Horticulturist of the Year

Every year the board of the San Diego Horticultural Society selects an important member of the local horticultural community to honor as our Horticulturist of the Year. The award recognizes an individual for a lifetime of achievement and service.

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  • Mon, May 01, 2017 4:57 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    We are delighted to honor lifetime member Debra Lee Baldwin as our Horticulturist of the Year. Many members know Debra for her enormous contribution in popularizing the ecologically responsible (and beautiful) use of succulents in the garden. Multitalented Debra writes with an evocative and nuanced vocabulary, paints richly hued lifelike watercolors, takes vibrant photographs, gardens with enthusiasm, and shares all her passions through books, lectures, videos, and social media. Learn more about Debra from her website (debraleebaldwin.com), especially the “About Debra” section, which outlines her background and accomplishments. 

    I had the good fortune to join Debra in her Escondido garden in early April, where we shared the scrumptious and colorful lunch she had prepared before strolling through her vibrant garden. Debra has recently finished work on the completely revised second edition of “Designing with Succulents,” which she’ll have available when she speaks at our October meeting. We discussed:

    How did the love of plants you got as a child set the seeds that grew into your ongoing wish to share and educate people about plants and nature? 

    My father, an accountant, also was a rancher and naturalist. We often discussed insects, birds, reptiles, plants, the seasons, and the stars. But it wasn’t until the ‘80s when working with Peter Jensen, then editor of San Diego Home/Garden magazine, that I realized the positive difference a garden journalist can make.

    If you weren’t doing what you are doing now, what can you imagine yourself involved in?

    I’m intrigued by what motivates people and how they interact, so I might become trained as a therapist or Marriage and Family Counselor. 

    What do you look for when adding a new plant to your garden, and why?

    I’ve gardened on a half-acre in the foothills north of Escondido for a quarter century, continually adding plants. At first it was all about “Where will it do well?” which resulted in a visual mish-mash.

    Now, a new plant has to be practical, beautiful, and enhance sight lines.

    For the last ten years, you have been enormously successful at sharing your love of succulents and promoting their use in the garden. If you weren’t living in San Diego County, with its wealth of succulent growers and hobbyists, do you think you’d still be so enamored with this plant group?

    In a less hospitable region, I probably wouldn’t grow many succulents in my garden. I do think, though, that I’ll always have succulents as potted plants—wonderful specimens arrayed in one-of-a-kind, art pots. 

    Is there another group of plants (besides succulents) that you think has similar potential and that should be used more in gardens, particularly here in San Diego County?

    I think bromeliads and furcraeas are underutilized in coastal landscapes, and most gardens would benefit from the addition of natives. 

    Does the fact that most succulents are so incredibly easy to propagate (for yourself or to share with others) make it harder for nurseries to sell these plants? 

    Not significantly. 

    Do nurseries have to keep a large inventory of many different species and cultivars in stock to satisfy the demand? 

    It depends on their target market. A large nursery’s most lucrative customers are commercial properties and landscapers shopping for clients’ gardens. For both, tried-and-true plants tend to be the norm. 

    We keep seeing new cultivars introduced nearly every month – do you think that pace will continue? 


    Do you see some older varieties declining in use as newer choices come along? 

    I hope so, because certain common older varieties can be poor choices. (See my video What You MUST Know About Century Plants at youtube.com/watch?v=KBs-Hqbq48U.)

    Which succulent species or cultivars of would you encourage people to use more of, and why?

    Consider using large agaves that don’t pup (like A. ovatifolia and A. guiengola); aeoniums that stay compact and don’t form tall, ungainly trunks (shrub-forming A. haworthia, for example, and A. ‘Kiwi’); echeverias that withstand the rigors of the open garden (like E. agavoidesE. imbricata, and E. ‘Sahara’); spineless or near-spineless opuntias (which make a great backdrop, hedge and/or firebreak, are edible, and get by on rainfall alone); large aloes with tall, glorious flower spikes (such as A. speciosaA. vanbalenii, and A. ferox); small aloes that are mound-forming over time (such as A. nobilis and A. brevifolia); tree succulents (such as Beaucarnea recurvataDracaena dracoAloe ‘Hercules’, Pachypodium lamerei, and yuccas); cacti that look gorgeous backlit (golden barrels, silver torches); jade cultivars with interesting leaves (‘Hobbit’, ‘Gollum’, ‘Tricolor’, ‘Hummel’s Sunset’); dasylirions and hesperaloes (desert plants with slender, upright leaves and fountainlike shapes); new ice plant cultivars in eye-popping colors; Othonna capensis (a good ground cover and cascader for terraces and containers); Peperomia graveolens ‘Ruby’ (a shade succulent that stays red); variegated elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’), and shrub sedums of all sorts. 

    What three things about succulents do you still find surprising? 

    Their longevity as cuttings or rootless plants, the exquisite symmetry of rotund cacti and euphorbias, and the intriguing bud imprints (scalloped patterns) on agave leaves. 

    If you could give a gardener new to succulents one piece of advice, what would it be? 

    Browse my website’s FAQs and articles; visit my YouTube channel, and obtain my book, “Succulents Simplified,” which was written with the novice in mind.

    Plant enthusiasms change over time, and years ago every home seemed to have at least some roses. In the last decade or two magazines have been showcasing the meadow look, with grasses (and other plants) used in a naturalistic way. Southern California has seen the movement away from water-guzzling lawns in favor of less thirsty plantings. Any predictions for what comes next, 
    and why? 

    OK! You heard it here first:

    Lawns won’t return, except perhaps as no-mow meadows, and time-intensive poodled shrubs will disappear. The word “waterwise,” which currently defines the correct way to garden, will be replaced by a term that acknowledges the land and its potential, perhaps “naturewise.” It’ll still be OK to let a lawn die, but not to leave precious terrain barren. Productive yards will take precedence over the merely pretty, and small will be no exception. Milkweed will be a must-have, and the monarch butterfly, now facing extinction, will resurge.

    Forward-thinking landscape designers will launch divisions of gardeners who understand how to maintain yards that lack hedges and lawns. (Succulent gardens need maintaining seasonally, or at least three times a year. Mow-and-blow gardeners prefer weekly or monthly clients, and therefore tend not to be interested.) 

    Visionary designers and creative gardeners will innovate a new, minimalist style of landscape, one that comes to define Southern California, and that will be hailed as “the ultimate no-water, no-maintenance garden.” Keynotes will be Southwest succulents with simple lines and sculptural shapes: yuccas, hesperaloes, dasylirions, dudleyas, agaves, and cacti. 

    Long a pariah plant, cacti will come into its own. Large varieties that are spherical, cylindrical, or spineless will be in demand. Focal-point gardens of cacti prized for their translucent spines will be showcased in rocky, elevated beds and positioned so the plants are haloed by early morning or late afternoon sun.

    This New Southern California Garden will also incorporate low-water, Old World succulents such as Euphorbia ammak, Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, blue senecio, colorful jades, ice plants, and shrub aeoniums. Rocks of every sort, from pea gravel to immense boulders, will occupy half or more of newly installed landscapes. No worries: These will look nothing like the cliché gravel gardens of midcentury tracts or desert gardens typical of Tucson!

    Because flat gardens will be seen as boring and unnatural, yards will be sculpted with berms, swales, dry streambeds, and pathways paved with flagstone and stabilized DG. 

    People who have assumed they could plunk a few free succulents in the ground and topdress the rest with gravel will, over the next decade, be overwhelmed by enormous Agave americanas that are hazardous and expensive to remove and, if encroaching on streets and sidewalks, a liability. Agave snout weevil is a wild card---if uncontrolled, it could remove currently popular but susceptible species from our region’s gardens and nurseries. 

    Sun shades of technologically advanced, all-weather fabric will be in every new garden, especially east of I-15. (The shades provide an ideal microclimate by diffusing strong light and providing frost protection. Moreover, they don’t drop leaves.)

    With many people erroneously believing that our water woes are over due to the recent rains, interest in more thirsty gardens may arise—those lush with roses, tropicals, and edibles. Regardless, demand will increase for every sort of food-producing plant because homeowners in their 30s and 40s no longer trust commercial suppliers and want to know exactly what they—and their children—are eating. 

    Dwarf and multi-grafted fruit trees and raised vegetable beds will be commonplace. Professional “home farmers” will create and tend the organic vegetable beds and chicken coops of the well-heeled. Growing unusual varieties from seed catalogs will be bragged about, recipes for such oddities shared on social media, and tasting parties held at harvest time.

    Blending such trends will be increased awareness of edible and herbal succulents, such as Aloe vera, cacti grown for its fruit (including vining dragon fruit), nopales, yucca petals, chalk lettuce (Dudleya edulis), and possibly peyote (if voters approve it!).

  • Wed, May 04, 2016 6:22 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Over the first 100 years of San Diego Zoo Global’s existence, an international botanical treasure sprouted and spread. In 1919, Zoo founder Dr. Harry Wegeforth rode his Arabian horse around the arid, barren, and hilly acreage set aside for the future Zoo, using his walking cane to plant tree seeds as he went. Acacia, pepper, and eucalyptus were some of the first trees planted. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Zoo received many gifts of plants from wealthy families.

    During the 1940s, the Zoo cultivated its own Victory Gardens to provide vegetables for its growing collection of animals. Beginning in the 1980s, plants at the Zoo became more than just beautiful and educational—they were increasingly used to provide species-appropriate food for the animals (including eucalyptus for koalas, acacia for giraffes, and Eugenia for primates) and structures for exhibits, whenever possible. In addition, the Browse Team cuts, prepares, and ships ficus and eucalyptus to zoos across the nation that are unable to grow their own.

    In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the organization’s botanical efforts spread to Escondido and the development of the Wild Animal Park (now the San Diego Zoo Safari Park). In addition to landscaping for comfort and enjoyment of both animal and human visitors, a knoll once covered with sumac and chaparral underwent a tree-lined transformation to become the Nicholas T. Mirov Conifer Arboretum. Named after the noted plant physiologist and biochemist, the five-acre arboretum’s goals were the acquisition, propagation, and exhibition of conifer trees from around the world, including rare and endangered species.

    An Old World Succulent Garden, Baja Garden, and Nativescapes Garden soon filled another hillside, thanks to the energy of volunteers from local horticultural clubs. Partnerships with these types of organizations allow the Park to share the beauty and wonder of bonsai creations and epiphyllums with millions of guests each year.

    In 1993, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park collections were accredited by the American Association of Museums. This was cause for jubilation, since they were only the sixth and seventh zoos to ever receie this recognition. A great deal of work went into preparing for the accreditation process for each of San Diego Zoo Global’s designated collections. Every plant in the designated collections was identified, mapped, and accessioned. It was a gargantuan task. Each plant received a record including its accession number and botanical name, the date it was acquired and the source, and its location on grounds.

    The Zoo’s accredited collections are of acacia, aloe, bamboo, cycads, erythrina, ficus, orchids, and palms. In addition, the grounds are home to a number of geographical and developing collections that are not formally accredited, such as hibiscus, pachyforms, and flora of Hawaii, Australia, Africa, and Madagascar.

