Dinter Nursery – 40 Years; and Urban Food Gardening

Presentation: 40 Years as a Nurseryman

Bernie Dinter (www.dinternursery.ca ) reviewed local Garden Centres over the past 55 years, and the changes that influenced them.

* In the 1960’s numerous small, family owned and operated garden centers such as Layritz Nursery on Wilkinson Rd., Cedar Hill Nursery owned by Rudolf William and the Duncan Eaton’s Garden Centre.   Dinter Nursery opened in 1973 as a full service centre offering expertise and advice. At this time there were expert gardeners in the media such as Doris Page on CHEK TV and Bernard Moore on CBC.

  • Big sellers in the 70‘s were Junipers, English Laurel, Ivy, Marguerites, petunias and marigolds.
  • Nurseries sold chemicals such as Diazanon, Paraquot & Round Up.
  • Some reference books you will recognize from that time were “The pacific Gardener” by A.R. Willis and the Sunset Western Garden Books.
  • Popular garden styles were English Cottage and West Coast Suburb.
  • Vegetable gardens were common following from the depression and wartime Victory Gardens when growing food was a necessity.
  • Gardeners were knowledgeable, often specializing in roses, fuchsias, dahlias, chrysanthemums, rhododendrons or alpines. Ed Lohbrunner was one of those specialists.
  • Deer were a novelty being seen as adding to the charm leaving the gardener at peace.

Today, Garden Centres are struggling.  Many have met their demise leaving fewer options for gardeners.  There are fewer new ones coming along.  Centres that are left, band together to form nursery groups for economies of scale.

Reasons for this change are:

  • high land prices
  • ALR zoning regulations where growing the plants is permissible but selling those plants on ALR land is not.
  • The business is more capital intensive requiring a high level of automation offering efficient distribution to chain stores.
  • Chain stores and grocery stores sell plants at a low margin with limited selection at peak season taking the market share of sales.

Growers in the future will have to face the issue of large chains who have a “pay by scan” arrangement with growers, meaning they only pay the grower when a plant is sold.  Customers will be able to order plants from Amazon passing the order on to growers who ship to the customer, bypassing the local garden centre.

The Market in 2016 looks quite different from the past.  The majority of consumers are the Generation X’ers and Millennials. Marketing to this population is quite different from previous generations.

  • they look on line for their information
  • generally , they do not trust marketing
  • often don’t own property
  • they are not knowledgeable plant consumers
  • influenced by word of mouth, friends and online reviews.
  • they want to grow their own food
  • tend to see gardens as a place to relax and entertain
  • emphasis is on accessories such as decks, comfortable seating areas, fire pits and hot tubs, with the focus being on the accessories rather than the plantings.

Marketing to Millennials will require creativity taking advantage of their penchant for technological devices and the level of sharing they do. Some nurseries have installed Selfie Stations so customers can take pictures to show their friends where they are, feeding into their comfort with word of mouth advertising.

Challenges facing gardeners:

  • Drought:
  •  We live in a Mediterranean climate with little rain between April and November.
  • Coping with water shortages – There is a Xeriscape demonstration garden at the Summerland Research Station.
  • Tree watering systems – “Tree Gator” is useful for watering trees away from a water source
  • Rainwater Collection tanks:  need to be large to hold sufficient water to make it worthwhile.
  • Lawns:
  • Pros for having a lawn – spaces for recreation, relaxation, a tidy ground cover.
  • Cons – uses too much water in summer, is a monoculture, requires regular care and inputs. It is not bee and insect friendly.
  • An alternative to lawns is a flowering meadow – insect friendly, drought tolerant, low maintenance and self-seeding.  A wildflower meadow cannot be mowed or it will not self-seed and will die out.


  • Plant to attract pollinators and beneficial insects.  There has been a realization of the necessity of pollinators in recent years and many people are providing our native Mason Bees with houses to encourage their presence in the garden.
  • Birds also are being attracted for insect control and general birding interest.
  • Creating a diverse ecosystem is a goal for many younger gardeners today.
  • Composting is popular, especially with organics not permitted in the waste stream, recycling nutrients back to garden keeps the soil healthy.
  • Water gardening is an important component in many gardens.
  • Food gardening:  Fruit tree sales are popular and some apple keeper varieties may last until Easter providing large quantities of food with a surplus for processing or juicing.  Varieties not normally available in stores are sought and growing them provides savings and satisfaction.
  • Growing our own food has become popular again having dwindled in the 80’s. Some reasons for this are the publicity around the 0 mile diet and a desire to know where our food comes from.  There is a renewed interest in exotic fruit such as Chestnut, Asian Pear, Quince, Crab Apple, Persimmon, Mulberry, Medlar (old fruit variety) and Olive.
  • Fairy (miniature) Gardening is another trend that developed a few years ago and although it was expected to be a passing fancy, it is still popular.

