By Kay Wren.
All photo credits: Jason Chen
We asked Jason some questions so that you could get to know him better . . .
1. How long have you been interested in plants? Since you were a kid? Or from when?
So, I’ve always been into plants even as a young child . . . I think my mom would say ever since I could walk and pick things up. Summer T-ball camp/games consisted of me sitting in the outfield picking clover (needless to say I wasn’t the most popular team player 😂). Growing up, my parents realized that I loved the arts and gardening so they helped foster that. As an adolescent in NC I had a greenhouse and got the green light to tear out my dad's lawn to build perennial beds (growing up back east, like everybody else, we had a huge expanse of lawn) . . . that was the start and it hasn’t stopped.
Above; Assorted photos of Jason's design process and floral designs.
2. Who was instrumental in developing your love of gardening? Grandparent, parent, neighbor, friend, teacher?
I was fortunate to have had a few people who were instrumental in my plant ways, two that come to mind instantly are my grandmother from my dad's side, she would grow edibles and roses . . . that’s probably where my love for roses originated.
The other person is my childhood art teacher, whom I’ve known for the past 30+ years. She recognized that plants were my thing and taught me to draw them and how to cultivate edibles and, being a Buddhist, she taught me to appreciate all plants and living things.
My parents, though math majors, encouraged me to explore the botanical world. They never held me back from playing in the dirt, and when it came time to pick a college major, they pushed me towards horticulture instead of going to art school, since horticulturists make a steady living while painters generally do not.
Seasonal progression of a California native garden at Jason's parents..
3. How long have you been gardening in San Diego County? How long at your current garden if it’s a different amount of time?
I moved here in the middle of the last economic down turn in the end of 2008 after a brief stint in Las Vegas working with a landscape architect (I got the job after getting a degree in ornamental horticulture and art/design at NC State). When I first moved here I lived and gardened on my parents avocado orchard. I’m thankful to have had a playground to learn and grow many plants since California is the wild Wild West of plants. When you move from the South East to SoCal, at least 75% of the plant material is foreign or you’ve only seen them in books, cut bouquets or used as summer annuals . . . I have moved a number of times since, but have always been able to trial plants on their four acres in Fallbrook up until last year, when they sold the property and moved to Los Angeles.
When people talk local microclimates, I have lived in just about all of them, moved from the desert, to Fallbrook, Encinitas, Oceanside, Serra Mesa, and now I’m on the East side of Black Mountain by the 15 and the 56.
I have been at my current place for three years, which is the first place I can say I have the liberty to plant whatever I want, however I want to. Here I get more rain than I know what to do with in the winter and in the summer and fall, it gets roasted so much my outdoor thermometer has a big burn mark in the middle. But my yard has many microclimates that I’ve got everything from Desert denizens to flouncy tropicals.
Above; Two places Jason has lived, not including his parents. His current garden, first picture is as of 3 weeks ago. A jumble!
4. Tell a bit about your day job . . .
I’m fortunate to be doing what I love, horticulturist, garden designer. Weekly, I take care of gardens up in the Encinitas, Del Mar area, gardens that I have designed, installed and been asked to stay on to maintain.
Above; Some of Jason's projects in La Jolla and Del Mar.
5. What’s your favorite plant(s)? Why?
Ohhhh, that’s a loaded question! My personal garden is a Landscape Design’s “what not to do”, with one of this, two of that . . . It’s also a garden maintenance person’s “nightmare” or for most people who rely on an irrigation system, I hand water everything (in the process of installing irrigation though). I’ve managed to find and use many microclimates to grow a little bit of everything. I tend to go for plants with fragrance, whether in the foliage or in the flowers, Old garden roses, orchids, pelargoniums, plumerias, native sage scrub . . . I’ve made an exception with Camellias, in particular the Japanese Higo type and species. The three groups of plants I have the most of are roses, camellias and bromeliads. And thanks to Covid 19, I’ve added more edibles to my yard and those of my clients to make better use of garden space.
Above; Fun things for Jason, not of work, but around his house plant oriented.
7. How long have you been a member of SDHS? Have you held other board positions? Who introduced you to the society?
I’ve been a member for maybe 4-5 years? I got introduced to the group actually when I worked for Cedros Gardens, a nursery in Solana Beach owned by Mia McCarville. A couple of times she sold plants at the meetings and gave talks, I’d tag along to man the plant stand. Many of our customers were members as well. When the nursery closed, it gave me the time to join and stay in contact with people.
8. Would you like the members to follow you on Facebook or other social media? Do you have a blog? YouTube channel? etc...
I am on Facebook (either Jason Chen, or JC Botanical Designs), and Instagram (grevillea01), friend me at your own risk. I wish I had the bandwidth to blog but lately I’ve needed 36 hours in a day to get things done.