    The Safari Park’s accredited collections include the Baja Garden, Nativescapes Garden, and Conifer Arboretum. The Park also hosts the Bonsai Pavilion, with an outstanding collection of bonsai plants maintained by volunteers from San Diego Bonsai Club and San Pu Kai Bonsai Club.

  • Mon, April 20, 2015 1:36 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    The East Coast and my start in Gardening

    As all of us are, I am a product of my era and my family. I was born in the mid-1950s in Daytona Beach, Florida to hardworking parents from the mid-West. My father was a first generation Greek-American; my mom was not Greek, but adopted the culture and the Greek Orthodox religion. My parents had a restaurant, as many immigrant Greeks do! Growing up, my brother and I both worked in the restaurant with our parents. I started out in the back peeling potatoes and washing dishes at about eight years old, and graduated to a waitress and cashier at 12 years old through high school.

    Growing up in Daytona Beach was fun because we only lived a few blocks from the ocean and our high school was just one block from the beach. The worst part for me, as a “local girl,” was the tourist seasons that included Spring Break, Motorcycle week and the Daytona 500, when the population in the town would swell and overflow. Even though the crowds were overwhelming, those weeks were very important to the local economy.

    My interest in plants started with my grandparents who lived in Indiana and always had a vegetable garden. They also had an earthworm box that they would raise fishing worms in. I was fascinated with adding kitchen scraps to the compost and checking the worms daily! Whenever I spent time in Indiana, I would follow my grandparents around the garden and help. I tried to plant a garden back in Florida but was disappointed when our sandy soil didn't produce the same quality vegetables as the rich, dark soil at my grandparents’ house.

    And then came the green movement of the 1970s, which corresponded to me heading to college. The first Earth Day was in 1970, and that decade was a time when growing tropical houseplants became a popular hobby. Even though I wasn’t able to grow a good vegetable garden in the sandy soil of Daytona Beach, growing tropical houseplants was easy in Florida! So that is the direction I took at the University of Florida.

    I received a great education in Gainesville, where I earned a BS of Agriculture, with an Ornamental Horticulture major. Cloning was just starting to be developed, and tissue culture was the cutting edge technology at the University of Florida. I was fortunate to have attended a school with such good professors and greenhouse facilities. My college jobs included greenhouse keeper in a research facility and a summer forestry program called YCC (Youth Conservation Corps). The YCC was modeled after the CCC program of the 1930s.

    A sad twist of fate brought me to California. My father died suddenly of a heart attack when he was 50 years old. My mother married a man from San Diego and moved there, where my older brother was also stationed in the Navy. So I followed them out to the West Coast in 1979. Along the way, I spent three months traveling with my dog in a VW bus on an extended road trip exploring the southern U.S. It was a fun adventure and a bucket list item before I knew the definition of the term!

    The West Coast and my career in horticulture

    In 1980, I was hired at the Wild Animal Park to work in the plant shop, and eventually became a plant propagator in the nursery. In 1985, I transferred to the San Diego Zoo. During this time I learned so much about African and Australian plants, conservation issues, and maintaining a public park. I loved working around the animals every day, and the dedicated keepers and gardeners inspired me. Even though I only worked there for a total of 8 years, I still maintain some very good friends from that time.

    In the 1980s, I was a founding member of a network group called Professional Women’s Horticulture and Landscape Association. PWHLA met once a month to share information and job leads. It was because of that group that I met Sue Fouquette, the Balboa Park Nursery Supervisor, who encouraged me to apply for the Balboa Park Horticulturist position.

    I was hired by the City of San Diego, Park & Recreation Department in 1988 as the first Balboa Park Horticulturist. 1988 was a big year because I also married my husband, Dan. Dan would rather ride a motorcycle than plant a garden, so although he won’t be mentioned much in this horticultural biography, his support for the last 29 years helped me accomplish all that I have.

    At Balboa Park, my first assignment was to do a tree inventory for the development of the Balboa Park Master Plan. It took me months to walk the entire park and to identify and map the trees. Computer systems were basic and cell phones uncommon. I used a Polaroid camera and a DOS program to catalog the trees. There was no internet to research plant ID, so I poured over giant reference books like Hortis Third and Tropica. Because planting records were sporadic, I depended on the memories of park staff including Sue Fouquette, Karl Schnizler, Gary Stromberg, and other long time employees and volunteers.

    This first effort was a quick inventory for the Master Plan. Then, in 1998, The San Diego Foundation funded a grant to conduct a Balboa Park Tree Survey to not only map, but also to catalog the trees and evaluate the health of the urban forest. As I spent my days mapping and measuring each tree for the Balboa Park Tree Survey, two things became clear. I became increasingly impressed with the horticulture experimentation and legacy that was still growing there for San Diego. It was an incredible treasure that seemed underappreciated. The second issue was that the Balboa Park forest was an aging monoculture, and we needed to develop a reforestation plan.

    The 1998 Tree Survey revealed that there were 15,271 trees (348 species) growing in Balboa Park. At the time, over 37% of the Park forest consisted of Eucalyptus, including the predominant species of 3,177 Sugar Gum Trees. The Sugar Gums, E. cladocalyx, were the tall eucalyptus skyline trees that framed the historic buildings. For about 140 years, Eucalyptus were fast growing, pest-free trees that were widely used in the California landscape. But in the mid–1980s pests and diseases started to infest the trees. The Balboa Park Reforestation Plan calls for eucalyptus to be replanted in fewer numbers, away from public sidewalks, and alternate species to be planted throughout the Park.


    The Balboa Park Forest

    Another serious issue unveiled during the tree survey was that the Park forest was aging out. Unlike New York City’s Central Park that was carved out of a native forest, Balboa Park had very few native trees when the land was set aside in 1868. Balboa Park was landscaped in great bursts of civic enthusiasm. Large quantities of trees were planted during community Arbor Day events, and again prior to the 1915 and the 1935 Expositions. Park Arborist Paul Sirois and I developed the Balboa Park Reforestation Plan, which recommended that 100-200 trees be planted each year to provide for a healthy age diversity. The number of plantings should be adjusted depending on how storm damage or construction impacted tree removals.

    As a landscape maintenance manager, it was important for me to walk through the Park on a regular basis and communicate with the gardeners. As I walked around Balboa Park, I would visualize how the landscape would look in the next few decades. Were we planting enough trees now so that the park visitors in 2030 could picnic under mature trees? At this time, I learned how to put on my 5 year, 10 year and 25 year glasses to “see” what the park landscape will look like in the future.

    I became less focused on lawns and flowerbeds and more on the trees. I also tried to become a voice for the cultural landscape. The Balboa Park trees (and landscape) do not have a community group to support them. They stand silently during city council discussions about the park budget and new construction. It became my mission to communicate the value of the landscape up and down the chain of command and to the public.

    I wasn't interested in developing new gardens for Balboa Park. It became my goal to provide more appreciation and interpretation of the existing 15 gardens and of the Park forest. That’s how the idea for the Trees and Gardens of Balboa Park book came about. Paul Sirois and I hoped that visitors would develop an appreciation of the Park by using the book as a field guide to locate and visit the trees and gardens. The San Diego Foundation provided the funds to publish the book in 2001, along with several other garden brochures for horticulture interpretation.

    Several times we worked towards having Balboa Park designated as an Accredited Botanic Garden by the American Association of Museums. The Park certainly has enough assets to qualify. The accreditation process got bogged down along the way, and it became somewhat complicated by the fact that it is a public park. We resolved that even though we did not have that official designation that we should behave as though we were a botanic garden, and by putting into place plant record keeping and maintenance standards, so that if the Park ever applied for the designation again, we would be that much closer. And, in fact, they were just good landscape maintenance standards.

    Balboa Park is maintained by dedicated city gardeners who work for modest wages, and yet many of them bypass promotions into other departments in order to spend their entire career caring for Balboa Park. It is only through the individual gardeners’ efforts (both City employees and dedicated volunteers) that the Park has thrived. As more and more families have moved to the downtown area, Balboa Park and all the urban parks have become even more important as a green retreat and open space.

    I had the honor of working in Balboa Park from 1988- 2005. During those 17 years, Dan and I had two children: Joe (22) and Danielle (18). In 2005, I retired early to care for my mother, who had terminal cancer. At the time, our children were 12 and 8 years old. After my mother passed away, I decided to become a full-time mom. In spite of planting thousands of trees in an incredibly fulfilling job, I felt like my most important life contribution would be to parent two healthy individuals who would be capable of making a positive impact on the world. A decade later, I still feel like it was the right decision, but I do miss the wonderful people and the beautiful Park.

    Life after retirement

    In addition to volunteering with my children’s schools and sports over the last ten years, I have continued to volunteer with several conservation groups, including City Beautiful of San Diego, The Friends of Balboa Park (friendsofbalboapark.org) and most recently Eco-Life (ecolifefoundation.org).


    My Life Lessons and 2-cents worth opinions:

    It stills shocks me when I hear that there are people that have lived their entire life in San Diego but have never set foot inside the Botanical Building or visited the Inez Grant Memorial Rose Garden! 90% of the Balboa Park gardens are free, including the Botanical Building, which is open 6 days a week. Get out there people! For maps and details, visit balboapark.org.

    When moving from the East to the West Coast, I had to learn all new plant materials. In addition, working at the Wild Animal Park required that I learn about African and Australian plants. There is always more to learn about plant science. No one can be an expert in every type of plant; it is a lifelong quest. Set your pride aside and ask questions!

    The founders of Balboa Park, George Marston, Kate Sessions, Samuel Parsons, Carleton Winslow, and Alfred Robinson, were not wimps, they had guts! Their vision and persistence resulted in one of the nations’ most outstanding parks and urban forest. I felt a deep sense of obligation to do the right thing for Balboa Park. In simpler terms, Kate and George haunted me!

    Unlike many other industries, people in working in horticulture are incredibly generous with their knowledge, resources and their plants.

    Always pronounce plant names with confidence. Show no hesitation and don’t blink… make the other guy think that THEY have been mispronouncing it all these years!

    Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have a sense of humor and ask questions. No one knows everything about plants. After 40 years of working in this industry, I think I know a lot about a few plants, a little bit about a lot of plants, and very little about some plants!

    Do not become emotional about tree removals with a Certified Arborist inspection and recommendation. You cannot freeze a tree in time. Trees grow everyday until they start to die more every day. When they start to die more every day, they eventually break apart or fail; the process is called senescense. Propagate them and replant them. Be pro-active about responsible tree removals in public spaces because you could be saving someone’s life.

    My life lesson for 2015: Turning 60 isn't for wimps, get out and contribute to the world!

  • Tue, May 27, 2014 12:51 PM | Jim Bishop (Administrator)

    Julian Duval became the first President/CEO (aka Executive Director) of Quail Botanical Gardens, now San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG) in January 1995.  Julian wrote the article below about his life in horticulture for the SDHS newsletter. The second half of this article will be appended below in July 2014.


    Just a Fortunate Nature Nut

    The position at Quail Botanical Gardens brought me, my wife, Leslie, two cats, a box turtle and a personal collection of some 800 plants to Encinitas from Indianapolis, Indiana.


