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.

  • Sat, July 07, 2007 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    During more than 2 decades as a Chula Vista optometrist, Bill started a project to give tree seedlings to 4th graders to enhance their appreciation for nature. This led to a 36-year career as a nurseryman and arborist, founding Pacific Tree Farms (a mecca for tree enthusiasts), donations of trees for many community projects, and helping with designing the world-class conifer collection at the Wild Animal Park.

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

    Nurseryman and Arborist with a Generous Nature

    Bill Nelson had an interesting childhood. Born in Livingston, Montana, he began working at an early age delivering papers and mowing lawns when the snow shovels were put away. Then came work at a grocery store, egg candling, and a couple of summers spent as a ranch hand. Two more summers found him in Yellowstone Park on a road crew and in a service station pumping gas. 

    His grandparents, Chris and Effie Teters, gave Bill a loving home and served as good examples. Concerned that he might spend his life trout fishing and trapping muskrats, they sent him to Kemper Military in Missouri for the last two years of high school. It was a good decision and broadened Bill’s outlook a great deal.

    With the aim of saving for college, he worked for the Northern Pacific Railway for a year on the Bridges and Building crew. Repairing bridges over a frozen river at ten degrees below zero convinced him that his goal was sound.

    The next six years were spent at Pacific University in Oregon, where he graduated with a Doctor of Optometry degree. During that time he worked at many jobs, but the best one of all was in the university cafeteria where he met his future wife, Louise. They married in 1952 and soon moved to San Diego. Bill practiced optometry for twenty five years in Chula Vista, where they raised two sons, Geoffrey and David. Active in many community groups, Bill came up with an idea that would change his and his family’s life.

    Bill felt the need to enhance the appreciation of life and nature for children. He planned a project to give tree seedlings to the fourth graders in Chula Vista. With the help and support of the Boy Scouts and the Kiwanis Club, 2,000 pine seedlings were distributed. Many of the trees thrived and it was a great moment for Bill when he received many letters from the children describing their tree, which often contained drawings and the name given to it.

    For some time the Nelsons had been using live conifers for their Christmas trees. Finding different species proved to be a problem, so Bill reasoned that a nursery offering a wide range of container-grown trees would meet a need. Thus was born Nelson’s Pine Patch. The venture was moderately successful, but along the way they learned why many species were not good candidates for living Yule trees – only a mother could love some of them.

    A number of other fruit and flowering trees began to pique Bill’s interest. Bill and Louise bought more land and changed the name to Pacific Tree Farms. He propagated and brought in many rare and unusual species. Before long, they began to ship trees throughout the U.S. and around the world.

    Thanks to suggestions from Louise, early on Bill began to use insect control methods that did not include pesticides. With the help of other nurseries, Bill was able to raise funds for a University of California program to release tiny wasps to control a serious outbreak of pine tip moth. The plan was very successful and was the forerunner of many other predator releases at Pacific Tree Farms.

    A pleasant memory for Bill was the time when an inspector from the Department of Agriculture came to the nursery looking for tip moth. He found a damaged tip on a  pine tree  and announced that the entire crop of several thousand trees would have to be sprayed. Bill broke off the dead tip and out flew a wasp: no spraying was required and Bill silently thanked Glenn Scriven, the U.C. researcher in charge of the state project.

    Another problem during the early days of the nursery was watering the trees and plants correctly. Overhead irrigation was wasteful and caused erosion. Various emitters and systems were tried, but all had serious defects. One night, Bill came in voicing his frustration with watering problems. Louise suggested that he design a better one. When Bill asked what she had in mind, she replied, “Oh, some sort of a ring with holes in it.” Later, Bill thought about her idea and said to himself, “By golly, she has it!” Shortly after, he began making the Trickle Flow Rings. They were rings made from small diameter plastic tubes which were perforated in several places with a belt punch. They were very effective and several other nurseries adopted the idea.

    In the late 70’s the nursery’s inventory and sales were increasing well and it gave Bill a chance to share some of the trees. He donated hundreds to parks, schools and camps. Working with Jim Gibbons, the horticulturist at the Wild Animal Park, he helped design the Mirov World Conifer Collection. This section of the Park is now well-established and is probably the finest mild-climate conifer forest in the world.

