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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: 1994 - Part 1

By Jim Bishop.

1994 was a year of big changes and surprises for me. I was starting to be aware that there were other people in San Diego who shared my passion for gardening and plants, however, I knew very few of them. My backyard looked great, but almost no one other than me saw it. My father astutely noted that I wasn't going to make many friends gardening alone in the backyard. So I set out to find my fellow obsessive compulsive garden and plant enthusiasts. Several years earlier I had joined the Rainbow Cyclists bike group and had made several new friends and biked many remote places in San Diego. So, when I heard of a new garden group called Rakes and Blades I quickly joined up.

Rakes and Blades was a group of gay men and their friends that met one Sunday a month usually in a member's garden. It was here I met some colorful individuals and avid gardeners. At first I was intimidated by the Latin plant names they used and their insistence that we all learned them. I did learn a lot of Latin names, but I also learned that there many people like me that had a somewhat limited capacity for learning words that they only heard once or twice. It seems to me that the visual, speaking and written word parts of my brain are not well connected. I can learn a plant name from reading a plant tag or article, but have no idea that it is the same name when I hear someone speak it.

Rakes and Blades seemed to run the gamut of gardeners and garden types. There were collectors that grew bromeliads, cactus, roses or some other plant specialty. There were gardens of plants that were started by free cuttings, well maintained gardens, gardens with chickens, and gardens that seemed to have no maintenance at all. At one of the latter gardens with broken pots, unplanted plants, waist-high weeds, piles of junk and several broken down trailers the owners described their style as eclectic. However, someone in the crowd commented that it was better described as "Sanford and Son" (reminiscent of the 70's TV show).

We visited remote gardens tucked away in the back areas of the county where the owners had created their own personal paradise. There were urban gardens full of tropical and exotic plants. All seemed impossibly creative and highly reflective of the owners’ personal interests and tastes. Patrick Anderson hosted us in his then fairly new Fallbrook garden. The now famous succulent garden was still a citrus orchard, but you could already see his influence in the exotic and unusual plant choices. However, I recall him saying that he would never plant a prickly cactus in his garden. Tastes change, people change.

I also met the always entertaining Frank Mitzel; Laurie Connable, who at the time had a huge flower garden in Poway; Phil Favel, owner of an Elfin Forest garden with giant Aloe dichotomas; Tom Carruth, now curator of the roses at the Huntington; and the creative and artistic plant enthusiast, Alan Richards.

I was fortunate and a little afraid to host a Rakes and Blades meeting at my own garden in Encinitas. I grew a lot more flowering plants than most the others in the club, but luckily it was a spring day and everything was in bloom. The kind words and praise from everyone that attended provided inspiration to want to do even more.

In February of 1994, I was stung by a bee while bike riding and somehow locked up my front wheel and plunged head first into the pavement on Carmel Valley Road. Among the injuries, most of my front teeth were chipped or cracked and one was knocked out. Several months later, I got much better-looking veneers and caps. That summer after a Rakes and Blades meeting I went to the beach and my car was stolen. It was found several weeks later and the stereo, my garden hat, and free plants from the meeting were gone...but oddly my checkbook and house keys were left behind.

In late August there was a Rakes and Blades meeting at Alan Richard's garden. Later in the day he was hosting a garden party to celebrate his mostly completed garden. It was a very hot and humid day and I puttered around in my garden so long that I missed the meeting. However, I did make it to the garden party. Alan's house and garden looked like something out of magazine. He had a brightly colored rectangular koi pond at an angle across the back patio. From there paths led down into the garden. A group of 3 handsome men arrived and were paying a bit too much attention to me. Still a bit shy about my new teeth, I headed down into the garden to escape and ended up weeding crabgrass out of the cactus garden. When I returned to the house with cuts and scratches, one of the 3 in a navy blue tank top struck up a conversation with me. His name was Scott Borden.

Photo: Scott Borden and his niece Kate at Mother's Day in Encinitas Garden

To be continued…

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