George Budgen, Founder
It is said that a business reflects the personality of its owner. This is true when you consider the entrance to the Berkeley Horticultural Nursery at 1310 McGee Avenue, near Hopkins, Berkeley. You have the feeling the people who run this full service nursery are plantsmen and anxious that you enjoy, with them, the selection they have set out in a modest “test garden” at their entrance. You will see even more when you go inside, not only the plants you may have come to shop for, but some you may have never seen before.
“Berkeley Hort.” (as it is known in the trade) is a Berkeley institution just like the University of California. George Budgen, a product of Pennsylvania State University, with a major in Landscape Design, started this nursery on the same site in 1922, after completing a brief stint with the Berkeley city park department. George did not confine all of his activities to the nursery in the beginning. One of his fringe ventures was digging up the palms (in five-foot boxes) that William Randolph Hearst, Sr. coveted from his mother’s estate in Berkeley, now the Pacific School of Religion. George accommodated by shipping them via Southern Pacific Railroad to San Francisco, then by barge to San Simeon. They add much to the atmosphere of Hearst Castle!
George found time for community activities, too. He was the scoutmaster for Troop 2 of the Berkeley School for the Blind for thirty-four years and owns a forty-five-year record of perfect attendance with the Berkeley Lions Club, and he has been a director of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
Like many retail nurseries, Berkeley Hort is known for specialties, in addition to its general line of stock. The late James Noble interested George in dwarf conifers, and many of those collected by Mr. Noble were propagated and disseminated by Berkeley Hort. But it is best known for its collection of two hundred-odd fuchsias and its annual Fuchsia Show.
The fuchsia tradition was started by Sidney B. Mitchell’s importation of some fifty English hybrids in 1929. These were turned over to George for growing on and created such a flurry of interest in their different forms and colors that there was immediate activity on the part of hybridizers among Bay Area fanciers. During the Thirties many fuchsias of promise came from the efforts of Reiter, Niederholtzer, Legan, Hazard and others. Dr. Legan’s ‘Cascade’ was introduced in Berkeley Hort’s 1938 catalog and created an immediate sensation. It is interesting to note that other fuchsias described in the same issue are still around: ‘Autumnale,’ ‘Constance,’ ‘Sunset,’ Fuchsia triphylla and three original English importations, ‘Countess of Aberdeen,’ ‘Lord Byron’ and ‘Rose of Denmark.’ ‘Constance’ is one of George’s own introductions and was named for his daughter, now the wife of his partner, Ken Doty.
George helped organize the Berkeley City Club garden show, a forerunner of the California Spring Garden Show. He was for years a principal exhibitor and now serves as a judge for this prestigious event. He serves the gardening public by conducting frequent garden “clinics” at the nursery, and issues a monthly “Garden(sic) Suggestions” leaflet for the benefit of his regular customers and other interested gardeners. Berkeley Hort welcomes visitors every day except Thursday.
Reprinted from the January 1973 issue of The California Horticulture Society Journal (now known as Pacific Horticulture).