San Marcos Growers: an epic nursery about to sail into the sunset

The last “official” stop on my Santa Barbara trip in January was at San Marcos Growers (SMG), a wholesale nursery specializing in “plants appropriate to California’s mediterranean climate, including many California native plants, as well as vines, trees, shrubs, ferns, perennials, succulents, ornamental grasses and grass-like plants from other areas around the world.” [1]

San Marcos Growers isn’t open to the public, but their plants are carried by retail nurseries across California and the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, I’ve bought many of their plants at the Ruth Bancroft Garden Nursery, Peacock Horticultural Nursery, and Waltzing Matilija Nursery.

SMG’s inventory is huge, ranging from Abelia to Zephyranthes, with a particularly heavy focus on two genera near and dear to my heart: Aloe and Agave. Their current availability list has 60 entries for agaves, including their own introductions like ‘Thorny Warrior‘, ‘Filigree Devil‘, ‘Cherry Swizzle‘, and ‘Tony’s Tiger‘, and 86 (!) entries for aloes, including SMG exclusives like ‘Birds and Bees‘ (see my recent post), ‘Carpinteria Gem‘, ‘Chico Banana‘, ‘Conejo Flame‘, and ‘Flaming Conundrum‘.

San Marcos Growers was started in 1979 by retired businessman Jim Hodges and City of Santa Barbara arborist David Gress on a 6-acre lot. Over time, adjoining properties were purchased, and today SMG has 21 acres in production, with 2 additional acres of cutting and demonstration gardens.

To many of us, San Marcos Growers is synonymous with Randy Baldwin. He was hired in 1981 as production manager, became general manager in 1990, and is part owner of the company today. Arguably one of the biggest stars in California horticulture, Randy has been a pioneer in the popularization of plants appropriate for our Mediterranean climate, including many South African and Australian plants that hadn’t been seen in California gardens before. This interview with Randy Baldwin, which was posted on the State of California’s CA GROWN blog on February 17, 2017, is a great introduction to what Randy does and what his interests are. It’s a fast and informative read, and I highly recommend it.

Randy Baldwin at an event at the Ruth Bancroft Garden on February 16, 2024

Along with everything else, Randy also writes the descriptions for the plant database on the SMG web site. It’s usually the first resource I go to when I try to find out more about a specific plant. In addition to the specs you expect in a plant description, Randy gives valuable hardiness information and, with hybrids and cultivars, often sheds light on the plant’s origin. Without the SMG database, I’d be floundering, and that’s no lie.

On my recent visit, Randy Baldwin set me loose on one of their electric carts, and I cruised around the nursery grounds. SMG is a biiiig nursery!

Aloe cameronii var. denzanaAloe schweinfurthiii, Aloe elegans, Aloe eremophila, Aloe vacillans, Aloe cameronii var. bondana (A. schweinfurthii from Tom Cole, the rest from Institute for Aloe Studies)

Aloe cameronii var. denzana and Aloe schweinfurthii

Aloe vaotsanda

Pulled plants for an order

×Mangave ‘Pineapple Punch’

Variegated Agave attenuata [info]

Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’ [info]

×Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ [info] in flower. SMG was one of the first wholesale nurseries in California to embrace mangaves when they were a new phenomenon.

×Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ bulbils

Large brugmansia and bloomed-out Agave 'Chunky Monkey' [info]



Aloe ‘Birds and Bees’ [info]

Aloes, agaves, and yuccas

Aloe chabaudii ‘Orange Burst’ [info]

More aloes

Aloe dawei [info]

Aloe ‘Moonglow’ [info]

Aloe lukeana [info], a spectacular Ugandan species Tom Cole formally described in 2015 in honor of his late brother

Aloe vaombe [info]

Aloe ‘Pandan’ [info], a cool hybrid between Aloidendron barberae and Kumara plicatilis

Agave desmetiana ‘Joe Hoak’ [info]

Agave salmiana ‘Green Giant’ [info]

Puya coerulea var. coerulea [info]

SMG is a leading producer of Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Albomarginata’, aka ‘White Rhino’, one of the most sought-after variegated agaves. Over the last 10 years, they’ve created and sold about 2,500 offsets through coring. At the Huntington’s 2021 Succulent Plant Symposium, Randy Baldwin gave a very interesting presentation on propagating Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Albomarginata’. Click here to watch it on YouTube.

