The Paxtonian Issue #4

Issue #1

The Paxtonian

Victorian Gardening Engineer Sir Joseph Paxton is probably better known for his aesthetics in the design of the Crystal Palace--England's Great Exhibition of 1851-than for his more significant achievement in harmoniously blending the fields of horticulture and architecture.
Issue #2


Like a sheet of liquid glass, a graceful waterfall glides off the edge of shallow rock into a pool below. '. The ripples reverberate out~ard, only slightly disturbing the upturned, crimson margins of the giant Amazonian Water lilies slumbering there. Rising from the center, like nature's totem pole, an upright tree-fern trunk harbors a thriving colony of staghorn ferns, speckled with the yellow and purple blossoms of Oncidium Orchids, while around the water's edge brilliant red, yellow and silver bromeliads dance with their reflections, highlighting --' the rocky embankment.
Issue #3

Tedious Taxonomy

I wrote this article knowing that many people have more knowledge of this subject than I do. I encour- age those people to respond with corrections and additions. Taxonomy is the science, laws and principles governing the classification of objects. Modern plant taxonomy is based primarily on reproduction.
Issue #4

Butterflies: The Garden's Soul Companions

The word 'psyche', to the ancient Greek mind, meant not only the individual human soul but also breath, a premodern kind of dry refrigeration, and any butterfly or moth - as well as a lovely goddess, the lover of Eros, whose tragic yet happy fate signified transcendence and transformation.
Issue #6

Paxton Gate: The Early Days

Twenty-nine years ago, Paxton Gate opened in a tiny storefront in an alley, off an alley. I’d describe the early incarnation of the store as a quirky gardening store with a nod toward Victoriana, hence our namesake, Sir Joseph Paxton. (More about him later). Soon after opening, we started publishing The Paxtonian, which we haughtily described as a “periodical." Whether or not it deserved that designation, or was merely a newsletter, is debatable.
Issue #7

Of Fire, Floods & Plagues

A new year is upon us, and hope is in the air … or is that smoke? Most people, everywhere — in — the — world have suffered one way or another from the pandemic. Millions still do. The epidemic really hit home for San Franciscan’s on March 15th of 2020 when the mayor’s office issued an order to lock up shop and shelter in place. However, for us at Paxton Gate, the madness began a few months prior, early in the morning on December 7th, the day we were to host our 27th anniversary party.
Issue #8

Shopping the World's Largest Mineral and Fossil Show

It’s hard to track down exactly how long ago I started going to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, since it predates the internet as we know it. However, I believe my first trip was in the mid-90s and that I’ve made the journey upwards of 20 times at this point. I can think of no other way to uncover the breadth of specimens and reasonable pricing that I find in Tucson. So, it is without fail, that we continue going back year after year. This year I traveled with our store manager, Rosy, and buyer Trace, which was their first time attending the show. And, by chance of poor luck, we made the trek during the peak of the Omicron wave, to a state that’s not known for its high vaccine numbers and—shall I say—affinity for masks. In the end, we found that most people masked indoors, and we felt reasonably safe.
Issue #9

From Gardening Shop to Oddities Emporium

You might wonder how a tiny, out of the way, plant store evolved into a world-renowned oddities emporium. I think I can say that, can’t I? I mean, how many oddities stores are there in the world really? It was all a matter of evolution and, as a staunch believer in the process whereby one organism slowly transforms into another over time, I think it’s not a surprise that Paxton Gate began as one entity and has become another over the years.
Issue #10

Plants. How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways…

For this month’s issue, I’m delving back into the mid-90s and republishing an article from the third issue of The Paxtonian. When I first considered reprinting my fictional portrayal of a 19th century plant collector, that I wrote back in my 20’s, it gave me pause. However, I read over my plant-geek inspired narrative with an open—if not skeptical—mind, and I think it’s worth sharing again. Or, at least, I’m comfortable putting it out there for a new generation to read. If not for the somewhat forced plot, at least in helping to establish where I was, intellectually, with a fledgling Paxton Gate in the works, in San Francisco before the tech bubble, and a clearly burgeoning passion for plants.
Issue #11

