The greenhouse at Golden Hills Nursery & Feed is bursting with plants started from seed and almost ready to put in the ground. It is commonly agreed that gardeners here wait till Mid-April to plant, even though temperatures can seem quite warm in February and March. Photos by Patti Daley
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Planting Life: Golden Hills Nursery & Feed turns 50

Every day, Mike Shirley walks or drives up the hill from his house to Golden Hills Nursery & Feed – an oasis of plant life in the middle of the desert. He’s been running the nursery for 50 years. Now 83, he continues despite health woes. 

“I get up here and I feel better being around plants,” he says. 

He opened the business at 5444 E Golden Hill Rd with his mother, Ann Shirley, in 1974. Today, the shack that serves as his office is wallpapered in sticky notes. The store bursts with everything a gardener could ever need. The tree lot is full of saplings in pots. There are roses in abundance, and the greenhouse is popping with peppers. 

Mike likes how the shop keeps him busy and active. Something to do every day.

”I think of this place as an urban farm,” he says.

Though his mother died in 2001, the small family nursery and feed store teems with life – flowers, herbs, veggies and trees, chickens and bunnies, and people who enjoy plants. Mike’s customers include both out-of-staters and longtime locals. He likes to see people take an interest in plants and how plants beautify a community.

“We take plants for granted,” Mike says. “Our food, medicine, books, buildings… pretty much everything in our existence comes from plants in one form or another.”

Success for a Family Business 

“It’s a very seasonal business, busy in the spring and fall,” Mike explains. “Winter’s a dud. Summer is good until it gets real hot.”

The first years in business were the most difficult, economically. His wife, Linda, works in mining, and they always got by on their combined income. They’ve been married for 56 years and raised three children. Each worked at the nursery before they left home for college.

“They weren’t always willing, but they helped out,” Mike says. “They got a lot of value out of it.”

The kids are all grown now, with college degrees and families and careers of their own.

“I think that’s success – raising a family and sticking together, as much as possible,” says Mike. “Economically and psychologically, we need each other.”

In 2020 and 2021, the pandemic produced the nursery’s highest sales ever. People didn’t want to go to the big valley stores. Mike was swamped, and Golden Hills reached its normal annual revenues in the first six months of the year. As sales got back to normal, Mike saw a lingering positive effect.

“It improved people’s perception of plants,” he says.

Mike Shirley walks up the hill from his house to Golden Hills Nursery & Feed, where he’s been running the nursery for 50 years. “I get up here and I feel better being around plants, he says.

Help Wanted

As a small business owner, Mike has long relied on a dynamic band of part-time help. Qualifications for the position include the ability to communicate with customers, some knowledge about gardening and good physical fitness. 

Kelly, a rancher, works part-time taking care of the nursery’s animals, doing dump runs, and helping Mike out with the computer. Wendy Ehlert, a retired school counselor, helps out 15 hours a week in the winter months and early spring. She enjoys working outdoors and talking with the customers.

“I love the herbs and the fragrant flowers, the bunnies, the color,” she says.

Wendy also helps out with the business aesthetic, painting new signs and the office exterior with colorful birds and ocotillo. 

“One of the great things about working at Golden Hills is that Mike supports my creativity,” she says.

The eldest of Mike’s helpers is Robert Mari, 86, who once owned his own nursery and has a large truck and landscaping trailer he drives down to the valley to transport plants to the shop.

Jeremiah Eichler, 18, is the youngest plant enthusiast to join Mike’s crew. He’s been helping out on weekends for about two months, but has been coming to the nursery for two years, ever since he had a car. He waters and repots plants, mixes compost, cleans the animal cages and helps keep the place tidy. He helps customers find what they’re looking for and loads their purchases into their cars.

“It’s pretty fun,” he says. “Not too hard. Not super easy.”

Jeremiah says the experience will help him apply nursery-quality care to his own home gardening – tomatoes, fig trees, and berries. A 2024 GHS grad, Jeremiah participated in the ag program all four years. For one project he grew a garden bed from seeds and sold plants at an FFA benefit. He thinks someday he might like to start a nursery in a town that doesn’t have one. For now, he’s happy to work for Shirley.

“I just like plants,” he says. “This is the only place in town with super healthy, unique plants.”

About Patti Daley

A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at

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