    I was born the oldest of four children to a loving family. However, I never really felt the climate of a western suburb of Chicago was my best habitat. At an early age, I was influenced by my grandmother and started collecting plants. She bought me a piece of Hawaiian Cordyline trunk when I was six years old. Once it rooted, we put it in a dish garden that she showed me how to make. After about ten years, it became a centerpiece houseplant, until our cat decided to shred it one day.


    My mother says I was a born “Nature Nut,” as animals and plants of all kinds were always my greatest passion. I lived in a very urban environment, but I was very influenced by the wonderful zoos, natural history museums, and plant conservatories in Chicago. They were my connection to see and learn about the diversity of the world’s biota.


    I was also fortunate to have parents who encouraged my interest in nature. It was challenging at times for my mother, who never got used to some of the animals I would bring home. This was particularly true of the snakes, which were quite the escape artists. My dad did not mind so much, but he might have enjoyed his first born a bit more if I had also shown an interest in sports. However, my interest was very singular. In high school, I remember many of my classmates struggled to decide on career pursuits. Not me; I knew I wanted to work with animals and plants.


    While I was in high school, I landed a summer job as a naturalist for the Cook County Forest Preserve. I also became a “groupie” at Brookfield Zoo’s (BZ) Reptile House, where I was later hired after high school as the youngest keeper. For seven years, I worked at BZ with a wide variety of animals, including bottle-nose dolphins.


    I realized my dream of living in a warmer climate when I left Chicago to attend New Mexico State University. I loved my new home’s expansive beautiful natural areas, where the flora and fauna seemed very exotic compared to Chicago. The diverse ferns adapted to the Chihuahuan desert were the first native plants that grabbed my attention.


    The call of the exotic was still strong in me. After graduating with a degree in Wildlife Science, I applied to Peace Corps, where I was offered a position to help open a new zoo in the Dominican Republic. At last, I was living where it would never freeze.


    The Peace Corps is rightfully titled “the toughest job you will ever love.” It is also the best use of tax dollars our government spends on foreign aid and relations. I was able to contribute to the development of a modern zoo and spend some of the most important formative years of my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.


    My curatorial position at the zoo in the D.R. opened a door for me to move to Guatemala, where I was hired to manage the opening of a private zoo called Auto Safari Chapin. Now, I had two new zoo openings on my resume, and would have made Guatemala a permanent home if not for the dangerous political situation there in 1980.


    I reluctantly left the tropics to work under the Director of the Indianapolis Zoo to guide the Zoo’s new $64 million design. I spent 15 years in Indianapolis, where I was in charge of the Zoo’s animal and plant collections. Zoo work in the 80s and 90s was exciting, as real advances were made in the roles that zoos play in conservation and horticulture.


    Indianapolis is also where I met my wife, Leslie. We actually met at the zoo, so she knew all about my interests, which were literally brought home as an important selection criteria for our house was its suitability for an attached greenhouse. That is where my plant collection grew, and it eventually moved with us to Quail Botanical Gardens.


    As I look back over the almost 20 years I have been with what is now known as San Diego Botanic Garden, it may have been the second toughest job I have ever loved. San Diego County, which operated Quail Botanical Gardens since its opening in 1970, had financial challenges that looked like they would bring about the closure of the Garden. The Quail Botanical Gardens Foundation (QBGF), with a small nest egg from two bequests, jumped in to save the Garden in 1993. By the time I arrived 18 months later, the financial reserves from those bequests were quickly being exhausted. A change was desperately needed.


    Tax dollars no longer supported the Garden. The goal was to improve the visitor experience so that people would be willing to pay for its support and to encourage philanthropy. When I started, adult admission was only $2. Though adult admission is now $14, I am proud to share that our visitation has doubled in that time to over 209,000 people annually.


    The Garden has been completely transformed from its County-operated time and there is a long list of dedicated and talented staff, volunteers, board members and donors who rightfully join me in taking pride in what we have accomplished.

  • Thu, May 02, 2013 8:45 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Brad Monroe retired after spending more than three decades as a leader in horticultural education in San Diego County. While his career may seem like the culmination of a careful plan, in many ways it was anything but.

    Sitting in a classroom at Cuyamaca College, Brad had to laugh as he recalled steps that brought him here in the 1980s to head the new college’s new ornamental horticulture department. “I can’t really say planning is my strongest suit,” he says. “But somehow … things worked out.”

    A native Californian, Brad grew up on his family’s 60-acre farm in the small town of Hughson, outside of Modesto. A century of farming linked both his mother’s and father’s families and Brad was poised to carry on the tradition. He, his brother Keith and sister Betty worked in the family orchards that produced peaches, nuts and grapes, enduring good years and bad from the post-war era through the 1960s.

    “Farming is hard work,” Brad says. “They used to say that every kid who worked on a ranch went to college, because they knew they didn’t want to go back to farming. But there are lots of rewards in farming. And that’s what I planned to do.”

    Brad majored in plant science at Modesto Junior College and then earned a bachelor’s degree at Fresno State University in 1972. Earlier, he had taken a semester off to travel with a friend around the U.S., and after graduation, he decided to take another break.

    “I told a friend I wanted to go someplace warm in winter,” Brad recalls. “‘Phoenix - I think I’ll go there.’ But my friend said, ‘No way. How about San Diego?’”  Brad agreed. After a six month stay, he’d go back to the farm and farming. At least, that was the plan.

    It was 1972, and unemployment in sunny San Diego topped 10 percent. Brad searched for three months before landing work on a landscape crew for 25 cents an hour above minimum wage. “I had taken courses in ornamental horticulture and liked them,” he says. “But I didn’t think I’d end up working in that area.”

    His six month stay lengthened into a year and then another year. By then, he was a crew supervisor, running equipment, putting in irrigation systems and the like. For recreation, he took a ceramics class. “I really liked throwing pots,” he says, so when the instructor asked him to fill in as the class TA (teaching assistant), he quickly accepted.

    To his delight, “I discovered I loved being on the other side of the desk. I loved teaching,” he says. Eager to do more, he decided to build on the era’s house plant craze and teach an adult education class on their care. With a course outline banged out on his typewriter, he started working his way from South Bay to North County looking for a home for his first class.

    One stop was Southwestern College where he wrangled a meeting with Dean Vince Alfaro. “I was so naive I thought his first name was Dean,” Brad says, with a laugh. The dean dismissed his course but proposed starting an ROP (Regional Occupation Program) horticulture program instead. “I didn’t know what ROP was either,” he admits, “But I agreed to attend a meeting on it because the dean said it could mean a full-time job for me.”

    Two months later, “I was building a department and in a classroom, teaching full time. I had 18 hours of lectures and labs to develop every week along with building a field site and curriculum. It’s a good thing I was young, single and dumb,” he says of his first higher education position.  “But I loved teaching. I was being paid $14,000, which was more money than I could imagine. I was left alone to do what I liked.

    “Slowly I got the idea – I was not going back to farming.”

    Through the late 1970s, Brad’s love of teaching grew along with Southwestern’s horticulture program. “I really enjoyed the students. They are very enthusiastic; they wanted to be there. And they came with a variety of life skills. Many had other careers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a prospective student say, ‘I’ve always had an interest in horticulture, but didn’t know I could make a living at it.’

    “When I was a student, I doubt I said a word in class, even though I’m really an outgoing person. As a teacher, I felt I knew the material and how to put it together to help students learn. I was comfortable – and felt fortunate to be there. I had no intention to leave.”

    But once again, Brad’s career “plan” changed. This time, the impetus was word of a new horticultural department at a new college, Cuyamaca College in El Cajon. “There was already competition since Mesa, MiraCosta and Southwestern had departments,” Brad recalls. “A friend suggested I apply and if I got called in to interview, I could get an idea of what their plans were. So I applied to be the instructor in charge of building the program.”

    Brad was asked to interview, but didn’t prepare. “I was pretty casual about it all,” he says. “When they were done questioning me, I had questions for them – about 45 minutes worth. I think I surprised them…and their answers surprised me. They were constructing a building to house the department. They had land for as big a field site as needed. I thought to myself, maybe I should have prepared.”

    To his surprise, he was offered the job, In January 1980, he joined the nascent department as its chair and only full-time faculty. His “staff” consisted of Diana Maranhao, who joined the department as an ornamental horticultural technician, a position she would hold for 23 years. “For a lot of years, there were only the two of us,” Brad says. “I taught four classes a semester, in addition my administrative duties. Good thing I was still young.”

    Over the next 33 years, the department would grow steadily. Today it serves more than 300 full and part time students who chose among 37 classes and eight majors. About 20 adjunct instructors, many local leaders in the horticultural industry here, are recruited to teach, a move that keeps the department’s profile high among potential students and the community. To accommodate instructors and students with day jobs, the department offers night courses and schedules required lab work on alternate Saturdays.

    “In talking to our students, we know that many of them are working, some in the nursery and landscape industry and some in totally unrelated fields,” Brad explains. “These students are here to move into the industry or get ahead in it. We work to make that happen. That’s one reason we offer eight different degrees built around core classes and specialized training.”

    The two most popular majors – landscape design and landscape technology – include a semester-long class in irrigation, a subject that became Brad’s specialty. In 2009 his expertise was recognized by the Irrigation Association when it honored him as Person of the Year.

    “When I was in college, there was no specialized course in irrigation. In fact landscape irrigation was in its infancy, borrowing a lot from the agriculture side,” Brad says. “I went to industry seminars, learned hydraulics. It’s not hard, but there’s some stuff that is counter-intuitive. There’s a lot to know to do it right and make the most the limited water we have.”

    Reflecting on his decades at Cuyamaca College, Brad highlights professional – and personal accomplishments.

    One is a commitment to water conservation that sparked formation of the San Diego Xeriscape Council and six regional industry conferences from 1985 to1992. “I felt we had to do something long term about water conservation,” he says of the ambitious regional gatherings. Displays at the San Diego County Fair reached out to homeowners, while turf seminars educated industry personnel.

    Xeriscape, though, proved a hard sell. “People thought of it a Zero-scape – 10 tons of gravel and a wagon wheel,” he says. “I think we got the industry on board, but it took 25 years. Now we’re looking at the same uphill climb with sustainability.”

    Drought-tolerant landscaping is part of sustainability, which Brad defines as “minimizing inputs – fertilizer, water, pesticides and labor – while maintaining an attractive landscape.” To raise awareness, Cuyamaca Horticulture Department held a weekend meeting seven years ago to brainstorm ways to make sustainability a part of every course taught. Since 2009, the college also has hosted a daylong Sustainability Conference open to the professional and amateur horticulturists.

    Another significant achievement is a role in creation of the five-acre Water Conservation Garden on the Cuyamaca campus. Recently named by Sunset magazine as one of the 10 must-see gardens on the West Coast, the 14-year-old garden hosts a fall festival and has joined the Ornamental Horticulture Department in its annual Spring Garden Festival. The garden also offers monthly classes and programs for school students.

    “My contribution was as a facilitator,” he says. When local water authorities raised the need for a demonstration garden, they thought there might be campus land available and help from students to maintain it. “I helped them get access to the land, but said no to the student help,” he says. “When costs to build it were estimated at $3.5 million, I thought it wouldn’t happen. But Helix and Otay water districts put up enough money for it to be built in one fell swoop.”

