Hanging out with Nick Deinhart, plantsman extraordinaire

When I was in Santa Barbara a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Nick Deinhart in San Luis Obispo. I’ve known Nick for years and have many of his aloe hybrids growing in my garden, but this is the first time I’ve seen his “playground.”

Nick is a consummate plantsman, frequently exploring succulent habitats in Mexico and closer to home. And he is a master grower with decades of experience – and the magic touch.

Nick surrounded by some of his aloes and agaves (photo by Justin Thiel)

Nick has been working in the nursery business since he was a teen. Currently, he manages Growing Grounds Nursery, a non-profit wholesale nursery in San Luis Obispo that provides opportunities for adults with persistent mental illness. Growing Grounds plants are sold to local nurseries and landscapers; in addition, the nursery is open to the public every Tuesday. Check their availability list to see what kinds of plants they carry.

I met Nick at the nursery and he showed me around. There were lots of plants that were right up my alley – almost 30 different types of agaves, a good dozen aloes and maybe 10 varieties of mangave, not to mention a large selection of water-wise shrubs and perennials.

Agave pelona, one of my favorite smaller agaves. Typically, it’s hard to find, but Growing Grounds had about 25 of them.

Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’

Dudleya farinosa seedlings

Many of Nick’s aloes – species and hybrids – are planted in a small demonstration garden at the nursery. January was the perfect time to visit because quite a few of them were in bloom. (Some of the photos below were taken by my friend Justin Thiel who visited Nick at the end of December.)

Aloe vanbalenii × ferox (white-flowering form)

Aloe arborescens × capitata

Aloe hoffmanii × ericetorum

Aloe capitata

The white-flowering aloe is Aloe ‘Galactic Gold’, a Karen Zimmerman hybrid released by the Huntington. It gets the flower color from one of its parents, Aloe compressa.

Aloe [zubb × (zubb × marlothii)] × ferox. Nick’s hybrids are getting ever more complex!

Aloe [zubb × (zubb × marlothii)] × ferox

Aloe rubroviolacea with a crested flower

Back: Aloe ferox (white) × cameronii. Front: Aloe ortholopha × spectabilis.

Aloe cameronii × aculeata

Aloe humilis × ferox ‘Fast Eddie’, named after Nick’s late father

Another display bed is dedicated to agaves:

Easily the most spectacular form of Agave sebastiana I’ve ever seen

Agave sebastiana

Agave titanota ‘Lion’s Mane’

Agave nuusaviorum

After an hour at the nursery, we drove to Nick’s personal growing area nearby. This is where larger plants (1 gallon and up) get to hang out, enjoying the mild weather of San Luis Obispo.

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind living there myself. San Luis Obispo, less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is both warmer and sunnier than coastal communities like Morro Bay or Pismo Beach. Nick says that these beach towns are often under a blanket of fog while San Luis Obispo is clear and sunny.

As I was walking around Nick’s personal growing area, my eyes invariably went to the many kinds of agaves Nick is growing as well as the new mangave hybrids he has created. Here are some of “toothiest” specimens:

Agave horrida

Agave horrida

Agave horrida

Agave cupreata from habitat seed Nick collected in Guerrero

Agave cupreata

Agave impressa (this one came home with me)

Agave shawii

Agave shawii

Agave utahensis var. eborispina

Agave parrasana ‘Globe’ × ovatifolia

Agave titanota

As I mentioned earlier, Nick has also started to make his own mangave hybrids, primarily by crossing Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ with agaves like ‘Blue Glow’, oteroi, and isthmensis. Take a look at the plants in the next photo. All of them are from the same seed batch (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ × Agave ‘Blue Glow’). They’re siblings, but they look nothing alike.

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ × Agave ‘Blue Glow’

Let’s take a closer look at some of them:

I picked out one of these, but in hindsight, I should have gotten two or three. I think they’re every bit as striking as the mangaves currently on the market – maybe more so.

Below are some more of his mangaves (photos courtesy of Nick):

Top to bottom (photos © Nick Deinhart):
Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ × Agave isthmensis, Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ × Agave oteroi, ➂ Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ × Agave ‘Blue Glow’

What few photos I was able to take are simply a snapshot in time. They can’t convey the wealth of plants Nick is growing, especially aloes. That’s why I asked Nick if I could include some of his photos previously posted on social media.

Flowering aloes:

Top to bottom (photos © Nick Deinhart):
Aloe (zubb × marlothii) × porphyrostachys, ➁ Aloe prinslooi × (striata × maculata), ➂ Aloe melanacantha × ferox, ➃ Aloe steudneri × ferox, ➄ Aloe hoffmannii × ericetorum

Dwarf aloes with fantastic leaves:

Top to bottom (photos © Nick Deinhart):
Aloe ‘Lizzie Borden’, ➁ Aloe ‘Balrog’, ➂ Aloe ferox × cameronii, ➃ Aloe ‘Diablito’, ➄ Aloe ‘The Floor is Lava’

Spiny and toothy aloes:

Top to bottom:
Aloe erinacea × lineata var. murii, ➁ Aloe (ortholopha × spectabilis) × marlothii, ➂ Aloe (‘DZ’ × conifera) × (castilloniae ×erythrophylla)

Each hybrid so different from the other:

Top to bottom (photos © Nick Deinhart):
Aloe (humilis × glauca) × peglerae, Aloe maculata (yellow-flowering) × camperi ‘Cornuta’, ➂ Aloe peglerae × petricola, ➃ Aloe (humilis × ferox) × cameronii

Here are the plants I picked up from Nick for myself:

Agave celsii ‘Nova’ × (parrasana × colorata)
Agave impressa
Agave parrrasana ‘Globe’ × ovatifolia
Agave pintilla
Agave shawii ssp. goldmaniana
Agave subsimplex
Agave utahensis var. nevadensis
Aloe castilloniae × divaricata
Aloe (humilis × pratensis) × aculeata
Aloe (zubb × marlothii) × littoralis
Aloe compressa × andringitrensis
Aloe ribauensis
Aloe richardsiae × zubb

Some have already found a spot in the ground.

