Spring at last

Redbud in bloom at The Vineyard House, Coloma, Ca.

Redbud in bloom at The Vineyard House, Coloma, Ca.

On this first day of spring let’s enjoy the changing season. Here in northern California the sun is shining and hope springs eternal. At the nursery we are selling the cool season vegetable starts, flowers, seed starting trays, and lot’s of seed. The number one question this year from our customers is, are your seed free of GMO? Yes they are. I imagine most folks truly don’t understand GMO’s, but the term and “idea” certainly has caught their interest.

We are in drought here in California, and likely won’t see too much relief rain wise in the near future. Our rainy season is fast coming to a close, and after a few years of drier than expected weather, we will likely see more water restrictions. We are currently in a “Stage 2” water alert. The local water authorities are asking us to cut back 30% on our water usage. It’s doable, and an opportunity for us to teach and guide our customers.

I look forward to being a place where people can come to learn more about how to feed their families, and bring beauty into their lives. While the ornamental side of the business has shrunk over the last few years, the edible side had grown exponentially. We seem to be doing better than in years past, and the customer is engaged in their garden like never before.

So it’s it a positive note that stands above the rest this first day of spring. While there will be challenges going forward, we are entering a new age in horticulture. While not all is shinny and bright in the trades, I have never been happier, or more proud to be a nurseryman. Our goal here is to stay small as possible, while making the largest impact in our world. We can change our world more easily, one customer at a time.

Cheers to spring!

21. March 2014 by Trey Pitsenberger
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Amanita muscari, snails, and Alice in Wonderland.


Amanita muscari

“One pill makes you larger, And one pill makes you small, And the ones that mother gives you, Don’t do anything at all, Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall. And if you go chasing rabbits, And you know you’re going to fall, Tell ‘em a hookah smoking caterpillar, Has given you the call, Call Alice, when she was just small.” – Grace Slick, The Great Society.

Seems Alice’s adventures with proportion we’re the results of ingesting Amanita muscaria, yesterdays featured fungus for Google + “Shoorm Staurday”. It is likely one of the most well known yet unrecognized fungus in the world. Mainly noted for being hallucinogenic, a primary result of ingesting this fungus is in distorting the size of perceived objects. This observation is thought to have formed the basis of the effects of eating the mushroom in the 1865 popular story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The mushroom is commonly known as “fly agaric” or “fly amanita” and can be found in conifer and pine forests in North America, The Mediterranean and Central and South America. Amanita muscaria cannot be commercially cultivated, due to its mycorrhizal relationship with the roots of pine trees. While it is considered poisonous there are few cases of death associated with ingesting it, and in many regions it is eaten as a food in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America after being parboiled (this process removes the mushroom’s psychoactive substances).

40mushrooms (1)

Mosaic in the Christian Basilica of Aquileia in northern Italy. Around 310 AD.

The history of the mushroom being used as an hallucinogenic be traced back to 1700–1100 BC and and The Rig Veda texts of India where is may have been the active ingredient in Soma. Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Allegro has proposed that early Christianity sprang form cultic use of the fungus in Second Temple Judaism.

Franco Fabbro, author of “Mushrooms and Snails in Religious Rituals of Early Christians at Aquileia” documents the depiction of Amanita muscaria, in the art of the Christian Basilica of Aquileia in northern Italy. The section of the mosaic floor which displays these mushrooms is found in the oratory of the northern hall, which is the oldest part of the basilica, dating to before 330 AD. An epigraph in the floor itself claims that the oratory was used for religious ceremonies.


Snails on mosaic dated around 310 AD

Another bowl containing snails, probably of the variety Helix cincta. a favored edible species, is found adjacent to the mushrooms. Fabbro hypothesizes that the snails and mushrooms were eaten together. It is possible, however, that snails were allowed to feed on the mushrooms, and then the snails were consumed. This preparation may have effectively reduced or eliminated the undesirable physiological effects of consuming the mushrooms directly. This is more likely than it might sound initially; not only were the Romans well known for snail breeding, but they recognized that what the snails fed upon had a determining effect upon their flavor.

From the mist of time to the present day Amanita muscari has played an important role in man’s development. Surprisingly, or not  the Nintendo video game “Super Mario” features the mushroom.  “Power-up”, and Super Mario might say.

"Power Up"

“Power Up”




09. February 2014 by Trey Pitsenberger
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The solution is simple.

Inside The Bookery, our last indie bookstore.

Inside The Bookery, our last indie bookstore.

Saw this tweet the other day. “Dear Toronto bookstores: Please stop closing.”  My reply, “Dear readers in Toronto, and everywhere, buy more books from bookstores BEFORE they go out of business.”

