The start of growing Weidners’ Gardens, of growing something beautiful.
Year One 1973…
By: Evelyn Weidner
“How would you like a nice big patch of Tuberous Begonias?”
Little did I know that big patch did not mean 25 or so for the shade garden. The nice big patch was twenty five thousand tuberous begonias and the customers were going to dig their own!
We’d played around at being retired for a few years after we sold Buena Park Greenhouses in 1968. That was a wholesale foliage plant business that Bob had started in 1947 in Buena Park before he even met me, Evelyn. It had grown and thrived, moved twice and was finally moved down here to Encinitas. It was too big, too many headaches and there was never a chance for any of those fun travel trips we longed to make. We finally sold it in 1969 and embarked upon the glorious leisure experiment.
That didn’t last long.
By 1971 we’d bought another piece of land and Bob, my husband, had built four greenhouses; He said it was only enough to grow a few plants for friends in the business and help pay for the nice new piece of land at the corner of Piraeus and Normandy in Encinitas.
“Don’t worry,” he promised, “we’ll never get any bigger,”
Well, that only lasted a short while. Bob came home one night and asked me how I would like a nice big patch of Tuberous Begonias. He knew that I loved those gorgeous giant flowered begonias.
I had even belonged to the Begonia Society when I was only 16. In fact, one year I was Queen of the Begonia Show in Long Beach. (Of course I was the only person in the group under 45.) Anyway he knew I was still hooked.
I thought he was thinking of 25 or so for our shade garden, so I happily said, “I’d love it. Thank you!”
He smiled and said “Good, I just ordered 25,000 Begonias for you.”
When I got back up off the floor, he explained the idea. He reminded me that I loved tuberous begonias, the climate here was perfect and he thought people shouldn’t have to travel all the way to Santa Cruz to see a big show of tuberous begonia flowers. In addition we had the extra land. He would plant them in raised beds as little seedlings and then the customers would dig their own plants in bloom and ready to go right into their gardens.
I thought that was the craziest idea I’d ever heard, even crazier than the ‘Cut Your Own Christmas Tree’ idea he’d had when we lived in Brea up in Orange County. That was before there were ‘Cut Your Own’ tree farms all over the place. I had quickly talked him out of that hare-brained scheme!
Now he wanted ‘Dig Your Own Begonias’.
“It won’t work, they’ll die if people try to transplant them” I said. “Not at all,” he assured me. “They have lots of small fibrous roots that allow them to be transplanted easily.” In fact, they had already done this in Santa Cruz, in the past. There they had young men to dig for the customers.
Here it would be different…
Bob’s Statement: “I’ve worked hard all my life and if we go back into business, by golly, the customer is going to do the work.” This was going to be a fun idea and since we would close at the end of the season it would still give us plenty of time to travel. [We still close and I still travel]. I also suggested we start small, maybe 500 plants see if they would sell. But no, he had to have a big show!
Well, he didn’t really convince me but after I had begged, pleaded, cried and prayed and he still was going to do this foolish thing, I finally gave up. Bob was of German descent and if any of you are married to a German, you know that when a German makes up his stubborn mind, God herself couldn’t change it. The begonias were ordered, the shade cloth structure went up and we were on our way.
(My Big Unspoken Fear All That Spring.) My husband was very well known among other nurserymen, not famous, but certainly very respected. Twenty Five-Thousand begonias! What if they didn’t sell and we had 23,422 left over. Everyone would laugh at us behind our backs. I could just hear it, “Did you hear about Bob Weidner’s crazy idea?” But I was determined to do my part.
I printed up a little flyer that said ‘Visit the Begonia Gardens’.
I wasn’t going to spend lots of money on a real sign so I carefully took our little Saber saw and cut out giant letters. I fastened them to two wires out in front where you could see them from the freeway. It said “Free Flower Show, Dig Your Own Begonias”. Looking back now I have to wonder why I was so frugal. But you have to remember that I grew up in a little retail growing nursery, first in Three Rivers, California and then in North Long Beach. They call little nurseries like that, ‘Mama and Papa Nurseries’ because they are so small that Mama and Papa & the kids are all the help there is. I could remember some very lean times when I was in High School. I was a reasonably cute teenager then but I would come right from school and go to work. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But I never took any money because there was just enough to pay the bills.
My big memory was of some of the hot summer days when I was afraid that no one would come in and we would have a zero for the day’s sales. (Please remember to buy from those wonderful small nurseries in the middle of the summer). It was never that bad, but we came close some days.
When Bob talked about 25,000 begonias all I could see was selling seven or eight plants a day and all those begonias left over.
One day before we opened as I was attempting to be enthusiastic, I remarked that this might really work. Maybe someday we’ll even sell $100.00 a day. Bob was wonderful! He was older and wiser and kept on reassuring me that he didn’t care how many were left. All I had to do was enjoy them and sell what I could and let him worry about the rest.
Well that’s what we did. We put up the sign, I had a card table, an umbrella and the famous cigar box. [I also had a great tan that year!] I put an ad in the newspaper and we opened for the first day, July 5, 1973.
This is what that parking lot looks like in our open season. Begonias overhead and Impatiens in big circles on the ground. In other words we reversed the old song about paving over Paradise for a parking lot… We took a parking lot and turned it into Paradise. Right from the beginning it was fun.
We had then, and still have today, the most wonderful customers in the world!
They took our flyers and handed them out to friends and neighbors. They recommended us far and wide. [You all still do that and we still appreciate it.]
They asked how they could help and they had a wonderful time enjoying the begonias and digging up their favorites. That first year I had plenty of time and the area of the walkway into the field would get dug out quickly. In my free time I would wander the field and dig some really beautiful begonias and plant them in along the walkway. Soon some ladies would come, see those beauties and stop to dig them.
“My,” they would exclaim, “these are really easy to dig, they come right up.” I never told.
I kept track of the daily sales on a Home Federal calendar. During that summer our good friend John Renaker gave me a lovely fuchsia basket. I hung it up and everyone wanted to buy it.
“Looks like I’ll have to grow you some fuchsia baskets next year,” Bob remarked.
I took it home after a few weeks and hung it up where it promptly died from lack of water!
Before that first summer was over, someone had telephoned Sunset Magazine about us. Sunset came in, took pictures and the next year we had a nice story and a full color picture. When they came to take the pictures the Sunset reporter said, “Why didn’t YOU call us?” that was my first lesson in doing some PR work to get free publicity.
That was the also the start of 30 plus wonderful years of nice customers, beautiful flowers, and the adventure of searching for and adding something new every season. If you would like to know how our providing a new plant every year led to the formation of the now international ‘Proven Winners’ plant marketing group I’ll do that later and call it The Story #2. But for now that’s another story for another time.
As of right now…
In the begining of 2013, Evelyn decided it was time to slow down a bit. She sold Weidners Gardens to Kalim Owens (long time wholesale manager) and Oliver Storm (head grower). They have taken on the duties to keep Weidners open for business and to keep Evelyns legacy alive for years to come. Don’t worry, you can still find Evelyn here at the nursery almost everyday and her daughter, Mary works on the weekends. Evelyn just has a little more time to enjoy the good life…
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