    Creation of student internships also is a point of pride. Initially, the Rice Family Foundation contributed funding for internships that fund student work in Horticulture Department endeavors, like its handsome, well-stocked nursery, located just steps away from classroom and administrative offices in Building M. Today annual contributions totaling $60,000 come from a variety of sources ranging from foundations to local garden clubs.

    Professional accolades mounted over the years and include Cuyamaca Faculty Member of the Year in 1995 and the college’s President’s Award in 2008. In May, he was inducted into the Green Industry Hall of Fame.

    But one personal achievement stands out: “I met my wife on campus,” Brad says, “And that changed my life.” In the 1980s, Brad met Dr. Therese Botz, who was then running a student development program. Two years later they married and moved into a house near the campus that they still call home. Today Therese continues to teach at Cuyamaca where she established the American Sign Language Department.

    This spring, on a cruise out of Venice, the couple celebrated Brad’s retirement with their daughter Marta Botz Monroe, who just earned an M.S. degree in occupational therapy. It was the first of what Brad hopes will be many trips, now that he is retired.

    But he remains active on campus, spearheading outreach to horticultural department alums. Last year’s inaugural “Pinot and Pints” networking event is being expanded this year to include a lecture and book signing.

    One retirement goal still languishes, Brad admits. His home garden is “almost embarrassing,” he says. “It’s like the cobbler whose family has no shoes. Before I retired, I wondered how I’d fill my time when I wasn’t working. But I’m busy and having a great time now. I’m sure I’ll get to it someday.”  

  • Mon, June 11, 2012 1:08 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)
    Susi has been our newsletter editor since 1996 and served as president from 2003 to 2010. She has worked tirelessly to build and promote SDHS and has become synonymous with the word "horticulture" in San Diego.
    Susi served as a board member of the San Diego Botanic Garden from 2000-2003 and received the “Paul Ecke Junior Award of Excellence” in 2008 from the SDBG. She also has a strong connection with the Pacific Horticulture Society, serving as a board member and organizing three Gardening Symposiums for them.




    Ask Susi Torre-Bueno about her horticultural roots and she laughs. “I’m from a long line of apartment dwellers,” the native New Yorker says. “I’m probably the first gardener in my family in 100 years.”

    Susi is the daughter of Bill Kramer and Hannah Kirschenbaum, who were the children of immigrants from Poland and Germany. Her father, who trained as an architect, learned photography when he enlisted in the Army and made a living doing portraits and photographing weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events. Her mom was a bookkeeper, who wisely saved her husband’s military paychecks for a down payment on a house in the Bronx.

    Susi was 3 ½ and her brother David was 1 when the family moved. “We were way off the beaten path,” she says of the location, “and I think our house was the first one on the street.” Typical of post-war housing, there was a patch of front lawn and a small backyard with a lilac and fruiting mulberry. Her parents added a dwarf apple tree and a neighbor contributed hostas and a grapevine. “The apple tree was beautiful,” she recalls. “No one but my nutty Aunt Belle would eat the very sour mulberries. For a time my mom was determined to find some way to make it stop fruiting.”

    The neighborhood kids were Susi’s playmates outdoors as they built snow forts and played games. Her ambitions at the time were simple: “Buy a Mustang, go to Mars and kiss Marlon Brando.” “I still want to go to Mars,” she admits. Soon a second grade science project would add a new goal to the list – gardening.

    “We planted radish seeds,” she says. “Once they sprouted, every day I’d pull one up and put it back, just to see how they were doing. Finally, they were ready. I washed one off, took a bite and spit it out. I still hate radishes, but I was hooked on the process.”


    Lord of the Rings to a Wedding Ring

    From that time on, Susi became the gardener in the family, annually planting seeds at home and later branching out into bulbs. “I remember forcing daffodils in crushed oyster shells,” she says. In junior high, she made a mini-dinosaur habitat, clipping off carrot tops to stand in for ferns. But when high school graduation came around and college beckoned, Susi turned from land to sea, with a major in marine biology at the newly opened Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York.

    Dorm life at the 1,000-student college suited her. “It was the most exciting day of my life when I first saw the campus,” she says. When she realized math and chemistry were needed for her major, she switched to sociology and anthropology, eventually earning a dual degree. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I get seasick, so it was the right move,” she adds.

    It was the late 1960s, a like many college students, Susi was hooked on the fantastical Lord of the Rings trilogy. Eager to meet fellow fans, she decided to found a campus Tolkien Club – a decision that would change her life. Among the two dozen who turned out was a handsome freshman science major named Jose Rollin de la Torre-Bueno IV. Three years later, instead of attending her own college graduation, the two were married in New York. “We were so young,” she says. “Because Jose wasn’t 21 yet, his parents had to give him permission to marry. They signed him over to me and we’ve been together ever since.”


    Stitching Together a Business

    After earning his BS degree, Jose enrolled in the Ph.D. program in physiology at Rockefeller University. His bride got a job with the University as a radar operator tracking migrating birds (with Korean War-surplus equipment) and analyzing the data the old-fashioned way with a slide rule. “I had taken a Navy aptitude test in high school that said it would be a good job for me because I was good with details. And I was. It was lots of fun with many adventures,” she says looking back.

    Typical of the 1970s, she satisfied her yen to garden with houseplants – hundreds of them hung by home-made macramé hangers in their New York apartment and a rental house in upstate New York. But her commanding interest at the time was needlepoint. When Jose’s post-doctoral studies took them to Durham, North Carolina, for “nine long years,” that hobby became her first home-grown business - designing counted cross stitch needlework patterns.

    In “hot, humid, racist, sexist Durham,” Susi couldn’t find work – or garden. A year after their arrival there, the couple welcomed a son, Theodore. Now a stay-at-home mom, she turned to needlework, first selling some pieces and then counted cross stitch designs. “It was like printing money,” she says of the design sales. “It cost a penny to copy one and I sold it for a dollar to shops all over the state.” As her knowledge of the largely mom-and-pop business grew, she saw the need for a trade directory of counted cross stitch designs. “The first one was about 75 or 100 pages and I sent it to 10,000 stores,” she said. “Pretty soon I was doing a new directory every 6 months and had two people working for me, all out of a room in our house.” 

    In 1981, the family got a respite from North Carolina when Jose used a sabbatical from Duke University to take a one-year appointment at UCSD. The couple picked San Diego because Jose’s sister Ava was here, having graduated from SDSU and gone into social work. Three years after they went back to Durham, on their 15th wedding anniversary, the couple left North Carolina behind to move here.

    Shortly afterwards, Susi sold her needlework enterprises. Since then, she has never done another piece of stitchery. “I completely burned out,” she says. “And I learned not to make a hobby into a business. I will never do that again.”


    A Gardening Demon Unleashed

    Though she was an administrator for American Innovision, a bio-tech company Jose founded and ran until it was sold in 1992, Susi finally was able to “unleash my gardening demon” at the family’s new home in the College area. The former owner had “gardened with concrete,” she says, leaving only a patch of lawn and a couple of planting spots around the backyard pool. Undeterred, Susi started gardening in pots, while beginning a crash course in horticulture, San Diego style. “I bought a Sunset Western Garden Book and kept it by the bed. Every night I’d read a couple of pages,” she said. “I joined the San Diego Floral Association and bought lots of other books. It was a real education…but I felt that this was what I was meant to do.”

    During this time, Susi says she “spent half of every weekend at Simpson’s [Nursery in Jamul]. I think the car could get there by itself after a while.” She eliminated her front lawn and planted a veggie garden there. And she kept adding to her container garden. “By the time we moved in 1996, I had 800 pots.”

    In 1994, Susi attended her first meeting of the then nascent San Diego Horticultural Society. “I’m not sure how I heard about it. Everyone was so friendly and nice, even though they all referred to plants by their Latin names, which made me roll my eyes. I joined on the spot.” 

    Two years later, when she and Jose were living in a mobile home while building a custom home on two acres in Encinitas, she was asked to become editor of the SDHS newsletter, a post she accepted and still holds today. As newsletter editor, she automatically took a seat on the board of directors too and has served on the board ever since.

    Beside her volunteer activities, Susi worked part time at Buena Creek Gardens, owned then by fellow SDHS board member Steve Brigham. The remaining time was divided among work on her new house and garden. “The lot was 100 percent mustard weed so we had it clear cut,” she says. “The soil was clay and rock, so we brought in lots of mulch and compost and very quickly the soil got a whole lot better. Meanwhile, I went to every plant sale anywhere.”

    Using a CAD program, she spent many hours designing the new garden, giving it a Mediterranean-style entry and tropical look in the back. “I had so much fun,” she says. “The garden came out the way I wanted it. It was great.” Among her plant “obsessions” then were cannas. Eventually she had more than 70 varieties in the garden, accumulated in part by trading with other plant lovers online.


    Leading SDHS Forward

    In 1998, Susi was elected second vice president of the SDHS board. Four years later, when founding President Don Walker resigned to move out of state, she was named president to fill out his term.  Later that year, she was elected to her first three year term as president. She would serve two subsequent terms, stepping down from that office in 2011.

    Susi presided over the organization during times of rapid growth in membership and programs. “I really wanted to reach out to the gardening community, to spread the word. The whole point of the organization is education and outreach,” she explains. New efforts included “ambassadors” to garden clubs and information booths at major events like the San Diego County Fair. When Susi took the reins, SDHS counted 889 members; two years later that number swelled to 1,400.  While membership ebbed some in subsequent years, it currently has returned to nearly 1,400.

    The newsletter, which published its 200th edition last year, also prospered during Susi’s presidency. The number of pages increased and a color cover was added. An electronic version was developed to be delivered by email, saving paper, printing and postage costs. Plus, a Web site and later a facebook page were created and updated to reach the growing number of internet users. Also, a second edition of the SDHS book, Ornamental Trees for Mediterranean Climates, was published.

    SDHS’s role at the county fair expanded to include annual awards for accurate nomenclature, creative use of unusual plant material, best youth garden and best expression of garden education. In 2004, the organization created the first of many award-winning fair display gardens and two years later the Don and Dorothy Walker Award for Most Outstanding Exhibit was added. Last year, an award for best planted container was presented for the first time. To help fairgoers with gardening questions, SDHS volunteers staff the gardens for the run of the fair as Horticulturists of the Day.

    Since 1999, SDHS has been a co-sponsor for the Spring Home/Garden show also held at the fairgrounds. This event was the setting for many years for presentation of another award, Horticulturist of the Year. Three years ago, building on a history of local and out-of-town tours dating back to the mid-1990s, SDHS began organizing a garden tour that traditionally kicks off the garden tour season here.

    Member benefits added during Susi’s presidency include the annual Volunteer Appreciation Party, free monthly Coffees in the Garden that visit outstanding landscapes and nurseries, new member orientation events, discounted subscriptions to Pacific Horticulture magazine, and garden tours to cities around the country. Programs increasingly touted water-wise gardening and sustainability. “Initially the thinking was ‘you can grow anything here,’” she says. “But our emphasis turned to water conservation and plants that don’t need much water.”


