PictureCNL Native Plant Nursery Manager Ian Johnson and his daughter Piper. Courtesy image.

Soon after Ian Johnson and his wife relocated from Virginia to the Bay Area in 2012, the longtime landscaper and native plant specialist took his wife’s recommendation to reach out to Dan Dufficy, the owner of CNL Native Plant Nursery in Tam Junction.

Johnson had run his own native plant- and rain garden-focused landscaping firm for more than seven years on the East Coast, working regularly with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and protecting the region’s watershed. He was excited to show Dufficy his passion for native plants – and even brought an array of drawings of many of the projects he’s spearheaded that focused on cleaning up the water before it got into the local watershed.

Johnson showed up in work clothes, ready to get his hands dirty as needed. But not long into their conversation, Dufficy was extending his fist and saying, “I get it. Let’s get you out there,” gesturing toward the vast nursery at the corner of Shoreline Hwy. and Almonte Blvd., adjacent to Proof Lab, the ever-evolving business in the heart of Tam Junction, and the array of like-minded businesses around it, like the Potter’s Studio, Equator Coffees and Studio 4 Art.

“That’s when I said to myself, “you are definitely in California,” Johnson says with a laugh. “It was, basically, ‘you’re hired, here’s a fist bump.’”

Fast forward those nearly seven years since, and the CNL Native Plant Nursery is quite a sight to behold, a gorgeous expanse laden with teak wood and driftwood sculptures from Dufficy’s  surfing trip to West Java and Sumatra, Indonesia, gorgeous pots from an array of local manufacturers like the neighboring Mill Valley Potter’s Studio, elaborate dry creek displays, welded artwork, woodwork, geometrical wall art, a full spectrum of stones, gems, rock and crystals and, of course, a massive array of organic, chemical-free vegetable starts and native plants.

“We’ve really turned the space into more of a living gallery and nursery, which we feel like, for the area that we’re in, is very appropriate,” Johnson says. 


The CNL Native Plant Nursery in Tam Junction.

PictureCNL Native Plant Nursery owner Dan Dufficy catching a wave. Courtesy image.

Dufficy founded the company in 1985 out of the back of his pickup truck, never without a sharp pair of shears, a shovel, a pickaxe, and a surfboard. The business started as, and remains, driven by its installation and design department, helping local businesses and homeowners to create the native gardens and landscapes of their dreams, with a specialization in natural habitat restoration.

CNL operated as a landscaping-only company for 20 years and Dufficy opened the nursery in 2010. Landscaping and design remain the driving force, Johnson says, but they’re hoping to continue to grow the nursery side of the business.

And while Johnson says he loves the ever-expanding presence of complementary art and displays, he and Dufficy are laser-focused on the core of their business: native plants. Johnson says he is particularly inspired by Reconciliation Ecology, a branch of ecology that studies ways to encourage biodiversity in human-dominated ecosystems. The term was first coined by professor Michael Rosenzweig in his book Win-Win Ecology, based on the theory that there is not enough area for all of earth’s biodiversity to be saved within designated nature preserves, and that humans should increase biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes.

“Native plants will always be at the heart if anything we do,” Johnson says. “Hopefully we can continue to educate the community on the power of native plants and their incredible impact on our ecosystem.”​

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