The Candelaria Plant Sale | Mexico | Living in Mexico

The Candelaria Plant Sale

Spring has arrived in San Miguel de Allende. (Read this and weep, Midwesterners.)

I know it has arrived because the annual Calendaria Plant Sale has come to town. Every year, in the first week of February, dozens of nursery plant vendors come to town and set up their stalls. The weather usually cooperates by shaking of the worst off the winter chill (although it's not doing so well this year).


My spirits pick up during the sale. I get out in the sunshine and wander up and down the rows, meeting friends and buying plants. But it's a tough life for the vendors. They're true nomads. They sleep in their trucks and eat on camp stoves. They shiver in the early mornings. Some even bring their dogs for companionship.


I always am on the lookout for unusual plants—at least unusual to me. This blooming succulent caught my eye.


I asked the vendor, "¿Qué es esa planta?"

He said, "Doscientos pesos."


Then he began a high-pressure sales pitch that left me no opportunity to explain that I didn't want to know what the plant cost; I just wanted to know what kind of plant it was. So I don't know what it is, but it sure would be nice if it cost more like cientos pesos.

Some vendors buy their plants from wholesalers. Others grow their own. It's not unusual to find starts grown in milk or beverage cans. These growers sweep up pine needle duff from the forest floor to use as a growing medium. None of that effete sterilized potting mix for them.


It's fun to learn a few more Mexican names for plants. The name of this sedum translates to Baby Jesus' Little Fingers. Yours for a buck.


You also can buy compost, potting soil (adobe), fertilizer and pots.


Young men and boys with wheelbarrows follow you around to help you transport your purchases. When they don't have customers, they transport each other.


This vendor is dangerous. I'm avoiding him this year. In the past, he has extracted considerable money from my wallet, and I'm not taking it anymore.


He specializes in desert plants, and unfortunately, so do I. Every year he has some rarities or specimens that are almost impossible to resist. This year he has a yucca that looks older than Methuselah. Only $6,000 pesos. Gulp.

The Good John says, "You should save that money for your granddaughters' college educations."

The Bad John says, "You're gonna totally frost Terry when you beat her out for that yucca."

A couple of years ago, when our house was new and relatively plant-free, I bought a few cacti from him. He asked me if there was anything else he had that I wanted.

I said, "Gee, I'd like everything, ha, ha."

With a dead serious look on his face, he said, "$20,000 pesos."

Uh oh.

What started as a joke suddenly turned into a negotiation. I mean, $2,000 was a helluva good price for his entire stock. But jeez, that's a lot of money.

I looked at his plants. Cactus: small ones, big ones, gigantic ones, common ones, rare ones. Succulents in bloom. Pachypodiums. Venerable yuccas. Huge bottle palms. Rosas del desierto. Weird plants—stuff I've never seen before.

I was over the edge. An offer was on the table. A counteroffer was crying out to be made. I made it. Twenty minutes later, I was the owner of a roof garden full of plants. Jean was totally pissed off.


Elementary school classes troop through the plant sale. Each kid is clutching a few pesos to buy a plant for her mother. Chia pets are big sellers.


Also popular are tiny cacti and succulents salted with miniscule artificial flowers. I always wondered who bought these things.


I think the average sale per kid runs about $5 pesos. Vendors cooperate by offering deep discounts.


Shopping done, it's time for lunch. For the field trip, a loading zone curb serves as a cafeteria.


They're so darn cute, aren't they? You can never go wrong photographing little kids.