It’s that simple. If you want to preserve your favorite indie bookstore, garden shop, or coffee shop, you’ve got to quit speaking up after the fact. There we’re numerous tweets following the original plea, most all wishing these bookstores would stop closing. One person even said, “In Germany, it is illegal to sell books at a discount. Our govt has chosen not to intervene”. There you have it, it’s the governments fault.

Quit blaming the government, Wal-mart, or Amazon. The solution is simple. Go to your local bookstore, and buy some books. Repeat. Tweet, Facebook, and Google + about that awesome store BEFORE it closes. Then buy some more books. Stop on the way to the bookstore and buy an espresso at the coffee shop. Pick up some flower or vegetable seeds at the garden shop afterwards. Make it a habit.

Repeat often.

16. January 2014 by Trey Pitsenberger
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Quit trying so hard

Swiss gardening.

Swiss gardening.

This photo of community gardening in Switzerland was taken by Yann Athus-Bertrand. It is of Allotments in the Avanchets estate, Geneva, Suisse (46°12’N, 6°09’E). What a marvelous display of community gardening. This ability to share across borders and languages will continue to shape and change horticulture. 

At times we can find ourselves stuck in an echo chamber based around our shared trade. We talk to, and hear from others in the trade. We use the various social media platforms to “sell” stuff, rather than to learn and enjoy. I believe conversation, and the sharing of ideas is the new advertising. It’s not advertising in the traditional sense, which is good, since the traditional way of promoting products and services is dying.

Rather than advertising the new way is to be “out there” enjoying and sharing stuff we love. Have a interest in history? Join some history groups on Google +, or Facebook. Want to broaden your interests from horticulture to the larger world of science? There are people doing stuff there that will blow your mind. Interestingly, it’s outside our traditional area of expertise that many great ideas can be found that ultimately will benefit us.  Do it without the intent to build your business, or brand. People are developing an aversion to the “sales pitch” anyway. Conversations and sharing are the way forward for business.

07. January 2014 by Trey Pitsenberger
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Stonehenge in Winter

Stonehenge in Winter

With the New Year come new intentions. The nursery trade is so intertwined with Mother Nature that the best of intentions can sometime be derailed due to changes in nature’s mood. Does our happiness depend on reaching goals? What happens when our intentions are not meet? Often, if we don’t meet our intentions or desires we find ourselves unhappy. If we are a small business the owners or managers mood can affect how the business performs.

Happiness and peace with oneself is a state of being, and should not be dependent on outcomes. If we don’t have “X” amount of money in the bank, or a certain amount of sales by a certain date, a sense of being overwhelmed can cloud what should be a time of rest and relaxation. We need to prepare our minds, bodies, and souls for the upcoming spring season.

While having goals is part of having a business, it’s important to realize that happiness is available for us right here, right now. Rather than worrying about when the “big spenders” will start coming in again, perhaps we should just focus on and enjoy the lady interested in starting some seed for the first time. How about that customer who doesn’t always spend a lot, but does spend it with you? How are things going with them? Maybe write that next Facebook post with the intention of not necessarily selling something. Maybe just sharing something we take for granted, but the customer does not?

Dealing with the business aspect of the trade can be quite taxing at times. Instead let’s focus on the sense of wonder and awe we felt when we first started in this trade. Remember, having good intentions and desires is fine, but real happiness is available for us right here, right now. Once we get into that frame of mind everything else should take care of itself.

04. January 2014 by Trey Pitsenberger
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Looking back, to look forward.The Gardens of Mission La Purisima.

La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, Ca.

The State of California has just ended its driest year on record. Now we will have to make it all up in the next three months. It’s happened before, and in some years way too much, with flooding and landslides included. You have to learn to go with the flow here, so to speak. In the garden businesses you have to plan for all possibilities. I am planning on drought this year, with the hope of enough rain to keep water restrictions to a minimum.

I have always thought we should garden in the style of the early Spanish Missions. These early settlers had to survive with water that fell in and around the mission during the rainy season, January through March. The rest of the year is dry with no rainfall. Every plant in the missions had a reason for being, not just ornamental.

Here is a video done by the late Huell Howser for his show “California Gold”. I sure do miss Huell, and his childlike wonder at all things California. In the video he visits La Purisima Mission, located near Lompoc, California. The video focuses on the gardens inside the mission. The first thing you notice is all the plants had uses beyond the ornamental. Some were native to the area, while many we’re from Mediterranean areas of Europe. Food, oils, soap’s, herbs, wine, medicinal as well as psychedelic uses where all included in the garden. It seems as if it would fit in perfectly in today’s modern California.

