She was taking a break from her business helping residential clients and chefs at restaurants design year-around, seasonal kitchen gardens with heirloom varietals to water her own garden.
Of her six garden beds, five are in full sunlight most of the day. With summer approaching, proper watering is necessary.
It’s key Irene keeps her showcase garden outside her 1926 French Tudor style home in Santa Ana’s Floral Park neighborhood looking good. It was her calling card when she started the business last June, and remains one of her best forms of marketing as she seeks to build her upstart company.
Word’s already gotten out. Irene is currently working with Chef Michael Reed of Los Angeles’ Poppy + Rose on a garden for his new restaurant Poppy + Seed in the Anaheim Packing District. The former greenhouse turned restaurant will include about 200 square feet of garden space for greens.
Reed is one of 15 clients Heirloom Potager’s worked with since the business’ start. Irene is now looking to kick growth at the company into a higher gear with a B Corp certification next year and new garden options for clients that include planting a “salad bar”—all the ingredients for a homegrown salad—or salsa bar—with a choice of different heirloom tomatoes and pepper varieties.
Heirloom Potager is also working with a couple restaurants Irene can’t yet disclose.
For commercial clients, the timing is right to try the farm-to-table approach.
“We try to help clients grow things that they wouldn’t be able to grow otherwise,” she said. “I think right now it’s a perfect opportunity for those looking to recreate themselves. There were some supply chain issues during the pandemic, and this is an opportunity to create a really amazing space.”
Sales for this year, which would be Heirloom Potager’s first full year in business, are expected to total $200,000.
Currently, the business is Irene and her husband, Nathan Goltz,—an engineer by day and hobby woodworker who has done most of the woodwork for Irene’s gardens—with some part-time employees hired depending on the project.
Residential installs typically take about a month and cost about $100 per square foot. A restaurant could take two to three months at $125 to $150 per square foot due to additional costs, such as permitting or materials to accommodate sizes that are typically larger than residential.
Return to Heritage
Irene, who grew up on her grandparents’ farm in central Wisconsin, has always had a love for farming.
She was a fashion design major, giving her an eye for design, that later came in handy in creating her own gardens. She later earned her MBA and served as a brand consultant, while also taking care of her mother, who was battling cancer, for some 10 years.
The push to start Heirloom Potager came following her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis last February.
“Before she passed, one of the things she had always been saying to me is ‘After this, I really want you to live your life.’ Faced with that, I realized that I wanted to do something different. Something that not only brought me a lot of joy, but something that would bring clients a lot of joy. I’ve found that gardens are one of the most joyful things for people,” she said.
Irene had already been helping neighbors and friends with their own edible gardens, and they encouraged her to turn her talent into a business.
Her and Heirloom Potager’s focus and niche has been encouraging clients to grow heirloom varietals, or seeds over 50 years old.
“I find those special because they are a connection to our past and our present,” she said. “They are an opportunity for us to reevaluate food and flavors. In the last 60 years we’ve lost a lot of that. For us, food is whatever’s available at the grocery store. We lost the idea of seasonality. This is a way for me to help encourage people to grow seasonally.”
That philosophy ties into the company’s name. Heirloom refers to the varieties grown, while potager refers to kitchen garden by the French or also soup of the day.
“It’s bringing back health and wellness into our lives. When you get to eat things that are grown organically, because that’s a core tenant of our business, when you do that, you’re eating something at the peak of its freshness and so you experience it almost in its absolute best form,” Irene said.
So far, Irene’s own handiwork has been the business’ biggest advertisement, along with good words put in by happy clients, friends and family.
Some days, Irene said, it doesn’t even feel like work to build out or help maintain her clients’ gardens. She mentioned this as she sat down at a rustic table her husband built for her at the house. The table, she said, will one day serve as a good anchor to an outdoor showroom for clients to meet with her once COVID is in the rearview mirror.
“That idea of coming to the table, enjoying delicious food and having good conversation is really a way for us to create that sense of community,” she said.
“There’s so many things right now with the pandemic, political issues and economic disparities. So, I look at this idea of a table as essentially a bridge in a different form.”
She cited the adage, “If you are more fortunate than others, it’s better to build a longer table than a taller fence.” She has a sticker of that saying on the back of her phone case.
“That, in a nutshell,” she said, “that’s my company.”