, oversees the decorating that transforms the utilitarian building at the fairgrounds into something special for the Crab Fest.
In recognition – and gratitude – for his time and efforts in providing the truckloads of trees and shrubs – worth thousands and thousands of dollars – Farm Bureau is honoring Ed Grossi and Sweet Lane Nursery with the “Friend of Sonoma County Farm Bureau Award” for 2022. Farm Bureau’s board of directors said the recognition for Grossi and his contributions are well-deserved and long overdue.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Ed and his staff for the last 20 years,” said Kathy Denner Reese. “Together we select the many truckloads of trees and plants that decorate the Grace Pavilion and help to make Farm Bureau’s Crab and Wine Fest a successful event. The event would not look the same without the amazing trees, plants and generosity of Ed Grossi and his Sweet Lane Nursery.”
Grossi and other honorees will be honored at Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebration on July 13 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard, now part of Jackson Family Wines, on Slusser Road in Windsor.
For his part, Grossi, a third generation North Bay rancher, said supporting the community and agricultural organizations like Farm Bureau is what he and his family have done for generations. It’s just what ranching neighbors do.
“I help friends and Farm Bureau and its staff and members are friends. I have the ability to provide the trees and shrubs that Kathy Reese selects for decorating the building so that’s what I do to help support ag and Farm Bureau,” said Grossi, who was a director of Farm Bureau for nine years in the 70’s and 80’s and continues to be an active member and supporter.
Grossi said he’s always delighted to see how Reese uses his trees and shrubs to transform the Grace Pavilion into something so visually appealing. Grossi also supplied truckloads of trees and plants to decorate Richard and Saralee’s Barn at the fairgrounds for Richard Kunde’s memorial celebration in 2018. Friends and family said Richard Kunde, a horticulturalist and plant lover, would have loved the mass of greenery encompassing the interior of his namesake building.
Grossi said Richard Kunde’s wife Saralee McClelland Kunde was his 4-H dairy leader in Marin County and a woman he admired greatly for her can-do spirit and dedication to agriculture, a passion he shares.
Grossi, the son of the late Jim and Rose Grossi, grew up on his family’s dairy in Novato but was more interested in crops than cows. After graduating from Cal Poly, he did hay farming at the family’s Rohnert Seed Farm. Later he ventured into growing organic vegetables and pumpkins on the property that is now the home of Sweet Lane Nursery.
The property includes a 12-acre vineyard that produces pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, with plans to expand the vineyard acreage. The wine grapes are sold to Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga for sparkling wine. Grossi also makes a pinot noir under his own whimsical label.
Grossi’s roots run deep in the North Bay agricultural community, part of a large network of families like the Cordas, Dolcinis and Giacominis either related through blood or marriage. All four of his grandparents were from Switzerland, his maternal grandparents from the German portion and his father’s family from the area bordering Italy.
His paternal grandfather Dominic Grossi arrived in the North Bay on Christmas Day in 1892. He landed in Sausalito and then walked to Pt. Reyes where he began dairy ranching. He acquired a number of ranches throughout Marin County and in 1917 bought the Novato ranch that still remains in the family. Once a dairy, the ranch now raises beef cattle.
Like his family before him, Grossi is driven by hard work and a determination to succeed, always ready for the next adventure but having fun along the way.