Josh Allen's epic hillside rock garden in Vista, CA

In Southern California, living near the beach often means no yard, just a patio at best. Josh Allen knows from personal experience. The outside space at this house isn't even big enough to have a dog.

So he did what any driven plant person might do: Look for a larger lot further inland where real-estate is cheaper. It took a fair amount of searching, but in 2011 Josh found what he wanted: 3 acres on a hillside in Vista in San Diego's North County. Most of it was a neglected avocado orchard, overgrown with whatever trees, shrubs, and weeds had found a foothold. 

Clearing the hillside was a time-consuming effort and it revealed a big surprise: the iconic boulders you see in many photos in this post. Before, they'd been all but invisible under the tangle of vegetation. What a serendipitous discovery these rocks turned out to be. They're such a signature feature of Josh's rock garden that it's hard to imagine it without them. Josh says that he didn't move any of the big boulders; they are where they've always been. What Josh did do is arrange his aloes in and around them for maximum visual impact. The result is epic.

The plants now studding the slope are primarily from (Southern) Africa: mostly aloes and cycads, with the occasional oddity like a gnarly old Cyphostemma juttae, a grape relative with poisonous fruit, thrown in for good measure. Josh estimates that 95% of his aloes are pure species. That's his focus as a collector, although he does grow a few select aloe hybrids and actively creates new crosses himself.

Toward the bottom of the slope, and at the top along the fence line, are plants from the Americas: agaves (species and hybrids) and cacti as well as some yuccas, fouquierias and burseras. While the rock garden looks densely planted, there is still plenty of room for more.

A lot of people know Josh from social media—he's very active on Instagram (@fairviewplants) and Facebook and sells succulents in Facebook groups like Succulent Marketplace USA. What many may not know is that he's primarily a palm and cycad grower. In fact, a good chunk of his land is dedicated to his palm and cycad operations and a display garden. Check out the website of his business, Fairview Nursery. There wasn't enough time to tour that part of the property, but it's on my list for next time. 

Josh Allen in his rock garden

Josh is full of energy and enthusiasm. He seems like the kind of person who jumps into every project with both feet and follows through until it's done. He has a vision, and he's committed to putting in the work and money to get there. You couldn't tackle an endeavor this enormous any other way.

Beyond that, he's clearly well connected and has access to some pretty amazing plant material, including stuff that is extremely special and rare. As a fellow collector, although on a much more basic level, I'm saying that with an equal measure of respect and envy.

Two Aloe sabaea, one Aloe vaombe

On that note, let's take a closer look at Josh's rock garden. I hope you'll enjoy looking at these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. Bear in mind that the bulk of the aloes have been in the ground for less than five (!) years; many were larger specimens to begin with. Still, inland San Diego County has a Goldilocks climate for aloes and other succulents. It's as if they want to be there, like so many humans.

Two Aloe sabaea, one Aloe vaombe

At the bottom of the hill, you can see some of the potted palms Josh is growing

Aloe angelica, orange and yellow form

Aloidendron ramosissimum and two forms of Aloe capitata

Aloidendron ramosissimum and two forms of Aloe capitata

Aloidendron ramosissimum and two forms of Aloe capitata. Doesn't the vertical boulder look a bit like Half Dome in Yosemite?

Aloe capitata and various dudleyas

Bursera fagaroides, a small tree widespread in Mexico

Two boojum trees (Fouquieria columnaris)

Dudleyas growing in a crack between rocks, much like they would in habitat

Dudleya pachyphytum colony in the making

Aloe suzannae in front of another stunning boulder. As I mentioned, these rocks were here on the property all along, hidden under stray vegetation.

Aloidendron dichotomum, perfectly placed in a gap between boulders

What a view!

Aloe vaotsanda (left), Aloe excelsa × africana hybrid (center)

Aloe volkensii (left), white-flowering Aloe ferox ×capitata (middle), Aloe vaotsanda (right)

Aloe volkensii, super rare in this size

Aloe volkensii (left), Aloe speciosa (middle), Aloe spectabilis (right)

Aloe volkensii

Aloe speciosa (left), Aloe spectabilis (right)

Aloe excelsa

Orange-flowering Aloe excelsa (left), Aloe vaotsanda (right)

Aloe excelsa × africana hybrid

Look at the iconic boulders group from below

Red-flowering Aloe excelsa (center)

Red-flowering Aloe excelsa

Orange-flowering Aloe excelsa (left), Aloe excelsa with bi-colored flowers (middle), red-flowering Aloe excelsa (right)

Orange-flowering Aloe excelsa (left), Aloe excelsa with bi-colored flowers (middle), Aloe vaotsanda (right). All of these aloes are rarely seen.

