Van Winden's Garden Center has a long history in Napa.
Original Article by J. Lee of The Napa Valley Register in May of 2013.
' Van Winden's Garden Center is no ordinary nursery. More accurately, it's a two-acre amusement park for horticulture enthusiasts.
Located on Pueblo Ave, just off Highway 29, Van Winden's Garden Center offers close to 300 varieties of roses, a mini-forest of Japanese maple and other trees, rows of annual and perennial bedding plants, vegetable starts, and a 3000 sq.ft. greenhouse packed with houseplants. There is also statuary, pottery, outdoor furniture, a range of gardening accessories, and a gift shop filled with gifts and home décor.
The impressive collection makes for not only a great shopping experience, but also a peaceful afternoon stroll. Most plants are accompanied by a sign which provides basic information on planting and care. People saunter through rows of bushes, crouch over signs taking notes and refer back to their flower textbooks in hand. On the weekends, it's a place for family trips where the mini-vans get loaded with perennials, fertilizer, and a perhaps a Venus fly trap for kids. And it all started many decades ago - the seed of the great American dream.
In the Beginning
Peter grew up in Holland, where his family owned a farm. As a child he helped in the greenhouse growing lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, and delivered vegetables to the marketplace via Holland's famous canals. While the image of a boy pushing produce-laden boats through narrow waterways make for an idyllic picture, the backdrop against which it took place was far from peaceful.
"I was almost 11 when World War II started. Germany occupied Holland, and we lived under the pressure of Hitler," said Peter.
From 1940 to 1945, Holland suffered under the Nazi regime until it was liberated by American, British and Canadian Forces. Yet despite the liberation, Peter told his father he didn’t want to stay in Holland. He could not imagine a future in the context of what he had witnessed during the occupation. He said he wanted a change - a new start in a new country. For him, America was the answer and since his father, Jake, had a brother in California, that was his destination. So in 1948 at the age of 18, Peter and his father arrived in Oakland in pursuit of a new beginning.
Peter and Jake looked for jobs in the Bay Area. If Northern California proved promising, Jake planned to bring the family. But after an extensive search, the area failed to appeal. They went north to the Napa Valley, and Peter and Jake found work as grounds persons at the Beaulieu Gardens and fell in love with the beauty of Napa. His father decided to return to Holland six months later, but Peter asked to stay. Jake told Peter, if he could find a place to live and work, he would come back with the family.
For the next year, Peter was diligent, saving every penny. In 1949, Peter's family immigrated to the United States and made their home in Napa. Back then, Napa was a small farming community. Rather than vineyards, Peter remembers prune trees dotting the landscape. Napa was virtually undeveloped.
As new immigrants, the Van Winden family shelved into what they knew best and worked in landscaping. In 1951, during the time of the Korean War, Peter was drafted and served in Korea and Japan. His father and his brother Adrian, who was in high school, started a nursery on Browns Valley Road in 1952 selling Camellias. That December, Peter completed his duty and returned home.
In January of 1953, the Van Windens upgraded their business by purchasing a two-acre property on Pueblo Ave., just off Highway 29. But while they had the land to expand their business, there was no money for a building. Without alternatives, they parked a six-by-eight foot crate (that had been used to ship their furniture to the United States) on the property and set up a store inside. Together the Van Windens put in countless hours to prepare the business.
On Feb 17, 1953, Van Winden's Garden Center officially opened and made their first sale: a Camellia. Peter worked at the nursery while Adrian and Jake started a landscaping business. Adrian was drafted into the Army in 1957, but returned to landscaping after his two year service was completed. The rest is history. Van Winden's quality and selection became well known in the Napa Valley. Even when the large retail chains started moving into town, Van Winden's continued to grow.
Van Winden's Today
Peter's commitment to quality, selection, and service has earned him a reputation that has carried the business for well over half a century. He's constantly looking to improve the business by reading and studying plants. Whenever he travels, Peter stops at nurseries to research new varieties of flowers and plants that can be introduced into the Napa climate.
Another aspect owing to the nursery's longevity is a committed staff, some of whom are family. After Peter married his wife, Joanna, he bought the nursery from his family. Together they created a partnership that had Johanna handling 300 house accounts (before that age of credit cards) while Peter worked at the nursery until 6:00, then did paperwork often until midnight at home. In 1979, they purchased land on Big Ranch Road and started their growing grounds. There they grow many of the plants sold at the nursery. It is also where they try out new varieties to see if they are suited for the Napa Valley climate.
Today, 5 of their 6 daughters work at the nursery, assuming various responsibilities to help run the business. The staff is comprised of gardening experts who have been with the nursery for years. The combination of loyalty and knowledge from the team has been a great contribution to Van Winden's success.
Into his 80's now, Peter is well past conventional retirement age but according to his family, settling down will be hard to do. '