By Ken Gland.
All photos by Ray Brooks unless otherwise noted.
The Let's Talk Plants! newsletter staff asked SDHS Board Member Ray Brooks to tell us a little about himself. We asked him questions like "How long have you been interested in plants?" "Who was instrumental in developing your love of gardening?" "How long have you been gardening in San Diego County?" "Did you start the woodworking or the gardening first?" and the like. These are his answers -
When I first came to San Diego in 1963, courtesy of the US Navy, I lived in Coronado. One day I was walking along Ocean Boulevard and noticed several Dragon Trees whose seeds had dropped to the ground. Cool tree. My kind of tree. "Kinda prehistoric" and a lot unusual. Having no money (Navy Seaman) I picked up some seeds, took them home and planted. Nothing. It seriously took 50 years of picking up Dragon tree seeds anytime I saw them to finally germinate some. So, in January 2016 I finally was able to see germinate all 12 seeds I picked up that year (at Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona Del Mar). I still have 11 of those trees looking good and here in Escondido. That, I believe, was the beginning of this addiction. By the way, the 12th tree was killed by my California Poppies just last month. They effectively smothered it.
For the next 20 plus years I was content to very minor garden puttering because there always seemed to be something in the way. First it was Navy and 3 jobs, 2 with computers and also managing the apartment complex where we lived. In those beginning days of the computer age the work hours were really long. One of my escapes was to the Baja. The coolest outlet in those days was off road racing. A great get away because there were no phones in the Baja desert. On the other hand, there were Boojum Trees. Took 'til 2016 to own my first baby Boojum (purchased at the Safari Park). It is still going strong. I was just not into digging up plants from the Baja and bringing them home. Had I been, my garden could, and probably would, look like the Safari Park Baja Garden.
For a while I lived in a great San Diego neighborhood called Overlook Heights. A few plants but mostly woodworking and off-road racing. Still with too many hours at work, etc.
Then I met Bonnie, got married and we moved to Clairemont. I do not remember how it all started but we got into the hobby of raising Finches and other small birds. Crazy. Started collecting plants but there was always this lack of money. Hence my interest, which still continues today, in propagating from seed. I get an immense satisfaction when those first shoots pop through the dirt. I pat myself on the back and move to the next seeds to try. And, also, there was always a woodshop to putter in. Somewhere about this same time I was thinking back to my college days and studying architecture. So, I attended Mesa College taking every architecture class they offered. I walked away with a 4.0 GPA in those classes but changing to a career in architecture was not to be for me. Some apartment buildings got in the way. The story goes, career wise, 25 years in the computer business then another 25 or so owning our own property management company.
I have always had an interest in woodworking. My parents bought me a scroll saw when I was 12 years old. When I moved to SD and saw the woodworking at the fair, I dreamed of attending Palomar College’s woodworking program. When we decided to move to north county that dream came to reality. Once again, move over plants (but not totally). Because we owned our own business I could create my own schedule. I decided to attend school at Palomar on Friday and work Saturday if I needed to make up the time. That resulted in 8 years of classes and 2 years of teaching at Palomar. I taught two classes; one was a very creative class called Fine Decorative Box Making and the other a laboratory class in which the student picked their own project. I was available for assistance with all project phases from design to finish including machinery techniques, etc.
The first structure built on the Escondido property was a shade house. We brought more than 200 potted plants with us. Moving from Clairemont a lot of the plants we brought did not love Escondido’s climate. Shade house living was now required. The next structure was our greenhouse. The stated purpose of both structures was to be able to grow plants that were more suited to a more temperate climate (read coastal). Today that greenhouse contains many palms grown from seed around 23/24 years ago. It also doubles as a wintering home for not so cold hardy plants. It also functions as a place to start seeds, root cut off pups, etc. Read nursery. Unfortunately, all but 1 of the Polypodiums and all of the Orchids brought from Clairemont have bitten the dust (so to speak). That is unfortunate but again, interference resulting in lack of attention took them all away. The Epiphyllum’s still survive, blooming every year. Then about 8 years ago we fully retired, removed the grass from the front yard, and voila. A new chapter in our lives was started.