    An area which Bill felt needed more emphasis was the matter of drainage for trees and plants. His lectures usually included some mention of this vital aspect of cultivation. Work done at Purdue University and the University of California helped him to produce an instruction sheet on transplanting and drainage correction.

    In 1991 Bill became a Certified Arborist. Since then, he has made several hundred tree reports and appraisals. Sometimes, these matters ended up in litigation, where he served as an expert witness. Of his experiences in court, Bill said, “We didn’t win them all, but the challenges were great and I developed a real appreciation for our legal system.”

    Early in 2006 Bill decided to retire. Future plans include growing conifers for the fire victims near Julian and helping to develop an arboretum and botanic garden in Montana. In January of 2007 Bill will be searching for rare tree seeds in New Guinea.

    Bill says that his 36 years as a nurseryman and arborist have been very enjoyable. He thanks the many people in horticulture who have given him advice and inspiration.



  • Fri, July 07, 2006 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Jane was the first female landscape architect to practice in San Diego, and in 1947 was hired to head a huge project landscaping the city’s public schools, a job she excelled at for 30 years. She was among the first to use water-thrifty Australian and South African plants in public landscapes, and helped start the San Diego chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

    We asked Jane to share some of her background with us, and he graciously has written the following brief autobiography. 

    I appreciate how fortunate I have been throughout my life, including the good fortune to have been born in San Diego. My childhood home was in Mission Hills, in a neighborhood with canyons on two sides and rural Mission Valley a few blocks to the north. Wild lands were virtually at my doorstep, beckoning me to explore after school. When I was small, children had complete freedom to roam without the safety concerns of today restricting their movements. It was a very different world.

    My two older brothers, my sister and I shared a lifelong love of nature, perhaps installed at an early age by our parents. We were a picnicking family. Every weekend, weather permitting, going either to an unspoiled beach or the foothills, and later as far out as Green Valley Falls, Cuyamaca. We used to dig for clams at Mission Beach. If one found a clam today, imaging daring to eat it!
    The slopes of Mission Valley and our canyons had many wildflowers in the 1920s and 1930s, most of whose common names I knew. The flowers that I loved above Mission Valley gave way long ago to wild oats, brome and mustard. Wildflowers on wild lands are still more precious to me than are cultivated plants in gardens.

    For my ninth birthday a neighbor gave me nine small snapdragon plants, hoping to interest me in gardening. She succeeded beyond her wildest dreams! Those plants became so remarkably robust and beautiful that an immediate passion for plants was born.

    I well remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was twelve, about what my career path might be. I said I’d like to be a botanist, but I didn’t want to be confined to a classroom teaching botany. Back then there weren’t many horticultural opportunities for women. My mother asked me if I’d considered being a landscape architect – someone who designs gardens. From that moment on, that was the career I set my sights on.

    When I was fourteen another adult made an innocent remark that also strongly influenced my life. She told me that perhaps more of our garden plants in San Diego – bulbs, annuals, shrubs, etc. – grow wild in South Africa than anywhere else in the world. I discovered for myself that great diversity of South African plants, and longed to go there. My interest broadened over the years to include the country’s history, politics and geography. Thirty years later, in 1965, I did visit South Africa and was thrilled to see familiar plants growing in the wild.

    I received a B.S. degree in landscape architecture from U.C. Berkeley, arriving back in San Diego shortly after the U.S. entered World War II. Everyone was involved in some way in the war effort. It was not the time to start a landscape architectural practice. For the duration of the war I worked as an aeronautical engineering draftsman.

    In 1946 I joined the San Diego Floral Association, where I became acquainted with landscape architect Roland Hoyt. He had recently been informed by Dr. Ralph Dailard, Deputy Superintendent, that the San Diego City School planned to hire a staff landscape architect, and he urged me to go in for a job interview. At the end of the war the school district embarked on a huge school construction program and realized the need for professional help. In spite of being female, young and inexperienced, I was given the job in May, 1947, perhaps because I had a college degree and the other two male applicants did not. Fortunately, neither Dr. Dailard nor Superintendent Crawford had any bias against women. In 1947 the few landscape architects in San Diego were in one man offices. There were no companies with staffs as there are today. And there were no other women landscape architects locally.