I’m sure many of you are wondering where you can buy Nick’s plants. Nick doesn’t have an ecommerce site, but he does sell on Succulent Marketplace on Facebook. That’s the best place to buy from him. What’s available varies constantly since most hybrids are only produced in small numbers.

Me, I’ve already started another wish/shopping list. I’m hoping to visit Nick again in the spring.

If you’d like to see more photos of Nick’s plants, or from his travels, follow him on Instagram (@nickjoe209).

© Gerhard Bock, 2024. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. What a head-spinning bunch of beautiful plants. Works of art through hybrid science! I don't suppose you took a sniff of Aloe 'Galactic Gold' -- it's supposed to be fragrant.

    1. I didn't know 'Galactic Gold' was fragrant. Too bad I missed that, but I'm trying to get a hand on one for my own garden. It's the largest Karen Zimmerman hybrid by far so suitable for planting out.

    2. I wonder why Aloe 'Galactic Gold' has that name because the flower is white!

    3. Maybe that, but there's a golden sheen to the leaves, too.

    4. Gerhard, if you do find a couple 'Galactic Gold' I'd be most interested too.

  2. What an array of Aloes, Mangaves and Agaves! I can't imagine keeping track of the crosses! Yikes! And such a wonderful growing environment!

  3. Wow! huge array of gorgeous plants. I found the variety in the seeded hybrids interesting which then got me thinking: how are named mangave/agave/aloe hybrids moved into the commercial trade? Are they tissue cultured? You do have a very interesting group of acquaintances to help feed your plant addiction. Ha!

    1. Many mangaves, agaves, and aloes widely available in the trade are tissue-cultured. That's the only way you can get the numbers you need. In contrast, Nick's plants are all seed-grown and only available in small numbers.

  4. Dang! These are so gorgeous, it's impossible to pinpoint a favorite. His mangave hybrids are the prettiest I've seen. Amazing, you got a nice haul of gorgeous plants!

    1. I got what I thought was a good haul, but I already want more. No idea where I'd put them, but that's for another day...

  5. WOWSA! Those are some fantastic agaves, I love that his mangaves are so agave-like. If you go back I might need one of those Agave pelona...

    1. I'll be in touch about Agave pelona. It's not easy to find and slow-growing, so starting out with a larger plant is the way to go.

  6. I can only echo that WOW! I love Aloe hoffmanii × ericetorum and many of those Mangave-Agave hybrids. I've never visited Growing Grounds Nursery (round trips that distance on a weekday are miserable) but a friend who lives much closer has and even brought me a couple of plants as Christmas presents. If she makes the trip again, I'll point her in the direction of the succulents.

    1. So you've gotten Growing Grounds plants as gifts? That's awesome! The next time your friend goes, make a list - the availability list on their website is updated periodically.

  7. A funny thing about wish lists. As soon as we find everything on our list, a whole new list is stating to form...

    1. LOL, so true! I can't tell you how many different wish lists I have going...

  8. Wow. These are gorgeous. I can't even decide which I like best (just as well,
    greenhouse is full) Your photos are excellent as well!

  9. I have some of Nicks hybrids with me on Hawaii Island. It’s always a challenge not to get everything I see him post in the marketplace group in which we are members. Thanks for the tour of his place and all the gorgeous plants under his watch. It increased my wishlist exponentially.

    1. Hawaii, wow! How are aloes doing in the humid climate of Hawaii?

    2. Big Island is very big, (obvious, but probably bigger than you think.) It has many many climate zones. Have family there, and where they live, a bit north and above Kailua-Kona it's quite dry and desert-y, especially up a few hundred feet. It looks more like coastal California or maybe Montana or Idaho with dry grassy meadows (but with lava and gorgeous ocean views) Parker ranch, cattle. They easily grow aloes in that zone. Wet side, by Hilo, maybe not so much, lush tropicals there.

  10. I'm more one of those species purists, but reality is: everything is constantly evolving and what we know as this or that species will eventually look different or be extinct.

    Aculeata seems to be good at passing along its tubercules, cameroni gives those wonderful reds to the foliage. With every seedling a little different, a unique individual. There's a lot of fun in growing from seed to see what happens.

    One of my Aloes ('Yellow Hoodie') came from the Growing Grounds, we bought it on a visit to SLO--there was a tiny plant shop near the Mission as I remember...

    1. I love hybrids involving Aloe humilis and aculeata because they almost always have bumpy leaf surfaces.

      Yes, Growing Grounds has a small retail location across the street from the SLO Mission. It's open every day and features a selection of plants grown at the nursery.

  11. This was simply amazing, especially those toothier agaves, the colorful aloes, and that one grey aloe striped with the teensiest bit of green (near the bottom) - A. peglerae x petricola. If I lived in a warmer climate, I would be tempted to wedge in plants everywhere to try a bit of everything.

    1. LOL, I'm doing exactly that kind of wedging. Too many cool plants and not enough space. But we've got to make it work somehow...


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