The Climate is Changing and so is the OAEC Nursery

By Doug Gosling

The OAEC non-profit nursery is the outward face of our 45-year-old esteemed Mother Garden and represents an outreach into the community of the experience, work and wisdom we’ve gained from working the land in the same place since 1974.

When we produced our first Plant Sale as an experiment in 1995, we had no idea that we would strike such a resonant chord of interest with the local community for the organically grown vegetable seedlings and unusual perennials propagated from plants in our gardens. Our garden was already one of the oldest California certified organic (CCOF) operations in the state, had been introducing specialty crops to Bay Area markets and restaurants for years, and was widely recognized for its pioneering role in the revitalization of the art of seed saving, long before the term ‘heirloom’ had become a household word.

Occidental Arts & Ecology Center CCOF Certified Organic Nursery. Photo by Jim Coleman

The garden was christened the ‘Mother Garden’ in the 80’s as an homage to its fecundity and to the enormous diversity of its plant and seed collection that had long been shared through donations to community gardens and other groups. Over 40 years later, the garden continues to literally give birth to other gardens through our nursery and seed exchanges and by educating gardeners in organic practices who then go on to start gardens in other places.

We started humbly by first introducing some of our favorite varieties of regionally appropriate vegetables and herbs that we had trialed in the garden, many that people had never heard of, much less grown before. Some of these rare food crops and varieties were threatened with extinction and the need for their conservation additionally fueled our mission and desire to preserve and promote them. Each year we offered more diversity of varieties as the interest seemed to explode, until at one point we were selling over 200 varieties of tomatoes!

The Plant Sales quickly outgrew our old nursery and greenhouses, to the point where we had to build additional hoop houses, and even for several years, rent space in the greenhouses at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm. Six years ago, we were able to realize a dream and build our own beautiful state-of-the-art production greenhouses on Coleman Valley Road where the nursery sales now take place.

OAEC Garden in the Fall of 1979. Photo by Jim Coleman

Over the years, more and more organizations and schools began to produce plant sales as fundraisers and more nurseries started selling organically grown heirloom varieties. We can say that we were significant players in offering these plants to the general public for the first time, and can take some credit for the local marketplace now being flooded with organically grown annual heirloom vegetable starts. We have been so satisfied to see the increasing literacy of gardeners around the importance of diversity to a healthy organic garden!

With the unpredictability of climate change and the resultant challenges that follow: drought, uncertain food security, soil depletion, and the threat to biodiversity, we are re-committing to the mission of collecting from the extraordinary plant wealth that still exists on the planet and offering plants to the community that we believe will be of value in the face of all these changes. We are moving in the direction of widening our selection of perennial food crops, culinary and medicinal herbs, and moving away from offering as many annuals seasonally at Plant Sale events. We will continue to offer our “signature” annuals that you can’t find anywhere else, but will be increasingly focused on an ever more diverse collection of perennial plants that we believe are of cultural, historic and culinary significance, are drought tolerant, or have value in enhancing habitat or attracting beneficial pollinators.

Why do we love perennials? Perennials are often hardier and more drought and pest tolerant due their woodier stems and extensive root systems that continue deepening in search of water and nutrients year after year. They need less fuss, less water, less fertilizer and less fossil fuel. Permanent root systems encourage the growth of soil microbes and prevent the kind of erosion and carbon depletion that frequently tilled soil is vulnerable to between annual crops. Please visit the OAEC website to learn more about the benefits of perennial plants in the garden and how perennial agriculture and other “Carbon Farming” practices can help mitigate climate change.

Our customers come to us year after year to learn from on-site experts about tasty locally-adapted edibles, multi-function plants suitable for Permaculture design, and water-wise gardening practices. They come to feel the warm sense of community and beauty inherent to this place.

In 2018, the OAEC Nursery will be open three days a week – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – from the beginning of April until the end of October. We release new varieties every week, so stop by throughout the season to check out the latest arrivals. Our special “Friends of the Nursery” Preview will be April 1st, 10am-5pm, where members who donate $50 or more annually can get first pick at the best plants and a discount of 20% off throughout the season. You can become a member of the Friends of the Nursery program at the door of this event. The nursery will open to the general public starting on April 6th.

Tours of the Mother Garden will be offered every 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month from 1 to 2:30pm where you can see mature examples of the plants we sell thriving in place. (Please note: Other than for scheduled tours, the site and gardens are closed to drop-in visitors.)

And while our business model is changing slightly, we can assure you that we will continue to offer beautiful, vibrant, high-quality plants that have been loved and cared for from the day that they germinate. With your continued support and patronage, the OAEC Nursery will continue to lead on the cutting edge of climate-wise, biodiverse, organic gardening in the North Bay area for years to come.

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