Waterwise Botanicals: succulent heaven (part 1 of 2)

The main reason for my recent trip to San Diego was to attend the 2018 Super Succulent Celebration, two days jam-packed with succulent-themed talks, workshops and buying opportunities. The event was hosted by Waterwise Botanicals, a much-loved nursery in Bonsall in northern San Diego County. Founded and still run by renowned plantsman Tom Jesch, Waterwise Botanicals is now part of Altman Plants, the largest succulent grower in the U.S.

I had never been to Waterwise Botanicals before, but I'd heard and read so much about it that I thought I knew what to expect. Wrong. My frame of reference are nurseries with two or maybe three acres of growing grounds and retail space. Waterwise has 20 acres! That's a lot of plants to look at! And even though Waterwise also sells perennials, including roses, most of their inventory is succulents. Hundreds and hundreds—if not thousands—of species in everything from 2-inch pots to 24-inch boxes.

I literally spent hours walking around the nursery grounds taking pictures. I tried to edit my photo loot as much as possible, but there are so many images I want to show you that I'm breaking this post down into two parts. This part focuses on the retail area near the entrance, including the Mini Succulents Shade House. The map below will give you a better idea of how the nursery is laid out.

I'll keep my comments to a minimum and let my pictures do the talking. However, I will say two things up front: Waterwise Botanicals is in a different league altogether—the sheer scale is impressive—and their prices are quite reasonable. In general, I found plant prices in San Diego County noticeably cheaper than in the L.A. area. No wonder so many landscapers make the drive to San Diego's North County to buy plants.

One plant followed me wherever I went in San Diego County: crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii), the red-flowering plant in the photo above. Every nursery I visited carried it—in sizes small and large. I was told that it's a very popular landscaping plant because it's in flower year round. And unless you live in the mountains, you don't need to worry about the cold that might kill it.

Another popular theme I noticed right away: multi-colored carpets of groundcover succulents. San Diego's Goldilocks climate is perfect for soft-leaved succulents that would fry in our Central Valley heat.

Did I mention Euphorbia milii?

The retail area featured many container arrangements for sale

Pallet plantings aren't usually my aesthetic but I stopped at this one several times

Bromeliads are another group of plants that thrive in San Diego

The most drool-worthy dyckia I saw on my trip. Unfortunately, they didn't have any for sale. (Pet peeve: Don't feature plants in your demonstration garden that you don't carry!)

Variegated Neoregelia hybrid

Aechmea fasciata. Where I live it's sold as a houseplant, not for landscaping

Another Neoregelia and Kalanchoe pumila

Massive pieces of driftwood for your garden. Not cheap: prices were as high as $400.

Not a great photo, but check out that flower stalk on this Alcantarea

Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and more driftwood

All kinds of repurposed/upcycled containers

Aloes and haworthias, $3.50 a piece

Lotsa Neoregelia for sale

Just a few of the many echeverias

Mini Succulents Shade House

Even if you don't like the container, the plants are cool

I've never been a big fan of these bumpy mini aloes, but I'm beginning to come around

Bonsai'd elephant food (Portulacaria afra 'Variegata')

Agave colorata, your pick of icy blue or gray-green

I wish I could grow copper spoons (Kalanchoe orgyalis)

This one was new to me: Senecio haworthii. In hindsight I wish I'd bought one.

Mini lady slippers (Pedilanthus cymbiferus)

Lots of sticks-on-fire (Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire')

Echeveria 'Safari', supposedly one of the most sun-tolerant echeveria hybrids

Another surprise: giant sea squill (Urginea maritima), a large Mediterranean bulb

Agave desmettiana 'Joe Hoak'

Neoregelia (back) and ×Mangave (front)

Should have bought this, too: Dudley greenei from the Channel Islands
Not sure about the bathtub...

One of my current tree crushes: Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica 'Blue Ice')

Yes, cactus too!

And some agaves, but not a big selection

I wonder about the longevity of repurposed containers like this makeup case but that's probably not the point

More sizzling bromeliad foliage

The green plant in the back is a succulent I'm currently trying to grow: Portulaca molokiniensis from the Hawaiian island of Molokini

Three of my fellow Succulent Fanatics: Deana, Laura and Paula. Succulent Fanatics is a popular group on Facebook started by Laura about eight years ago. Members from as far away as New York, Virginia and Tennessee traveled to San Diego for the Super Succulent Celebration.

I have a lot of more photos from Waterwise Botanicals to share with you, including Succulent Mosaic Mountain.


48-hour San Diego succulent madness

© Gerhard Bock, 2018. No part of the materials available through www.succulentsandmore.com may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Gerhard Bock is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. If you are reading this post on a website other than www.succulentsandmore.com, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Any unauthorized use will be reported.


  1. Thanks for the mention. Gosh! Has it been that long since I started the group? Can't wait to see the 2nd part of your blog. I wish you would have seen the Firebreak Garden. It was quite amazing.

  2. Many large healthy plants offered at reasonable prices. I wish I could start my old garden over! Thanks for the photos, Gerhard.

  3. Love that unavailable Dyckia! And hate the bumpy mini-Aloes. They make my skin crawl. Watch your local big-box for Senecio haworthii, I've seen it there. I am surprised at the Bromeliads in full San Diego sun. It's not too much for them?

    1. Oooh, I'll keep an eye open for Senecio haworthii. I love white plants.

  4. Oh, shoot! I bought that Portulaca molokiniensis when I was down there this winter, for some reason, I thought it was a strange aeonium and hoped it might be grown in my planter in a protected spot. I doubt what it really is is hardy at all, sigh. Sue

    1. I've killed several by leaving them outside in the winter. I don't think they can handle much more than 40°F.

  5. I loooove the bumpy mini aloes!!!! So cool when creating underwater scenes! Great photos!

  6. It was so hard to restrain myself, but now I have reverse buyers remorse ! If I'd seen that Senecio haworthii I would have bought it for sure-I had one that I managed to keep alive for two years--love that plant.I was sad when it passed on. Interestingly when I worked at the garden center in San Diego in the late 70's early 80's Bromiliads were sold exclusively as houseplants, no one ever planted them outside. You had your lawn, you had some Junipers , you had some Escallonia and a whole bunch of bedding annuals.

    1. Depends on who you knew/which neighborhoods. Look at Victoria Padilla's book on bromeliads to see how they were already popular in southern California as outdoor landscape plantings, similar to some gardens here in the SF Bay Area in the 1970's. Certainly all my garden designs have used bromeliads since the early 1980's after living in Brazil and seeing them everywhere there.

      But I take your point, they are a lot more visible in more gardens these days here in California.

    2. Very true David- there was a difference between coastal areas and inland gardens. The garden center I worked at was in Escondido and the plant selection was decidedly mundane, plus that are was not frost free. Walter Andersons nursery is where we went to see the cool plants!

  7. Lucky you guys to get there, that place looks like a succulent shopping heaven!

  8. Replies
    1. The only downside: I got a bit of a sunburn. I always forget about THAT part.

  9. I should get back there. The bromeliads are their new featured thing.

    1. I see more bromeliads in general. Are they about to have a "moment?"

  10. Nice set of photos! I’d love some of the Dudleya greenii too! All of my Dudleya are doing well here.

  11. That dyckia that wasn't for sale is amazing. I've never seen one like that. You didn't happen to get a name on it did you?


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