Future of the garden centre:

The garden centre will continue to be a source of advice, providing practical hands-on ‘how to’ knowledge by selling quality plant products that are suited to the area and will be successful there.  Garden centres will provide customers with inspiration and ideas that reflect their life style to help them create a garden that reflects their values.


Workshop:  The Garden of Eating

Local urban food gardeners and activists, Ruth & Brian Holl, led a discussion on food gardening.  To grow your own food you will need:


  • Know the direction your garden faces, how many hours of sun it gets per day and the microclimates it contains.
  • Use that knowledge to your advantage to grow a wide range of food.
  • Most vegetable plants like sun and the sunniest areas can be used to grow the heat loving plants such as tomatoes.  Cherry or Roma varieties will ripen in the garden.
  • Areas with some protection from the sun are good for cool crops such as peas, lettuce, kale and spinach.


  • This is the single most important component of a vegetable garden.
  • A healthy soil has good microbial action.
  • It is a good idea to have at least one professional nutrient test done by a soil testing lab to get a breakdown of all the micronutrients.
  • Most vegetables prefer an alkaline soil.  Determine the PH level by using a simple testing kit available at garden centres.  This will let you know if your soil is alkaline or acidic.
  • A simple test will demonstrate whether your soil is sandy or clay by adding water and soil in to a jar and shake well.  As the mixture settles the course sand and small gravel falls to bottom with finer particulate matter at the top.  After settling, the jar will have a level of sand at the bottom, the next layer will be silt and at the top will be the clay. The suspended materials in the water are either clay or silt.     A lot of sand indicates soil with good drainage and poor water and nutrient holding capability.  A large component of clay means high potential for compaction, water logging and poor drainage although clay soil has the advantage of having a good capability of holding nutrients.  What you want is soil with a large layer of silt indicating a loamy soil.
  • Sandy and Clay soils are difficult to change in the short term and you just have to work with what you have.
  • The best way to amend a poor soil is to add thick layers of good quality compost each Spring and Fall.  Over time your soil will be transformed.
  • Every batch of compost is different from every other batch; the challenge being to find a supplier who can reproduce a similar compost year after year.
  • Look for non-steaming compost because if it is steaming it is still working and could burn your plants.
  • Be careful with inputs into your garden because you can import ‘nasties’ such as field bindweed, which despite determined efforts, cannot be removed.  You can prevent this by letting the compost sit after you buy it to see what grows before adding it to your beds.
  • In home composters use only kitchen plant waste and non-weedy garden refuse to prevent weed seeds from contaminating your garden.
  • A useful resource to learn about healthy soil and the connection to human health is “Soil and health:  A Study of Organic Agriculture” by Sir Albert Howard first published in 1945 and republished in 2007 by University Press of Kentucky.

Food production:

  • Not just relegated to the veggie beds; grow ornamental plants that are edible such as borage and calendula that can be added to salads. Cabbage can be grown in amongst the ornamentals.  Camas is good to eat however it needs to be roasted overnight because of the concentration of inulin.
  • Fruit trees provide plentiful harvests of apples, pears or plums and come in dwarf and semi-dwarf for backyard growing.  They can be espaliered as a space saver.
  • Peach trees are best grown on the south side of the house with protection from winds.


  • Encourage bees and butterflies to visit your garden by growing plants that are attractors.
  • Have mason bees ready to pollinate the fruit trees in spring.  Harvest the pupae in October storing them in a cardboard box or Tupperware container with ventilation holes in a garage, carport or fridge until late winter when they can be put back outside.

Pest control: 

  • There is no need to use pesticides because they destroy beneficial insects.  Encourage beneficials instead.
  • Vinegar on paths can be an effective weed control but the best control is diligently and dogmatically pulling weeds before they go to seed. That, combined with regular mulching effectively deals with weeds and adds organic matter to the soil.
  • Cover crops such as Crimson Clover suppress weeds, adding organic matter and nitrogen when worked into the soil in the spring.