With water becoming less reliable every year it would be wise to re-look at some of these old school ways of gardening. What can we learn about how these early settlers and natives managed to survive and thrive using what they grew? I believe the mission style of gardening, with an eye towards modern technology and knowledge, is the way forward in this state of extremes. Enjoy the video on this New Years Day, and we’ll revisit some of the ideas we can use today in future posts.

01. January 2014 by Trey Pitsenberger
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Stay curious.

Seal Rock, just outside The Golden Gate.

Just outside the entrance to The Golden Gate is this curious rock with a heart shaped hole.

As we bid adieu to 2013, the New Year arrives. None of us know what it holds, but I have a couple of ideas that might be worth pursuing. Contribute more to your trade and world. With The Internet it’s easier than ever to express yourself. We need more positive expression. Contribute more time to organizations, both online and off, that you are passionate about. They need your input. Try being a little less angry, and more solution oriented. Don’t segregate people based on religion, politics, or geography.

With the ability to translate pages on The Internet there is no reason to not learn more about how people do things in other areas of the world. Likely they are working out the same challenges we are, in perhaps novel ways. In the horticultural trades we really must start broadening our views to include people and places outside our comfort zones. Inclusion trumps exclusion, to everyone’s benefit. Try translating what you want to say into the reader’s language, and vise-versa. Its fun, and at the very least will get a few laughs. We need more laughter. We need more ideas. It’s a big world out there and sometimes the solutions are waiting in the most surprising of places. You won’t know if you don’t go.

Stay very, very curious. Step outside your business or trade and explore other areas of interest. It will broaden your outlook, and bring a freshness that is often sorely needed after a season of focusing on one area of expertise. That history group, book club, or online yoga class might be just what was needed to reinvigorate you, and bring a fresh outlook. We are bigger than our jobs. Take care of the whole you.

Here’s to a fabulous New Year.

31. December 2013 by Trey Pitsenberger
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Who would want to start gardening after reading this?

The last time I was in England, 1979

The last time I was in England, 1979. It was The Queens “Silver Jubilee.”

There is a “Great British Garden Revival” going on! To help novice gardeners The Telegraph published some timely tips from The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society). It’s titled, “What to do in the garden in December”. Let’s get started looking at it from a novices point of view.

“Feed the birds! Although they benefit from having food put out for them all year round, birds need a high-fat boost to their diet during the winter. Feed regularly so they will not waste vital energy visiting your garden when there is nothing for them.”  It is a new garden so there is not much in it. I don’t want the birds to go hungry and die. Let’s pick up some seed later. Next!

Wage war on aphids. Some species remain active in mild winters or on indoor plants. But most overwinter as eggs, often on dormant deciduous fruit trees and bushes. These can be treated with a plant oil winter wash (Growing Success Winter Tree Wash or Vitax Winter Tree Wash).” Good grief! I don’t want dying birds, and I hate war. What are aphids, and how does washing my trees do any good? They seem clean enough. Next!

Christmas trees, are now available. Choose from a cut, container-grown or containerised specimen. Those grown on in pots may only live for a few years – they are not naturally suited to permanent pot cultivation.” Specimens? That sounds like an unpleasant trip to the doctor. I wanted to buy a live Christmas tree to plant in my new garden, but if they only live a few years? I’ll just pick up a dying one at the supermarket. This gardening stuff sure is time consuming, and confusing. There’s more?

“If you want to move established deciduous trees and shrubs to another part of the garden, now is a good time. Choose a calm, dull day to help prevent roots from drying out.” I have to wait for a “dull day”? Why can’t I do it on a beautiful day? Deciduous? Next!

“Check recommended times for pruning trees, shrubs and climbers. Prune ornamental and edible grape vines, hornbeam, walnut and mulberry, and if necessary, maple and birch before Christmas to prevent bleeding from pruning cuts.” Before Christmas!?! How do I know if it’s necessary to prune maples and birch? That does it. I am not going to spend a dull day, washing the trees, only to watch them bleed. Meanwhile the birds are falling to the ground because I forgot to feed them? Gardening with “specimens”? No thank you.  I wanted to participate, but this garden revival stuff sounds like a bunch of hard, miserable work. War? You know, my husband wants to pave over the front yard and be done with it. I wonder…

I am sure the folks at The RHS mean well, but if this is what is recommended to the public is it any wonder Britain needs a “garden revival”? I am not picking on The British, as we have the same issues here in The States. Perhaps we just need to quit being so helpful, and trying to include every last thing someone could do? Start with changing the horticultural terms like “containerized specimen”, bleeding trees”, “plant oil winter wash”, “deciduous”, and “ornamental”. “Waging war” is a term best left at the garden gate. “Permanent pot cultivation”? Maybe people just wanted to grow a little pot during the summer, not permanently?  To encourage people into the garden, we need to look at how we describe what we do in the garden. Step back, and look at gardening from the novices point of view. Let’s not scare them away with war, specimens, and hungry birds.


