Episode 110: Annie’s Annuals and Urban Tilth

Annie's Annuals & Perennials

Annie’s Annuals specializes in rare and hard to find heirloom plants

This week finds Joe, Patti and Nathan in Richmond, CA for a behind the scenes visit with Annie Hayes of world-renowned Annie’s Annuals and Perennials. From humble beginnings in her own back yard to two and a half acres of prime San Francisco real estate and a tremendous following, Annie now offers some 3,000 varieties of hard to find and rare heirloom annual and perennial plants preserving them for generations to come.

Just what is an heirloom? Although definitions vary somewhat, generally it is a plant 30-50 years old that has been handed down from generation to generation and comes true each year from seed. Searching for these seeds is an interesting challenge for Annie and her team and the stories behind the plants fascinating.

Annie explains that plants are given away once they have outgrown their 4″ pots

Each and every plant in her repertoire is grown organically from seed exposed to the elements, not protected in a greenhouse environment. Her philosophy, and she has the successful plants to prove it, is that plants perform better in the garden if they are not forced into blooming early as with the typical nursery trade. Because her focus is on developing a strong root system rather than flowers or fruit, her plants are therefore healthier and establish more quickly.

One of the more unusual aspects of her business is that they only sell plants in 4” pots. So, Joe wants to know what happens to them when they’ve outgrown that space. Annie donates the plants to local community organizations, local schools and Urban Tilth.

Urban Tilth’s gardens are open to the community for harvesting

Urban Tilth is an organization dedicated to teaching children the skills they can use to grow their own food. They have agriculture programs for youth from kindergarten to twelfth grade and offer free workshops to the community on gardening and sustainability. Located along a bike path nearby these gardens are tended by the children but the harvest is open to anyone in the community.

This part of their Mission Statement says it all “Urban Tilth has a deep commitment to West Contra Costa County. We believe that environmental restoration is inextricably connected to economic and social restoration. As a result we are committed to training and employing local people, working collaboratively within community, establishing cross sector coalitions, engaging in local policy decisions and growing our food (and ourselves), locally and organically using the principles of permaculture to take into consideration waste reduction as well as water and soil conservation, preservation and restoration”.

Also in this episode Patti shows us that having a bountiful harvest doesn’t have to take up tons of space. It can be accomplished with a self-contained, self-watering kit that is easy to set up and a cinch to maintain. And Nathan whips up a delicious summertime treat using one of his favorites…tomatoes. Enjoy the show!

For more information

Urban Tilth

Annie’s Annuals and Perennials

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Seed Savers Exchange

About

Growing A Greener World is a national gardening series on Public Television that features organic gardening, green living and farm to table cooking. Each episode focuses on compelling and inspirational people making a difference through gardening. This gardening series covers everything from edible gardening and sustainable agriculture to seasonal cooking and preserving the harvest.

Comments

  1. says

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  2. Althea says

    I live in Illinois and have ordered from Annie’s, for the past couple of years. The plants always come super healthy and the selection awesome! Thank you for doing an episode on this company!
    I have a farm so I rarely get to travel. But going to Annie Annuals, is on the top of my list of places to go one day. It makes me angry when I see people want to right off such an awesome place because of the neighborhood. For the reasons mentioned above, and I seriously doubt you are going to get ‘car jacked’, or have any problems in broad daylight. I never knew that Annie’s was not in not the best neighborhood. And finding that out makes me want to go even more! I personally can’t stand cookie cutter America! Annie’s rocks!

  3. Gale says

    I visited Annies Annuals about a month ago as I was passing along from San Jose to Sacramento. I was able to get a wonderful assortment of unbelievable plants that are healthy and strong. I do not see this quality in any of the big box store, nor in many nurserys. I was impressed! The variety is astounding, and the sample gardens provide a view of the grown plants. The neighborhood may not be the greatest but once you are inside Annies place, it is a world of it’s own. The staff obviously enjoys what they do and are quite helpful. I felt safe enough and look forward to going back. It is quite an education to see these plants in real-time rather than on the website. Photos and videos cannot do it justice.

    • Joe says

      Hi Gale. I totally agree. Annies plants and the passionate staff are some of the main reasons we wanted to feature this type of nursery. That and of course the fact that they grow so many unusual and hard to find plants, so we can keep them going. That’s important. The issue with the location is really a non-issue to me too. They’ve been there a long time and all is well. Thanks much for your comment.