Do not get me wrong, Starting some days there is a difficult decision. Shop or garden??? Lately I have made that easier by devoting most of the cooler morning to the garden. In the afternoon I can hit the workshop and do some woodworking, usually turning. On one hand having 2 hobbies can be difficult and I do not recommend it. On the other hand, when the task of building some structure, a raised bed garden, or just some doo-dad to hold a Staghorn Fern, that woodworker hobby comes in handy. I sense too that the Horticultural Society membership appreciates the bowls I donate.
Answering a few more questions; I was never influenced by someone to follow this path. It sometimes bothers me that I have no formal horticultural education but we make do with Mr. Google. Bonnie has taken a couple of hort classes at Palomar so often that comes in handy.
25 years at this property. There are (with half a dozen palms still in pots), quite a number of palms and Cycads I grew from seed when we first moved here. They are planted both inside and outside the greenhouse. When we removed the grass in the front of our house and restructured the backside hill, we planted a couple of Grevilleas. Now there are way more than a dozen, from sprawling ground cover to 10’ tall Long Johns. There are almost 100 Cycads, 30 or more Staghorn ferns, numerous Tillandsias, and a whole bunch of stuff in between. Four years ago, I did not know what an Aloe was. I actually owned 1. It was planted in the ‘Back 40’ in the shade and pretty much ignored. Now they are everywhere. When we had the open garden tour in 2018 one gentleman described the garden as “having a little bit of something for everyone”. It is for Bonnie and me but we are sure willing to share… Since the tour I have created a new garden area with Cactus, Aloe and other plants including a 6 trunk Dragon Tree.
Count me as a hobbyist gardener. I have no formal training. Too late for that but I am still learning every day. Thanks to Jason Chen I am now learning about Bromeliads. Actually, thank you. I find them to be pretty cool. Thanks to the neighborhood rats, I am now learning to find leaks and repair the waterfall located in our Secret Garden. It is still frustrating me today. Often it pays to be handy, sometimes not…
Know that I wish I was more aware of plant names, etc. so if it does not have a tag I probably do not know its name. On the other hand, if it grows here on our property I can share the what, why and wherefore. I can also share stories about some we cannot grow…
Somewhere inside, the woodworker in me leans toward creating ‘fine woodwork’. I have built boxes, furniture, and a bunch of stuff in between. My favorite thing to do now is woodturning. Nothing leaves my shop I would not like to keep as my own and I sign most everything because I am proud of my work. Most know our woodturning group has a program where we teach wounded veterans how to wood turn (TAV or Turn Around For Vets). I do not teach (maybe a little bit) in the program but instead make lots of items which are sold to help fund that program. I am proud that I can help in their rehab in some way. In a sense then I do not sell my woodwork for any profit to me, ever. Anything sold the funds go directly to the TAV program. My Torrey Pine work can be found at the Torrey Pine Reserve Gift Shop in La Jolla. Most everything else is either donated or given away.
My favorite plant would be Cycads, even though they ‘bite’ and they do not have flowers.
We (Bonnie and I) have been members of SDHS for perhaps 6 years. Back then we joined a spring garden tour, thinking Encinitas, and were immediately ‘hooked’. Wish we had joined a long time ago. As members we have learned so much, seen so many great gardens and made some wonderful new friends. I actually like being the Treasurer and am starting my second three-year term.
Anyone is welcome to follow me on Facebook.
I do not have a blog because I do not have time. Remember I have 2 hobbies; that is enough… If I had to choose just one that would be difficult. Anyway, they kind of go together. Lately I have been putting abstract plant and flower designs on my wooden bowls. Back to that ‘kinda cool’ stuff again…