    During my interview I learned that the job would include supervision of the gardening staff. I also learned that I had no predecessor. I would be deciding how work would be accomplished. There were advantages and disadvantages to not having established procedures.

    Early on it was decided that I would attend all architectural planning meetings that pertained to site planning. This was an advantage many landscape architects don’t have, as I was to put in my two cents’ worth early regarding basic site planning. Another great advantage was a close association with gardening maintenance. I was truly involved with a project from start to finish and beyond. A third great plus was that I had free rein in making plant selections for a project. I had no client to please and no one reviewed my work. The only constraint was the need to keep to a tight budget.

    While I lacked experience at the start, I came to the job with a strong knowledge of suitable plant materials. Most of the shrubs I used were old reliables that could take varying types of abuse and still look well. However, I was always able to experiment with promising untested plants, usually in small quantities. For Morse High School, landscaped in 1962, I wanted a fast-growing low ground cover for a slope that would provide some color. I had read in Sunset magazine about a new introduction that seemed to possess the right attributes. It was Osteospermum fruticosum, now so commonly used by Caltrans that it’s known as the Freeway Daisy. While visiting South Africa in 1965 I was thrilled to see it in the wild above the Indian Ocean!

    Another new introduction I took a chance on with excellent results was Acacia redolens, now another Caltrans favorite. In 1968 I was looking for a tough shrubby ground cover for a large cut slope at Patrick Henry High School. Ron Peckoff had recently introduced this acacia and had named it Acacia ongerup for the Western Australia town near where he had discovered it. Later, the name was changed.

    In 1954 there was no American Society of Landscape Architects chapter in San Diego, although Roland Hoyd and Harold Curtiss were member-at-large. That year Roland s suggested to four landscape architects that they apply for membership, the thought being that we could be a section of the Southern California chapter, based in Los Angeles. Before we could join, a small delegation from that chapter came down to interview us and pronounce us fit to become members. Our little group of six that formed the ASLA section were Roland Hoyt, Hal Curtiss, Harriett Wimmer, Roy Seifert, Brian Wykoff and I. Over the years our numbers grew, but it wasn’t until 1976 that the membership was large enough to form the San Diego chapter of the ASLA. For over twenty years ASLA was a very important part of my life. Just when the chapter was born I retired from City School, gave up my landscape architect’s license, and resigned from ASLA.

    In 1959 I had built a redwood contemporary hillside home on two acres in Eucalyptus Hills, Lakeside. I took early retirement in late 1975 in order to finally have time to develop my own place. Native plants, South African proteas and uncommon flowering trees were my main plant interests.

    My place gave me many years of great enjoyment, but disaster struck in October, 2003. I lost my house, possessions, and most, but not all, of my trees in the Cedar fire.

    I was grateful to escape with my life. I found a saying my mother had drilled into me at an early age was absolutely true: possessions are not the key to a happy life – friendships are. For nearly fifty years I’ve been an active member of Altrusa International, a classified service club for women. The generosity and support from those members and other close friends got me through the shock and trauma following the fire. Thanks to them I never suffered from despair or depression.

    It was very exciting in the months to follow to observe Mother Nature’s healing process, as many trees and shrubs stump sprouted. My land is once again green, and I expect to move into a new house sometime in 2006.

    For many years I’ve had a passionate interest in habitat conservation, and I belong to numerous environmental organizations. It’s been my great good fortune to be able to travel to many parts of the world where I’ve received much joy from seeing familiar plants growing in the wild. May they never lose their homes! What more satisfying interest could one have than nature and plants?

  • Thu, July 07, 2005 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    With his wife, Dorothy, Don founded the SDHS in 1994 and drew upon decades of experience with leading other garden groups. A self-taught horticulturist, it was his idea for us to publish a book about trees that grow well here.  Don worked for 2 years to take all the photos in Ornamental Trees for Mediterranean Climates.

