GTPulse Weekend Planner: Hands in the Dirt – Pine Hill Connects Traverse City Gardeners to the Earth

Every spring, as the snow melted in the field across from my Grandparent’s Benzie County home, I would see my Grandma suit up in her cold weather gear, making the trek to assess the work she would begin as soon as the soil was warm enough for planting. Carrots, peas, lettuce: each colder weather crop would be planted carefully from seed for a future reaping on our dining table. When I was a kid, I thought my Grandma’s gardening was purely useful: grow plants to eat and can as much as possible to use for the fall and winter. And, it’s true. Myrna Heinz, my gardening grandmother, did have a goal to feed her family. But, now that I’m older, I think her love of gardening was something more. A connection to the earth. Perhaps a place of therapy, the plants themselves reducing our anxieties by showing us the patterns of life, resiliency. They award us with the fruits of our literal labor. Then again, I think of how my Grandma might respond to that thought, “It’s just a tomato, Christal,” she might say with a laugh. She always knew I had a flair for the dramatic.

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Jeanine Rubert also grew up in a gardening family, but her thumb is definitely much greener than mine. “I guess we have to start there,” she tells me, as we sit comfortably distanced from each other at her Carver Street garden center, “My Dad, who worked for the railroad, he was gone a lot, but when he was home, he was always out in the garden.”

Jeanine thinks we’re all hardwired to garden. “Some of us have it from an early age and others have to rediscover it as we get older.”

Jeanine and her husband moved to Northern Michigan in 1978, “I’ll try to shorten (the story) up because it’s a little long,” she laughs, “So, in 1978, my brother, my sister-in-law, my husband and one of our friends, we bought the nursery together. There was a house on the property and it had once been used as a nursery, but it wasn’t being used that way at the time. Anyway, my brother saw this ad in the old Penny Saver that somebody was selling five acres of perennials. So, we thought we would take a drive over to check it out. We were just going to buy some stuff for the yard because we wanted to fix it up and make it look nice. We ended up buying the whole five acres.”

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Jeanine and her family got five gallon buckets from Chef Pierre, washed them out and dug up all five acres of the perennial farm, “I tell people this all the time, my brother really was the driving force of this business. He had to drag us along kicking and screaming.”

The five acres of hand dug perennials, transported in empty whipped cream and pie filling buckets, has grown over the course of 40+ years. Pine Hill now boats two locations in Torch Lake and Traverse City, a landscaping design service, a garden café, and a variety of classes offered throughout the year.

“We’ve just kind of grown organically,” Jeanine says, as I smile at the gardening pun, “We started adding things that people requested, we built our own greenhouse that we quickly outgrew, and it just sort of happened.”

In 2000, the Pine Hill family opened its Carver Street location, “We had been talking about finding a second location for a long time, and Carver Street became available and we jumped on it.”

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Pine Hill Village Garden on Carver Street is an urban oasis for gardeners. Located in the middle of a seemingly never-ending parking lot, Pine Hill sits between Garfield Avenue and Hastings Street in Traverse City. Its neighbors include a shopping center, paint store, diner and hair salon. It’s a welcome wellspring of greenery in the midst of a concrete jungle, and it’s been a favorite spot of mine for at least a decade.

But, Pine Hill is so much more than a garden center. Jeanine and her staff are knowledgeable, experienced and patient with their customers. They offer advice to gardeners experiencing problems with their plants, often listening intently or examining photographs to help find solutions. As a weekly guest on my radio show, Jeanine has been something of a horticultural therapist to me over the years, answering even the most silly questions I’ve had without judgment. Although the segment is designed to be an avenue for listeners to share their questions, I admittedly take some of the time to air my own grievances with my garden.

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“You’ve really come a long way as a gardener,” Jeanine tells me, and I can feel a sense of pride stirring from somewhere deep inside.

I continue to think of her compliment for hours after leaving Pine Hill. Like Jeanine, I came from gardening. My Grandmother’s hands worked the soil, planted the seeds, prepared meals using the fresh vegetables she grew.  As a kid, I would spend hours harvesting snow peas and green beans, methodically making my way along the rows sewed by my Grandparents. The work itself seemed mindless at the time, but, on the contrary, those hours spent connecting to the garden were among the most mindful of my life. I was present, focused only on the task at hand, surrounded by nature. Somewhere along the way, however, I stopped gardening. I’m not exactly sure why I stopped, but it wasn’t until I rediscovered gardening that I understood just how much I missed it. I missed feeling the cool earth in my hands and seeing the visible accomplishment of a freshly weeded flower bed.  Most of all, though, I missed the connection to my roots… The connection to my Grandma.

“Life wasn’t meant to be surrounded by concrete and asphalt and busy—go, go, go—it wasn’t meant to be that way, “ Jeanine says, “I really do believe that allowing yourself to connect with nature, to grow the things that nourish you, I believe that is what we were meant to do. It’s how we connect with our past, it’s how we connect with our world.”

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Jeanine often tells me that the gardening season is never over. Even in the winter, you can adorn your outdoor space with evergreens and dress up your home with indoor plants. And, although we’re stepping into November and the winter season is around the corner, this weekend will bring warm temperatures across Northern Michigan. I ask Jeanine if we should take advantage of doing fall clean-up in a tee shirt and she agrees. But, she mentions, if anything, we should all take advantage of reconnecting with our gardens this weekend before everything hibernates for the winter.


Both Pine Hill locations are open through December and reopen in the spring. Along with plants, Pine Hill offers a variety of gifts that are perfect for the gardener in your life.Pine Hill will begin offering wreathe making classes at both location later this month. For more information, click here. 

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