Friday, April 26, 2019

Aloes in Wonderland, the best-ever name for a nursery

In early April, I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara, organized by Jeff Chemnick. The Friday evening opening reception was held at Jeff's place in the Santa Barbara hills. Saying "Jeff's place" is a bit like calling Santa Barbara an "alright town." Yes, it's his home and his private garden. But it's also his place of business: a nursery called Aloes in Wonderland. That has got to be one of the best nursery names ever!

But aloes aren't Jeff's only passion. There are all kinds of other succulents, including cacti, as well as palm trees, dragon trees (Dracaena draco) and Queensland bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris). But Jeff's real specialty are cycads, specifically Mexican cycads. Jeff is a leading expert in the field and has one the largest private collections.

Where is the nursery, you might ask as you look at the photos below. The answer may surprise you: It's everywhere. Every plant you see as you walk around the garden is for sale, provided the price is right. I suspect, however, that the "right price" is directly proportional to how much Jeff is attached to it.

To set the right expectations: Aloes in Wonderland is not a conventional retail nursery. You won't find common plants at garden center prices, prepotted for immediate loading into your car.  Instead you select the specimen that speaks to you and either dig it yourself or, if it's too large, make arrangements to have it dug and delivered to your house. Aloes in Wonderland is the place to go if you want a 12-foot tree aloe, a mature cycad, or a bottle tree big enough to have a bulging trunk.


More than 60 people gathered at Aloes in Wonderland for the opening reception of the Bromeliad Summit. The weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering, as I'm sure it is in Santa Barbara 300+ days of the year. Some people sat at tables in front of the garage enjoying pizza, others were sipping wine on the front porch or in the circular driveway, and a third group—myself and Loree included—went exploring. Jeff's property is 5 acres and it's packed with plants, so it takes a while, especially when you stop approximately every 10 seconds to take a photo.




I must admit I was so overwhelmed at first that I didn't know where to begin. Look right? Look left? Look this way? Or that way? While quite a few Summit attendees had been to Aloes in Wonderland before—some seemed to be regulars—there were plenty of other newbies who were just as awestruck.


The plants alone would be a special treat, but there's also a darn spectacular view: the hills to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest.


While I usually try to identify the plants I photograph, I gave up on that idea right away. There are no labels, and I'm not enough of an aloe or cycad expert to recognize each species. Actually, it was quite liberating to not have to bother with plant names.


So.... lean back in your comfy chair and enjoy the tour. It's going to take a while.

BACK: Encephalartos horridus   FRONT: Hechtia argentea × lanata






Look how steep this hillside is! The Pacific Ocean is visible on the left.



The property extends all the way down to the house you see in the distance on the left

There a several paths winding down the hill

Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) in the foreground, my Bay Area friends Justin and Max in the back

Aloes and cycads look good together, don't they?

Max checking out a picture-perfect Aloidendron 'Hercules'

The flatter area at the bottom of the hill serves as a growing ground for cycads



Queensland bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris)



Agave franzosinii, reminiscent of the Blue Garden in Lotusland


More majestic Aloidendron 'Hercules'



And more Agave franzosinii



So much contrast with just a handful of species




Icy blue beauty (Encephalartos horridus)


Next to the house there are two greenhouses...

...with all kinds of aloe...

...and cycad seedlings


Look at the tillandsias casually hanging out in the columnar euphorbias!


I loved the architectural touches like the colorful tiles on the steps

Jeff said that his property has a particularly mild microclimate, with temperatures rarely falling below 40°F

Growing orchids outside is not a big deal, apparently
Path that starts at patio next to the house and leads to the garden below

Yes, I'd love to live here!

Check out the huge Pachypodium on the right!

I've never seen a Welwitschia mirabilis, one of the world's oddest plants and anything but common, seen growing in a pot outside the front door!

But common isn't Jeff's thing, as demonstrated by these two highly desirable hechtias

Hechtia argentea, arguably the most beautiful species in this terrestrial bromeliad genus

The agave in front the Hechtia argentea isn't shabby either

Agave albopilosa matches the hechtia in beauty and desirability

There's no other agave that has tufts of hair at the tip of the leaves. But watch out, there's a sharp terminal spine hiding in there.