    In Praise of SDHS Members

    In addition to her work with SDHS, Susi organized local garden tours for three years as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. As SDHS president, she served nine years on the board of the Pacific Horticulture Society and put together three symposia for them. All the while, she was a familiar face at a host of gardening events around the county - staffing an SDHS information booth, speaking on a variety of topics or filling any number of SDHS volunteer jobs.

    Two years after Susi became SDHS president, she and her husband decided to downsize and sell their home. “We still had a half-acre of the garden to develop and what was planted took a full time gardener and all my free time to maintain. We were watering much of the garden by hand. It was too much,” she says. Before moving into a temporary home in Carlsbad while they built the new house themselves, the couple hosted a party and invited friends to take cuttings, hoping they would offer cuttings in return for their new garden.

    Today the couple lives in a “green” fire-safe house designed by Jose and gardens on the 1-plus acre that surrounds it in Vista. “There’s almost no wood in the house’s construction, mostly concrete blocks and steel studs. There are sprinklers on the roof and in every room,” she explains. “Solar helps heat the water and the rest of house is heated by two gas-burning fireplaces.” A built-in gray-water system is about to be implemented.

    The home’s courtyard is filled with aloes. Outside, it is ringed with succulents and other low-water plants from around the state and the world, including South Africa, South America and Mexico. A new orchard will soon be joined by a “dry tropics” demonstration garden, being planned on the same CAD system used previously.

    “I’m enjoying my retirement,” she says of the months since she stepped down as president. “I’m actually gardening again and really enjoying spending time with plants.”  She also works with her son and husband on their new venture, Empowered Energy Solutions, a contracting company that conducts home and business energy audits and provides customized solutions to significantly reduce energy costs.

    Looking back over her tenure, Susi is especially complementary of SDHS’s dedicated members. “Without members who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get jobs done, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” she says. “Members keep our group alive and growing. I can’t thank them enough.”

  • Tue, November 01, 2011 1:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)


    Jon P. Rebman, Curator of Botany at the San Diego Natural History Museum, has organized symposia and research trips, written excellent articles and given thoughtful lectures about native plants. He demonstrates the great leadership on the tremendously important San Diego Plant Atlas Project, and has helped bring a deeper understanding of the plants in our region. His invaluable contributions to botany are impressive and urgently needed.



    Jon P. Rebman, Ph.D., was born and raised in Rushville, Illinois. Being from the land of corn and beans, he can remember his fascination with the bizarre forms and shapes of cacti and succulents at a very early age and would even grow them on his window sill. However, he did not really pursue a botanical degree until he was an undergraduate at Millikin University, where a couple of really good biology/botany professors sparked his interests and academic curiosities about plants. Subsequently, he earned a Masters degree at Southwest Missouri State University, working on floristics of a natural area in the Ozarks region; and then a Doctoral degree at Arizona State University, focusing on the taxonomy of cholla cacti in Baja California. While pursuing his doctorate Jon was very lucky to obtain a Fulbright/Robles Fellowship to Mexico, and he spent a year at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Ensenada doing research and completing field work in the region for his degree. This amazing professional and cultural opportunity in Mexico spurred on his interests in the entire flora of the Baja California/Southern California region, and he is still specializing in this region’s flora at present. He also enjoys gardening as a hobby, and has recently converted his entire front yard into a succulent xeriscape.

    Since 1996 Jon has been the Mary and Dallas Clark Endowed Chair/Curator of Botany at the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM). Dr. Rebman is a plant taxonomist and conducts extensive floristic research in Baja California and in San Diego and Imperial Counties. He leads various field classes and botanical expeditions each year and is actively naming new plant species from our region. His primary research interests have centered on the systematics of the Cactus family in Baja California, especially the genera Cylindropuntia (chollas) and Opuntia (prickly-pears). Rebman also does a lot of general floristic research, and he co-published the most recent edition of the Checklist of the Vascular Plants of San Diego County.

    He has over 22 years of field experience with surveying and documenting plants including rare and endangered species.  As a field botanist, he is a very active collector of scientific specimens with his personal collections numbering over 22,400. Since 1996 he has been providing plant specimen identification/verification for various biological consulting companies on contracts dealing with plant inventory projects and environmental assessments throughout southern California.

    Rebman is the director of the San Diego County Plant Atlas project and identifies/verifies all of the new specimens (currently over 54,000) coming into the herbarium through this scientific endeavor. As the curator of the SD Herbarium at the SDNHM, he is in charge of this dried plant specimen collection that contains over 210,000 specimens dating back to the 1870s. Dr. Rebman is in the process of finishing a book entitled Ferns and Lycophytes of San Diego County, co-authored with Annette Winner. This local natural history publication should be available early next year (2012). It contains detailed information on 60 different ferns and lycophytes from our region. Rebman also just finished a new edition of the Baja California Plant Field Guide, with co-author Norman Roberts, due out in December 2011, and is working on a new specimen-based checklist for the plants of Baja California.


    San Diego County Plant Atlas Project

    One of the regional floristic research projects that has been consuming much of Rebman’s time in the last few years is the San Diego County Plant Atlas project, of which he is the director. This multi-year project is designed to improve scientific knowledge of regional plants through better documentation of the flora of San Diego County by using volunteers from the community (called parabotanists) to properly survey, collect herbarium-quality voucher specimens, and record field data about plants in natural areas throughout the County. Since its inception in August 2003, the project has developed a comprehensive website (www.sdplantatlas.org) to assist parabotanists and provide an outlet to the public, and designed an efficient system for online data submission and delivery of specimens to the SDNHM.

    It has already added over 54,500 new voucher specimens to the SD Herbarium (including more than 350 discoveries of new county records and two new taxa for science), that are fully databased (with precise geographic coordinates), created online floristic search processes and resources for mapping plant distributions, and trained over 600 volunteers. Consequently, this project is fostering the public’s awareness and respect for local natural history, increasing our scientific collections of the regional flora, and providing essential botanical data on the distribution, variation, and diversity of the plants found in our County.

    Even though the Plant Atlas project is not yet complete, it has still produced very important results that have altered our understanding about our regional flora. In respect to diversity, the Plant Atlas has increased our knowledge by adding many new native and non-native plant records (more than 350) to the County. Consequently, San Diego County is considered to be one of the most botanically diverse counties in the U.S., with more than 2500 different native and naturalized plants present. New county records been added, and at least two new plants for science have been discovered.

    One of the new plant discoveries was collected by Dr. Rebman on Viejas Mountain near Alpine during field surveys for that particular atlas grid square. This new entity was studied by botanists and technically described for science and named in honor of Rebman. The new fern (in the family Pteridaceae) occurs only in south-central San Diego County and extreme northwestern Baja California, and is called Rebman’s Silverback Fern (Pentagramma triangularis subsp. rebmanii).

    With the continuing documentation of plant populations in the County through the Plant Atlas, some new distributional trends and concepts about our flora are also emerging. For example, we are starting to observe a consistent trend in various Sonoran desert plants found in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (on the eastern edge of our county) that also occur in the extreme southwestern part of our county near the Pacific Ocean, but do not have any populations in between. This discovery may result in the need for more detailed studies on the biogeography of some desert species that could have arrived in southwestern San Diego County via an historical desert corridor that occurred between mountain ranges in northern Baja California.

    As part of the Plant Atlas project and its influence on significantly increasing popular interest in local plants, SDNHM has developed an online searchable photographic archive of digital plant photos from San Diego and Imperial Counties. This web-based resource is accessible through the Plant Atlas website (sdplantatlas.org/SD_PhotoSearch.aspx). At present, this photographic database contains more than 11,500 digital plant images from Southern California (mostly San Diego County) that are available online; it is growing each week with additional georeferenced, digital field photos following botanical field outings. Many of the plant photos in this online collection are especially valuable because they are directly linked to herbarium specimens and are cross-referenced to reliable locality/field data. Our hope is that this resource will become an essential utility for educating the public and will directly connect to the distributional data that is being accumulated by the Plant Atlas project.


    The Plants of Baja California and Floristic Research

    The Baja California peninsula is a narrow strip of land stretching approximately 800 miles long and ranging from 28 miles to 149 miles wide. Its geographic position, latitudinal span, and topographic heterogeneity have conferred a diverse assemblage of weather regimes including a Mediterranean-type, winter rainfall climate; extreme arid, hot desert conditions; and tropical, summer rainfall patterns. In addition, the region's biogeographic history and physiognomy have resulted in a wide range of vegetation types that include coastal sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodland, conifer forest, many desert scrub types, and tropical deciduous forest. The peninsula is also characterized by the presence of several islands varying in distance (<0.6 miles to 149 miles) from its coast, which are located in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortés) and the Pacific Ocean.

    This piece of land and its adjacent islands support a wealth of species diversity in many different plant families. It is estimated that the flora consists of more than 4,000 plant taxa with approximately 30% of these known only from (endemic to) the Baja California region. Many of the plants from the peninsula and its islands are unique and stretch the imagination in respect to plant form and structureundefinedincluding the bizarre Boojum Tree/Cirio (Fouquieria columnaris), the giant Elephant Cactus/Cardón (Pachycereus pringlei), and elephant trees (Pachycormus discolor and Bursera spp.).

    Unfortunately, the rich diversity of plants that comprise the Baja California flora faces many threats such as habitat loss and degradation to pressure from competition with invasive plant species, fire, plant disease, drought, and pests. Some parts of the region such as the northwestern, coastal portion of the peninsula are experiencing extremely rapid urban development and habitat loss is reaching a critical level. Due to a lack of botanical study and inaccessible documentation (specimens of populations not yet databased or generally known, or the lack of collections of invasive plant species) we are not able to accurately assess many of these threats. Adding to the problem, the published Flora of Baja California is more than 30 years old, lacks at least 800 plant taxa, and provides only limited distribution information.

    As a result of these combined factors, there is an urgent need to increase our knowledge of the botanical resources in Baja California. Regional scientists, land managers, and conservation-oriented organizations currently have limited scientific data on the local flora, along with mounting responsibilities for preservation and informed decision-making that will affect the future of the region’s biodiversity.

    Current collections-based curatorial and research projects being conducted by the SDNHM under the guidance of Jon Rebman, such as the Baja California vascular plant checklist project, data entry and georeferencing of specimens deposited in the SD Herbarium, and the digitization of plant photographic slides and prints in the Museum’s botanical archives, are providing many online resources for the public, conservation, and scientific communities. To date, more than 4200 specimen vouchers (one of each taxon to be used as a visual resource for identification in a virtual herbarium) that document the diversity of the flora of Baja California (BC) and Baja California Sur (BCS) have been scanned; approximately 24,000 digitized plant and landscape photographs primarily from the Baja California region, and many other web-based botanical resources are available online at www.bajaflora.org. These ongoing projects along with the increased accessibility to the SD Herbarium specimen data (approximately 43,000 records from the Baja California region in electronic format) and the development of the Baja California Botanical Consortium (BCBC), which is a combined dataset that contains 72,000 specimen records from five regional herbaria in CA, BC, and BCS, will provide an indispensable tool for mapping, conserving, and better understanding diversity and distribution trends of the flora of Baja California. These botanical resources will help to produce the most comprehensive, scientifically sound, information possible on the plants of Baja California.

