Customers of Golden Hills Nursery & Feed not only get first rate advice from a professional who has been in business for more than four decades, they also get a glimpse into the philosophical aspect of gardening if they stick around and talk to proprietor Mike Shirley for very long.
“This is a lifetime passion: it gives you exercise and it’s therapeutic,” Shirley said on a recent hot, summer afternoon. “It gets you in the backyard and back to nature. It’s like your own Garden of Eden. It’s food for the soul and food for the body.”
Or as he sometimes pronounces it “Garden of Eatin’.”
Shirley and his mother Ann began their odyssey into the world of gardening in December 1974, and gardening has shaped and defined the life of Mike Shirley, who recently turned 77.
He was born and raised in the Miami area, graduating from Miami High School in 1959. He was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam era, and upon his return, he took advantage of his GI Bill of Rights benefits, attending Gila Community College Pueblo Campus to study math and science.
Ann Shirley retired from teaching in the early 1970s and it was then that they decided to take up the nursery business on the homestead property between Globe and Miami.
“We loved to garden, but we started out without knowing anything about the nursery business,” Shirley said. “But we took the ball and ran with it.”
The nursery started out on the front porch of his mother’s house on Golden Hill Road. Houseplants were stored on the porch, fertilizers in the carport and the cash register was in the kitchen of the small business.
In the ensuing years, Shirley took botany and anthropology courses at the University of Arizona. He never graduated but estimates the five years he spent there left him with somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 college credits.
“I don’t have a degree, but I have lots of credits,” Shirley said. “The internet is like a library of information, so you don’t have to have a degree to be skilled.
Although he sees the internet as an important learning tool, Shirley also subscribes to the “too much of a good thing” theory in respect to electronic gadgets.
“Phones and computers are great tools, but it’s not a lifestyle,” he said, adding, “Our society has become divorced from nature. We’ve lost our way and are losing touch with nature. Everything makes us sick. [Gardening] is a way back to reality for the whole world.”
The nursery was eventually moved into the building it remains in today, on three acres of the “homestead property” that was one of the first in the area to be settled.
In 1984, Shirley expanded and 10 years later started selling feed and poultry, changing the name of the business to Golden Hills Nursery & Feed.
In 2001, Ann Shirley passed away, but Mike Shirley continued on with the family business.
At Golden Hills, customers can find plants for landscaping and advice on keeping them alive and thriving. There are also chicks and baby ducks as well as seasonal trees, from living Christmas trees to bare root trees, and of course flowers, vegetables and fruit trees.
Locally, Shirley has provided materials for the Miami High School garden and fruit trees for the hospital.
They are also conscientious about waste and try not to throw anything away, choosing instead to compost as much waste as possible.
But ultimately for Mike Shirley, it is a lifestyle he likes to share with his customers.
“Gardening is creative and fun,” he concludes. “It’s a way to get back to the fold.”