A Laguna Beach staple since the 1940s, the Laguna Nursery is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. After shuffling through a handful of failed ownerships in recent years, Ruben Flores—the shop's current proprietor — has turned it into an eclectic wonderland of plants and artifacts. A local resident and president of landscaping company Visionscape Inc, Flores jumped at the opportunity to buy Laguna Nursery when it went up for auction last year. His creative vision looks nothing like your basic flower shop. The store is set up into distinctly themed garden sections and peppered with artifacts he collected on frequent international trips. More experience than retailer, a visit can involve traditional Asian gardens, Italian portraiture and 19th century iron gates salvaged from New Orleans, all under one roof in Southern California. We recently had a chance to speak with Ruben about his unusual approach to retail and its backstory.
Cool Hunting: What lead you into landscaping?
Ruben Flores: Outdoor life has always been intriguing to me. Even as a kid, I remember looking at the huge plum tree in the backyard and wondering why food came from it. So when the choice for a career came up after high school, I knew it had to do with art and gardens.
CH: How did you come to own the Laguna Nursery?
RF: The history here is great. It's been an institution here in Laguna for over 50 years. It was going to be turned into a storage space the last time it was turned around, so I decided to step in and save our small town nursery. I've been a client here for over 15 years, so I understand the need for something local, something green and a place where beauty abides in the reflection of nature's best.
CH: How do you juggle your landscaping business with the nursery? Do the two compliment each other?
RF: The two are a great compliment. Now, when I travel and buy art, fountains and statuary, I don't have to put it in my gardens at home. I can bring it to the eclectic environs of the nursery and properly display it. That way, my landscape clients can come to the nursery to view it instead of just looking at a picture. It gives the piece a viewing audience within a great space of ambiance rather than in a stale storage environment. It also allows me to set up rooms and areas as I would in a home, so I can mock up a contemporary pool area or an Italian terrace or a New York rooftop garden all in one place.
CH: How have you changed Laguna since taking the reigns?
RF: Our renovations have been extreme and drastic—we've taken it to the next level. We reconfigured the floor space to make patios for dioramas that display the themed gardens. We brought in plant and tree specimens that thrive in our climate but that are mature now. We brought the Nursery theme to a fine art status by displaying formal shrubbery and topiary with the art to compliment. We have on display stone 1920s bull heads from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Building that stand five feet tall by three feet wide, an Italian marble bust from Rome dates back to 800 AD, an Indian lotus fountain made of white marble that is just breathtaking and a set of Grotesques from Padova Italy dating back to the 1800s that could charm any vista or walkway.
CH: Do you a favorite artifact in the nursery?
RF: I have a 17th century Japanese weathered wood wall carving of a Crane (Tsuru) that measures four by two feet. It originates back to the temples of Naru, whose significance translates to the wish of long life and eternal happiness.