One Hundred Years and Thriving

Four generations strong, Berkeley Horticultural Nursery remains a family business with a powerful reach

By Rachel Trachten | Photos by Rachel Stanich

“It’s not a home until it’s planted,” was a motto George Budgen adopted after he founded Berkeley Horticultural Nursery 100 years ago. The words still resonate today as the community celebrates this milestone at the nursery fondly known as the Hort.

Budgen’s grandson, Paul Doty, describes the Hort’s founder as “a man who tried to come up with new ideas.” In 1918, with a new degree in landscape design from Pennsylvania State University, Budgen was working as an estate gardener with his father in Upstate New York when they decided to move to Berkeley. George found a job with the city developing trails in what is now Tilden Park, but it was a gift of $1,000 from a friend that Doty believes helped his grandfather purchase the nursery property at 1310 McGee Avenue along with some land in El Cerrito for growing plants.

Budgen’s timing was good: The East Bay’s population was growing, UC Berkeley was expanding, and residential neighborhoods were popping up. Other growers, says Doty, were mostly selling cut flowers, so Budgen wasn’t overwhelmed with competition.

Some of the 1.6-acre Berkeley property had been owned by the local railroad company, and it took a few years to get the tracks torn out before Budgen could set up the lot as a retail nursery. It took until 1938 before he finished building much of the indoor-outdoor structure with office and greenhouse space that customers enjoy today.

A Classroom Lab and Much More

Today, almost all plants sold at the Hort come from wholesale growers, but in the early days, Budgen grew most of the plants he sold. He favored alpine species and dwarf conifers plus various plants he was able to import from Europe until the Great Depression hit in the early 1930s.

During his first decades in business, Budgen created a demonstration garden, so customers could observe how plants grow and habituate. It’s a feature that remains vital today, according to landscape designer and longtime customer Patricia St. John, whose clients frequently request a specific plant or tree growing in the demonstration garden.

Another loyal customer, Elly Bade, first visited the Hort during the 1960s. She fondly recalls towing her young children along to the nursery, which was an inspiring and instructive place to learn and do research during the years when she was studying horticulture at Merritt College.

“Getting to know Berkeley Hort, I found it was not only a kind of classroom lab for me, it was an educational institution in itself,” says Bade, who appreciated the nursery’s public demos and seminars as well as their cooperative interactions with local garden clubs and the UC Botanical Garden.


George Budgen (left in the left photo) started building the Berkeley Horticultural Nursery site on Mc Gee Street in 1922. By 1972, his son-in-law, Paul Doty (to Budgen’s right) was running the business. Lower right: Budgen’s daughter, Constance, communes with the nursery’s fuchsias in 1939. (Photos courtesy of Berkeley Horticultural Nursery)



During the 1950s and ‘60s, the community flooded into the Hort for the annual Fuchsia Show.

“Every fall, there were workshops and speakers; people baked with fuchsias and made dresses and corsages out of fuchsias,” Doty says, adding that the berries are edible and were used to make preserves. (See recipe below.)

In 1982, a mite from Brazil killed most of the local fuchsias, including many of the 200 varieties planted at the nursery. One of the survivors, unaffected by the mite, was a fuchsia that Budgen named for his daughter, Constance. The Constance fuchsia has been propagated for this year’s anniversary celebration.

Another special plant at the nursery—due to both its history and its bright golden-yellow flowers—is the George Budgen vireya rhododendron, developed in the 1970s by horticulturalist Pete Sullivan of San Francisco’s Strybing Arboretum with seeds from a collection of rhododendrons found in New Guinea. He asked Berkeley Hort employee Bill Pollard if he’d like to come up with a name for the new rhody. “I thought, I’ll name it after Mr. Budgen because I respected him and he was a great plantsman,” Pollard recalls.


The Constance fuchsia. Constance Budgen wrote on the Hort’s website: “Since the nursery contained hundreds of varieties … I knew just which bushes offered the most edible berries in fall, and I sometimes helped my mother make fuchsia jelly.” (Scroll down for a fuchsia jam recipe.)



Left: Berkeley Horticultural Nursery employee Miguel Gonzalez entertains Paul and Jeanne Doty’s puppy, Juno, at the California native plant section. Right: Paul and Jeanne Doty take Juno for a stroll through the nursery that Paul’s grandfather founded 100 years ago.


Four Generations Strong

In 1954, Constance Budgen married Ken Doty. Raised by a wholesale nursery family in Oregon, Doty was a natural to join George Budgen’s business and took over management in the 1970s. Constance and Ken’s son Paul would follow in those same footsteps.

“By 1979 it clicked for me,” says Paul Doty, who went back to college for a horticulture degree and became the nursery manager in 1983. Now semi-retired, Paul still serves as the Hort’s president when he’s not busy playing bluegrass.

