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Obituaries

John Boething, 89; founded successful Valley nursery

August 19, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

John Boething, a self-taught horticulturist who founded a nursery in Woodland Hills in 1952 -- perfectly timed to benefit from the postwar building boom in the San Fernando Valley -- and became one of the state's leading nurserymen, has died. He was 89.

Boething died Aug. 11 at his Woodland Hills home after a short illness, said a daughter, Cathy Pherson.

"He was a legend in the tree business and ahead of his time when it came to 'greening' the planet -- he was a real pioneer in that," City Councilman Dennis Zine, whose district includes Woodland Hills, told The Times. "John was very generous with the community and supported many projects."

With money borrowed from his father, Boething bought 35 acres just north of the 101 Freeway in "what was then the middle of nowhere" and opened a small retail nursery, his daughter said. He repaid the loan in two years.

By the 1970s, Boething Treeland Farms had begun focusing on the wholesale business and expanded to Northern California. It now grows trees and shrubs on more than 800 acres in nine locations around the state, making it one of the top California nurseries in size and scope, said Stuart Sperber, a founder of Calabasas-based ValleyCrest Tree Co.

"His nursery was a growing ground for people as well. Many of those in our industry today can trace their roots back to a time with John Boething's operation," Sperber said.

Boething, who had worked as a sportswriter for a Midwest newspaper and as a freelance cartoonist, had a love of horticulture but no formal education in the subject when he decided to open a nursery. He schooled himself by "asking questions of everyone in the business," he told The Times in 1978.

Boething was "always looking for new enterprises," Sperber said, and his ideas included selling live Christmas trees in the 1970s.

Among his civic projects were supplying the trees for a remodeling of Stanford University's stadium and spearheading the donation of native and Mediterranean trees to the fledgling Cal State Channel Islands in Ventura County.

Early on, Boething built a rustic one-room house on the Woodland Hills property, adding on to it as he married and raised four daughters there.

"People were always surprised that my parents still lived there," Pherson said. "My dad was very down to earth. He always described himself as a farmer, and he just wanted to live a simple life."

John Ervine Boething was born Jan. 6, 1918, in the Los Angeles area, to Ervine and Marjory Boething. As a boy, he worked in his father's upholstery business in downtown L.A.

After growing up in Glendale and graduating early from Hoover High, Boething enrolled at 16 in UCLA and completed his bachelor's degree in geography from UC Berkeley in the late 1930s.

During World War II, he served as a captain in the Army in the Pacific theater. He later earned a master's in geography from UCLA.

"J.B.," as friends and colleagues called him, was a deft gin rummy player and an avid golfer. He had a keen sense of humor and kept his high school friends all his life, his daughter said.

His favorite trees were the sequoia, which reminded him of family vacations in Yosemite, and the Japanese maple, for its fall color and early return in spring.

In addition to his daughter Cathy, Boething is survived by his wife of 54 years, Susan; three other daughters, Sally Painter, Haydi Danielson and Marji Boething; and six grandchildren.

Services will be private.

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Instead of flowers, the family suggests donating to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles through Las Madrinas, Department 6778, Los Angeles, CA 90084.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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