Thursday, January 11, 2018

Roger's Gardens: what a nursery should be

Day 2 of my late-December trip to Southern California began with a visit to Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar (basically Newport Beach). Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden and her husband go to Roger's regularly, and they had been very enthusiastic about the demonstration garden along the road. While annuals and perennials in the display beds are swapped out periodically throughout the year, the aloes and agaves seem to be a permanent fixture.

My timing couldn't have been better because the aloes were in full bloom. The local police should put up signs instructing drivers to keep their eyes on the road instead of looking at the aloes!

Roger's Gardens was started by Roger McKinnon in 1965 in Costa Mesa. Gavin Herbert bought the business in 1970 and moved it to its current location in 1975 where it's become a destination for Orange County gardeners. The company now has over 100 employees and offers landscape design and event services in addition to the nursery and the attached shops (home and garden decor, gourmet food, jewelry) and the Farmhouse restaurant.

Roger's Gardens is the kind of nursery where every plant looks well cared for, where nothing appears out of place, and where employees actually know something about plants. Given today's cheaper-is-better big-box mindset, that's the exception rather than the rule. Yes, you pay more, but you get an experience, including a beautiful display garden.

The display garden at the corner of San Joaquin Hills Rd and MacArthur Blvd has more Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass' than I've ever seen in one place. A few years ago it was almost impossible to find this variegated variety of the graceful octopus agave. Its availability has improved a bit but it's still not common.

The Santa Rita prickly pears (Opuntia santarita) were sporting their purple winter colors: 

But my eyes immediately went to yet another agave: Agave ovatifolia, the whale's tongue agave.

The specimen above was not the only one. There were more. Many more. 

In fact, there were dozens of Agave ovatifolia, most likely the tissue-cultured cultivar 'Vanzie' that sports deeply channeled leaves.

Agave ovatifolia and California gray rush (Juncus patens)

Agave ovatifolia and flowering flap-jack plant (Kalanchaoe luciae)

In the bed closest to the road Agave ovatifolia grows next to the most vibrant aloes I've seen. I don't know what they are but my guess is some hybrid like 'Always Red'. 

And all three together: mystery aloe, Agave vilmorinia 'Stained Glass' and Agave ovatifolia.

The agave in the next photo is actually quite a rarity: Agave salmiana var. ferox 'Mediopicta'. It's still a toddler; San Marcos Growers expects the adult size to be 4-5 ft tall by 6-8 ft wide. Hoover Boo gifted me an offset a few years ago, and while it's doubled in size, it's not a fast grower (most likely because of the relative lack of chlorophyll).

A sad and depressing sight: Many of the aloes planted along San Joaquin Hills Rd shown moderate to severe signs of aloe mite infestastion. I've read a variety of treatment approaches. Many experts say getting rid of the infected plants is the only option. Some recommend systemic insecticides while others advise against it. Miticides seem to be effective for some, good old-fashioned Sevin dust for others. The most promising treatment I've seen is the application of formaldehyde as practiced by Sunbird Aloes, the renowed South African aloe grower that has brought us treasures like 'Moonglow', 'Eric the Red' and 'Always Red'.

Once inside the nursery, I was in treasure-hunt mode. You never know what rare or unusual plants you might find!

I did take a few photos:

Agave 'Blue Flame', Agave ovatifolia, aeoniums and Senecio vitalis

Vertical wall with ferns and bromeliads (!)

Tantalizing echeverias

Display bed showing off agaves, grasses, rocks, and rusted-metal art

If this metal panel had been for sale without the plants, I might have bought it. I'm a sucker for that look.

I thought this was quite an eye-catching combo—and I'm not usually a fan of cyclamens.

Even the plantings in the parking lot were striking, like these Leucadendron 'Jester':

I did buy a few things at Roger's: 
  • Variegated lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus 'Variegatus')—see here
  • 6-pack of Pachyphytum compactumsee here
  • 6-pack of Crassula arborescens 'Curly Green'—see here
  • a 12×12×12 inch Corten container, marked down 50% to $24.95—a whale of a deal. Unfortunately, there was only one in that size. The larger Corten cubes were marked down, too, but I couldn't have fit them in my  car.

According to Hoover Boo, the nursery wasn't fully stocked yet because they were still clearing out holiday decor and plants. I can only imagine the kind of damage I could have done at the height of the spring planting season!



  1. I'm glad you enjoyed your trip to Roger's. HB is right, I made a brief stop there a few days after you did and the plant stock was still low. You "need" to stop there in spring or summer, perhaps on the way to visit your daughter in San Diego?

    1. My daughter decided to go north to Victoria, BC. Beautiful place, but since it's in Canada, I can't bring plants across the border.

  2. Those agaves! Whenever I see so many agave types in your posts I am green with envy! Here I only find Agave americana and the small Agave potatorum. The Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass' is a plant that makes me sigh!

    1. You should open a mail order agave nursery in Argentina! Can you get seeds from Mexico?

  3. Nice haul, especially the container. Will you be going back with a truck to get more? Always enjoy seeing Roger's beautiful plantings!

    1. I think I might become a professional plant shopper after I retire--collect plant orders from others and then go shopping! That would be so much fun.

  4. Clearly I need to visit Roger's again. My one and only visit was on (or near) Christmas Eve and everyone from miles around was there to get their family photo taken with Santa. Plus we were on our way to Denise's garden and running a little late. Add in Andrew's desire to get going and it was not optimal for enjoying the nursery. Your visit looks wonderful!

    1. I'm glad I visited the week after Christmas. Much of the Christmas stuff was gone already but there were plenty of bare shelves inside, waiting to be filled with whatever is "in" this spring.

  5. I loved reading this report of your visit. I do get a little frustrated with the emphasis on holiday decor, and in comparing the past emphasis on rare and exciting new plants to less so now, but obviously the public wants what it wants. In the past I saw a lot of plant "firsts" here! But as your post shows, there is lots to admire. One update: the "Display bed showing off agaves, grasses, rocks, and rusted-metal art" has been dug up. I haven't seen how it's been replanted yet.

    1. That display bed has been dug up? But it looked so great! I guess they like variety :-).

      As for the ever greater emphasis on home decor, I see the same thing happening here. I usually ignore all the knick-knacky stuff and focus on the plants. But at what point will the plants disappear altogether?

  6. When I worked at the garden center in San Diego we commonly made reconnaissance missions to Rogers to copy ideas. Back in the old we-don't-care-about-water days they used to plant up enormous wire/sphagnum moss hanging baskets that they grew on in a lath house in the back and sold for $$$. But the big attraction for me was the table after table of Fuchsias , and even after I moved to Norcal there was always a sojourn to Rogers to buy Fuchsias at least once a year. Times have changed.I plan to stop there on my way south for business in March.Maybe I'll buy a couple Fuchsias for old times sake if they still carry a nice selection. I still collect them but not like I used to.