  4. Christie C. says

    I agree with all things said here, but I would like to add my little experience with chain “do-it-yourself” types of stores.
    They do carry many plants, in all different sizes, and for a very reasonable price.
    Unfortunately, most plants are in such a pitiful state that they are almost done blooming by the time you get them planted, or they don’t bloom and wither…

    I feel temptation to buy plants at this type of store, ( in all of their blooming enthusiasm they look promising enough) but it just isn’t worth it, for my money.

    I order my plants from Annie’s, I do not drive.

    Annie’s plants always arrive here like I picked them out myself.

    Christie Colla, Annie’s big fan.

  5. says

    And lets be real. Who can still afford to run small start-up/visionary businesses in expensive retail hubs? A nursery, such as Annie’s, in Berkeley’s 4th Street shopping district would have to charge double simply to afford the location. And consumers are not willing to absorb that cost. Unfortunately most consumers have been completely spoiled by Home Depot prices and compare everything else to that level.
    I own a sustainable flower shop with a small outdoor garden section in San Anselmo, Marin County, and often have carried Annie’s Annuals for my customers. They tell me right to my face “we love your place and your ideas, but wel’ll go to Home Depot to get our plants”.
    So I salute Annie and Pilar of Sunnyside Organic Seedlings, the old orchid growers and other greenhouse operators of the industrial areas of Richmond as my business heroes. Dance to your own tune at an affordable place and the some of the masses will follow. You won’t get rich, but you won’t dillute your vision.
    Silke Vom Bauer
    Local Flora, Marin’s “green” flower shop & design studio

    • Joe says

      Well said Silke. It’s the sad truth; while acknowledging the state of our economic times, most consumers will always put price over quality to drive their purchasing habits. At least by having places like yours, Annies and the others, there are still options. That’s more than can be said for a lot of other business driven out by big box compitition. And this is why we derive such joy in sharing the stories featured on GGW. It is about people and places doing good things for the planet with an empahsis on gardening. We just added you to “our” list of business heros too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. says

    Thanks for featuring positive news about Richmond. Great things are growing here! Thanks, Elayne, for the positive response to the previous post. Michelle should come back to Richmond and perhaps actually visit Pt. Richmond (which is not where Annie’s is) where I bet she would be comfortable and delighted with her dining and shopping options. There’s a lot to Richmond, and we’re proud of Annie’s, Urban Tilth, and lots of other locally-grown businesses.

  7. says

    Michelle and Joe – Thank you for the kind words! As you can probably tell, we love our city and we’re doing everything we can to provide a safe, happy, critter and human-friendly environment within our gates. What happens outside of the gates, of course, we have no control over. However, I will say that in the 10 years that our employees have driven, bused and biked to our current location daily, we have never once had a problem. Our propagator rides her bike from East Richmond and has never been bothered in her commute. Many of our neighbors are gardeners AND customers who respect our business and love that we are here helping to improve the neighborhood.

    We provide extremely detailed directions to the nursery on our website, so people can get here in the safest way possible. http://www.anniesannuals.com/info/directions/default.asp and for folks who are too far away or feel too uncomfortable driving here, they can always mailorder plants from our website or purchase them from one of the many independent Bay Area nurseries who buy our plants wholesale.

    Socially and economically, Richmond needs improvement. Exercising caution is important just about anywhere – especially in urban neighborhoods. But there are also a lot of positive things happening here. Urban Tilth is a prime example. As a Richmond citizen, who is proud to live and work here, please don’t write off our neighborhood as “very dangerous.” It is – and can be! – so much more than that.

    Best,
    elayne takemoto
    Annie’s Annuals and Perennials

  8. says

    Love, LOVE, love Annie’s Annuals and admire how she has given back so much to the local and surrounding communities.
    And the gardens of the Bay Area are so much more horticulturally rich because of her fantastic palette of plants.
    Minor detail, but to call Pt. Richmond ( Annie’s nursery location) ‘prime San Francisco real estate’, is hugely misleading.
    It’s a very dangerous neighborhood. Last time we drove to Annie’s we stupidly took our old vintage convertible there and were extremely anxious as we were being followed thinking that we might fall prey to a car jacking, which is not uncommon in this area.
    Needless to say, it’s not ‘prime S.F. real estate’ and one should take extreme caution when driving through this area.

    • Joe says

      We love Annie’s too Michelle as I’m sure you can tell. You raise a good point about the “prime real estate quote” in the context of your reference. My point was that I’m sure she’s sitting on some valuable commercial real estate being that close to San Francisco. With so many independent garden centers struggling merely to survive, a lot of them sell out at even a low-ball offers just to get out from under the debt. Annie’s clearly has entrenched herself in a wonderful niche and bless her for being able to do so in an industry that continues to get squeezed from every direction. Thanks for your comment.

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