Long Time Business Owners Plan Retirement

Photo by Eric J. Kos

At Thomsen’s Nursery, customers could learn everything about a plant from placards near each specimen. Owner Iris Watson’s extensive knowledge was a true resource to local gardeners. While the nursery will close, Watson remains available for consultation.

An Alameda staple that has housed some of the city’s most exquisite collections of plants since 1943 will be closing its doors to the public.

After 33 years as owner of Thomsen’s Garden Center, Iris Watson and her co-owner husband John, are selling the property at 1113 Lincoln Ave.

"I’m 75 years old," said Iris. "I can’t do this anymore."

Iris has been involved with the nursery since 1976 when she worked part-time for Bob Thomsen, who the company is named after. Thomsen bought the company in 1971.

"I would come down all the time," said Iris. "I told Bob, ‘you’re going to have to hire me because I’m here so often.’" Thomsen agreed.

At the time Iris knew nothing about plants, but that quickly changed.

"I think whenever you do something you love, you’re going to get better at it," said Iris.

Iris said she read every book she could and went to many seminars to grow her knowledge of gardening. Iris bought the company from Bob in 1981, but she had doubts after she took over.

"I didn’t know how to run a business," said Iris. "I remember having to deal with invoices for the first time and other things and I would say to myself, ‘what have I done?’"

It took some time, but Iris got used to the business side. She made the nursery her own and she and John transformed the upstairs unit into Vines Café and Gallery in 1986. Since then Iris has been fascinated with the way the culture of plants has changed over the years.

But the culture is going to have to change without Iris. She said she will miss her customers and employees the most.

"This place has really become a sanctuary for so many," said Iris.

The property will be turned into a residential unit with a garden court. A clearance sale will begin the process of unravelling 33 years of business this Saturday, Aug. 30. The sale will continue until the end of September when the nursery will close to customers.

Contact Ekene Ikeme at eikeme@alamedasun.com.