Search: Treasures of the San Diego

Rosalina’s Dream: A Nursery of Her Own

– Posted in: Succulents

IMG_1877 Twenty years ago, cacti and succulents were oddball plants, little known among the nursery industry or gardening community. North San Diego county was where the wholesale growers were located, and many still are. But unfortunately Cooper’s Cactus and Succulents no longer exists; not since John Cooper passed away. The good news is that his plants live on, as does his kindness. Above: I photographed this Aloe nobilis ‘Variegata’ and the other succulents shown here at Roja’s Succulents, 2005 E. Alvarado St., Fallbrook, CA.   IMG_1780 “John Cooper made it possible for me to have my own nursery,” says Rosalina Rojas, one of his former employees. Above: Echeveria ‘Cante’ in bloom. 


Her own one-acre nursery has been in existence more than a decade. Above: Ruffled echeverias.  IMG_1870 “I’ve been in the US for 26 years, and I’m a citizen,” Rosalina says proudly. She originally is from Guanajuato, Mexico. Above: A striped aloe. 


“One of my sons is fighting for our country,” Rosalina told me. Francisco, 26, is in the Special Forces. Above: Aloe tomentosa flowers are unusual for the genus: pale green, fuzzy and appear in midsummer.


Her other son, Carlos, 24, helps with the nursery. Carlos introduced himself to me at last year’s Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals Nursery, and urged me to visit. I wasn’t able to do so right away, but it was on my radar. I’d already heard good things about the owner and the quality of the plant material. Above: Aeonium canariense has velvety leaves. 

IMG_1821 “It’s my passion and my living,” says Rosalina, adding that having her own nursery made it possible for her to raise her sons as a single mom. Above: Aloe dorotheae.

Graptopetalum, resized

Following in her mentor’s footsteps, Rosalina cultivates many beautiful, rare and unusual varieties. Above: This variegated Graptopetalum pentandrum is one of her own introductions. 

IMG_1841 So, what treasures did I bring home? One was this unusual senecio with beadlike leaves. IMG_1880 And this variation of Kalanchoe luciae (paddle plant) with rolled leaves. Rosalina calls it the “taco kalanchoe.” IMG_1864When you’re in the area, do visit Rosalina and mention that you heard about her here. You also might want to have my comprehensive list of “San Diego Succulent Destinations.” Incidentally, Rosalina wasn’t the only one Cooper helped; others continue to cultivate plants once grown at his nursery. Above: An Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ variation. 

Roger’s Garden

– Posted in: Garden Adventures

In Southern California, Rogers Gardens is famous,  the largest independent nursery on the West Coast. But this post is about a different Roger’s garden, one cultivated by Roger Martin for 40 years. When I visited him and wife Gerry, Roger pressed plants on me—anything I admired or asked about was added to a box of cuttings and potted plants Gerry thoughtfully packed up for me.

Roger, you see, can’t bring himself to throw away a cutting when he’s pruning back his succulents. So he pots them up. He sells them, too, for the cost of the pots and soil plus a little extra for his time. If you live in the San Diego area, do look him up (  He has some treasures, not to mention a garden only a mountain goat could love.

Roger “down” in his garden. I’ll say. [click to continue…]

That poinsettia you bought? Here’s the back story.

– Posted in: Garden Adventures

Of hundreds of articles I’ve written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, this one is my all-time favorite. Above: A wild poinsettia. (Photo by Bruce Leander, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.) 

It was a Quasimodo of a plant.

Even so, Franz Fruehwirth was intrigued by the gangly poinsettia he saw growing in a sunny corner of the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA. The year was 1962 and, for 40 years, the Ecke family had dominated the poinsettia market nationwide. True, customers preferred traditional-looking plants, but that didn’t mean tastes wouldn’t change, given an appealing alternative.

The oddity had a grand name, Ecke’s Flaming Sphere, but its ball-like red topknot and tightly curled leaves suggested not a comet so much as a tarantula. It had been discovered in the mid-’50s, as a mutant shoot of a normal pointy-leaved plant.

Maybe, Fruehwirth mused as he went about his routine work of mating poinsettias, Flaming Sphere could light the flower market on fire. [click to continue…]