    Dr. Rebman has been conducting botanical research and publishing new plant species in Baja California for more than 20 years. New plant species that Rebman has previously described for science include: Ambrosia humi, Grusonia robertsii, Amyris carterae, Cylindropuntia delgadilloana, Cylindropuntia sanfelipensis, and Cylindropuntia lindsayi. Rebman’s publications on the flora of Baja California are listed on our website.


    Plant Systematics/Taxonomic Research

    Naming and describing new species for science is an essential part of understanding our biodiversity and conserving it for the future. As a result of many years of extensive field work, plant collecting, plus lab and herbarium research on the flora of southern California and Baja California, Dr. Rebman, has discovered approximately 15 new plants from our region that still need to be formally described in order to be recognized by the scientific and conservation communities. Some of these new plant species already have ample collections available in order to describe them right now, and require only the time to study and write them up in a publication and have a botanical illustration drawn, but others will require return visits to the region where they grow in order to obtain better specimen samples and an increased understanding of their local environment and associations.

    In the next few years, one of Rebman’s scientific goals will be to formally describe and publish many of these new plant species for science. By publishing these new plants the scientific community will become aware of them and this will lead to a better overall understanding of the taxonomy, diversity, and biogeography of plants in our region. Most of these plants are also very rare and by formally publishing them the conservation community will also become aware of their presence and this may help to protect and manage biological resources in our region. All of these newly described plants will add to the impressive diversity and endemism of the flora of southern California and Baja California.

    Continued taxonomic investigation on cacti will soon yield the publication of Rebman’s doctoral and post-doctoral research on the chollas (Cylindropuntia spp.) of Baja California. The methods used in this biosystematic work include: chromosome studies, pollen stainability, scanning electron microscopy of pollen, seed surfaces, and certain vegetative structures, field and herbarium analyses of morphology, and biogeographical data mapping. This study represents the first comprehensive monograph of this cactus group in Baja California. The Baja California peninsula and its adjacent Pacific and Gulf islands are found to contain 27 cholla taxa, making it the area of highest taxonomic diversity of the genus Cylindropuntia.  Of these taxa, 17 or 63% are endemic to the region.  This systematic treatment recognizes four new taxa (Cylindropuntia alcahes var. gigantensis, C. alcahes var. mcgillii, C. cedrosensis, and C. ganderi var. catavinensis) and three previously described species by the author (C. delgadilloana, C. lindsayi, and C. sanfelipensis); six new nomenclatural recombinations; and 12 new nomenclatural types.

    Baja California has 18 cholla species, of which nine are endemic. This high diversity of chollas most likely reflects the influence of past geological events and habitat diversity as well as past and present floristic associations. Chromosome studies of the chollas in Baja California indicate that most taxa (67%) are diploid, but some occasionally have putative autopolyploid individuals. If these autopolyploid taxa are considered, then up to 52% of the taxa have all or some members with polyploid counts. The range of euploidy varies from 2x to 8x (x = 11), with the octoploids reported as the highest polyploid level determined for the genus Cylindropuntia. Chromosome counts for 12 taxa in the region are reported for the first time. Hybridization is a common occurrence in the Cactaceae, especially in the subfamily Opuntioideae. The chollas of Baja California are no exception with naturally occurring putative interspecific hybrids arising from such parents as C. alcahes, C. bigelovii, C. californica, C. cholla, C. ganderi, C. molesta, C. prolifera, and C. tesajo. The publication of this taxonomic research will be an important step towards better understanding the amazing diversity and evolution of cacti in Baja California.


    Literature Cited:

    Bullock, S., J. M. Salazar Ceseña, J. Rebman, and H. Riemann. 2008. Flora and vegetation of an isolated mountain range in the desert of Baja California. The Southwestern Naturalist 53: 61-73.

    Garcillán, P. P., J. Rebman, and F. Casillas. 2009. Analysis of the non-native flora of Ensenada, a fast growing city in northwestern Baja California. Urban Ecosystems, DOI 10.1007/s11252-009-0091-1.

    León de la Luz, J., and  J. Rebman. 2010. A new Ambrosia (Asteraceae) from the Baja California Peninsula, Mexico. Bol. Soc. Bot. Mex. 86: 65-70.

    León de la Luz, J., J. Rebman, M. Domínguez-León, and R. Domínguez-Cadena. 2008. The vascular flora and floristic relationships of the Sierra de La Giganta in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 79: 29-65.

    León de la Luz, J. L. and J. Rebman. 2002. The vascular flora of Cerralvo Island. Appendix 4.2, pp.512-526 in A New Island Biogeography of the Sea of Cortés, Oxford University Press, New York.

    Rebman, J. 2006. A new club cholla, Grusonia robertsii (Cactaceae) from Baja California Sur, Mexico. Madrono 53: 280-283.

    Rebman, J., and F. Chiang. 2005. A new species of Amyris (Rutaceae) from Baja California Sur, Mexico. Novon 15: 350-353.

    Rebman, J., T. Oberbauer, and J. Luis León de la Luz. 2005. La flora de Isla Guadalupe y sus islotes adyacentes.  Chapter, pp.67-81 in Isla Guadalupe: Restauración y Conservación, Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE-SEMARNAT), México D.F.

    Rebman, J. 2002. Plants endemic to the Gulf islands. Appendix 4.5, pp. 540-544 in A New Island Biogeography of the Sea of Cortés, Oxford University Press, New York.

    Rebman, J., T. Oberbauer, and J. L. León de la Luz. 2002a. The flora of Toro Islet and notes on Guadalupe Island, Baja California, Mexico. Madroño 49: 145-149.

    Rebman, J., J. Luis Leon de la Luz, and R. Moran. 2002b. Vascular plants of the Gulf islands.  Appendix 4.1, pp.465-511 in A New Island Biogeography of the Sea of Cortés, Oxford University Press, New York.

    Rebman, J. 2001. Succulent diversity in Lower California Mexico. Cactus and Succulent Journal (US) 73: 131-138.

    Rebman, J. and D. Pinkava. 2001. Cylindropuntia delgadilloana, a new cholla (Cactaceae) from Baja California, Mexico. Journ. Ariz.-Nev. Acad. Sciences. 33: 154-156.

    Rebman, J., M. Resendiz & J. Delgadillo. 1999. Diversidad y documentación de las Cactaceae de Baja California, Mexico. Cactaceás y Suculentas Mexicanas 44(1): 20-26.

    Rebman, J. 1999. A new cholla (Cactaceae) from Baja California, Mexico. Haseltonia 6: 17-21.

    Rebman, J. 1997. Opuntia lindsayi, a new cholla (Cactaceae: Opuntia, subgenus Cylindropuntia) from Lower California, Mexico.  Cactus & Succulent Journal (U.S.) 69(2): 67-70.

    Wiggins, I. 1980. Flora of Baja California. Stanford University Press. 1025pp.

  • Mon, August 09, 2010 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)



    Our 15th Horticulturists of the Year were Bruce and Sharon Asakawa. Between them they have two lifetimes of expertise that they have enthusiastically shared with tens of thousands of gardeners through their books, radio show, and lectures.







    Authors and TV and radio personalities Bruce and Sharon Asakawa are our 2010 Horticulturists of the Year. This horticultural couple are the first co-honorees, which seems fitting, since they’re a perfect team. At our August meeting we will be privileged to recognize them for their significant contributions to horticulture in this region. We’ll also hear about favorite plants in their own garden! After over 20 years at their current home, they have a garden that is still “a work in progress," based on practical as well as whimsical considerations, personal tastes and inspirations from their travels around the world. Ranging from the rare and unusual to the more commonly available ornamentals and edibles, most of their favorites are ideal for California gardens. Find out about these favorite plants from these very popular speakers.

    Bruce Asakawa has been in the nursery business for 55 years beginning in 1950 when his parents started Presidio Garden Center. It became one of the premier retail nurseries on the west coast. The business was one of the first to diversify into landscape architectural planning and contracting and FTD floral design.

    He received a degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly, Pomona and developed and taught ornamental horticulture classes for the UCSD Extension Program in addition to being a landscape architect specializing in sustainable, residential and commercial landscape design. He was seen regularly as the garden expert on PM Magazine’s television program and was a frequent guest on Sun Up San Diego. Bruce was instrumental in helping to establish the California Association of Nurserymen’s Certified Nurserymen’s program. He was appointed by Governor Pete Wilson to be a member of California’s Urban Forest Advisory Council and is a certified arborist. Beginning in 1977, Bruce and Sharon owned and operated Bonita Garden Center until they sold the property in 1990. During the early nineties he became the host of West Coast Garden Line, the precursor to the Garden Compass radio show and has been with Garden Compass since its inception.

    Sharon graduated from San Diego State University with a double degree in American Foreign Policy and Political Science. After marrying Bruce, she began working at Presidio Nursery in 1963, eventually managing both florist departments at Presidio and Bonita Garden Centers. With over 42 years of experience in the gardening industry, she appeared with Bruce on Over the Hedge’s television program and became co-host on the Garden Compass radio program in 2000 along with Bruce and John Bagnasco. It continues to air every Saturday morning from 8-10 on AM 1700.

    Sharon was the editor of Garden Compass Magazine and Garden Compass Planting Guide publications. Bruce and Sharon’s first book, Bruce and Sharon Asakawa’s California Gardener’s Guide, is now in its 7th printing. They co-wrote with Teri Dunn the Southwestern edition of Jackson & Perkins Beautiful Roses Made Easy and the Southwestern edition of Jackson & Perkins Outstanding Perennials. With their son, Eric Asakawa, they wrote California Gardening Rhythms. Their fifth book, California Gardener’s Resource, will be available in February 2010.

    In June of 2009, Sharon and John began a nationally syndicated gardening show, GardenLife, on Sunday mornings from 8-10 on AM 1000 and streaming live on lifestyletalkradio.com. Sharon, Bruce and John also launched the GardenLife.com website for the latest on all things gardening. radio program in 2000 along with Bruce and John Bagnasco. It continues to air every Saturday morning from 8-10 on AM 1700.

    We are delighted that the knowledgeable and community-minded Asakawas have been selected as our Horticulturists of the Year for 2010. The San Diego Horticultural Society will honor Bruce and Sharon Asakawa this August.

  • Fri, March 13, 2009 1:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)



    Steve is one of our founders, and the founder of Buena Creek Gardens in San Marcos. He wrote the text for our tree book, and has lectured on garden-worthy trees and other topics. For many years he also wrote a favorite monthly column for our newsletter.





    For our 14th Annual Horticulturist of the Year Award for Excellence in Horticulture we are proud to honor a founding board member: passionate horticulturist and nurseryman Steve Brigham. Steve is the author of the SDHS book, Ornamental Trees for Mediterranean Climates, and for many years he wrote a monthly newsletter column on important local gardening issues. Congratulations, Steve!

