the sliding wood door of the nursery
is like entering into another world, somewhat prehistoric,
somewhat fantasy, and very peaceful.
art pieces (wood, stone, bamboo)
are strewn among the orchids,
bromeliads, and ancient-looking plants.
THE EARLY YEARS
In 1949, Herb
Hager (who previously worked as orchid manager at the Rod McLellan
Orchid Nursery in South San Francisco) started a business
of raising orchids on this site. Designed and constructed by
Hager, the location was transformed from an artichoke field into
state-of-the-art greenhouses of the era. Under the name Vallemar
Orchids, the greenhouses withstood the test of time and weather.
On a crest in Pacifica
with a sweeping view of the Pacific coastline, the nursery remains
essentially unchanged over 50 years later.
Hager relocated to Salinas, California, to continue his work.
His expertise in orchid growing became world famous. His stock
origins or "mother stock" are used for hybridizing
new lines of orchids, even today and his work is prized throughout
the orchid industry. Hager's legacy to the Pacifica orchid greenhouses
continues today through plants with names such as: Phalaenopsis
Fairway Park and Phalaenopsis Vallemar.
orchids named for local area landmarks are 'Pedro Point,' 'Pacific
Ocean,' and 'Pacifica.'
In 1976, Nancy
Davis, Michael Rothenberg and Bruce Rothenberg leased the property.
It was renamed Shelldance Nursery because of the beautiful shells
of the area, which were reminiscent of the exotic headpieces
worn by Carmen Miranda when she danced. At the time, the revived
nursery specialized in bromeliads.
trio was privileged to meet Herb Hager's widow, Gladys, and learned
the history of the original nursery. They were also able to acquire
some of Hager's orchid specimens. Charmed by orchids, they sold
most of their bromeliad stock, about 20,000 plants, to the government
of Singapore to be placed in their National Botanical Gardens.
Davis and Rothenberg traveled with the plants to Singapore, helped
identify and catalog them, and gave lessons in the care of bromeliads
to local gardeners.
The next turn
of events placed Caltrans in control of the property. Caltran's
plan was to connect Highway 280 to Highway 1 with another highway
leading directly through the nursery.
was a public outcry from citizens of the surrounding communities.
Senator Phil Burton, an advocate of the environment, also assisted
in saving the area from becoming slabs of concrete. The deal
allowed the land to be placed under the auspices of the GGNRA.
Sweeney Ridge trailhead and and red-legged frog population were
kept intact, along with the nursery.
From the beginning,
Davis and the Rothenberg were keyed toward environmental issues
and strived to educate the public in the beauty of their renewable,
natural resource-plants. "Gaggles" of schoolchildren
(as Davis calls them) visited the nursery to learn about this
special genus of plants that exist by absorbing nutrients through
their leaves, rather than through soil. Traditional and moving
meditations, yoga, weddings, nature photographers, and community
group functions have also taken place here. Senior citizens,
students of flora, hospice patients, and gardeners enjoy visits
as well. Because of this community service and educational programs,
they were able to continue in partnership with the National Park
Service as stewards of the GGNRA
and Davis were also central figures in "Pacificans For Mori
Point," a grassroots environmental activist group that successfully
opposed a proposed conference center project atop Mori Point.
Opponents fought for protection of the vacant coastal hill just
across the highway from Shelldance, a natural habitat for the
rare San Francisco Garter Snake and other endangered species.
the Shelldance "jungle," Davis and Rothenberg refer
to their creation simply as "the garden." Famous for
a wide assortment of exotic bromeliads and orchids, Shelldance's
newest venture reflects the political and social consciousness
of its owners. One of the nursery's greenhouses has been transformed
into a miniature replica of a tropical rain forest.
As Davis explains,
the more people know and understand about the beauty and diversity
of rain forests, the more likely they are to fight for their
survival. The garden is a three-dimensional attempt to reach
out to people. It is a carefully crafted collection of bromeliads,
orchids, ferns, and flowers growing as they would, in the wilds
of a tropical rain forest.
can see it and touch it. This reflects an environment where everything
is evolving andgrowing;" says Rothenberg. A diversity of
plants can be found growing on pieces of suspended wood, similar
to the branches found in a real rain forest. As Rothenberg explains,
in the wild, insects would be attracted to the water, and frogs
to the insects which congregate with living flora.
a whole chain going on. It's a complete life form."
As the richest
and most productive land ecosystems on the planet, tropical rain
forests cover less than 2 percent of the earth's surface, yet
contain some 50 percent of all known animal and plant species.
forests are also home to 2,000 known indigenous tribes of humans.
