Get a Job: Trey Pitsenberger, Garden Center Owner

Trey as window dressing.


Ever dream of quitting your day job and pursuing your passion for plants? Do what you love and the money will follow, that sort of thing?

Well.  We here at GardenRant World Headquarters know quite a few people who have done just that.  So we called them up and asked them to tell us what it’s really like.  Whether you’re just window-shopping for a different life or seriously considering a career change, we hope our new feature, which we’re calling “Get a Job,” will–you know–give you a clue.

We begin with Friend of Rant Trey Pitsenberger, who you may know as The Blogging Nurseryman. In addition to writing awesome blog posts, he also owns and runs The Golden Gecko in Garden Valley, CA.

What do you do for a living?

I am a nurseryman, and garden center owner.


How’d you get started?

I was hired as a truck driver for Christensens Nursery in Belmont, California. I would deliver plants that customers had bought at the store.  It was fun as it got me out on my own, and the addresses I delivered to where some of the most expensive on the San Francisco Peninsula. Soon the owner thought I would do better in the sales department. Thus my career as a nurseryman began.


What’s a typical day like for you?

Open the store for business, check my e-mail for mail orders which I will then pack and ship. Water the plants in the nursery. During this time of year that takes about an hour. Any grooming of plants or cleaning of the nursery takes place. Restocking the fertilizers and other products for sale. Answering the phone takes place all day long, as does checking on the Internet . Keeping our Facebook page, Twitter feed, e-news, and my blog up to date happens somewhere during the day, if possible. Closing the store and doing the books ends the day at the nursery. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that depending on the time of year helping customers is my most important job. In spring it’s all I can do just to make it through the day still standing when it’s all done. During the winter it’s not as hectic. In spring being with customers can take up almost 95% of my day. In winter it might be 25 to 50% of the day is spent interacting with customers both online and in person.

What’s the coolest thing you do at work, and the nastiest, most soul-sucking horrible thing you do?

The coolest thing is helping a customer solve a problem. From that flows happy people who spend money, and nothing in retail is as nice as being rewarded for helping people do better.

The nastiest thing is just trying to keep the doors open during this economic slowdown, re-jiggering, or whatever you want to call it. All the things that seemed solid in this business are changing, like many trades. While I enjoy the exciting changes taking place as well as seeing the incredible opportunities available, the constant “making ends meet” is getting a bit tiring. I hate doing the “paperwork” involved with owning your own business.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

“You spend the day playing in the flowers and talking to people.”  You do, but sometimes playing in the flowers when it’s 100 degrees F and not too comfortable. Still have to water and tend to the plants. The physical part of loading bags of soil, dealing with heat and cold (it’s an outside job) are the hardest for most new nurserypeople.

What does the future look like for your job?

The nursery trade is shrinking to something more sustainable. Until then it’s interesting trying to figure out how to stay in business. If you’re nimble, stay smaller, and focus on your customers needs you can certainly make a go of it. I think once we reach a more sustainable size in the trade the remaining garden centers will be easier to grow.  The craft of horticulture and helping people to be better gardeners is not going away. If you’re willing to sell what your customers want, and not insist on selling what you want to sell, you could have a nice little business.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking about getting into your line of work?

Go for it! Stay small enough to make changes as the public’s needs and wants change. Boot strap your business (I wish we had), and stay out of debt. People skills trump plant skills. Take some horticulture classes, but don’t bother with a BS degree, unless you just love school. Won’t help much with the business. Small is cool.



  1. Love seeing this as a feature. I really want to get into the field but it’s a difficult one to get into with a disability that affects one’s hands. So I’m definitely interested in all the many odd jobs in horticulture that one perhaps doesn’t think of.

    Nice to see Trey interviewed. I’ve been reading him for years after having discovered him through his comments on Garden Rant.

  2. So impressed was I with Trey I figuratively drank myself under the table at the private balcony booth at the IGC two years ago watching Foreigner……………… I believe Trey or Victor Flaherty still have this “staged” photo

    The TROLL

  3. As the co-owner of a small speciality nursery, I pretty much agree with all of Mr. Pitsenberger’s comments about staying our of debt, keeping it sustainable, and focusing on what your customers want. Entrepreneurs often begin with the romantic idea of owning a business while underestimating the amount of work involved in operating such a venture, and being casual about financing their dream with loans. Loans mean you don’t own the business- the bank does and instead of working for yourself you will be working for the bank. My To Do List is equally as long as Mr. P’s, but I share the work load with my husband and a few employees. Thus, I would like to add to his tips about running a successful nursery is that you find good workers who know something about horticulture, gardening and old-fashioned customer service. A business is rarely a one person operation and your employees are as important as your customers when it comes to success.

  4. Thanks for the interview with Trey- I am considering all the angles of doing the same thing- currently work in a retail garden center and would like to build a better mousetrap. It is interesting what he says- and many people in the industry- that people skills trump gardening knowledge. Now in my mind they are coming in and asking questions (because you invited them to with your friendly and generous personality of course) because they think you will have some superior knowledge. Actually I think most people assume we have a hort degree.
    Now the last comment from Diane Groeters says that knowledge of the plants is one of the main things she looks for in an employee, actually someone who knows gardening and is good with people is ideal. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that people need someone to be the expert and gently lead them. At our garden center we have established ourselves as experts and have an information booth with a computer and a stack of reference books for consulting. What do you all think???

    • I agree plant knowledge is the icing on the cake, so to speak. With The Internet I think it’s less important than being able to “find” the right information. Empathy with the customers needs and the ability to satisfy and exceed those needs is where it’s at. I have known too many well meaning, knowledgeable plant people who are horrid at “customer service”. Those kinds of people often feel wholesale nursery, or selling on The Internet precludes them from having to be “customer service” oriented as opposed to plant savvy. Yet selling online or growing wholesale still requires the ability to orient towards the customers needs and feelings rather than just having plant knowledge. Of course, combining all these attributes is what the best garden centers do.

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