    Steve’s mission is, “to collect, grow, display, promote, and distribute new and uncommon varieties of ornamental plants for California gardens.” For many, many gardeners in Southern California his nursery, Buena Creek Gardens, was a beacon. Customers traveled significant distances and many became friends with this soft-spoken, modest and enthusiastic purveyor of horticultural delights. New Zealand shrubs, Australian perennials, South African bulbs and Mediterranean-climate herbs mingled happily with California natives. Several acres of display gardens would whet the appetite of even the most jaded gardener – Steve always seemed to have something new worth making room for in our gardens.

    We asked Steve to share some of his experiences with us. Last month he wrote about the flower and the book that inspired him to become a plantsman. We learn more this month, and his life story will conclude in the next newsletter, though we know his love of plants will last a lifetime.

    A Brief History of Me

    By Steve Brigham

    Today, as I write this, is June 2, 2009. Interestingly enough, it is also my 20,000th day on Earth! (Doesn’t that sound more impressive than 54 years old?) It is a beautiful, warm, sunny day here at our “retirement estate” in Kingston, Washington, where Donna and I have lived for a year now. Summer has arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and with it a nearly unimaginable wealth of plant and animal life in full, glorious growth and expression. As I look out my large third-story office window at the gardens below and at our surrounding forest, I know that this indeed is the perfect place to be! What particularly strikes me today is the realization that our home and gardens here are a nearly total manifestation of the best of my experiences, observations, and preferences gleaned from my 20,000 days of poking around our beloved planet. Here are elements of both my childhood and career, including reminders of visits to so many beautiful natural places around the world, and so many beautiful gardens as well. I have become one with this place, and I will always have it in my mind.


    My Early Years

    My home and garden are more important to me than almost anything else. And although I’ve never had much money, I have usually found a way to have a nice place to live, often at great financial risk. My parents were no different. Although they could barely afford it, in the 1950’s and 1960’s they developed a 1-acre home and garden in Atherton, California (about 30 miles south of San Francisco). While my Dad’s small business struggled to pay the bills, our family homestead developed into a true paradise, with a nice house and many kinds of plants and trees from all over the world. The youngest of three brothers, I had plenty of time and space to myself while I was growing up, which was exactly what I wanted. I started growing vegetables when I was 5 years old, and soon became a dependable supplier for our entire family and neighborhood. Flowers, too, were an inspiration – and we had lots of them, for my Mom had planted nearly every type of flowering plant then available at local nurseries.

    My Mom and Dad and I were good friends from the moment I arrived on the planet. Ignoring financial hardship, we took some fantastic driving trips around the U.S.A. and Canada during summers when I was young, which allowed me to really see what was “out there” and get a perspective on the world. And I got a good education, too – first at St. Pius X School in nearby Redwood City, and then at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose. (I was allowed to choose both of these schools myself.) At Bellarmine in particular, there was a strong Jesuit message of “serving others” (indeed, this is the main emphasis of the school), which would provide important inspiration for my career. My biggest inspiration, however, would come during my college years, and I had only one preference as to where that would happen – a small, young, non-traditional campus known as the University of California, Santa Cruz.


    On My Own

    Everything my parents did for me made me into what I would be for the rest of my life, and I am in complete agreement that they – and I – did exactly the right thing! We had a wonderful life together. Oddly enough, though, one of the best things my parents ever did for me was to go bankrupt. By 1972, competition from the new “big box” stores in our area made a small furniture business like my father had virtually obsolete, stifling over 20 years of modest success. Rising costs and falling income made it impossible for my parents to afford to pay for my college expenses, so my first attempt at college ended after just seven months, in favor of starting my own small landscaping business. My parents had to sell their Atherton home for a very low price and declare bankruptcy (a situation similar to that of yours truly some 37 years later, which is exactly how much older my Dad was than I). Sad as it was, however, my parents’ bankruptcy turned out to be just what I needed to qualify for financial aid. With a combination of grants, loans, and work-study funding, I re-entered UC Santa Cruz in the fall of 1974 on my own, with all expenses paid – providing, of course, I could find a job on campus. But my friends in the financial aid office knew right where I should go.

    In 1974, the young UC Santa Cruz Arboretum needed lots of work but had little funding. With my work-study grant, however, Director Ray Collett had only to come up with 20% of my salary for my half-time employment there, which he gladly did. Ray’s incredible knowledge of plants, both native and exotic, together with the extensive plant collection he was establishing, was all the inspiration I needed to decide what I wanted to do with my life (see my “Birth of A Plantsman” essay in the June 2009 issue of Let’s Talk Plants). I worked at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum for the next four years with Ray as a Botany and Natural History major, and during that time, I was privileged to get to know many of the most famous horticulturists of California and beyond. These days, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum is a world-renowned botanical and horticultural institution. (What a great way to “work yourself through college”!)


    The Horticultural Revolution

    Horticulturally speaking, the 1970’s were nothing less than a revolution worldwide, and I feel most fortunate to have been a part of it all. I doubt that any period in recent history has seen both the beginnings and co-existence of so many talented horticultural careers at once (a number of which continue to this day), both in California and abroad. Ease of world-wide airline travel had a lot to do with the flood of plant discovery and introduction in the 1970’s, and advances in propagation techniques allowed more kinds of plants to be successfully grown. Because of this, by the 1980’s a great wealth of new garden plants were becoming available in California in particular. In marked contrast to today’s modern tissue-culture labs, the newest garden plants in those days were grown, shared, and sold the old-fashioned way – by small specialist growers and botanical gardens, not giant corporations. And so it was that the late 1970’s saw me taking many trips throughout California to find new and exciting garden plants that merited propagation.

    At that time, however, there were so many of us in Northern California experimenting with new plants, the thought occurred to me that it would be nice to find a place where I wouldn’t have to compete with all my friends. Because of the tremendous variety of garden plants that may be grown in frost-free climates, it wasn’t hard for me to be attracted to the mild Southern California climate, especially since I really like subtropical plants. All my friends thought I was crazy to even think of moving to “big, bad” Southern California. And it’s true, by then, that the Los Angeles area was already so big and unruly as to make a comfortable life there impossible in my judgment. But once you drove a little further south into San Diego County, there was this magical area of cute little coastal towns, complete with a county-run park then known as Quail Botanic Gardens. I first saw QBG in the summer of 1977. Right then, like so many other times in my life, I knew exactly where my next move would be – and nothing was going to stop me.


    Quail Botanical Gardens

    The fall of 1980 was a wonderful time in my life. At 26 years old, I was probably just a little too full of myself as I came blazing into Encinitas in a 24-foot U-Haul truck that was full of rare trees and shrubs from my backyard nursery in Santa Cruz. After a long wait, and thanks to some very generous help from QBG Horticulturist Gil Voss and his wife Alison, I had finally secured a San Diego County Parks and Recreation Gardener position at what was then known as Quail Botanic Gardens (we put the “-al” into the name my first month there). Over the next two years, with the help of the Quail Gardens Foundation, we would make some very big steps in modernizing the botanical structure and function of the Gardens, as well as greatly expanding its plant collections, plant sales, and educational programs.

    Quail Gardens was then and always has been a complete joy to work with, since so many different kinds of plants grow well there, all in remarkably close proximity. With its enviable site overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it is both unique and exceptional among all of the many botanical gardens I have ever seen. Another, even more compelling aspect of Quail was its tradition as a true “community garden,” with many volunteers working together to develop it in lieu of paid staff. These people quickly became not only my friends, but also my family – and I too volunteered many hours each week after my 40 paid hours were done. In the two years that I worked at Quail, we all got at least five years’ work done, by anybody’s standards.


    Specialty Nurseries

    Sad to say, by 1982, San Diego County Parks had severe budgetary challenges, and rightfully had to channel most of its funding into the big recreational parks that produced the most revenue for the Parks Department. In a re-organization, I ended up on the short end of things – but I did hope that as the Quail Gardens Foundation got more prosperous, it could someday take over the Gardens completely and that I would be there to help (eleven years later, it did and I was). All I wanted to do was to continue to grow and introduce new plants, and so I continued my career in the rare-plant nursery business.

    My first stop was Kartuz Greenhouses, a small but important mail-order nursery in Vista. Mail-order was a brand new world for me, and a most exciting one, since I now had the opportunity to see the rare subtropical plants that I grew distributed all across the USA and beyond. In doing so, I was able to maintain my connections with many botanical gardens and plant collectors worldwide, further adding to my credentials as a rare plant grower. This work continued at Stallings Nursery in Encinitas, which specialized in unusual landscape plants but also allowed me to establish a mail-order program.



    In late 1987, I accepted an offer from Bob Brooks (former Treasurer of the Quail Gardens Foundation) to manage his Cordon Bleu Farms in San Marcos, where he grew hundreds of the newest varieties of daylilies and iris for mail-order shipment. When word got out to all my plant-collector friends that I was doing this, they all thought that I had lost my mind. Why would I give up rare plants for daylilies?! Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made some pretty risky moves in my life, and this one was no different. As always, this time I had some important reasons.

    Actually, I had no intentions of giving up my rare-plant career. But at 33, there was still something I’d always wanted to do that I hadn’t done yet, and that was to have my own rare-plant nursery and garden. With absolutely no savings to work with, I needed to be creative. And despite its many challenges, Cordon Bleu to me was worth the risk.

    Bob’s 4-acre property in San Marcos reminded me of a very early version of Quail Gardens – it had the potential to be a “mini Quail.” As long as I kept his fields and grounds maintained and fulfilled my shipping duties, Bob agreed that I could spend my extra time building a nursery and display garden, and so Buena Creek Gardens was born. Because of limited time and money, initial progress was slow. But our plant collection began to grow, with the addition of many new and uncommon perennials, drought-tolerant plants (including California natives), and subtropicals.


    Volunteer Opportunities

    If there was ever a “golden era” of San Diego Horticulture, the 1990’s were it – and it all had to do with volunteers. By 1990, the Quail Botanical Gardens Foundation had asked me back, this time as a Board member, and soon we were on a roll. Here I was, back with my family, with a new generation of players (some of whom I had taught 10 years before in their first year as volunteers at the Gardens). The San Diego horticultural community was finally maturing, and as more talented friends hopped on board, we knew we were ready for big things. Why not finally take “the big step” and assume control of Quail as a non-profit institution? And further, why not finally create a San Diego Horticultural Society, like many of us had talked about for years? As they say in Australia, “done and done,” and we “did and did” it in 1993 and 1994.

    None of this would have happened if it weren’t for the serendipity of so many talented volunteers serving at just the right time, each performing their own vital functions (since space is quite limited in this essay, I must regretfully refrain from mentioning all the wonderful people involved by name – you’ll just have to wait until I write a book someday). The big challenge was not just to get the “new” Quail Botanical Gardens and the completely new San Diego Horticultural Society up and running, but to do it in a way that would keep these organizations prospering long into the future – and they have. Ours was and is to this day an “army of friends” too big and too dedicated to be denied, as may it be forever more!


