El Nativo Growers began in April 1996 as a spin-off from a traditional landscape construction firm, which had started growing standard stock material to supply mostly their own jobs. As a consultant, James advised the owner to transform the business into a specialist nursery that focused on California Natives, drought tolerant, and unusual plant material. James knew from his work at the Theodore Payne Foundation that more and more people were looking for plants that not only survived in the region, but thrived and looked pretty too. The owner agreed and hired James as President to make this vision a reality.
The name El Nativo was in the first owner’s family for many years. His family owned and operated a local Southern California restaurant called El Nativo, which has since closed. When he started the nursery the owner decided to emphasize growing California natives - so the name was fitting.
During the first 2 years getting the nursery off the ground, James found just the right people to build the company. He lucked out meeting Rebecca Nash while she was still in college, eagerly learning everything about horticulture the school could offer. But, that wasn’t enough for her, so she joined the El Nativo propagation team while finishing up her degree and quickly moved into leadership roles in production management, sales, and marketing. Building a business from the ground up presented plenty of challenges and meant James & Rebecca had to work crazy long hours. They believed it would all pay off as long as they provided good customer service, demonstrated strong knowledge of the plants that they sold, always were upfront and honest with customers, and provided high quality plant material at a fair market price.
Over the years, James and Rebecca have grown the operation and brought on new team members. They make sure that every employee gets well trained, works in a safe environment, and is treated fairly. Though some of the team has changed over the years, a remarkably large number have worked with the company for over 10 years and a few for more than 20! El Nativo wouldn’t be what it is today without the hard work, dedication and loyalty of its employees.
Though El Nativo’s current species list still consists of hundreds of the same plants that they’ve grown for years, they have updated what they grow to meet the changing needs of their customer base. In fact, today they not only bring on new production items but they also supply some standard stock plants that work well in the various micro-climates across the region.
In January 2016, James and Rebecca purchased the company, holding on to almost all of the existing staff as well as the equipment, inventory, and especially the mother plants, among other things. However, they had to change the company name slightly for legal reasons. This is where the name Ironwood comes into play. They created a holding company called Ironwood Unlimited, Inc. which purchased many of the assets of El Nativo Growers, Inc. The legal name became Ironwood Unlimited, Inc. while “doing business as” (dba) El Nativo Growers (notice they had to drop the “Inc.” from the legal name). With James and Rebecca as the new owners, it’s still the same team, the same location, and almost exactly the same name.