For me, my first recollection of the nursery is late 1940s. I would ride to the Los Angeles area with my Dad to pick up plants that he could not find in the San Diego area. The truck seemed huge to me, but in today’s world not so big. The larger growers up there did not offer delivery to San Diego, it was too far away. Those were long bumpy rides back then, I’m sure I slept a lot of those miles. The one I remember most is a 1949 Studebaker with a 12′ bed. Sometimes my Mom would ride along, probably most. She had to keep an eye on me.
When I was probably about 13 or 14, my Dad gave me jobs’ to do at the nursery. One that I remember well was bagging Oak Leaf Mold. We could only buy Leaf Mold in bulk and it was dumped in a huge pile at the nursery. We would bag it in burlap bags, each bag about 2 cu. ft. We did not measure; “just so the bag is full” , were my instructions. This was a really filthy job. The Leaf Mold was dry and very dusty, I would scoop up shovels full and put in the bag held open by a crude spring loaded affair with teeth holding the bag open. (It looked kind of mean) .When it was full, I would wrap twine around the end of the bag, and stack it close to the front of the nursery. My Dad taught me how to break the twine without a knife. Sometimes it worked sometimes not. That was a real dirty job.
When I was about 14 or 15 my Dad, gave me the job to package and pot water lilies in spring. He used to buy the surplus plants from the Balboa Park Lily Pond when they divided them in the early spring each year. The nursery also had some large ponds or tanks where we stocked them with fish and water plants for sale. These tanks were about 8′ x 8′ square and about 3′ tall, made of cement concrete blocks, above ground. I think there were about six or seven of them. At the beginning of each spring before the lilies came in, one of my jobs was to clean the tanks. I would drain one really low and try to catch the fish in the 2″ to 3″ of water left at the bottom. I put them into the next pond. Then scoop out all of the black gook that accumulated over the previous spring and summer. The smell was kind of like a sewer smell, not very nice at all. What I do remember is after you are doing it for about an hour or so, you kind of get used to it. But it still was pretty bad. We would scrub the walls with bleach to get as much algae and stuff off as we could. I was a mess at the end of those days too. It took several days to clean all of the ponds. Maybe my Father was trying to tell me something. Not sure why I thought this would be a good place to work, but there were other jobs that were not so bad. I repotted many, many smaller plants into one gallon and five gallon sized containers. Back then we grew lots of plants to larger sizes in the back part of the nursery.
Out of high school I took some classes at San Diego Junior College (now City College) and some night courses at the new Mesa College. Some of the teachers at Mesa were nursery owners who also taught night school. Most of those classes were Plant I.D. and Plant Care. I started working full time in the nursery in 1960. Some of my first real jobs were buying some of the plants for the nursery from venders who would call. Later I was in charge of buying all of the fertilizers, potting mixes and chemicals. Most of those chemicals are now banned from retail sales, most just banned period. All in glass bottles too. Yes, some did break, today they would call out HAZ MAT, I’m sure.
I also became active in the California Association of Nurserymen’ (now CANGC) and met many wonderful folks in the industry there. I have also held office in the San Diego Chapter and was a state board member for two terms. Some of those meeting were in the CAN Sacramento offices, to try to have programs that would benefit our local nurseries and growers.
I got married and kids were not far behind, two of them. First, Ken, then Karen. Jody, my wife, became interested in working at the family business and has held several different jobs at the nursery. She still goes in seven days a week to keep her eyes and ears on the day to day business. As my parents got older, they took more and more time off to travel to far off places with close friends and family. Even then, they were active in the store into their 80s just to keep an eye on things.
I now have many friends in this wonderful business, some I have known for 40 years and more. Some I don’t see too often, others more frequently. Recently one of our sales reps was in Poway whom I had not seen in about two or three years, but she came in that day, because she missed her regular day. She has been selling us quality plants for at least 30 years. You never know who you will see tomorrow.
The nursery business is always changing. If it is not seasonal things, Christmas Trees, Poinsettias, it is Bare Root Roses and Fruit Trees. In spring it is a whole new ball game. Lots of new plants, varieties we have never heard of. Recent new plants are Kangaroo Paw’s and Asclepia (Milk Weed). If you would have asked me about an Asclepia four years ago, I would have said, “what?” Recently we have been selling hundreds of them. Who knows what next year will bring? More beauty and fun, I suppose. Can’t wait.
Jody Andersen manages the Business Office and works on operational issues storewide, she is based in the San Diego store. A native San Diegan, Jody began her career with the company when she married Walter Jr. in 1962 and worked at home and in the store while raising her two kids (who could often be found in the store as well) and while taking college courses at Grossmont College and National University. Jody works with POS, inventory control as well as all aspects of running the business office. While retirement maybe nearing, life without her remarkable co-workers and super customers in the San Diego store is hard to imagine.
