Home & Garden

The healthy Earth nursery

Whimsical birdhouses by local artisan Rick Holliday feature driftwood details.
Whimsical birdhouses by local artisan Rick Holliday feature driftwood details.

Zan Overturf, owner of The Tree Man in Paso Robles, is a self-proclaimed “old school” gardener. For one thing, she tends to her sprawling four-acre nursery almost single-handedly by what she calls old-fashioned puttering.

“Gardening should be a pleasure and not a chore,” she said. “It should be like breathing in and out — a zen thing.”

Overturf’s puttering includes growing 90 percent of her own stock. This not only allows her to offer competitive pricing, it means plants are already acclimated to the area when customers take them home.

Her old-school philosophy extends to the way she cares for the approximately 400,000 plants at the nursery, which include trees, annuals, perennials, shrubs and edibles. She sticks to non-chemical methods, which combine organic products and simple solutions such as pulling weeds by hand and letting her chickens run loose to peck at bugs and provide natural fertilizer. She sells organic products, along with more conventional ones.

“The whole point is a healthier Earth,” she said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel here. Life existed before chemicals.”

Her back-to-basics philosophy results in a natural feel for the nursery. There may be a few weeds poking up along paths and there aren’t any manicured topi ary to admire. But that doesn’t mean there’s a scarcity of things to see.

The Tree Man’s success has been based on offering items not found in the average big box store — or even the average nursery. Among the more standard nursery fare is what she categorizes as “weird, totally unusual stuff.”

Currently in that classification are Trost’s dwarf weeping birch trees, fullheight 5-foot tall peonies, as well as unusual varieties of magnolias and lilacs. In the spring, she will be offering a selection of tomatoes from around the world for $5 each as a fundraiser for the Templeton library. Also, because of a dearth of good bare-root stock this year, she found and purchased fruit trees left over from farms that grow fruit for Del Monte, such as canning peaches.

“You wouldn’t recognize the names, but they’re commercial varieties we all have enjoyed,” she said.

This stunning variety of plants is almost overshadowed by a mind-boggling array of garden statuary, pots, birdbaths, fountains, benches and other accessories.

There is an entire swath of land dedicated to Asian statuary, another to religious icons, and yet another to every animal figurine imaginable. There’s traditional garden art, and then there’s the downright quirky. Think life-size bulldog gargoyles and 10-foot metal dinosaurs.

Overturf likes to support local artists, so you’ll find handcrafted goods at The Tree Man. Many are made from salvaged materials, such as the array of whimsical birdhouses built with beachcombed driftwood and old barn wood by Rick Holliday.

The Tree Man also specializes in old-fashioned advice. Got an odd pest or disease? Bring a sample in a baggie and Overturf will be happy to make a diagnosis. Need help with plotting out your landscape? Bring in a photo. Just don’t show her an image on your smartphone. This oldschool gardener prefers making notes on a printed photo, and sometimes does her best thinking with a stick and a blank patch of earth.

The Tree Man is located at 2630 Ramada Drive in Paso Robles, 227-6225, http://www.thetreemannursery.com.

Reach Rebecca Juretic at rajuretic@sbcglobal.net .