    Here is Don's autobiography about his background in nature and horticulture written in 2005…

    California native and lifelong nature lover

    I was born in Los Angeles and that’s where I lived most of my life.  When I was growing up, Los Angeles was a paradise.  Driving from West L.A. to Gardena there were miles of open grassland.  It was a haven for the birds.  I enjoyed the sound of the meadowlarks that nested on the ground.  Curlews and other shore birds would nest in the fields closer to the ocean.  One of my older friends used to go duck hunting in the marsh where LAX is now.  The landscape was full of sand dunes covered with desert verbena just west of the airport; it was truly beautiful.

    I remember driving east to Lake Arrow­head as a boy.  In 1948 we could drive there faster on surface streets than we could today using the freeways.  We would make our way on the Arroyo Seco, now known as the Pasadena Freeway, out to Foothill Boulevard, then Route 66, through Rancho Cucamonga, Azusa, and Fontana.  There were miles of grape vineyards and citrus groves, with fruit stands every so often.  It was always such a heady experience whenever the orange trees were in bloom, and I can still remember it to this day.  When I was in the second grade we lived in Anaheim for a year.  We had to drive through miles of orange orchards to get there.  In those days they would announce the “dew point” on the radio every night.  I remember during that winter they used smudge pots to ward off the frost.

    Butterflies were abundant in the City of the Angels, and I collected caterpillars of the Monarch and Yellow Swallowtail butterflies.  I would feed the caterpillars daily until they pupated.  I was always so anxious to get home from school to witness their transformation into beautiful butterflies.

    We would take the old Red Street Cars that traveled from Long Beach and Redondo Beach to the top of Lake Avenue in Pasadena.  There, you could take a tram to the ruins of three hotels on Mount Lowe that had a magnificent view of the L.A. basin all the way to the ocean.  The wealthy Easterners had spent their winters at those hotels.  They were destroyed in a fire in 1938.

    I worked as a gardener in high school and college until I joined the Navy in 1951.  In 1955, after serving for four years, I went back to college and went to work in the aerospace industry, working first as a technical illustrator.  Later I retired from the Northrop Corporation, with one of the projects I worked on being the B2 bomber.  I did a lot of hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles during this time.  I remember reading about an ad from an 1896 L.A. newspaper stating that, "The San Gabriel River offered some of the best trout fishing in the state and the Creel Club was formed...”  Unfortunately, the river today is just a trickle.

    I have hiked in Little Santa Anita Canyon, which starts in Sierra Madre and travels to Mt. Wil­son.  This trail was established when they had used pack trains to carry the materials to build the Mt. Wilson observatory.  About a mile out of Sierra Madre, the trail becomes quite shaded and there are remnants of the many cabins that were built and planted for weekend destinations.  Back in the days before the automobile, people would spend their weekends hiking.  Many exotic plants were intro­duced and still thrive today.  If you take the hike, make sure you look for some Algerian Ivy, Naked Lady, Vinca major, Iris, and, in the stream beds, thousands of saplings of the common fig, to name a few.  The last two miles of the trail is in chaparral. 

    In Big Santa Anita Canyon cabins remain in use today.  If you follow this trail it will take you to Sturtevant Falls, where I have enjoyed many lunches breathing in its beauty.  I have hiked to seven other waterfalls in these mountains, but none are more beautiful than Sturtevant Falls.

    In 1961 I purchased my second home in Torrance.  It rested on a sandy slope and I turned to a landscape architect to draw plans for the garden.  From those plans I installed  the  garden.  Inspired, I spent the next eight years taking every night course in and around Los Angeles, and joined multiple plant societies to gather knowledge.  With a little time, everything grows. 

    In the 1960s my kids and I would spend our time visiting an abandoned gold mine (there were once hundreds of these in the San Gabriel Mountains) and other sights.  One of the more exceptional places we hiked to was Mt. Baden-Powell, the second highest peak in Los Angeles County.  It boasts a 2,000 year old pine tree (Pinus flexilis) and an exceptional view of the Antelope Valley.

    I became one of the founding members of the South Coast Botanical Garden in Rolling Hills, and served on the board for ten years.  At that time, this was the only botanical garden to be built on a landfill.  The county gave us their expectations of the amount the trash would settle over time, but the settlement far exceeded their estimates.  Odors from the decomposition of the trash, along with unexpected subsidence of the grounds, caused road and building abandonment, and the lake had to be drained three times for repairs.  Happy to say, the garden just had its fortieth anniversary, but it is still experiencing settlement.

