From the time he was old enough to till the soil, Timothy Kornder seemed to have a green thumb. He started his own greenhouse when he was in eighth grade and cultivated a passion for plants, most notably heirloom vegetables, specialty melons, peonies and exotic peppers that he grew and sold at Brewery Creek Farm in Belle Plaine.

The future of Brewery Creek is uncertain. Kornder, 49, who was the farm's only grower, was found dead Saturday inside a greenhouse, said Lori Kornder, his wife. The cause of death has not yet been released. Kornder opened Brewery Creek nearly 30 years ago with a couple of small greenhouses specializing in bedding plants and grew the business into one that gained a national reputation for selling high-quality plants and vegetables that were often not available anywhere else. He was particularly proud of the 450 varieties of peppers and 300 varieties of tomatoes, some that came from Mexico, Brazil and Israel. More recently, he got into hybridizing peonies to see what colors he could come up with.

"He was adamant that he always had something new to bring to the market," Lori said.

Customers came from far and wide to shop and get gardening advice. "Plant early, plant often" he'd tell his customers, Lori said. "He loved passing on his expertise and educating people with their gardening skills."

He was a frequent vendor at the Minneapolis and St. Paul farmers markets and often shared his gardening knowledge through appearances on local radio and television shows and lecturing at garden clubs, conferences and local colleges. For the past 27 years, he supplied the plants for the hanging baskets at Valleyfair.

"Whenever we wanted to do something different, he'd go out of his way to get it for us," said Scott McKenzie, landscape supervisor for the Shakopee amusement park. "The plants were high quality. He will be sorely missed."

Kornder won several FFA awards as a student at Belle Plaine High School. He earned a degree in horticulture from the University of Minnesota-Waseca in 1979 and started the thriving garden shop just off Hwy. 169. As passionate as he was about growing plants, he also tended to his employees. He had a handful of Hispanic workers and in recent years began to learn Spanish. He even took trips to his employees' homelands to meet their families "and delve into their backgrounds, interests and know where they came from," Lori said.

He also liked to travel, especially in winter, to places such as Oaxaca, Mexico, and Costa Rica to find more varieties of peppers and melons to bring back to Minnesota. His newest venture called for establishing a vineyard featuring Minnesota grapes, Lori said.

Kornder is survived by his daughters, Alison Burstein of Lakeville, Andrea Kornder of Denver, Colo., and Ashli Kornder of Belle Plaine, and their mother Lori Kornder; sister, Nancy Adams, of Middletown, R.I.; mother, Elizabeth Kornder of Belle Plaine, and nieces, nephews, friends and colleagues.