12. December 2013 by Trey Pitsenberger
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Great British Garden Revival?

Shakespeare Garden

It’s not in Britain, but it is The Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park.

Did you hear about the new BBC series “Great British Garden Revival”?  Those of us in the garden businesses need to keep each other “cheered up” as we await spring, and a chance for the cash flow to start flowing our way again. So it’s off to Britain where everyone in the business of gardening is talking about it! We will have to wait to see what the target audience “the public” thinks later.

The Guardian reports that “A new gardening TV show hit our screens last night, but what did Twitter make of it?” To The Internet! The Telegraph’s Ed Cumming declared, “The series is hardly revolutionary, but there was plenty of sensible advice and lovely shots”.  Another Twitter user says, “So enjoyed half of #gardenrevival tonight. It was marred by bad practice and ill conceived dumbing down as are most gardening programmes.”  Everyone has an opinion and is willing to share it. If your interested you can follow the chatter on  Twitter at #gardenrevival.

It seems that even in Britain gardening is less popular than it was in the past. That’s why the series is called “The Great British Garden Revival”.  According to The BBC, “more and more front and back gardens are paved over – for development, for parking spaces, or because families don’t have the time or inclination to manage these spaces.” The first show in the series dealt with “Wildflowers” and “Front Gardens”. The wildflower segment seems to have helped “Seedball”, a company that promotes, “a simple way to create beautiful native wildflower gardens & help wildlife too.” Apparently “98 per cent of wild flower meadows in Britain have been lost”. The next segment “Front Gardens”, tells us that in” the past, our front gardens were highly valued and we used them to show off our gardening prowess, but sadly over time, front gardens have been paved over for parking and turned into a no-man’s land between the street and front door.” Good luck!

As one person on Twitter expressed, “Thanks all for horti tweets this eve, had trouble keeping up w/ them all! At least #gardenrevival has got us all fired up again”. That’s what I see as the greatest benefit of the series. It keeps those of us in the trades excited and talking during the off season. Really, I don’t think a garden revival is in the cards for Britain, or here for that matter. There are just too many other things for people to do with their time and money. However, if those of us in the trades can reach the enthusiastic few through our passion and social media, it can make a difference. It should be enough to keep those of us still in business, in business. Seeing that passion expressed did put a bounce in my step this cold, bleak morning. As for TV shows about gardening? Not so sure, but we can always go to The Internet to find out.

10. December 2013 by Trey Pitsenberger
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Are garden books boring?


As good a place as any to write a book

I came across an article today in The Guardian titled, “Why are garden books so boring?”  This seems to be of great concern not only in The UK, but here in The US. Is it also of great concern in other countries? Not surprisingly the people most concerned about boring garden books seem to be authors who write about gardening.

One common thread is comparing garden books to cooking books. The author of The Guardian article, Lucy Masters says, “I look at cookery books and the photography is amazing, the layouts are appealing and interesting.” Are there no boring cooking books? Do cooking book authors have these same discussions, but reversed? Wondering when someone else will come out with yet another beautiful picture book of dinning in Tuscany?

Recently I reviewed a garden book which I didn’t find boring. The book seemed to have just enough photography, and interesting ideas to suit my tastes. My taste in most things runs a bit counter to the masses so tell me, is this the kind of book we are talking about as being boring?

Take a look at The Amazon top seller list in gardening. Are these books boring? I haven’t read most of them, so I really don’t know. What kinds of books would we expect to see filling this list? Seems they run the gamut from, “Vegetable Literacy, Cooking and Gardening”, “Marijuana Horticulture”, “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life”, “The Flower Recipe Book”, and  a bunch that help people learn to feed themselves. In the case of “Aquaponic Gardening”, it might help feed people in impoverished countries one day. That doesn’t seem boring. There are also a bunch of “how to” books on growing your own food.  It seems that if you’re concerned with GMO’s, pesticides, and corporate farms, you might want to know how to do this.

According to Lucy Masters article, nothing refreshing or novel has been published since, “Andy Sturgeon’s book Planted came out in 1999. On the front cover it had a man’s bald head with a terracotta plant pot and seedling balanced on top. It’s was such a striking image. Everything about the photography in that book was refreshing, ground breaking! That was back in 1999.”

Why do we hear so much about the decline of gardening books? What do you think is going on here? Is this just a case of bored garden book authors? How do you find the current selection of gardening books available? What would you like to see more of? Less of?

05. December 2013 by Trey Pitsenberger
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