    In 1963 I joined the Southern California Horticultural Society (SCHS) and I am still a member today.  I served on their board for over 20 years, as the program chairman for two years, and as president for two years.  During my years with the society we had many plant shows, sales, and field trips for the members.  We honored people from Santa Barbara to San Diego for their contributions to horticulture.  The SCHS was founded in 1937.  The founding members were prominent plantsmen of the period, and included people like William Hertrich (who designed and installed the gardens of the Huntington Botanical Gardens), Walter Armacost (of Armacost & Roysten Orchids, a major orchid grower), and John Armstrong (of Armstrong Nurseries), to name a few.

    Dorothy and I moved from Torrance to Vista in the fall of 1989, and I spent the first three years designing and building our garden.  I then realized I needed to get out in the plant community and meet other gardeners.  I volunteered as a design gardener at the Rancho Buena Vista Adobe in Vista and also at Quail Botanical Gardens (QBG) as curator of the stream and waterfall area.  I served on the board of the QBG Foundation for one year and stepped down in September, 1994 to form the San Diego Horticultural Society (SDHS).

    Seven of us met at Bill and Linda Teague’s house and initiated steps to form the SDHS, borrowing the by-laws from the SCHS and modifying them to meet our needs.  Our first meeting was at QBG in September, 1994.  We had no idea how many people would come to our initial meeting.  We did a mailing from the Buena Creek Gardens customer list, thereby reaching dedicated horticulturists and enthusiastic gardeners.  Amazingly, 89 people came and 44 joined at the first meeting!  We grew to about 1200 members in the eight years I served as president.

    In 1999 I began photographing trees for the SDHS book that was later titled Ornamental Trees of San Diego: Mediterranean Climate Trees for The Garden.  The design and production of the book was done at my home, on a McIntosh computer.  Steve Brigham, owner of Buena Creek Gardens, very ably provided the text.  The book was published in November, 2003 and had sold over 4300 copies by January, 2005.

    The last ten years have been very rewarding for me.  I have met so many nice people, and as a result I have made so many friends within the SDHS.  Let me end by saying the life of a gardener can be a lonely one, but when you have so many people to share it with, it is so grand. 

  • Wed, July 07, 2004 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Since 1977, through his work with the Univ. of California Cooperative Extension Program, Vince has been a dedicated horticultural educator, advisor and tremendously knowledgeable resource.  The energetic founder and organizer of the Master Gardener program in San Diego (in 1983), he makes successful gardening an obtainable reality for thousands of local gardeners.

  • Mon, July 07, 2003 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    One of our favorite speakers, one of our first members, and still very much a hands-on gardener, Pat has spent a lifetime sharing her love of plants and deep insights into their needs with the public through TV appearances, articles, 5 books, and lectures to hundreds of garden groups.

  • Sun, July 07, 2002 11:19 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)
    Walter grew up in his family’s exceptional nursery, which opened in 1928. He has been a generous supporter of and participant in flower & garden shows and also countless community groups and events, and served on our board for 6 years.
  • Sat, July 07, 2001 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)
    The widely-traveled and enormously creative heart of Weidners Gardens, Evelyn was born into the nursery business, and has been a tireless promoter of horticulture, introducing many new plants and helping to start the hugely successful EuroAmerican Propagators and Proven Winners.
  • Fri, July 07, 2000 11:22 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Edgar worked for the Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch for 40 years, and continues to volunteer for many community organizations. He is well-known for his 18 years of passionate effort as Coordinator of the Flower & Garden Show at the San Diego County Fair.

  • Wed, July 07, 1999 11:25 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)
    For over 50 years, from a shop at his seaside house in Carlsbad, Charles sold seeds, weighing them out for each customer and freely sharing his invaluable advice on growing from seed.
  • Tue, July 07, 1998 12:00 AM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    This legendary one name garden designer, spent over 60 years creating extraordinary gardens in San Diego, some of which survive today. He was a mentor to many designers, teaching them his method of lacing trees to show off their structure.

 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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