Solana Succulents: my favorite kind of nursery

There's no doubt about it: Large nurseries that grow their own material, like Rancho Soledad Nursery in northern San Diego County, are exciting to visit. But what makes my plant-loving heart beat even faster are small independent nurseries—often mom-and-pop (or mom or pop) businesses operating out their own backyard or a tiny space in a not-so-flashy part of town and carrying an eclectic inventory of plants that combines the fairly common with the fairly rare. Solana Succulents in the northern San Diego County town of Solana Beach is one of these special nurseries, with one exception: Its location right on Highway 101 just a few blocks from the beach, is definitely not out of the way.

In fact, the sign is easy to spot:

Solana Succulents is owned by Jeff Moore. Jeff has been a succulent enthusiast since his college days at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, and he's operated his specialty nursery out of the same space in Solana Beach since 1992. 26 years in business is a feat for any small nursery—26 years in the same location is even more amazing.

In 2014, Jeff self-published Under the Spell of Succulents, an introduction to the huge diversity of succulents found in cultivation. Based on Jeff's nursery experience and his many years of collecting, as well as his friendships with other collectors, the book features 800 photographs, most of them by Jeff himself. At the time of its publication, it was the most beautiful book on succulents I'd ever seen.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Jeff self-published Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation in 2016 and Soft Succulents in 2017. Jeff had total control not only over the content but also over the production, and it shows. These are heavy books, printed on state-of-the-art equipment, and the photos are as good as it gets. In my opinion, all three of them are the visually most spectacular succulent books ever published. And if all goes according to plan, there'll be a fourth book soon, this time on the spiky and spiny members of the succulent family, including cactoid euphorbias and terrestrial bromeliads like dyckias, hechtias and puyas.
I'd met Jeff Moore a few times, but I'd never been to Solana Succulents. That's why I jumped at the opportunity when I was in San Diego in late March for the 2018 Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals.

Solana Succulents fills what essentially is the front yard and back yard of the red house you see in the November 2017 Google Street View photo below:

The nursery doesn't occupy any indoor space (there's a skin care salon in the front); it's all outside, with the exception of a small office and storage room off to the side in what I consider the "back yard."

Here are some photos of the "front yard:"

These impressive specimens of Euphorbia ammak are in the front as well, against the neighboring building (no, they're not for sale, they're in the ground):

Dracaena draco and Yucca rostrata

Same plants, different view; the windows belong to the skin care salon

Jeff's realm is on the left side of the building:

This was my first view of the "back yard:"

It's not a big space, but it's packed—and I mean packed—with plants.

I can see how it could be overwhelming for people who prefer a more streamlined retail presentation, especially since there doesn't seem to be any immediately obvious system of organization. But for me, this was heaven. I love poking around, exploring all the nooks and crannies, never knowing what I might find next—no matter whether it's a book or thrift store or a nursery.

Jeff utilizes every square inch of space, not just horizontally but also vertically

I was immediately drawn to this hechtia. In fact, I had to have it. Jeff bare-rooted it for me, and we stuffed it into a paper grocery bag. That's how I hand-carried it onto the plane. Thank goodness the security people at the airport didn't stick their hands into the bag while screening my carry-on luggage!

Top view of the same hechtia a little while later when it was in the shade

More amazing euphorbias. The one of the left is another Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata', the one in the middle is either Euphorbia abyssinica or a hybrid; Jeff wasn't sure.

On the very left you can (barely) see the door to Jeff's little office. That's also where you pay for your purchases.

Euphorbia abyssinica viewed against the house

Euphorbia ammak in the far corner of the nursery

This is the area in the very back, outside the gate actually. Yes, there are plants everywhere—just how it should be in a nursery!

Massive specimen of Beaucarnea recurvata, the ponytail palm (which isn't at all related to real palms)

I love pumice rock turned into containers. Too bad I didn't have room!

Jeff had a nice selection of pumice containers

He carries not just small succulents but also landscape-size specimens

No positive ID on this one, but quite possibly some Orthophytum hybrid. It came home with me, too, in the same paper bag as the hechtia you saw above.

So many plants to check out!

More terrestrial bromeliads: a dyckia on the left, possibly Hechtia rosea on the right

A massive specimen of Deuterocohnia brevifolia. I should have asked for the price—not that I had room to take it home on the plane.

Jeff also carries some cool pottery. This piece and the one below...

...were made by his brother. The detail is amazing.

A few silhouettes against the sky before it was time to leave for the airport. What I didn't know at the time was that my flight would be two hours (!) late. I could have spent more time exploring the nursery and yakking with Jeff!

Euphorbias and Aloe barberae

There's even a banana!

The leaves are shredded, as they always are in windy areas, but nice to see nonetheless

And finally a tall (really tall!) Madagascar ocotillo, Alluaudia procera

Solana Succulents is at 355 N. Hwy 101 in Solana Beach. It's open Wednesday-Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, and on Sunday from 12:00pm to 4:00pm.

Jeff's book are available through his web site, from specialty booksellers like Chuck Everson, and from Amazon.

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  1. At least this is one place you visited that I have as well! Your post is a good reminder that I'm still missing Jeff Moore's 'Soft Succulents' book. Copies will go on my Christmas gift list for 3 succulent-loving friends and I'll throw in a copy as a gift for myself too.

  2. Jeff's aloes and agaves book is my go-to reference on the subject. So glad you squeezed in a visit!

  3. Looks fantastic, another for my “have to visit someday” list...

  4. Oh my gosh, what a place - your close ups are spectacular and the farther out shots aren't too bad either. It must have been really hard to pull yourself away.

  5. Looks like my idea of a perfect nursery too! How many customers could comfortably fit at a time?

  6. Fun place to visit. I borrowed a copy of the Aloe/Agave book; it's quite good. The ivory-marginated 'Blue Flame' on page 252...plant of my dreams.


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