If you look beyond the half-dozen rows of lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and other plants, you may notice an empty chair sitting in some shade at the Logan’s Garden booth at the Saturday Downtown Farmers Market.

It’s the seat Logan Williams and his father, Jimmy, have been reserving for customers every weekend for years.

“We always bring three chairs,” Logan said on a recent spring morning in Santa Monica. “Customers just hang out after they buy their plants. We’ll talk. Customers have gotten to know us over the years.”

It is one of the secrets to the organic gardeners’ success. It turns out, friendship and good conversation are essential to helping Santa Monicans grow their own backyard and balcony crops. If you buy a plant from the Williams family, they’ll see it through.

“Any problems that you have, take a picture,” Logan said. “Come on back. We’ll coach you through it. We try to be as helpful as we can be here.”

The coaching can be key as amateur gardeners tackle thorny issues when it comes to plants. The Williams family sells about 400 types of heirloom tomatoes alone, and they know from experience how to deal with temperamental plants.

“Sprinkler systems are the enemy of tomatoes, believe it or not,” Logan said. “You get mildew on the leaves.”

The urban farmers have given so much advice over the years, Jimmy published a book in 2010, “From Seed to Skillet,” a collection of gardening advice, recipes, and general wisdom. Jimmy has been featured by national publications like Martha Stewart and Modern Farmer. The family’s gardening legacy runs deep: Jimmy’s great-great-grandmother carried Goosecreek tomato seeds from West Africa on a slave ship. The family has grown them ever since.

Logan always tells his customers to invest in good, organic soil and fertilizer. Beyond that, he said to simply pay attention. New gardeners tend to over water; most plants don’t need another drink until the first inch or two of soil is dry. After coaching generations of Santa Monicans who buy his plants, he advises most people to start growing foods they like to eat.

“You’re always going to be more inclined to take care of something that you know you like,” Logan said. “It’s a relationship.”

Herbs like mint and rosemary grow like weeds in Southern California and can be good for beginners. The Williams family sells four varieties of mint: spearmint, strawberry, banana, and ginger. Because the half-acre nursery is outdoors, Logan says his plants will make an easy transition from their home in Silver Lake to the West Side. In contrast, many plants sold by grocery stores and other corporations start out indoors.

“A lot of time you get plants that are greenhouse-grown and then you take them outside and it’s like dropping someone off from the suburbs in Detroit,” Logan joked. “They’re not going to like it.”

While spring is a great time to get started, Logan says Southern Californians can grow lots of plants year round. It means his customers get to come back again and again.

“We’ve literally gotten to see people grow up,” Logan said. “Not just the plants grow but the relationship and the families. It’s cool to watch that process.”

Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press