Edited by Tina Ivany.
In honor of our 25th Anniversary, we first asked our founders and then our members at large: "What is your memory of the first SDHS meeting?"
Our Founders replied:
Susi Torre Bueno: I was living near SDSU in 1994, and I somehow found out about the first SDHS meeting and got my mother-in-law, Evey (who just celebrated her 98th birthday in July) to come with me on what seemed like the long trek to Encinitas and what was then called Quail Botanical Gardens. One of the reasons I wanted to go was because we had just purchased land in Encinitas to build a house on, and although I had been gardening (on the East Coast) since about 4th grade we had only moved to California 10 years earlier and I knew I had a lot more to learn about gardening in this climate.
We met at the Ecke Building, which was undergoing a major remodel at the time (there were no doors on the restrooms and not much power available). I didn't know who he was at the time, but our founder and first president, Don Walker, was busy stringing an electric cord from Ecke Building to another location that had more power so that he could run the projector. The place was packed with plant enthusiasts, and at the front of the room were about 5-6 tables overflowing with plants, many of which I had never seen before, and all of which I wanted for my own garden.
The speaker at that inaugural meeting was founding board member Steve Brigham, who spoke about "New Plant Introductions for Southern California.” All of those plants were new to me, and being in the standing-room-only audience was like attending your absolutely favorite class in college. One of the highlights of the evening was having Steve (with a bit of help from some friends) talk for about 45 minutes about the plants on the display tables. I was totally hooked!
I joined on that first night, and it has been one of the best decisions I ever made. I met Bobbi Hirschkoff at that meeting and learned we were soon to be neighbors, as she had almost bought the land we had just purchased and was already gardening on her new nearby parcel even though her house wasn't even built yet. We sat next to each other, and found ourselves both rolling our eyes and somewhat intimidated by all the Latin! I'm pretty sure she joined that night, too, and her Olivenhain garden has been on many garden tours over the last 20 years.
Bruce Hubbard: I was not at the first meeting. I did begin my tenure on the board during the first year; however, I did not participate in the "founding effort" with Don Walker and Susi. I do have some recollections of the early board meetings . . . we were concerned that there would be enough people interested in such an organization to make it a go . . . but we were optimistic!
Jeff Moore: I'm not sure if I quite made the first meeting. I do recall a few early meetings being held at Quail, meeting Julian Duval for the first time, and that Don Walker was presiding over the event. The first meeting might have been at someone's house for all I know. But if it was at Quail, I might have been there but it’s too far back in my hazy memory. I do recall I thought it was a great idea and wish I had been more involved, but business, family, etc... kept getting in the way.
Linda Teague: Not sure if it was the first meeting but I think it was. We met at Ecke Building at Quail. The building was being renovated. The electricity was a problem. Don Walker strung up lights to rest rooms so that we could climb around building materials and use restrooms. I bought my favorite blooming plants from my garden. Steve Brigham did a great job with entertaining stories about all plant samples brought in.
An unknown nurseryman from Vista brought in many huge tropical plants to sell. There were misunderstandings at the first meeting of how to handle sales and the amount of profit to the Society. Don Walker, Dorothy and Bill did major set-up of the room. At first, Bill did not want to get involved. He was too busy. I was VP in charge of programs. Mary Mcbride may remember more. Bill drove me to board meetings and finally came on the Board in charge of Room set-up. Later he loved the Horticultural Society completely.
SDHS would never have happened without Don and Dorothy Walker. He had been a member of LA chapter so knew how to organize the Society.
Koby Hall: I already knew several of the founding members, because of my prior interests and garden vocation throughout the county. I wasn’t involved in the organizing or board members, but I was a religious attendee. I remember the first organized ‘meeting’ in a modest sized room at Quail Botanical Gardens. It's was so exciting to see familiar faces and many new ones—all really interested in plants and gardening. I remember we brought in a rare vine: Lapageria rosea, “Chilean Bellflower” as something fascinating to share. I fondly recall many early years of meetings where people would bring in such a wealth of really fascinating plant varieties to show and share; frequently spreading out to be displayed on 4 tables!
Walter Andersen: I’m not one of the ‘founding members.’ I came in about year two or three, might have been even later; the organization was rolling along very well when I joined. Early on, I was on the board for a couple of years. My memory of when I joined was thinking, “Who are all of these plant nuts?” “Where did they come from?” Also, “how did they get these marvelous speakers to present these amazing programs?” Therefore, I had/have more questions than answers. There were some fun people on the board back then, unfortunately, some are no longer with us. I thought Don Walker was an exceptional guy, full of enthusiasm and ideas, a true leader for our group. Susi is also, she seems tireless, even today.
When I joined the group it had outgrown the space used at Quail Gardens and had moved to the Off Track Betting building at the Fair Grounds. My early memories are mostly of the world-class horticulturalists, authors of many books. Back then, ‘slide shows’ were common in programs. Speakers who represented growers often brought in some of their prized plant varieties to raffle off to members. Almost all of the programs were videotaped, to be used in the library, to be loaned to members who wanted to refresh or missed a program. I thought this was a good idea, but not sure how many took advantage of the recordings.
Sue Fouquette: I remember that meeting at Quail where I was exposed to so many other people interested in horticulture. Otherwise, I might not have “fallen in love” with the talented and hard-working Torre Bueno family; and Steve Brigham and Don Walker who let me help proofread their tree books.
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.