Ken Andersen is President and CEO of Walter Andersen Nursery. A third generation nurseryman, Ken has followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps since he was a small child. A graduate of University of San Diego High School and holding a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration, Ken’s responsibilities include overseeing strategic planning, preparing company-wide sales projections, providing customer service and responsibility for the store operations. Having started in an entry level position watering plants, Ken has learned all aspects of the business from entry level to upper management. He has worked full time for the family company since 1981. He holds California Certified Nurseryman Certificate #1851 which he earned when he was 18.
Ken’s personal interest in plants is very eclectic from unusual cactus and succulents to rare tropicals and orchids. Ken’s favorite part of the world is the South Pacific having vacationed in Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia with a brief stop in Roratonga. Wherever he goes, from the deserts of Mexico’s Baja peninsula to the lush green tropics of Bora Bora, Ken always investigates plants, looking for the strange, unusual or just plain beautiful.
Ken has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Master Nurseryman’s Association, the Maritime Museum of Association of San Diego, the Executives Association of San Diego, and the Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties. He is also a life member of the US Navy League, US Naval Institute, and Naval Submarine League. Ken is also a Rotarian and member of the Elks.
Karen is a native San Diegan and granddaughter of founders Walter and Byrdie Andersen. Located at our Sand Diego headquarters, Karen is Vice President and CFO for the company. Graduating with a business degree, she worked in the travel industry and in real estate before joining the family business. Karen oversees daily business operations, the company’s involvement in community programs and charitable giving. As an owner, she is responsible for seeing that the mission of the company is fulfilled and guiding the company to a competitive place in the marketplace and to an honorable position in the community.
Born in Aurora, IN, John migrated to California’s warmer climes in 1986. John is the pottery buyer and special projects manager for the Point Loma and Poway stores. In addition to ordering all glazed, clay and terracotta pottery, John is a relentless scout for all things “container” and has sourced many of the lines brought into the stores. John maintains an office in the Point Loma store.
Chuck Carpenter is a familiar face at our Poway location having been with the company since 1998. He also has a dual role as dry goods manager and assistant store manager. What may not be public knowledge is that he keeps one of the most organized and cleanest warehouses in our industry. Chuck excels in his knowledge and salesmanship of chemicals and fertilizers. He acknowledges they can be very selective and tricky to sell so he makes an effort to stay current with trends. An early interest in working with plants and soils propelled Chuck to a career as a nurseryman. “The products are of the highest quality, and the service Walter Andersen Nursery gives is above and beyond what you will find at other competitors”, Chuck says.
David Ross’ passion for the garden started at a very young age, first grade in fact. For a class assignment about what he wanted to be when he grew up, David drew a picture of the family gardener mowing the lawn. David has been with Walter Andersen Nursery since 1989. He offers regular classes at the nursery and speaks to groups about all aspects of horticulture. It’s hard to find something green that David cannot help flourish. He brings a rare blend of humor, enthusiasm and insight to his work. He loves answering gardening questions and you are always welcome to email him at DavidR@WalterAndersen.com.
When it comes to dry goods, James is the go-to guy! From fertilizers to soils, James can find it all. He orders all of our dry goods and can find rare items for you! James loves music and on his off-time James plays guitar in many local bands. James brings a new, electric, energy to the company. If you are ever in the San Diego store and want to talk about a hard to find item, look for James and he will have something interesting to say!
Chuy was born in Mexico and received his university degree in civil engineering from San Luis Potosi University. Married with two children, he came to the company fifteen years ago with amazing analytical and organizational skills, just about the time we were getting our company up and running on our first computer system. He was instrumental in classifying and entering every plant and hard and dry good into the computer, creating SKU’s and numbers for every item in a cohesive and logical manner. He continues as the Inventory Control Specialist today, overseeing all things computer or inventory related. Chuy has extensive knowledge of dry goods and plant material and their relationship to POS and the computer system and he keeps infinitely clear and precise records. Because he is the keeper of the database, he is often called upon to do research for others. Downtime for Chuy consists of reading and sports. Chuy goals are continuing education in the inventory control field and staying abreast of the rapidly changing programs and information.
Ruben was born in Cd. Juarez Chihuahua MX and grew up in Guadalajara Jalisco (Tequila City) MX. Ruben joined the Walter Andersen staff in 2003 and is one of our Store Managers. Ruben was a member of our yard crew and worked his way to store manager quickly, while he attended community college. Ruben works closely with the yard crew, teaching and guiding them. His area of expertise in plants is shrubs and grasses, as well as becoming accomplished at plant propagation. Ruben is also a musician (all recording arts) and he collects rare plants. Ruben continuously improves his plant knowledge to provide better customer service!