Nestled in the tawny-hued Petaluma hills, at the end of an unassuming dirt road, sit the 1870s farmhouse and lush gardens of Andy and Rachel Berliner. While their names may not be instantly recognizable, their company certainly is. Andy and Rachel are the cofounders and owners of Amy’s Kitchen, the Petaluma-based organic foods company which employs over 1,000 people in the county.
The couple have lived in the home for decades and raised their daughter Amy there (the business is named for her). As their family — and their business — has grown, so has the garden. But despite the changes over the years, Rachel Berliner says the garden’s focus remains on family. In its simple, unfussy design, she says the flower-filled garden feels accessible and welcoming, enveloping visitors like a hug.
When they first moved in, Rachel knew little about gardening. She quickly embraced the effort to transform the land, doing most of the gardening work herself and developing the lower, more cottage-like area of the property (a family friend, Ann Kahn, designed the more formal back garden). Later, Rachel says, an injury forced her to relinquish some control: “I had to step back and appreciate other people’s work.” Olivia Trombino, whom Rachel fondly calls her fairy gardener, now takes care of the family’s vegetable garden and potted plants.
In early summer, the garden bursts with color and motion. “I love the way a perennial garden moves through the seasons,” Rachel says. Things start gently in April and May, with soft, muted tones as tall columbines start peeking out. Then, as full summer hits, there’s a transition to more bold colors: the yellows, purples, and oranges of zinnias, roses, salvias, and dahlias. It’s a superb contrast to the surrounding sun-parched hills — a mix of textures and colors that Rachel says brings her family joy: “Flowers really uplift your soul and are a gift you can give to people, just like how we give people a nourishing meal.”
The Berliners say their garden connects their family to their customers in a very tangible way. Nearly every flower pictured on the packaging for Amy’s Kitchen products comes straight from the Berliner garden. “I try to invite people into my home by using the flowers from my garden on the packaging… It’s important to me that the people who eat our food have some personal connection with us, because we really do care and want to cook for them.” On a day when they’re photographing food for packaging, Rachel will grab a basket and head out into the garden at 7 a.m. to pick an array of flowers to complement the food. She then heads to the photo studio and sorts the blossoms by color. “It’s been that way for 30 years,” Andy explains proudly.
As strict vegetarians, Rachel and Andy appreciate that the garden gives them easy access to home-grown vegetables. Soon there will be basil (lots and lots of it!), lettuce, arugula, and tomatoes. “We eat greens for months, and I like to go out before dinner and pick the vegetables I’ll use,” says Rachel. “I love making soups and salads from what I just harvested.”
The Berliners garden sustainably, in balance with the surrounding wildlife. There’s something for everyone — bees, butterflies, even the local deer and turkeys, who often hang out among the native plants.
The couple also enjoys the huge variety of bird life, including hummingbirds, orioles, goldfinches, woodpeckers, horned owls, and bluebirds. Andy jokes that the pool is one of the best spots for bird-watching, as the birds don’t seem to know he’s there. Rachel, also a swimmer, jokes, “I always keep my binoculars near me — not in the pool, of course.”
The couple has come to realize that living in the country so close to nature involves surrendering some degree of control. Sneaky turkeys, troublemaking racoons, and destructive voles and gophers come with the territory. “A garden really does its own unfolding,” Rachel explains. “And even if you lose parts of it, there is always something beautiful happening. That’s just country living.”
The Berliners say the choices they make for their Petaluma garden are based on the ethos of community. “We really like to support and buy plants and materials from local businesses,” explains Rachel. Their family’s favorite small, independent nurseries and garden centers include:
The Retail Nursery at Emerisa Gardens 555 Irwin Lane, Santa Rosa 707-525-9644 emerisa.com
King’s Nursery, 1212 13th St., Santa Rosa, 707-542-4782, kingsflowernursery.com
Landscapes Unlimited, 4330 Bodega Ave., Petaluma, 707-778-0136, lunpetaluma.com
West Marin Compost, 5575 Nicasio Valley Road, Nicasio, 415-662-9849, westmarincompost.org
Cottage Gardens of Petaluma, 3995 Emerald Drive, Petaluma, 707-778-8025, cottagegardensofpet.com