Paul’s wife, Jeanne Doty, is a CPA who has been in charge of nursery bookkeeping since 1990. Their son, TC Melançon, joined the yard crew at age 10.

“As soon as I was strong enough to lift a two-cubic-foot bag of soil, I was allowed to work on the weekends,” says Melançon, who gradually turned his childhood job into a career and today serves as the store’s general manager.


Paul and Jeanne Doty’s son, TC Melançon, represents the fourth generation at the nursery. He currently serves as general manager.


Stewards of the Planet

Renowned for its tremendous inventory of plants, Berkeley Horticultural Nursery offers everything from California natives, roses, rhododendrons, and cacti to fruit trees and a wide variety of organic herbs and vegetables. It’s also a destination for plant collectors, who will stop in seeking rare or unusual items even though they don’t live anywhere near the Bay Area, says Paul Doty. “They’ll just pop in to see what kind of goodies they can find.”

The nursery has been a valuable resource for drought-tolerant plants since the dry spells of the 1970s, when Doty says everyone was scrambling to find things that wouldn’t take so much water. “The Mediterranean plants, like rosemary and lavender, really filled that niche, and those took off.”

Melançon observes that when he started at the nursery 30 years ago, edible plants and California natives were the new and hip thing. “From then, it’s grown exponentially. The pandemic encouraged folks to grow their own food. In the last year and a half, I’ve talked to more new vegetable gardeners than ever before.”

Doty says that interest in removing lawns is on the rise, noting the influence of two local women who have done so much to encourage growing food in your yard instead: South Bay edible landscape designer Rosalind Creasy and Berkeley’s own Alice Waters, founder of the Edible Schoolyard (and Chez Panisse).

Che Salas, the nursery’s lead buyer for larger plants, says he gets questions about switching out lawns on a daily basis. The nursery offers drought-tolerant options in all categories, not just cacti, succulents, and dry-looking grasses. “There are many plants out there that are gorgeous and almost tropical-looking without using a lot of water,” he says. “We also educate folks on how to care for plants during low-water times.”

For garden pests and fungal problems, Salas tells customers, “Do everything possible before reaching for a chemical.” Instead of pesticides, the nursery offers natural products such as neem, mineral, clove, and peppermint oils.

Doty says they’ve found that giving gardeners information based on scientific data is the best way to go. “We know that permaculture works. We know that organic gardening practices are best for the long view. We know that a natural balance exists, where a gardener must occasionally tolerate a less-than-perfect harvest. But if the customer doesn’t share our view, they are not chastised. They get an explanation but may need to go elsewhere to find products like synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.”



Anniversary Fanfare

Throughout 2022, the Hort has been celebrating its centenary with raffles, plant giveaways, musical performances, art shows, and gardening demonstrations. For kids, there’s a program of garden- and food-related activities created by artist Helen Krayenhoff, who designs the Hort’s newsletter. She and her partner, Peggy Kass, run Kassenhoff Growers, which supplied most of the nursery’s vegetable starts in the mid to late 1990s. For the anniversary, they have been propagating the Constance fuchsia.

Among the many special events this fall are Kids’ Day on September 10, a demo on pickling with Preserved owner Elizabeth Vecchiarelli on September 24, giveaways of posters by artist David Lance Goines, and raffles for a Constance fuchsia and a George Budgen vireya rhododendron.

Pop in during the coming months to join in the fun and meet some of the people who make Berkeley Horticultural Nursery a powerful force in the local horticultural community.

“We have great people who are passionate about the field,” says Salas. “We’re a quirky little family; we have fun working with plants and talking to folks about gardening and dodging a couple of hummingbirds every now and then.” ♦

Berkeley Horticultural Nursery
1310 McGee St, Berkeley


Rachel Trachten writes about local food in connection to social justice, education, business, and the environment. View her stories at

Fine-art photographer Rachel Stanich is intrigued by the stories of others. She explores cultural texture and landscape in her work.


Pass the Fuchsias, Please!

Even though the fuchsia craze has passed, people still eat the flowers or make fuchsia jams and jellies. The berries of each fuchsia variety can produce unique flavors that range from peppery or lemony to sweet. Some berries have a mild grape flavor while others might taste like a cherry-grape cross. The round or oval-shaped berries ripen to dark purple in late summer and fall. Pick them when they are soft and squishy and use them quickly or freeze them until you can pick enough to make Fuchsia Berry Jam. Here's a simple recipe if you want to try:

1 pound sugar
2 tablespoons water
Juice of 1 lemon
1½ pounds ripe fuchsia berries, washed
1 apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped (for the pectin)

Dissolve the sugar in the water and lemon juice over low heat. Add the berries and apple and bring slowly to a boil. Continue to cook until the mixture sets when tested on a plate. Pour jam into sterilized jars and seal if storing or cool completely and enjoy immediately.