By Jim Bishop.
In the fall of 1994, I had learned about the first meeting of the new San Diego Horticultural Society at Quail Gardens (since renamed The San Diego Botanic Garden). I think I may have heard about the meeting from Patrick Anderson, or maybe Buena Creek Gardens, or both. I thought about attending, but wasn't certain I would. The Monday of the meeting, I was informed at work that my job of 13 years was being phased out and I would be laid off the following February. This somewhat painful push towards a new chapter in my life made the decision to attend an easy one. After all, what were they going to do if I left work a bit early, fire me?
I arrived to the meeting in the still being constructed meeting room and found it already packed. I sat somewhere in the back where people were frantically adding more chairs. Having never attended a formal horticulture meeting before, I didn't know what to expect. I vaguely recall Don Walker, the president, talking about the need for a local horticultural society and asking us to join. I recall Steve Brigham of Buena Creek Gardens clowning around and providing his usual knowledgeable and entertaining banter about plants. While showing the unusual the flowers of Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia gigantea, for some reason, he decided to wear one as a mask over his face and the audience burst into laughter. Patrick Anderson, Don and others pressured me to join that evening. In spite of my now uncertain finances, I gladly signed up. For many years, I arrived just before the meeting started and sat somewhere near the back. Little did I know then that 20 years later, I would be president of this organization.
Alan Richards, Jim Bishop, unknown person and Tom Piergrossi inspecting the Plant Forum at an early San Diego Horticultural Society meeting
Over the next several years, I attended as many meetings I could. I would listen to the wonderful speakers and topics that influenced my gardening style and what plants I grew in my garden. I especially loved looking at the unusual plants flowers and cuttings that members brought in from their home gardens. There was always something on the plant display table that I had never seen before. Often after the main meeting Steve Brigham would talk about the plants on the display table. Was there anything he didn't know?
I realized that though I thought I knew everything about home gardening, I knew very little and even less about plants, especially those that do well in Southern California. Overall, I'd say the biggest impact that Society has had on my gardening is changing my tastes and appreciation of what I once considered unusual plants that I assumed were difficult to grow. Looking back over the plants I've mentioned in articles for this column, I grow relatively few of these today. Through the Society, I've been exposed to countless plants and garden styles and ideas that have inspired me to keep changing how I garden. I've learn about water management, low water use plants and succulents. Twenty years ago I was intrigued and fascinated by succulents, but never thought that I would be growing so many. I never even imagined growing a tree aloe, protea or alstroemeria, let alone knew what a Leucadendron or Cycad even was. Today they seem common place, but I can't imagine gardening without these and many others. And I imagine if you’ve attended a few meetings, you to have made changes in gardening practices and what you grow.
As you may know, I travel frequently and visit gardens whenever possible. In July of this year, I toured gardens in England and loved all the perennials and summer blooming plants they can grow. However, in the much prized plant collections growing in the Wisley Royal Botanic Garden greenhouses, I noted that we can grow almost all of these plants outside. While I always enjoy seeing how people garden in other parts of the world, I've come to realize that we are very fortunate to be able to grow so many exotic plants from around the world without much effort. We all are so lucky to live here and be part of such a wonderful organization.