SMDN, Community Remember Gary Petterson
Gary Petterson, the longtime landscape and garden columnist for the South Mountain District News since 2002 died on February 20 in a San Diego hospital where he and his wife Sharon had gone to attend the 50th Anniversary of a his cousin, said wife Sharon.
He was 71.
Gary was well known in the agriculture and gardening communities in Arizona where his resume is quite long, but Sharon said out of all his honors and achievements, it was working with people teaching gardening and making clients landscaping beautiful he enjoyed most. He always had interesting stories to share because of his vast experiences. He also worked with many schools’ vocational agricultural programs to build greenhouses and assist the teachers with horticulture.
“He did a lot of classes in gardening and landscaping as well as home shows for many years. He was one of the most popular speakers at the home show seminars,” she said.
The couple also developed an educational newsletter that was mailed to clients and now is sent via email.
He was also the Phoenix Home & Garden editor for eight years and appeared for eight years as “Gary the Gardener” on a weekly television program where he discussed gardening and answered calls from listeners. He was a professor of horticulture at Rio Salado Community College and was a frequent speaker at numerous garden clubs, groups and organizations.
He was on the advisory board and chairman of the University of Arizona Maricopa Research Center and a former board member of the Arizona Nursery Association. He also served on the American Nursery Association where he served as governor for six years and he was on the committee of the City of Phoenix Water Conservation Management Committee and former president of the Maricopa Westside Farm Bureau.
Petterson was born in San Francisco and grew up in Palo Alto and Atherton, Calif.
He caught the gardening bug from his grandfather who he called Papa, in Forestville, Calif. Gary’s parents had extensive home gardens and grew fruit trees and berries.
Gary was very active in his local 4-H Club and earned many honors. In fact, Gary and his future wife, Sharon Rovey, a third generation native to Arizona, met at the 4-H Congress in Chicago, which was quite the honor to be picked to attend.
He was honored by attending twice and winning a national award for his work, the National 4-H Achievement Award and was presented a silver tray from John F. Kennedy in 1962 for Outstanding 4-H Boy Achievement in the United States.
Her trip to Chicago was paid for by sponsor Green Stamps. “I tease I got a husband with Green Stamps,” she said, referring to the stamps given to customers by merchants. They could be saved and cashed in for an array of gifts.
Gary graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a major in agricultural business management and minor degrees in horticulture, soils and animal husbandry.
His honors as a youth did not stop there. In 1964 he served as the International Farm Youth Exchange to Japan where he lived with eight different families and did a six month speaking tour. He also served as the International Youth Conference chairman at the 1964 Olympic games.
The couple married in 1964 and lived in Tucson where Gary set up soil testing labs and later worked for the University of Arizona Extension Service advising farmers and homeowners on crops and horticulture.
He did six years in the Army Reserves with stint in active duty at Fort Ord, Calif.
Later they made their home in Glendale and raised two children Kari and Ben who are currently working in the businesses.
Other ventures include leveling land and farming in Poston, Ariz. with the Colorado River Indian Community. They also developed the Glendale Business Park.
They raised hay, selling it by the bale or truckload and sold citrus trees which they would deliver to the customers. Later Gary developed Greenworld Mulch made from sawdust from Walled Lake Door Factory and later a variety of other sources. They continue the mulch in bag and bulk.
The couple bought the 20 acres of the current nursery in 1978 and built greenhouses for plant propagation and production. Gary’s senior thesis at Cal Poly was on vertical integration of a business. Gary achieved that at Gardeners World being a one stop location for all horticulture supplies. In 1984 they moved into the current office building at 3401 E Baseline Road, Phoenix.
Petterson began growing floral-grade poinsettias in the vast greenhouse and the nursery became well known in the Valley for its Poinsettia Festival, which was an annual event in the South Mountain area for the last 28 years.
The nursery was originally wholesale only. Later they expanded into four retail nursery locations, then closed all but one to start and focus on Gardeners Eden Landscaping where they do complete residential design and landscape installation including open close patio covers.
In1984 they moved to Gilbert, which at the time had only one stop light and one grocery store.
“He went to the town of Gilbert and told them they needed a design review board, “she said. “They said, OK, start one.”
Gary provided landscape, horticultural and design expertise as a volunteer on the Design Review Board for the Town of Gilbert. He had just been reappointed,” Sharon said.
He was active in the Tempe Christian Science Church and the Sun Country Iris Society. Gary and Sharon have thousands of irises at their home, some are one of a kind. They also maintained an extensive home garden including Gary’s fat boy okra that he developed. He experimented with many new plants and worked with other experts to develop a number of new products including Great Big Plants, B2 soil mix, First Step soil acidifier as well as many unusual plants.
Their home garden includes apricots, peaches, figs, kumquats, citrus, pears and many other interesting plants. The garden produced more than they could use so they started bringing extras to the nursery to sell at Farmers Market. That led to their daughter Kari getting into farmers markets and she started her own company Double Play Produce that holds one market at Gardeners World as well as three others in the Valley.
Sharon said she is planning a memorial service for him sometime in the future.