There are strong emotional and spiritual ties between these people
and their land.
While rain forests
are full of wonder and mystery, mankind's toll on them has been
nothing short of devastating. To date, half of all tropical rain
forests have been degraded, with many irrevocably destroyed.
are affected by what the United States does to other cultures.
Jungle cultures go way back thousands of years. When jungles
are demolished, all of that cultural beauty is lost," says
Some of Davis'and
Rothenberg's inspiration comes from trekking through the cloud
forests of Bolivia in South America, so named because they draw
their moisture from the clouds rather than rainfall.
Since the birth
of her son, Cosmos, Davis says she has felt an even stronger
imperative to make a difference in the world, "Sharing the
mysteries and wonder of rain forests with others is perhaps a
step toward helping to save them."
SHELLDANCE TODAY, AN
In the past 25
years, Davis and Rothenberg have established Shelldance Nursery
as one of the premiere collections of rare and exotic bromeliads.
is devoted to growing orchids, while another Davis calls the
"Conservatory" is home to the couple's collection of
rare and exotic bromeliads. Another greenhouse serves as a display
for sale plants, which is available for browsing.
Whether hanging from the air or suspended on bits of wood, plants
in Shelldance's rain forest jungle are alive and growing just
as they would in the wilds of a tropical rain forest - a natural
ecosystem of living bromeliads, orchids, cactus, ferns, African
violets and succulents. Spanish moss fashioned into sea horses
hang suspended in the air, while tiny baby tears grow in clusters
on the garden floor.
the nursery as a bit old-fashioned, but that is its charm. You
will see things here you may never see elsewhere. There are heirloom
orchids, including a cymbidium that has survived four human generations
of one family. Or a rare and lovely plum-colored shamrock. Or
a spectacular staghorn fern. You are welcome to simply wander
and enjoy the sites or make a purchase.
Open to the public
on weekends, Shelldance is how expanding its walk-in retail trade,
in the Shelldance Gift Shop which includes sales of orchid supplies,
incense, pottery, local art, garden enhancements and a custom
line of homemade jams, jellies, fudges and salad dressings, created
by Davis and her mother from old family recipes.
Davis works with
each customer to find the right type of orchid for his or her
environment and gives complete directions geared to re-blooming
the plant. She has a customer wish list of rare plants and loves
the excitement of the "hunt." She works with other
nurseries to solve plant identification mysteries and acquire
Davis and Rothenberg
take their garden seriously. Through their experience of the
"tropical" they are able to communicate more clearly
the value of preserving the native habitats of the world. The
most poignant habitat being that of the coastal areas preserved
by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
tend to take their own worlds and lives for granted, they think
of their native bird, plant and animal populations as common."
So by beginning
with the exotic, Rothenberg and Davis bring the visitor home
and then begin the process of orienting the experience and education
around the local. "Look at the beauty of the exotic,"
says Davis, "and you can't help but open your heart to the
a gift in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, in the rich
diversity of coastal resources. By compare and contrast of the
tropical with the Northern coastal ecology, we become inhabitants
of a planet that is whole and magnificent."
school groups, families and individuals interested in experiencing
the rain forest jungle. Also in the works are a series of monthly
events and activities planned to involve people of all ages in
a variety of educational, hands-on projects emphasizing the environment.
really like it. This is where they get to be turned into trees
and to experience what it's like in a rain forest," said
Davis, who simulated the natural fine mist of a rain forest by
turning on overhead greenhouse sprinklers.
Davis also shares
stories about the Philippine rice God, one of the wooden carvings
in the jungle garden; English "gazing balls", giant
shiny ornaments that reflect light' and the natural biology of
our experience in growing plants, learning about their habitat
and horticulture, our studies in art, and our work in environmental
causes is now being joined into a new focus," said Rothenberg.
"We're presenting all that information and experience in
a more integrated whole. Both art and nature are one environment."
a peaceful, ethereal place, a kind of Garden of Eden. An artistic
arrangement of living plants paying tribute to one of the world's
richest ecosystems-rain forests. Whether you come to spend the
afternoon sitting quietly on a bench listening to the babble
of a fountain, or to study the featured local artwork, Shelldance
Gardens latest venture will leave you pondering.
Tours for children,
groups or individuals, can be arranged between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.,
Monday through Saturday. Everyone is we3lcome to come and learn
more about rain forests and exotic plants. Shelldance Nursery
is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is a
public entrance point for the federally protected Sweeney Ridge,
a vast open space with hiking trails and assorted flora and fauna.
For directions, please go to our Contact Information page.