Aloe munchii (top), Aloe pulcherrima (bottom)

Another wide view

Aloe ortholopha

Aloe bulbillifera inflorescence with bulbils, one of the few aloe species that does this as a matter of course

Aloe arenicola

Notice the trio of Aloidendron pillansii (the specimen on the left has two trunks), planted less than three years ago. This tree aloe is home to an extremely xeric habitat and therefore sensitive to overwatering. Josh does not provide any supplemental watering in the summer months when they're dormant. (The taller tree aloe on the right is the same Aloidendron dichotomum as in photo #15 above.)

View from the bottom of the slope

The set of photos below was taken in the fenced garden in front of the house on the property:

Aloe peglerae × white-flowering ferox

Orange-flowering Aloe marlothii

Yellow-flowering Aloe marlothii

Aloe 'Mango Madness' (A. vanbalenii × cameronii)

Aloe ferox with split teeth

The plants you see toward the front in the next photo will go into Josh's rock garden; the others are for sale:

Agave impressa is one of the plants targeted for Josh's garden

And finally some agaves in the ground:

Agave ovatifolia

Agave ovatifolia 'Orca'

Agave ovatifolia with streaked variegation

Agaves and cacti

Agave victoriae-reginae × ovatifolia

Agave purpusorum

It bears repeating that Josh's rock garden is less than five years old. Yes, Josh started out with many large specimens. Still, it's astonishing how mature everything looks. As I said: epic.

  • I highly recommend this Cactus Quest video shot in early February 2022. It features aerial drone footage that gives you a much better idea of the lay of the land than my photos.
  • Josh periodically posts videos on his Instagram channel. For instance, this short video was taken the week after my visit and shows many of the plants featured in my post.


© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Wow. Those rocks! And to think he bought the block not knowing they were there! Talk about hidden treasure!

    1. Josh couldn't have found a more iconic configuration of boulders!

  2. Must have been some job clearing out the site to have hidden those huge boulders. You time your visit perfectly for the aloe bloom. Beautiful plants. A real Jurassic feel to the garden. Wonder if he will ever consider tucking in little dinosaur figures here and there?

    1. Dinosaur figures.... ha. You and my husband think alike!

    2. LOL, I'll ask Josh about dinosaur figures the next I see him.

  3. So many gorgeous aloes! And it was really nice to see happy dudleya growing as they should be. I will not allow myself to purchase any more dudleya as it's just torture for them to try and grow here. However—I'd love to try one of those Agave victoriae-reginae × ovatifolia!

    1. I tell you, if there's anything that doesn't grow well in San Diego County, I don't know what it might be!

      I'd love one of those Agave victoriae-reginae × ovatifolia, too. They were created at Rancho Soledad Nursery, from what I understand, and are currently only available in 10-gallon pots at $350. Wowza.

  4. What a find that property was! I've always felt that a succulent gardener can never have enough rocks but this case may be the exception. He's made great use of the rocks in placing his aloes too.

    1. Josh's garden is the perfect marriage between rocks and succulents!

  5. Those Aloes look ridiculously happy. Does he irrigate in the winter? Healthiest sabaeas I've ever seen. What beauties. Not to mention the fabulous rocks.

    Thanks for the tour!

    1. Josh says he typically water twice a month in the summer and not at all in the winter. However, he had just watered before I got there because this winter has been so abysmally dry.

  6. Thank goodness for the super specialists, (and I include you too, Gerhard!) whose abundance of knowledge and skill trickle down to the masses thru posts like this! I've got a NOID aloe about to bloom purchased from Jeff Moore/Solana Succulents a couple years ago. He couldn't remember what it was, but simply said, "People bring me cool plants" -- that was enough for me. With posts like this, I might be able to ID it. Had to be destiny, for that rocky property and Josh to find each other!

    1. I love Solana Succulents for the exact reason you mentioned. Cool plants have a way of finding Jeff :-)


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