Southern California road trip, day 3

Day 3 of my after-Thanksgiving Southern California road trip began with a visit to Rancho Vista Nursery, a large wholesale grower in Vista in northern San Diego County. They have been in operation for 40 years and grow over 500 species of succulents and cacti on 10 acres (6 acres of greenhouses and 4 acres of outdoor growing space). 

Ryan Penn, the former horticulturist at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, recently started working at Rancho Vista as their new nursery manager. He showed me around and told me a little about the business. Because of its mild climate and year-round growing season, northern San Diego County has more wholesale succulent growers than any other area in the country. For example, many cacti sold in Arizona nurseries actually come from here. In addition, I was surprised to find out that common succulents like aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) and the humble jade plant (Crassula ovata) are among the biggest sellers.

Countless in-ground specimens of silver torch cactus (Cleistocacactus strausii) waiting to be dug up 

Saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea)

The propagation greenhouses were filled with flats upon flats of seedlings. Here's just one example:

Starfish cactus (Astrophytum myriostigma)

I find the neon-colored moon cactus freaky, but it continues to be a big seller:

Many golden barrel cacti are sold as small plants, but others are grown to larger sizes in outdoor fields:

Following a tip from Ryan, I then made the 30-minute drive to Oasis Water Efficient Gardens outside of Escondido specifically to buy Aloe castilloniae, a small clumper from Madagascar. It used to be hard to find but is now in tissue culture thanks to Altman Plants, the country's largest succulent grower. Oasis is part of Altman and does sell to the public, not just to businesses. In addition, there's a small demonstration garden adjacent to the retail sales area.

Massive greenhouse complex at Oasis/Altman Plants

After poking around for a little while, I proceeded to pick out two pots of Aloe castilloniae—no easy feat when you have so many to choose from:

Stop #3 was Solana Succulents in Solana Beach. This small but jam-packed specialty nursery has been in operation for over 25 years in the same location right on Highway 101. It's owned by Jeff Moore whose three self-published books (a fourth one is in the works) get my highest recommendation—eye candy better than any chocolate!

I'd visited Jeff in March (click here to read my post) and couldn't wait to see what goodies I might find on this trip. Did I mention that his nursery is packed with plants and some unusual pottery?

Smack in the middle of the nursery is a gigantic Euphorbia abyssinica (or hybrid):

Other large cactoid euphorbias are growing along the fence line:

Jeff's as easygoing and laid back as they come, and he humored me when I asked him to pose for a photo:

I also picked up two large Aloe 'Mawii Gem' Jeff had been holding for me. They are taking up most of the backseat of the Toyota Prius. It's a good thing this is a solo trip; there simply wouldn't be room for anybody else.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with this:

Southern California freeways packed with cars. 'Nuff said.

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  1. I was wondering what vehicle you took, and if it was full yet...

    1. The Prius isn't the ideal plant mobile. Your car is better because it's easier to get loads in and out.

  2. You pack a LOT into these trips! I'm sorry our traffic sucks.

    1. Everything feels so compressed, though, because at 5pm the sightseeing is basically over for the day.

  3. Have any more photos of cactus seedlings? I have a soft spot for those as you may remember.

    1. Oh, there will be. Rancho Vista grows thousands upon thousands of cactus from seed every year.

  4. That last photo illustrates why I don't get to all these wonderful places.

    1. I usually rant and rave when I'm stuck in traffic, but this time I vowed not to let it get to me. I focused on my audiobook and let everything else slide. Otherwise I might have popped a blood vessel!


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