We’re delighted that Ron Vanderhoff is our Take Ten: Q and A personality this month. Ron is a lifelong Southern California gardener and professional horticulturist. For thirty years, he has been a leader in the local gardening community, as an educator, writer, lecturer, innovator and business leader; and for the past ten years as the nursery manager at Roger’s Gardens. His personal interests include climate-appropriate gardens, gardening education and environmental stewardship. He is an expert plantsman and an avid plant collector.
1. What’s your favorite place for finding inspiration in the world?
Anywhere there are plants, whether cultivated or wild. I am a curious person and am easily excited by the arrangement of petals on a small flower or the perfect coordination of plants in a chaparral canyon. Many of my life’s most tremendous moments have been when I discovered a better understanding of nature, especially from the perspective of a plant.
2. What plant expedition or exploration has had the most impact on you personally? Why?
Many years ago, as a young nature seeker, I was able to visit The Brooks Range, the arctic North Slope and other parts of interior Alaska. The wildness of the place, combined with the wealth of plants, insects, birds, mammals and other life that we catalogued made a lasting impression on me. It reinforced a lifelong decision to promote an appreciation of plants, nature and the outdoor.
3. What’s your take on the debate over native plants?
That’s a dangerous topic and any opinion will usually upset one camp or the other. First, I absolutely love California’s native plants. That’s where I started: ornamental plants came later.
With that said, California is such a varied location that the umbrella statement “native” doesn’t mean much here. Nonetheless, the term is used extensively. Being a nurseryman, I am terribly worried that we are setting ourselves up for another “native plant” backlash by the gardening public. Shop for some native plants and more than likely you’ll find Ceanothus, Arctostaphyllos, Fremontodendron, Erigeron, Heuchera, Parkinsonia, Rhamnus, Quercus, Zauschneria and a handful of a few others. Fine plants. They even have “California Native” on their label. But these plants were never “native” to my specific garden location.
4. What is the mission/vision of Roger’s Gardens and how do you as General Manager of its Newport Beach store, implement that vision?
To be Southern California’s premier retailer of premium gardening plants and services. I truly believe that when people buy plants, cultivate them, understand their seasonal changes, their tolerances and intolerances and their frailty, they also grow as a person. We think we’re doing a lot more than just selling things – we’re improving peoples live and the world they live in.
5. How do you go about teaching gardeners and non-gardeners about environmental stewardship? Do you see the public being more sensitive to this issue?
Certainly. The masses of gardeners want to do the right thing; but, the masses don’t know what to do. Gardeners are among the most sensitive and aware citizens on the planet. But for the most part, gardeners are dabblers and not technically aware of what they are supposed to do. Alot of gardeners with whom I come into contact need to be told and shown specifically what to do. I’m not referring to all of you who are reading this interview.
6. If you could make one wish about what gardening would be like in a perfect world, what would it be?
For gardening to be wildly cool, in vogue. It would be elevated in significance to that of music , fashion and sports. It would be a cornerstone of our society. Gardeners are the greatest people on the planet; honest, caring and sharing. We need more of them!
7. What is one of the great moments you’ve experienced while gardening or in a garden?
Every year we sponsor a garden contest that encourages resource conservation, appropriate plants and so on. I am fortunate to be one of the judges and get to present to award to the best garden in the county. To see the excitement, the sense of accomplishment and the smiles and even tears is a great moment for me. To see these people express themselves and their beliefs through their gardens is always a memorable time for me.
8. If you could be a plant in another life time, what would it be?
A tree. Perhaps a California Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), because it supports and even creates life for so many other living things: birds, mammals, insects, fungi, wildflowers and more. A whole world of living things is created just by the presence of a big, mature Coast Live Oak tree. And, like me, it can be as happy in a garden as it is in the wild.
9. Besides gardening, what other passions do you have in your life?
Birding and hiking but also business. Being in the profession of horticulture means that I need to continually hone not only my horticulture skill, but my business acumen as well.
10. What do you want to be remembered for in the world of gardening?
Encouragement. I want someone to remember when I showed them the nectar guides on a Moraea or how to grow an heirloom tomato from a seed.