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Travels with Gary

Articles: Travels with Gary

Gary Hammer harvesting what looks like Jatropha

Gary Hammer left this world on August 7, 2011. But our favorite plant collector had already largely disappeared from the Southern California gardening scene before then.

Hammer, as all his friends knew, had a fervent desire to live in Mexico one day. During the first decade of the 21st century he bought property in Orizaba, Veracruz, established a nursery, and began spending more time in Mexico and less in the States.

How does a nurseryman—as we know too well, no one goes into this business to get rich—accumulate enough money to buy several acres in Mexico? His industry, for one thing. “Gary was the hardest-working person I ever met,” says John Greenlee, ornamental grass nurseryman. Secondly, thrift. Gary was notoriously frugal. Well, let’s be honest, cheap.

“We used to tease him his van was so old you could see the stripes on the highway through the floorboards,” says Steve Brigham, former owner of Buena Creek Nursery in north San Diego County. Nor did Gary waste much money achieving sartorial splendor.  “T-shirt and shorts only, always,” says Greenlee.  “And ...

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