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Ken Andersen

Sub-Region: Southern California Coastal, Inland
State: California
Business: Vice President of Nursery Operations - Walter Andersen Nursery Poway
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Biographical Information

A second generation native San Diegan and third generation Nurseryman. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting my grandparents and Father at work in our Rosecrans Store. I, as did my Father, literally grew up in the family business. I was not pushed into the business. While my parents always let me know that I was welcome in it they encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. As it turns out I did look at different things and had other interests but growing up as I did made the nursery business a natural for me and I always found myself coming back to it. Its a great business, one that give you the opportunity to really help people do something they really enjoy. Our customers come to us because they love to garden, not because they have to maintain a yard. There is a big difference there that I don't think a lot of people realize.

Please tell us briefly about your favorite cause/business/product in which you are involved that you would like to share with the general public and why.
My family and I have always been big supporters of the Zoological Society and their horticultural programs. Personally I feel that the plant collection and the work of the horticulturalists at both the Zoo and Wild Animal Park do not get the recognition they deserve for the collections they keep. Unfortunately the plant side of both locations is considered wallpaper to many who do not understand the value of it on its own.
I am also very involved in the San Diego Maritime Museum. I have been a volunteer for over 22 years and have spent 13 years on the board of trustees and the last four as president of the board of trustees. During my tenure on the board the Museum has evolved from a collection of 3 world class ships, STAR OF INDIA, BERKELEY, and MEDEA into truly world class Maritime Museum that has gained National and International recognition of our collections, exhibits and restorations. It is an outstanding organization with some of the most dedicated and wonderful people I have ever met in my life. It is one of the great accomplishments of my personal life to have played a part in it.
I also am a member of San Diego Rotary Club 33. Not only do I enjoy the fellowship of my fellow club members, Rotary has opened many doors to me both personally and in business that I would never have had access to. On top of all of that Rotary is one of the great international organizations that is really making a difference on a global level with its support of various humanitarian and cultural projects world wide. There are several Clubs in San Diego county and I would encourage everyone to check one out and see what Rotary does, it is truly an amazing organization.

Where can members get more of your advice?
Monday through Friday I am in our Poway store unless I am out for a meeting. Also you can find articles I have written in our quarterly newsletter and in archived newsletters online on our website.

Background Information

Ken's Book Recommendations

Exotica Series IV Inte

Sunset Western Garden Book
This is the one I use the most.

The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

  Ken's Favorite Websites

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Monrovia Nursery

Proven Winners Nursery

Briefly describe the climate where you garden now (climate zone, state, area) and any other areas where you have gardened in the past.
Inland San Diego.

How long have you been gardening?
Pretty much my whole life. Some of my earliest gardening memories are with my Grandfather, Walter Sr. and I would follow him around his yard smashing snails for him. Also working with my Dad on projects around our homes.

What triggered your interest?
I think it was inevitable given the circumstances.

What is your specialty, expertise or claim to fame?
Typically subtropical and tropical plants. Foliage, flowers the more unusual the better. When I was younger I was a huge fan of bromeliads and tillandsias. I would make trips to Kent's Bromeliads in Vista and walk the greenhouses with Jeffery Kent picking out unusual plants for the stores. I am also a big fan of Paphiopedilum orchids, my love of which I got from one of the greatest collectors of the species the late Byron Geer who I had the pleasure of working with for many many years in our store.

What formal education do you have?
I have Bachelors Degree in Business Administration. As far as formal horticultural training I have one lower division botany class under my belt from time at San Diego State University. I have found over the years that the best training you can get in this field is on the job training at a real nursery. The topography of San Diego creates so many different micro climates that book learning on gardening and horticulture for the area would be very difficult. You are exposed to far more things in the field than you ever would be in the class room. Don't get me wrong, formal training in the class room has great value but it must be tweaked and tempered by working in the field with knowledgeable people.

What formal horticultural training do you have?
My ONLY formal training in horticulture was one Botany 101 class I took as an easy elective for me when I was attending San Diego State in the early 80's.

What is your favorite garden or plant-related topic? Tell us a little about them.
It may sound conceited but my favorite topic would be the history of our company. I find the changes that have come to our business and our community over the years very interesting. Because of our longevity our family has seen tremendous change in San Diego, some good some not so good. I feel we are an integral part of this city and its history.

What is your biggest gardening pet peeve? Tell us about it.
Working in retail there are a more than one! The biggest is trying to get people to tell you how much they water when they are having a problem with a plant. People need to understand that when we ask questions we aren't doing so to establish blame but rather to help them out. Its like going to a doctor when you are sick and not being forth coming with all your symptoms or problems you arent going to get the best diagnosis. We are here to help that's all we want to do but we need cooperation to get the right solution.