    Buena Creek Gardens

    Amidst all this wonderful activity, I had one more project up my sleeve back at Buena Creek Gardens, which by then had gotten rather well known as a source of unusual plant material. Bob Brooks was set to retire at 65, and in January of 1996, he sold Cordon Bleu Farms, Buena Creek Gardens, and his 4-acre property to me (since I still didn’t have any money, he generously agreed to finance the deal himself). Now, at 41 years of age, I had finally achieved my dream of owning my own rare plant nursery, and it was one of the most rewarding and also riskiest things I ever did. At that time, the nursery was still dominated by the daylilies, which took up most of my time but also paid most of the bills. Determined to get a quick start, however, I took out some loans and hired a staff in order to develop the “new” nursery and gardens as quickly as possible. Buoyed by helpful publicity, a rising economy, and lots of hard work, we achieved quick initial success and kept it going as fast and as far as the daylily mail-order business could afford. But in a few years, when those initial loans came due, a crisis point was reached. Because of economic realities, would the nursery whose promise was “to boldly grow what no one has grown before” simply cease to exist?

    I first met my wife, Donna, in 1999, just as I was re-examining my life and business path. Donna is in reality an angel that was sent to help me in my worst time of need. I had always wanted most to have a “mom and pop” small business, pleasantly manageable without lots of employees – but I’d never had a “mom” to do it with. Now I did, and Donna was no stranger to hard work. If we knew we couldn’t make much money selling plants, why not just do what we really wanted? And so we began a new chapter of Buena Creek Gardens, where Donna and I gradually phased out the daylilies, and with the help of our new friend Jacob focused ourselves on the nursery and gardens.

    The first several years of the 21st century were a period of the greatest garden and nursery developments ever at Buena Creek Gardens, since once the daylilies were minimized, I was finally able to return to my life-long twin loves of plant propagation and garden building. With Donna’s vision, our nursery areas were transformed into works of art, and in 2005, we completed a deservedly famous 1-acre Bird and Butterfly Garden, which showcased so many of our finest plants and which we further expanded over the next two years. By 2007, I had finally achieved much of what I had envisioned for Buena Creek Gardens 20 years earlier. By then, however, we had an even newer project – and that was to escape our formerly rural North County area, which had become way too urbanized and overcrowded for our sanity to continue. In May of 2008, we sold Buena Creek Gardens to our friends Steve and Shari Matteson, who today continue to run BCG in fine fashion.


    Lessons Learned

    So there you have it – a brief account of some of the thrills, chills, and spills of the first 20,000 days of my life. I now return to my present view in June 2009, past my computer screen, looking out at the Washington garden that Donna and I have created and its surrounding forest – as we contemplate a new chapter in our lives with our impending move (this time reluctantly, and economically driven) to the Mendocino Coast of northern California.

    In my life, I have learned that knowledge exists to be shared, and that often the greatest formats for sharing that knowledge are organizations that require our cooperation – and patience. Some folks might be surprised to know (but others surely won’t) that since childhood I have never changed – I have always been the same shy, quiet person who just likes to stay at home, play in my garden, and read books. Plants are easy for me (since I basically am one), but helping to create and support lasting organizations that will serve my fellow gardeners has always required major effort on my part. Because I don’t really like to socialize much, it sometimes seems amazing to me that I ever got involved in community projects and serving others (although I’m sure the Jesuits had something to do with the fact that I did).

    There is no denying that we all live in a big world these days, and if we take the time to look, we realize that there are always big things to be done. No one can do big things alone. In horticulture, as with any other aspect of our lives, the big things that we choose to do we must do together with others. It takes not just a village, but an army – an army of friends – because we must be disciplined enough as a unit to “get the job done.” Of my career accomplishments, I am by far most proud to have been a small part of some wonderful armies of friends – who together got the job done by creating and supporting great horticultural organizations which will long outlive the “prime time” that we individually could give them.

    If there is any award to be given, it should go to all of us in those horticultural armies of friends, and to each of us – because each of us, no matter how much or little we contribute, is essential to the whole. The point is that you did contribute. In my life, I have found that working successfully with others gives me a wonderful feeling inside. And when we all truly work together, as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock might say, “All honors must go to the many, and not to the few, or the one.”
  • Mon, July 07, 2008 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Chuck had a lifetime career in horticulture, and co-founded Ades & Gish Nursery, which ships houseplants throughout the U.S. He helped dozens of exchange students from around the world to work as interns at San Diego nurseries, often hosting them in his home, and is an active member of local community groups and an avid square dancer. Chuck was also he first Horticulturist honored with a Gala at San Diego Botanic Gardens.




    We asked Chuck to share some of his experiences with us, and he graciously has written the following account of his background in horticulture.

    Nurseryman and community activist with a generous nature

    Chuck Ades got his first experience with plants when he was about 6 years old. A person asked him if he knew that if he broke off a geranium branch and stuck it in the ground that it would grow. He was living in Covina, California at the time. The person dug up a little plot of ground to prepare for Chuck’s first adventure into growing plants. Chuck then broke off several stems from a geranium plant that was growing in the yard and unceremoniously stuck them into the freshly turned earth. However, like most 6 year old, he promptly forgot about it. A few months later, the person asked him if he had looked at the geraniums. He excitedly ran to the area and was amazed that they had not only rooted but were now twice as big as when he planted them. Little did he know that act would determine what he would be doing not only as an avocation but also had determined his lifetime vocation. During the course of growing up he was always planting vegetables and flowers, no matter how short a time they were going to live there. One time their house burned down so they temporally moved into a new motel which had had no landscaping done. He immediately began planting things about the motel.

    At one time his family lived in Ashland Oregon in a home near the mountains with streams a forest and many wild flowers. That was when he developed an appreciation of wild flowers, an interest that remains with him today. Whenever the family was driving in a forested or country road he would make his parents stop the car so that he could see the flowers up close. Chuck was able to take this interest to the extreme a few years ago. He and wife Joan spent two weeks in South Africa with a noted South African botanist. They were able to see many plants in their natural habitat that we commonly grow in our gardens or in pots here. They saw pelargoniums and oleander growing in the mountains and mesembryanthemums, gazania and African daisies in the desert. They saw areas with so many Lithops growing on the ground that one couldn’t walk without stepping on them.


    Chuck always assumed he would go to college, even though his parents weren't able to supply the finances. Fortunately, he was able to put himself through college by working at home during the summer and at college on the weekends. He majored in Floriculture (commercial growing of plants and cut flowers) and chose Oregon State College (now Oregon State University) because it offered the best floriculture program in the country at the time. He recently attended his 50th college graduation. However the fraternity he lived in and his major no longer exist at OSU.

    He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army at graduation, and served two years in the Army. Upon release from the Army he began to pursue his profession. His first job was with a cut flower shipper in Oakland, Ca. He stayed there only a short time. He then went to work for Rod McLellan Company (Acres of Orchids) in South San Francisco. That was when he had his first experience with exchange students (working apprentices) from other countries. The company had long had a tradition of placing exchange students. At that time in his life, all of his close friends were exchange students or foreign emigrants. He would go to the local German club and sing German songs and eat their food. Another time he would go to the Scandinavian Club and learn about their traditions and foods. At various times he shared his apartment with Germans, Poles, and a descendant of the family from England that collected the first orchids from the wild to be grown in cultivation.

    Chuck recently got e-mail from the Polish student that is now a professor at the University of Warsaw. They hadn’t had any contact for over45 years – he had seen the Ades & Gish nursery name on the Internet. One German student stayed here in the USA for 2-½ years. He and Chuck became almost like brothers. He later visited Chuck and his family in Encinitas. Chuck and Joan later were able to visit him and his family in Germany. Although he died a couple of years ago, his son still keeps contact with Chuck by way of the Internet and has visited Chuck and Joan at their home in Encinitas.

    Chuck continued working at the Rod McLellan Company for twelve years and rose to Manager of two departments, the potted  plant  department  (at 138,000 square feet) and the cut rose departments (at 400,000 square feet). However, he had always wanted to retire to a sub-tropical climate like Santa Barbara or San Diego. One day he decided, “why wait for retirement?,” so he looked for and found a job in Encinitas, working for Robert Hall-Encinitas Floral Company. After a little less than three years, he joined forces with Bill Gish. Bill was a new cut flower producer in Encinitas who had just bought a carnation greenhouse in Encinitas. He asked Chuck if he would be interested in leasing and managing the greenhouses of carnations. Chucks response was, “carnations are boring, but how about potted plants?” Thus, Ades and Gish Nurseries was born in 1974.

    During the years Ades & Gish grew from 128,000 square feet to 780,000 square feet (about 17 acres of greenhouse) at one time. However, it is now in the process of downsizing to 300,000 square feet (about 7 acres of greenhouse) in San Marcos. Chuck has always been interested in the challenge and experience of growing the new and unusual in plant material. The plant-cutting brokers knew that if they visited him first with something new he would almost always make a sale. Unfortunately, the crop didn’t always work out, but Chuck was always willing to give them a try. In the San Diego area, he was one of the first commercial growers to grow ferns (other than Boston ferns) including stag horn ferns, as well as pineapple plants with edible fruit, hanging basket plants such as creeping Charlie, coleus and wandering Jews. In fact he brought to Encinitas the system of growing hanging basket plants hanging from strands of wire instead of on wooden benches. The company ships plants throughout the U.S., but heavily into Texas, the mid-west, and Illinois, as well as Arizona and Nevada. Their customers range from large chains like Home Depot to individual retail nurseries, and plant brokers to interiorscapers, and to theme parks such as Disneyland and the San Diego Zoo.

    Returning to his earlier experiences with exchange students... He has been housing and employing them for several years now. He and his wife have had students living with them from Uzbekistan, Czeck Republic, Ukraine,  Indonesia, Brazil, Switzerland, and Romania, Honduras and others. They have had parties at their garden that had 7 countries represented.

    Chuck’s present focus of attention is the specialty begonias that previously were available only through friends and clubs. The nursery now grows many varieties of begonias. They are classified as Cane (sometimes called angle wing begonias), Rex (the brightly colored foliage begonias), Rhizomatous (interestingly marked and shaped leaves), Trailing/Scandant (climbing and hanging basket types) and others. He is active in the American Begonia Society nationally as well as locally.

    Chuck has been married for 43 years to Joan. They have two children: Cheryl, who is an electrical engineer, and Darrell, who now owns and runs Ades & Gish Nurseries. Each of their children has two children of their own. Chuck’s hobbies are gardening (of course), Square dancing, Singing in choirs, traveling and genealogy.

    Various accomplishments, positions and offices Chuck has held are:

    Instrumental in establishing the Bromeliad Society in San Mateo County, CA

    President and board member of San Diego County Flower and Plant Assoc.

    Board member of S.D County Farm Bureau

    State horticulture representative to Farm Bureau in Sacramento

    Steering Committee of Southern California Plant Tour Days

    Board member of Quail Botanical Gardens

    Quail Botanical Gardens Gala first Honoree

    Encinitas Traffic Commission

    Initiator of the Encinitas Flower Celebration (tours of local greenhouses)

    Honoree Encinitas City Council

    President and manager, Ades & Gish Nurseries (28 years)

    Active in the American Begonia Society

    Encinitas Invasive Plant ad hoc committee member

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 Our Mission  To inspire and educate the people of San Diego County to grow and enjoy plants, and to create beautiful, environmentally responsible gardens and landscapes.

Our Vision  To champion regionally appropriate horticulture in San Diego County.


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