Friday, November 30, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 4

Day 4 of my ATSCRT (After-Thanksgiving Southern California Road Trip) started with a visit to Australian Native Plants in Casitas Springs, less than 10 miles northeast of Ventura where I had spent the night. The nursery is owned and operated by Jo O'Connell and her husband Byron Cox. Jo is a tour de force in the plant world. Through patience, perseverance and lots of hard work, she and Byron have built a one-of-a-kind niche business that now offers the largest selection of Australian plants in the U.S.


I first met Jo in 2016 at a presentation she gave at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and had been wanting to visit her nursery ever since. 

Since Australian Native Plants is not a regular retail nursery with set hours, I'd contacted Jo ahead of time to make sure she was around on Thursday. Jo and Byron own three adjacent lots so there's plenty of space for the greenhouses and growing areas. The back entrance to the nursery is right across from a church so it was easy to find.


The availability list on the Australian Native Plants website gives you an idea of the wide range of Down Under natives (as well as shrubs from Southern Africa) that Jo carries.


Every decent nursery has a nursery cat or dog. Australian Native Plants is no exception. Meet three-year-old Wallaby, an Australian cattle dog: 

Wallaby

Wallaby is as friendly as she is vigilant.  And she is very well trained, jumping up on the bench and looking at the camera on command:

Wallaby and Jo

In addition to the plants I bought for our own garden, I picked up plants for my friends Troy and Brian. Things are getting tight in the Prius (the back seat is completely filled):


After visiting with Jo for a couple of hours, it was time to move on to my next stop: Taft Gardens, part of a 250+ acre open-space nature preserve created by John Taft in 1981 (John Taft still lives on the property; in fact, I saw him reading a newspaper on the patio). John Taft brought Jo O'Connell over from Australia in 1989 to create an authentic Australian garden—the beginning of a 30-year cooperation that lasts to this day. 

Taft Gardens is open to visitors but you need to make reservations ahead of time (info here). You then get directions and the gate code. The directions are detailed and easy to follow, but getting there is a bit of an adventure. 

Pretty soon after turning off the main highway onto a private road, you're greeted with this vista:


That's just one several down-and-up-and-down stretches of road. After driving through chaparral for a mile or so you enter native oak woodlands studded with majestic specimens of live oak. After a few more turns you're finally there. 

The small structure with the open blue doors in the photo below is where you sign in. Nobody was there on Thursday, and judging from the guest book, I was the first visitor since Tuesday.


There are two main sections: the South African Garden and the Australian Garden. I will have a detailed post with many photos, but the sample below gives you a pretty good idea of what there is to see.

Hundreds of aloes, many of them in flower or pushing inflorescences

Majestic oaks, with a row of Aloe ferox in the background

Banksia under the oak canopy

More flowering Australian grass trees (xanthorrhoeas) than I've seen anywhere outside of Australia

Did I tell you that to get to the Taft Gardens you have to ford a creek twice? I'm sure the creek was nothing but a trickle earlier in the week, but due to the torrential downpours from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning, there was real water rushing across the road.



Walking through the gardens all by myself was one of those special experiences I will always remember. The only people I saw was John Taft on the patio of his house (I kept a respectful distance) and a couple of workers clearing brush off to the side of the main road.

I'm very grateful that the Taft family is so generous about sharing their slice of paradise with the rest of the world.


© 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.

12 comments:

  1. I think your Prius should write a travel guide to the states best horticultural locations. Best road trip yet.

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    1. My long-suffering Prius needs a thorough cleaning. And it really is too small as a plant mobile even though the gas mileage can't be beat.

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  2. I didn’t realize you’d never been to Jo’s nursery! It’s so good to see Wallaby long healthy. He was hit by a car the day after we were there and almost didn’t make it.

    Ah the Taft...so magical...

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    1. Wallaby is so cute, I wanted to take her home. But I think Jo would have noticed pretty quickly...

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  3. I'm glad the rain didn't present a huge problem. Thanks for the link to the reservation site. I still hope to get there one day but, in the meantime, I look forward to further photos from your visit.

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    1. The sky opened up literally the minute I pulled over in front of Jo's property. Fortunately, it stopped after 10 minutes and I was able to get out of the car. It didn't rain again until mid-afternoon.

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  4. Your tour is probably the best pre-Christmas treat ever. The Taft garden is stunning! How wonderful this spectacular property has been preserved in perpetuity.

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    1. I'm so glad you're along for the ride! That's what I write all these blog posts.

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  5. I was so tempted to join you but worried that the burn areas enroute to Ojai would slide, debris flows, etc., so I'll enjoy an armchair tour instead. Little Wallaby certainly filled out!

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    1. You did the right thing staying home. You would almost certainly have gotten into heavy rain on your way home. No fun driving in that. Traffic on 101 was going 30mph when the rain was really coming down.

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  6. Two must-visits in the same post. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. I know! The only way it could have been even better is if Jo had been able to go to Taft with me.

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