How much time per week do you spend gardening?
My gardener does most of it! I have a service come in and mow the lawns and clean up leaves once a week. That leaves more of the enjoyable stuff for me. I spend a couple of hours a week in the yard adding new plants, cutting things back weeding, etc.

How much time per week do you spend working at the business of gardening, such as consulting, reading, writing or talking about your gardening subject?
A great deal of my job is now business development so my time on the floor interacting with customers isnt as high as it has been in the past. I probably spend 10-20 hours a week on the floor. I spend a lot of time with customers on my days off when I come in to get something for the yard and I pitch in to help out the weekend crew if we are busy.

What gardening or horticultural clubs, societies, or organizations (or any other interest) do you belong to?
At the moment only the Zoological Society as far as horticultural fields are concerned. From a community involvement stand point I am very active in San Diego Rotary Club 33 and I am finishing my 4th and final year as President of the Maritime Museum Association of San Diego (STAR OF INDIA). The museum has been a passion of mine for over 20 years and I have had opportunity to be involved in the great changes it has gone through over the past twenty plus years. It is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. As far as business is concerned I am on the board of the Better Business Bureau of San Diego, an organization that we have been members of for over 60 years. I truly believe in the Bureau and its mission.

What other biographical information would you like to share?

Gardening Questions

What do you like most about gardening?
The diversity of plants and the intrinsic beauty they provide us.

What do you dislike most about gardening?
Digging dirt, that really sucks. You don't realize how much dirt is in 1 cubic yard until you have to move it by hand. It doesn't look like much in the pile until you start into it with your shovel.

What individual has influenced your gardening interest the most? How?
That's a tough one I would have to say it is probably my Grandfather and my Father on an equal basis. They have been great role models and great people to work with and work for. For two people that were pretty much self made in the industry you couldn't find two people more qualified to do what they did.

What is your favorite place or activity in the garden?
Relaxing poolside in the summer amongst the tropical landscape.

What is your favorite time in the garden?
Spring and summer. Plants start to grow and the color is beginning to peak.

What is your favorite public or private garden in the world? Why?
There are a couple that come to mind. My favorite local ones are the Botanical Building in Balboa Park, I love going there especially with my kids. The Zoo, the Conifer Garden and Baja Garden at the Wild Animal Park. The Rose Garden in Wellington and the Arboretum in Chirstchurch New Zealand. Foster Gardens and Weimea Gardens on Oahu along with the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki -my favorite hotel in Waikiki.

What is your favorite color in the garden?
Green, its tough to get the other colors without it!

If you could grow only one plant, what would it be?
Paphiopedilum sanderianum. It's a really cool looking plant and its history is really interesting.

What plant have you tried to grow that has given you the most trouble? Or, what plant would you like to grow and can't, and why?
There are too many to name but you just keep trying.

What is your favorite gardening outfit or costume?
Shorts, t shirt, top siders, and a baseball hat.

Do you have a gardening philosophy you would like to share with other gardeners? What is it?
If you see something you like, get it, research it, and try it out! Try not to lock yourself into one particular style or climatic zone, you will really limit what you can grow. Be more flexible through out your garden with different areas for different requirements.

Who is your own favorite gardening personality on TV, radio or in print? Why?
I don't really have one. So many are influenced by advertisers or are really out of touch with the industry because they are involved in it purely superficially.

What is the one question about gardening you would really like people to ask you?
This is how I am caring for my plant (truthfully and in all detail) what am I doing wrong?

And what's the answer?
People do not always give you complete information about what they are doing and getting it out of them is like pulling teeth!

What is a garden myth you hear frequently which you know is untrue?
Here is a myth that I just recently heard of through Tom McClure of Southland Sod and recently had substantiated by a customer whose gardener did it!

If you put Pre-emergent weed killer down before you put in sod it will keep weeds from germinating and you will get a nicer lawn faster

And, what is the reality?
FALSE: While it seems like a great idea because the pre-emergent weed killers kill the seeds as they germinate thereby eliminating them. So you would think if you could get that same protection under the sod it should kill any of the weed seed that gets trapped between the sod and the soil surface. In reality the same chemical in a pre-emergent weed killer will stunt or prevent root growth where it comes into contact with the sod preventing it from penetrating the barrier and rooting into the soil. What you end up with is VERY shallow roots on sod that doesn't hold to the underlying soil and drys out very quickly due to the shortness of the roots.

What group or kind of person do you think would benefit most from the advice you can give on gardening?
A person like me, an average homeowner. Someone with a yard they want to keep looking good. Someone who wants something that will set their yard apart from the rest of the neighborhood.

About the Author
Walter Andersen Nursery
Walter Andersen Nursery has built its reputation on providing the highest quality plant material and the best customer service backed by a professional staff. This, along with the widest variety of plant material available anywhere in San Diego has kept generations of San Diegans coming to Walter Andersen Nursery year after year.
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