Visiting Rancho Soledad Nursery in San Diego County
In September, I had the opportunity to visit Rancho Soledad Nursery in North San Diego County. Founded by legendary plantsman Jerry Hunter in 1954, Rancho Soledad has been a pioneering force in the California nursery industry for over half a century. Rancho Soledad was one of the first nurseries in the world to establish its own in-house tissue culture lab to produce landscape-worthy plants on a large scale. Popular agave hybrids like 'Blue Glow' and 'Blue Flame' are just two of their many introductions.
Rancho Soledad Nursery is located outside the small town of Rancho Santa Fe, about 10 miles inland from the coast. The sprawling nursery is at the end of Aliso Canyon Road in a rural area increasingly dominated by multi-million-dollar houses on large lots. For a cool $20 million you can buy this 16½ acre ranch three miles away! I bet San Diego County looked very different when Jerry Hunter bought the property in 1960.
I got a personal tour of the nursery grounds by my friend Ryan Penn who now works in propagation and sales at Rancho Soledad. I first met him when he was the horticulturist at the Ruth Bancroft Garden; he later moved to a wholesale succulent nursery in Vista, California, where I caught up with him in November 2018.
Ryan drove me around on an electric cart and showed me parts of the nursery few customers get to see. The map on the Rancho Soledad website makes the nursery seem quite compact. In reality, the grounds occupy 25 acres!
Since Rancho Soledad is primarily a wholesale nursery, most plants aren't labeled; they don't receive labels until they're pulled for an order. I was constantly asking Ryan for IDs as we were driving and walking around, but then I'm big on knowing what everything is. Even so, some photos in the post don't have a plant ID. I guess some things are meant to be a mystery.
My tour started at the Wholesale Office where boxed specimens of succulents, palm trees, cycads, and tropicals get visitors drooling. In fact, I parked right in front of this pair of Agave ovatifolia 'Orca':
|Agave ovatifolia 'Orca'|
Rancho Soledad is still the only commercial source of Agave ovatifolia 'Orca' that I know. They have lots of them for sale, but even smaller sizes are many hundreds of dollars.
|Lepidozamia peroffskyana, a cycad from Australia|
|Bromeliads, too, like Vriesea (left) and Alcanterea (right)|
|Dioscorea elephantipes in the ground|
|Agave guiengola, plain and variegated. Ryan is actively working on planting out as many agave and aloe species as possible, not just to make the place look nice, but also for propagation.|
|Agave guiengola 'Crème Brûlée'|
|No clue what this cactus is, but the variegation is beautiful. A collector would display it in a special pot; at Rancho Soledad, it's growing in the ground somewhere in the back forty.|
|Insane terminal spines!|
|Agave titanota in danger of being swallowed by a tangle of jade (Crassula ovata)|
|Agave titanota in front of Euphorbia ammak|
|Native Dudleya, not sure if it's pulverulenta (which grows on hillsides in the area)|
|Aloe glauca var. spinosior|
|If I only knew exactly...|
|...what they are!|
|More Agave ovatifolia 'Orca', with 'Blue Glow' in the background|
|You'd think with so many 'Orca' in existence that...|
|...prices would come down, but no such luck. Demand must be high.|
|Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta'|
|Agave angustifolia with beautiful creamy variegation, sometimes called 'Woodrowii' or 'Milky Way'|
|Agave kristenii (right: bulbils on the inflorescence)|
|Just about the most perfect Agave titanota|
|No idea what this is, but the branch structure is fantastic|
|Variegated Yucca rostrata, the first I've ever seen|
|Baby Dioscorea elephantipes|
|Very pretty form of Agave victoria-reginae|
|Outside the office of Rancho Tissue Technologies|
|Variegated Agave 'Blue Flame'|
In the small display garden adjacent to the Public Sales Office:
|Agave utahensis var. nevadensis × gypsophila|
|Agave impressa in front of Alluaudia procera|
|Agave victoria-reginae × ovatifolia|
|NOID variegated aloe (yes, I want it!)|
|Public Sales Office|