Aloes in Wonderland is pure magic

There are great plants and there are great locations. Our garden has plenty of cool plants, but it’s pretty blah when it comes to location. Some places, though, combine the best of both worlds. And they are magical. Case in point: Aloes in Wonderland in Santa Barbara. The clever name promises a wild adventure, and it delivers.

Aloes in Wonderland is plantsman Jeff Chemnick’s home/garden/nursery. Or, as the website says, “a botanic garden where every plant is for sale.” That’s right, everything on the 4-acre property is available for purchase, but there are no potted plants on tables waiting for you. Instead, you negotiate a price with Jeff, and then you dig and haul the plants yourself. Or you bring a landscaper with a truck to do the digging and hauling for you. Depending on the size of the specimen, a crane might be necessary (as you’ll see in this post, many plants are massive).

Aloes in Wonderland is located on a spectacular hillside location in the Riviera, one of Santa Barbara’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Standing at the top of Jeff’s property, you have sweeping views towards the Santa Ynez Mountains, with acres of succulents, cycads, and palm trees laid out before you.

As you might have guessed from the name, there are a lot of aloes at Aloes in Wonderland. In fact, it’s the largest aloe garden I’ve ever been to, maybe not in terms of the number of species represented, but definitely when it comes to the sheer number of plants.

But there’s much more than aloes. There are agaves, bromeliads, cacti, euphorbias, Queensland bottle trees, and cycads – a wide variety of cycads. In fact, Jeff has one of the largest Encephalartos and Dioon collections in the country.

Jeff is a renaissance man: naturalist, explorer, ecotour leader, researcher, plantsman – and a renowned cycad expert, with a special focus on Mexican cycads. He has been instrumental in describing a number of new species, including Dioon argenteum (2003), Dioon planifolium (2016), Dioon oaxacensis (2020), Dioon salas-moralesae (2021), and Ceratozamia schiblii (2022). Here is a more complete resume.

I visited Jeff when I was in Santa Barbara in mid-January, and the timing couldn’t have been better because hundreds, if not thousands, of aloes were in bloom. Aloes in Wonderland is a popular destination in late winter and early spring, and Jeff offers tours by appointment.

I took a lot of photos to show the variety of plants, but I recommend you also watch this 2-minute drone video taken at sunset. It gives you a far better overview of the lay of the land than my images can. I cannot overstate the jaw-dropping beauty of this place.

Right next to Jeff’s house is one of the largest specimens of Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ I’ve ever seen. It started as a cutting Jeff received from Bill Baker many years ago. (Click here to read more about the history of A. ‘Hercules’.)

Jeff’s ‘Hercules’ has the classic tiger stripes on the trunk:

Here are the photos I took as Jeff was giving me a tour of his property. Put up your feet, it’ll take a while to get through them all.

Jeff has many different hechtias. Here’s one of my favorites, Hechtia lanata.

Hechtia ‘Silver Tongue Devil’, a hybrid between H. argentea and H. lanata that Jeff created a few years ago

Another Hechtia ‘Silver Tongue Devil’ and Dudleya anthonyi

Hechtia argentea

Planting island in the middle of the circular driveway

The centerpiece is a stunning dragon tree (Dracaena draco)

Hechtia sp.

I can’t remember what this aloe is, but it’s the perfect package: reasonably compact size, and striking bicolor flowers

Aloe marlothii

Aloe ‘Dill Prickles’, another hybrid Jeff discovered in his garden

Aloe ‘Pandan’, a hybrid between A. barberae and A. plicatilis

Agave franzosinii under another striking Dracaena draco

Agave salmiana ‘Alcachofa’, a clone Jeff selected because it reminded him of a giant artichoke

Aloe volkensii

Aloes, cycads, and hechtias

Agave gypsicola

Dense plantings near the house

Now you’re beginning to see the spectacular views

Aloe marlothii

On the left, one of dozens of Queensland bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris)

Encephalartos sp.

Now we’re walking down the hillside studded with aloes and cycads

Flowering aloes galore

The center of this Aloidendron ramosissimum died a while ago, exposing the branching structure

Aloidendron ramosissimum

Yet another Aloe marlothii

Jeff in his wonderland

Jeff’s Aloidendron barberae forest

Aloidendron dichotomum (left) and Aloidendron barberae (right)

Another view of the Aloidendron barberae forest

The most recently planted area

Aloes and agaves

More Aloidendron barberae

Aloidendron barberae (left), Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ (right)

Another majestic specimen of Aloidendron ‘Hercules’

Encephalartos sp. and Brachychiton rupestris

Agave franzosinii in the middle

As we were walking around, I asked Jeff for IDs of most of the plants in these photos, but I was so gob-smacked by the spectacular sights all around that I promptly forgot what he told me.

As I mentioned earlier, Aloes in Wonderland is one of the most unique gardens I’ve ever visited. Jeff is a true visionary, and he’s worked tirelessly for many years to bring it all to life. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, don’t miss it. There aren’t many places like this in the world!


Check out Aloes in Wonderland’s YouTube channel. There are 70 videos between 30 seconds and 15 minutes in length. The garden walks with Jeff are particularly interesting.

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


  1. It is really amazing, I've never been but have seen the videos. It is over the top in the very best way! You really planned your visit for just the right time.

  2. Ah such great memories of discovering this place with you. The light you had that day made for some super photos. Did you buy anything?

  3. Utterly remarkable. I have to wonder if this garden has ever been used as the setting for a movie - except perhaps it would steal attention from the actors and the story's plot.

  4. I mean, is there any other place like this outside South Africa?!

  5. What an amazing collection. Would be hard for me to let anyone come in and buy but it is a very novel idea.

  6. You just might be one of the most luckiest human beings. The sheer number of incredible gardens that you have visited recently... Aloes in Wonderland...I can't even believe it's real. Jeff must be having the time of his life doing all of this. Obviously a labor of love.


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