Post Pandemic Parties

I believe this is the first time that I’m actively reaching out to Paxtonian readers to solicit feedback. I’m always thrilled to hear your thoughts, but this time I’m asking for them. We’re celebrating our 30th year in business and, last month, we were even granted Legacy Business Status for reaching this significant milestone! I’m proud of that accomplishment, yet I’m debating whether we should actively commemorate the event. Do we plan a party to take place this December or play it safe for yet another year? Believe it or not, given the spectacle that we’d want to host, our planning would need to start soon. Before going into that, I’d like to talk about the pandemic, how Paxton Gate responded to it, and how we continue to make decisions regarding our role in this ongoing event.
Issue #12

Evictions, Legacy Status, and SF Small Business

In the summer of 2021—pretty much in the middle of the pandemic as we know it—and just before the Delta wave hit the City, we learned of the pending sale of the building that houses Paxon Gate’s office and shipping/receiving room, as well as the offices of our sister company RareField Design/Build, our friends at Bernal Cutlery, Incline Gallery and OW Advisers. At the time, we had about five years remaining on our lease—about four remain as I write this—which was effectively extended to everyone else in the building as subtenants. Most of us panicked. Paxton Gate and RareField had just moved back from our temporary offices, having relocated due a fire in the building and subsequent building-wide repair project (See Issue #7 for that saga!). Bernal had it really bad, having moved into their new Valencia digs just months before the fire.
Issue #13

30 years of quotes from Paxton Gate customers

People say crazy things and come to some curious conclusions when they visit Paxton Gate. Having worked on the retail floor for many years and later in the office within earshot of the retail floor, I’ve been witness to an array of surprising quips, assumptions, and proclamations from our customers, and occasionally from our staff. These range from unexpected remarks—likely due to a customer not fully understanding what they’re seeing—to people who seem somewhat oblivious to the fact that they’re saying something potentially embarrassing, out loud, in front of other people. Many interesting assertions come from customers who appear so baffled by what they’re seeing that they assume they must not be in a store!
Issue #14

Gardening, Art and the Pursuit of Happiness

I wouldn’t say gardening is in my blood, but I have always had a fondness for the outdoors, for plants and the natural world. Growing up in a small, rural town I gardened with my mom and dad doing everything from weeding and hunting for tomato worms, to pruning fruit trees. We grew ornamental plants and had quite a large fruit and vegetable garden as well. We canned food, made our own pickles, milked our goats … quite idyllic in some ways. When the fence failed, we fixed it. If we needed a new barn, we built it. When my dad decided he wanted a large custom barbeque, we got a load of bricks and started constructing it from the ground up. It was here in this charming, DIY setting that the seeds were planted for the career I find myself in today—a career 30 years in the making and still evolving to this day.
Issue #15

Hunting For Science

While having lunch in my somewhat ramshackle, cobbler’s-children-go-without-shoes garden, I heard the familiar squawking of the Mission’s parrots. The small flock of birds glided by overhead, making a racket that sounded as though they were arguing, despite what appeared to be a consensus on their destination. Perhaps they were quarreling about who should be leading the flock. Or, maybe they’re just cantankerous by nature.
Issue #16

Valencia, The Early Days

I’d like to open this month’s Paxtonian by pointing out a few things about this article. In short, I’m not a journalist. My intention here is to write about my experience in the Mission, specifically around Valencia Street in the 90s, and why I opted to relocate Paxton Gate to the corridor in the latter part of that decade. To add to my narrative, I reached out to other business owners to hear their stories. Those individuals I reached out to are people I know or businesses with whom I have some history. As a group, I realize they are not a demographically accurate representation of Valencia in 90s, and it’s not my aim to offer that. This is not an article about gentrification, despite being readily willing to admit that early businesses, like Paxton Gate, likely laid the seeds for the gentrification that followed.
Issue #17

Reflecting On 30 Years

A year ago, I embarked on relaunching The Paxtonian with the promise to myself, and my staff, that I’d write, monthly, for at least the coming year. With the publication of this issue, I’ve kept that promise, missing just one month to a confluence of issues including Covid-19, and admittedly, writer’s block. Although reflecting on the trajectory of Paxton Gate, mulling over paths taken, and even recounting my favorite customer quotes, has been rewarding, it’s also challenging. To some degree it’s just a scheduling issue. With a lot on my plate, it’s tough to find the time to write a well-crafted, monthly piece, while allowing time for editing, image sourcing, formatting, and on-time publishing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dug through the Paxton Gate memorabilia boxes over the last year!