Blaine horticulturist Marvin Berson, 73, has been interested in plants since he was six years old. As his father owned a nursery, Berson grew up around plants. Since then, he’s spent most of his life learning about plants and teaching horticulture as well as planting an array of species and donating to charity.
When he went to college, Berson’s mother pushed him to attend medical school. But after briefly trying it out, he changed his major to botany. After graduating, Berson moved around the country, living in Michigan, Florida and Nevada before finally settling in Washington state. He grew plants, mostly trees, wherever he went but found the climate in the Pacific Northwest to be the most hospitable.
“I don’t care if I never see a palm tree in my life ever again,” Berson said of his time living in the desert.
Berson has run a nursery, taught horticulture at Santa Fe College in Florida and taught high school agriculture and biology in Abbotsford, B.C. But these days, Berson spends his retirement planting trees; some are endangered species from around the world. He sells them at local farmer’s markets and donates 90 percent of the profits to the Blaine Community Orchards for Resources and Education (CORE) program. The rest is donated to the city of Blaine, local kids gardening programs and tree restoration projects, as Berson doesn’t keep a cent.
“I just want to see this stuff planted, I’m not interested in making money. This is my hobby and it’s cheaper than a gym membership,” Berson said with a chuckle.
Berson currently maintains 25 different species of trees on his property, including eastern white pines, Oriental spruce trees and Siberian firs. Among the endangered species are west Himalayan firs, Tibetan firs and Asian spruce trees. He buys seeds from Europe and Asia, looking at a climate map beforehand to select species that typically grow in a climate similar to the Pacific Northwest. Berson said that in order to grow trees, one has to have patience. Each tree typically reaches maturity, depending on the species, in four to six years, at which time they are ready to be sold.
He starts by letting the seeds sprout in an outdoor seedbed, then, depending on the species, moves them to a small one-gallon pot and eventually a larger three-gallon pot. Berson said he only sells the “hardy” plants that are able to survive the winter.
“I let Darwin do my selection for me,” Berson said.
Next year Berson plans to plant sassafras, which is used to make root beer, and ginkgo trees from China, if he can find the seeds. He will also have paulownia trees available for purchase in the spring. Berson encourages people to plant trees, as deforestation continues to cause problems for our ecosystem, and create landscapes how you – not your neighbors – want them.
“If you love plants, but aren’t interested in making a pile of money, it’s a great thing to do,” Berson concluded.
For inquiries about purchasing a tree, contact Kelle Sunter from the CORE program at firstname.lastname@example.org.