The History of Sunnyside Nursery

Donald C. Perry was the great-grandson of early Marin pioneer James Ross, who owned the Rancho Punta de Quentin land tract of Marin County during the mid 1850’s. Don Perry opened Sunnyside Nursery in San Anselmo on November 16, 1940. Although trained as a petroleum geologist at the University of California, (where playing football, he was a member of the famed «Wonder Team»™ in the 1920s) circumstances during the depression caused him to abandon his pursuit of a career in geology. Instead, Don returned to his family home in the Ross Valley, where he had attended Main School in San Anselmo and Tamalpais High School.

Don was well aware that Marin County had been settled after the turn of the century by San Francisco commuters drawn to its wonderful climate. Reasoning that during tough economic times few businesses would be immune from financial uncertainty, Perry soon narrowed his options to either starting a service station (foreseeing the continued prominence of the automobile) or creating a retail nursery.

He chose the latter feeling that tight money would surely encourage people to curtail their travel and instead concentrate on home improvement. Perry enlisted the help of longtime family gardener John Cattaneo to establish a nursery on the site of his own childhood home in San Anselmo naming it after James Ross’ original homestead, Sunnyside. Recognizing his own limited horticultural background, Perry recruited plantsmen Ernest Munson and Walter Bacigalupi, and others, over the first few years to establish Sunnyside Nursery’s tradition as a source for knowledgeable gardening help.

Perry also enlisted the expertise of his mother and Aunt, Bella Worn, who doing business as the ‘Worn Sisters’, had a noted floral decorating business in San Francisco during the first half of the century. (The Worn Sisters often decorated venues such as the Palace Hotel when visiting dignitaries would come to the city. Bella Worn subsequently worked with Julia Morgan at San Simeon and designed the annual color garden at Filoli, the Bourne estate later owned by the Roth family of Matson Shipping Line.)

Recognizing that the Ross Valley has one of the most hospitable gardening climates to be found, Perry set upon developing a retail nursery business catering to the home-horticulturist. He brought in unusual plants and trees from throughout the West Coast, establishing several buying cooperatives with other independent nurseries in the state.

Capitalizing on the unique growing conditions in Marin, Perry purchased 8 acres of dairy ranch property West of Fairfax from the Zeke Smith family in 1948. The Fairfax growing ground continues to the present in its production of ornamental and fruit trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, roses and perennials. Sunnyside has the only ‘home grown’ facility of any nursery in Marin County. Twice a year, in July and October, the Sunnyside growing grounds are open to the public for what has become a Marin County institution for almost half a century — the ‘Sunnyside Sale’.

Don Perry was active in the early growth of the California Association of Nurserymen, serving as its state President in 1955-66. He remained active in the nursery until his death in 1987.

Don’s son Warren Perry, although involved at the nursery during high school and college on a part-time basis, opted for a career as an attorney. He later served as Mayor of San Anselmo in the early 1970’s. Warren continues as chief legal counsel to Sunnyside.

In 1976, grandson Tom Perry, also a product of San Anselmo schools (Wade Thomas, Red Hill, Sir Francis Drake High School) and a recent graduate of Stanford University was offered the opportunity to join Sunnyside. Tom’s brother Ross, a graduate of the University of the Pacific, joined Sunnyside in 1979.

Since joining the nursery, Tom and Ross have expanded the focus of Sunnyside’s plant selection. This encompasses an evolving inventory of California Native plants, including drought-tolerant and deer-resistant perennials and shrubs. Sunnyside also offers a wide range of Rhododendrons, chosen with the help of Rhodie-man Larry McDougald. Japanese Maples, and dwarf conifers. Sunnyside also carries a full line of bedding plants, organic vegetables, and garden supplies suitable to Marin’s Mediterranean Climate. The Perry Boys continue the Sunnyside operation with the capable assistance of a staff numbering 17 full and part time employees, who share over 180 years of Marin County gardening experience with the public.

Tom served for 15 years on the San Anselmo Historical Commission. He has also served on the board of directors of both the Redwood Empire Chapter of the California Association of Nurserymen and the San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce.  He is a past president of the Drake High School Scholarship Foundation. Tom, wife Jan, and family, have lived in Fairfax for the last 35 years.

Ross and wife Bonnie live in Pt. Reyes station with their two sons, Andrew and Ross. All three children are members of the 7th generation of the Ross family to grow up in the Ross Valley. When he is not at the nursery, you’ll find Ross playing and recording with his band, LEARNING CURVE.

The third Perry brother, James Warren, is a nationally recognized landscape painter (Featured in American Artist Magazine, 12/97). He lives  on the Sunnyside Growing Grounds where is has his studio.

In 2001, Sunnyside Nursery was selected San Anselmo business of the year and honored at the annual Spirit of Marin Ceremony.  Sunnyside remains a family-owned, independent business focusing all of its assets on one retail location.

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    Sunnyside Nursery, 130 Sir Francis Drake Blvd
    San Anselmo, CA 94960
    (415) 453-2701

    [email protected]