ENCINITAS — The sale of the Ecke Ranch last August marked the end of an era, particularly for those who remember Encinitas in its heyday as Flower Capital of the World.Sharing credit for the title is Weidner’s Gardens, still thriving after almost 50 years under the watchful eye of matriarch Evelyn Weidner.
Flowering plants blanket six acres at Pireaus and Normandy Road where Weidner’s grows and sells Ecke poinsettias and pansies in the winter, and begonias and fuschias in the spring and summer. Weidner, 84, says she’s not going anywhere.
“I was born in the flower business, I was raised in the flower business, I married Bob Weidner who was in the flower business and I still love it,” she said.
Weidner sold the business in January to longtime employees Kalim Owens and Oliver Storm. Owens functions as general manager and wholesale sales manager and Storm as head grower.
At their request, Weidner and daughter Mary Witesman stayed on to continue teaching, hosting groups and working weekends.
“I’m doing what I do best: helping customers to grow better,” Weidner said, adding that she relishes more time off to volunteer with the Community Resource Center, San Dieguito Heritage Museum, Encinitas Rotary and Shinoda Scholarship Foundation.
Owens says maintaining continuity is important.
“It’s like the business is being kept in the family,” he explained. “Evelyn comes in and we meet as if Oliver and I were her sons. To have that kind of experience is invaluable.”
Weidner adds, “We have an agreement that I can make suggestions, and I do, but I won’t get mad if they don’t take my advice.”
Weidner was raised in a family of Swedish horticulturists who found their way from Minnesota to Southern California. After the end of World War II, she married nurseryman Bob Weidner and had four children. As Long Beach grew in the 1960s, they decided to move to a rural area more conducive to the flower industry.
“My father belonged to the Nursery Association and knew the Eckes,” she recalled. “We could have gone to Oxnard, but Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. said, ‘Of course, you’re coming down here.’ There was good water, long hours of sunshine, and it was not too hot or cold.”
She and her husband retained the name Buena Park Greenhouse in Encinitas, selling foliage wholesale. They sold the business when plastic plants began replacing foliage in popularity.
“We found that flower children hated their parents’ values which included plastic plants,” she said. “They protested plastic plants and started making macramé and there was a groundswell of foliage. Everyone in the business was doing great.”
The Weidners purchased the current property and began selling foliage cuttings. Because Weidner had been active in the Begonia Society in Long Beach, Bob Weidner asked if she wanted to sell tuberous begonias.
“I thought it was ridiculous, but he wanted to be a big flower grower,” she recalled. “The first year we grew tuberous begonias Sunset Magazine contacted us and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’ They printed a full-color photo of our nursery the following year.”
Fuschia baskets followed the next year, then impatiens until they began introducing flowering plants each year.
After Bob passed away in 1988, Weidner took over the helm, harnessing the power of the Digital Age to increase business. Today, she writes the newsletter, updates the website and announces specials on eBlasts.
Paul Ecke III has been a fan since the beginning.
“Evelyn is a very close friend and a tenacious business woman who always provides a great experience for her clients with a cheerful smile,” he said. “I remember once I brought the First Lady of the Philippines (Mrs. Fidel V. Ramos) to visit her begonia gardens. Evelyn proceeded to sell her hundreds of dollars’ worth of products. I think Mrs. Ramos was used to getting stuff for free, and Evelyn gently coaxed a lot of money out of her wallet before she knew it!
“Evelyn is also a great fundraiser for the same reason — she can coax people to donate money and they are glad to do it because it is always fun to talk to her.”
Weidner’s Gardens is located at 695 Normandy Rd. For more information visit weidners.com or call (760) 436-2194.