Here are some of the Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Albomarginata’ in the SMG greenhouse:

Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Albomarginata’

According to Randy, SMG produces about 450 sellable Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Albomarginata’ a year. I got several of their plants a few years ago, and they’ve produced about a dozen offsets so far. They’re still tiny, but eventually I’ll have enough plants to put into the ground. From what I’ve been told, they actually make good landscaping specimens if planted in a predominantly inorganic mix.

Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Albomarginata’

In 2019, San Marcos Growers celebrated its 40th anniversary (check out my friend Denise’s excellent post on her blog A Growing Obsession). This makes 2024 their 45th year in business – and their next to last. As announced in June 2023, SMG will close by January 1, 2026: “Santa Barbara County [...] is under extreme pressure from the State of California to meet affordable housing quotas. The county discussed this need with the property owners, who have leased the property to San Marcos Growers since its founding in 1979 and who also served on the nursery’s board of directors. The property owners agreed to develop the property with affordable housing.”

When I was visiting in mid-January, operations were still in full swing, but production activities will slowly start to wind down in a year or so. According to the press release, “[SMG] will be actively exploring all opportunities that might keep our many unique plants available in the trade and have the name San Marcos Growers and its informational website live on.”

This is sad news indeed for the horticulture community in California. I’ll make a concerted effort to add as many SMG plants to my garden as I can before it’s all over. While SMG doesn’t sell to the public, it supplies many retail nurseries in California and the Pacific Northwest. You should be able to order SMG plants through a nursery in your area.

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


  1. Oh no!!! SMG is my #1 and most-trusted source of information whenever I'm researching a plant. I hope some kind of arrangement is reached that allows their work to continue at the same level of excellence.

    1. There aren't a lot of nurseries the caliber of San Marcos. I'm trying to focus on the fact that they'll be around for almost two more years...

  2. What a lot of fantastic plants. Like Kris, I rely often on their plant info online. I'm sorry to hear the nursery is closing.

    1. I'm fairly confident that Randy will keep the website going in one form or another.

  3. Oh, dear! How terribly sad. I wonder what is going to happen with all those wonderful plants. It will be hard to find a place to establish another business like this one with the cost of land in CA.

    1. I'm hoping that some other independent nursery (or maybe several of them) will continue to grow San Marcos plants...

  4. Oh, this is sad news. I also rely on their database frequently, sometimes frequently in one day. That is one heckuva lot of great plants. I'll keep my eyes out at all of my regular stops that carry SMG.

    1. I hope I'll be able to squeeze in a few more visits before it's all over.

  5. So interesting that the need for affordable housing brings this incredible horticultural resource to a close. Will there be affordable land available for future growers of zone 9,10,11 plants? Not likely. And it could also be argued that the current phenom of indoor houseplant popularity is also due to the lack of affordable housing and being unable to move out of apartments and rentals. I can still remember the bottled-up horticultural energy unleashed when I no longer rented and had my first little house/garden.

    1. Even in rural San Diego County many nurseries are feeling the squeeze. It's not like nurseries can simply move to areas where land is cheaper.

      Re: houseplants, I think you're 100% correct.

  6. This is very sad but unfortunately all too familiar an occurrence. Hopefully the nursery will be able to continue on through other growers or, fingers crossed, another site.

    1. I'm sure that at least a few signature plants will migrate to other growers, but San Marcos as we know it will no longer exist.

  7. This is terrible news. As a Master Gardener in Sacramento County, I use SMG as a go-to when I research plants for our Demonstration Garden and for my own personal use. I hope that SMG will be able to continue in some capacity. Horticulture, plants and growers are important to our planet.

  8. Well darn, another great nursery closing in this modern era. Makes me very, very sad. If I was a billionaire, that is where I would be spending my money - trying to save the best of the best. That, and educational opportunities to stimulate interest in gardening, plants, and the outdoors for kids.

  9. Ugh, as Pat Turner said, "It's all so sad...."


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