Hechtia lanata

Hechtia lanata is rare enough, but the addition of five flower stalks makes for an even more special sighting

I realize this isn't everyone's taste, but I like it


Hechtia lanata flowers

Another Hechtia argentea × lanata (check out the visitor in the middle of the photo!)

...and another. Jeff calls them "silver-tongued devils" :-)

Most specimens of Jeff's Hechtia argentea × lanata hybrid are very silver, as you saw in early photos, but a few of them are a truly stunning burgundy color

I hope to pick one up the next time I visit Aloes in Wonderland

More driveway plantings

Agave titanota

And a trio of Queensland bottle trees at the entrance to Jeff's property

I did my best to show you how spectacular Aloes in Wonderland is, but photos can only go so far. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, you really should. Aloes in Wonderland is open by appointment only; for contact info, visit Jeff's website.

If you're planning on attending the Cactus and Succulent Society of America's 2019 Convention in San Luis Obispo (July 17-20, 2019), you'll have opportunity to go on a field trip to Lotusland and Aloes in Wonderland on Wednesday, July 17.


RELATED POST

2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara



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8 comments:

  1. How wonderful to see it all over again! So those were euphorbia the tillandsia were tucked into! I went round and round on whether they were cactus or euphorbia.

    Have you not seen the Welwitschia at UC Davis? They have two gorgeous plants in the conservatory.

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  2. WOW. CAn't say any more than that.

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  3. I think you and Loree have completely sold me on Hechtias, especially that wonderful H. lanata.

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  4. Inspiring. thanks for posting. I like the 'dig it yourself' approach to selling plants although a lot of the Aloes looked very big and I'd be afraid of damaging them.

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  5. DEAR GERHARD,

    THANK YOU FOR A -WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH TO EXPRESS FEELINGS, OF A BLOG!

    THANKS TO YOU & YOUR BLOG I BECAME AN ARMCHAIR TRAVELLER OF YOUR PART OF THE WORLD'S GARDENS.

    I HAVE BEEN GARDENING AT A SIMILAR GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE FOR OVER 30 YEARS, STILL COLLECTING (EVEN SMUGGLING SOME OVERSEAS) AND GROWING AGAVES FROM SEEDS (EVEN IF I STILL DO NOT KNOW THE IDENTITIES OF SOME) LESS SO OF ALOES (THOUGH I LOVE THEM) AND READ AND RESEARCH AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE; WROTE & PUBLISHED A BOOK OF MY GARDEN; YET I HAVE NEVER BEEN JEALOUS OF ANY OF THE GARDENS I HAVE SEEN IN PERSON OR ON-LINE SO FAR BUT "ALOES IN WONDERLAND"!

    I THOUGHT I ENVIED RUTH BANCROFT'S, GREG STARS OR BEVERLY McCONNELL'S "AYRLIES" IN NEW ZEALAND BUT THIS IS BEYOND ONES IMAGINATION! I AM SPEECHLESSLY J-E-A-L-O-U-S!

    I CAN'T STOP BUT ASK, DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY YEARS IT TOOK "ALOES IN WONDERLAND" TO COME TO THIS STATE/SIZE/FORM=BEAUTY?

    AND HOW MANY PERSONS ARE ATTENDING IT TO KEEP IT IN THAT SHAPE?

    ONCE AGAIN THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

    Ceylân
    PS: I am the one who commented about having once in a life time winter downpours "with" hale; unfortunately by the end of the winter I have lost many precious agaves which have been mostly damaged by hale storms😞

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  6. Got that 'Wonderland' part right. The site is already wondrous, but layers of impeccable rare and select succulents take it to a pinch-yourself level.

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  7. What a novel idea for a nursery. However, based on the enormous size of some of the plants it looks like Jeff can't bear to let a lot of them go. He has quite the spectacular garden. I agree with you about the red/lavender hechtia. It is gorgeous! Thanks for a great tour.

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