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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Plant A Garden, Grow A Friendship

By Dave Ericson, June 2023, originally published in Let’s Talk Plants! June 2014, No. 237.

Plant a garden, grow a friendship . . . or two. WiX stock photo of friends observing flower fields.

Plant A Garden, Grow A Friendship Seeds of Friendship - Tropical Retreat The Hawaiian spirit blossoms in a Del Mar landscape. KIMBERLY CUNNINGHAM | Photography by: Paul Body Feb 17, 2012 Howard Appel didn’t know he was a budding horticulturalist when he bought his Del Mar house. But after six months, he and Dave Ericson (pictured) of Secret Gardens Landscape have transformed the outdoor area into an oasis, filled with rare plants and exotic sculptures. As an added bonus, it’s fairly low-maintenance and sustainable, even through the winter.

A good garden is like a good movie or book, it’s all about telling a compelling story. This garden tells a story of a wonderful friendship that has grown over the years. The homeowner, Howard Appel, and I became great friends due to our equal passion for gardening. We are constantly trying to make the garden extraordinary, with creative ideas for new plants, artifacts, and lighting. We have also improved the garden with innovative irrigation, drainage, and water recycling systems. Just recently, we installed an outdoor aquarium, which sits a few feet away from a large, sparkling pond.

The garden is filled with ancient artifacts from all over the world. In one corner you may find a small stone figure from Bali covered in moss, and at the other end a six-foot high volcanic stone Ganesh statue. If you look carefully, you may even find something from outer space.

The backyard holds two 100-pound tortoises that roam through a pre-historic garden. The entire garden is beautifully lit at night, with just the right amount of light, including subtly diffused light emanating from unique spiky rattan globes from Bali. Other unusual aspects of the garden include a recycled teak mosaic wall above the spa, draped in greenery hanging from the wall above. The most special aspect of the garden is the copious number of rare plants, many from private collectors.

All this combines beautifully into a garden that takes hours to absorb, even though it is a small garden. Every day there is a new bloom that has not been seen before, which makes the garden an ever-changing work of beauty. Synergy is the best way to describe the reason for the creation of something this special. One needs to spend time in the garden to experience all that it offers.

The garden has hosted such events as the La Jolla Village Garden Club photography workshop, and a featured garden tour for the San Diego Horticulture Society. It was featured in the March 2012 issue of San Diego Magazine, but over the past two years it has been transformed into something completely different.

I personally have been landscaping for the past 40 years and can honestly say that this is the best garden I have ever seen, not because of talent, resources or hard work, but because of my friendship with the garden’s owner.


Dave Ericson is the San Diego Horticultural Society board member in charge of tours and sharing gardens.

Would you like to share your garden with the SDHS? Send Dave an email to with your contact info and he will get right back to you.


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