Diana Goforth: I have fond memories of the first meeting of the San Diego Horticultural Society. It was held at what was then Quail Botanical Gardens (now San Diego Botanic Garden), in the Ecke Building. Don Walker, the meeting’s organizer, was a volunteer at Quail and I was a staff member. Ecke was being remodeled at the time and it was unclear if it would be ready for the meeting. Don kept coming by, asking Joyce Wilder, who was acting Director of SDBG, if the work would be done by the meeting date. It was, except for the restrooms, which were behind curtains rather than doors! About 80 people came to the meeting. The group grew so fast that it only met twice at Quail. Then it outgrew the space and had to meet elsewhere.
Pat Hammer: I was not aware of the very first SDHS meeting but I did attend the second meeting held in the Ecke Room and it was filled to capacity, I believe it was Patrick Anderson who spoke. By this meeting we had already outgrown the Ecke building and we moved to the Fair Grounds!
Lucy Warren: I actually missed the very first SDHS meeting, but jumped in at the second meeting and was soon afterward on the board. It was full of people who loved plants with a great energy of anticipation for learning and sharing. Don Walker spearheaded the organization and I was soon to make friends with fabulous horticulturists such as Bill and Linda Teague, Tom Piergrossi, Steve Brigham, Susi Torre-Bueno to name just a few, adding to those whom I already knew including Diana Goforth, Pat Hammer, Pat Welsh, the Fouquettes and others. Many of the first meetings included talks by members on their specializations and we were all sponges, eager to soak it all in. We brought plants that we were growing to share with others and the diversity was astounding.
Kathy Musial: My memory of the meeting itself is fuzzier than my memory of what led up to that first meeting. So that delves back a little farther.
In July 1982, I both started working at the Huntington Botanical Gardens and joined the Southern California Horticultural Institute (as it was then known) in the same week. Don Walker was president of SCHI and was friendly and welcoming, and thus began our long friendship. Don later retired to Vista with his wife Dorothy, and I moved to San Marcos in 1991 and hung around with horticulture friends in northern San Diego County, including Don and Dorothy. Don missed the SCHI and thought it would be great to have a similar organization in San Diego. A group of us got together at Bill and Linda Teague's house for dinner and discussion, and thus was the San Diego Horticultural Society born, modeled almost exactly after the SCHI (by then the Southern California Horticultural Society).
That first meeting at Quail Botanical Gardens was to be held in a meeting room that was being renovated and supposed to be done by the meeting date - but it wasn't. But we made do, and I remember Don beaming with surprised joy at the turnout and the response.
Steve Brigham: That first meeting we got real good attendance. We had sent out meeting notices to the entire Buena Creek Gardens mailing list as well as some other horticulturist lists. Don Walker, Kathy Musial, and I gave 'em a real good show. If there were a motto for our madness, it would have been "It's The Plants, Stupid!" (Remember this was during the Bill Clinton days). The whole point was to show people new, uncommon, and uncommonly beautiful flowering plants that we all could and should grow in our San Diego County gardens. Everyone learned something new that night, and met a whole bunch of new gardening friends in the process.
Of course, we knew what we were doing. Don and Kathy were long-time veterans of the Southern California Horticultural Institute in Los Angeles, and I had been to a number of those meetings myself. We followed their successful meeting format, with a horticultural slide talk followed by the Plant Forum, where we showed and described live uncommon plants and cut flowers to the group. I gave that first meeting talk -- a slide show of all of my favorite rare flowering plants that are perfectly suited to San Diego County gardens, including subtropical and drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, and vines from all over the world. The Plant Forum that followed showed many of these plants live and in person, and Kathy and I talked about them (sort of like when Joan Embery used to bring her San Diego Zoo animals to the Johnny Carson Show). There was a lively dialog of questions and answers from the audience, and we even got a few good jokes off. Those were good times!
Some more recent members also shared their memories:
Lorie Johansen: It was such a thrill to see what was on the swap table. I just moved here from the bay area and had to learn a new rabbit resistant and water wise plant palette. Our 2-acre property was planted with 5000' of turf and trees that were destined for death as they were east coast trees or high fuel for fire. I was determined to grow trees that were right for our Mediterranean climate and immediately turned off the water to kill the grass.
I remember getting a one-gallon size Ficus macrophylla in 2004 from the swap table. It's been in the ground where it can grow with wild abandon, far away from hardscape. It has a beautiful canopy and is about 25' tall. That may not seem very large after 15 years. It does not get regular irrigation but survives very well without pest or disease. "Right tree=right place."
Terry Chamberlin: I remember feeling a bit intimidated walking into my first SDHS meeting almost 3 years ago. However, while walking around admiring the flowers that members brought to share, folks came up to me and made me feel so welcome. My favorite memories though are when I volunteer for various Hort events as I get to meet wonderful people and have made some great friends. Even my husband, Jack, who does not share my love of all things horticulture, enjoys volunteering for the annual garden tour. My overall experience being a SDHS member is that people who love plants and gardening have such a positive and sharing attitude with their knowledge and sometimes plants that I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of this incredible organization! The only downside is wondering if I will ever win one of Ray’s beautiful wood turned bowls!
Rachel Cobb: In August of 2005, I was hired by the SDHS board to work with Susi Torre Bueno on the 24 page print newsletter, Let’s Talk Plants. The San Diego Horticultural Society was my first client in San Diego. It changed my work life direction. I would visit San Diego area now and then, because of my friend Pat Hammer, I would tag along to SDHS functions and occasional meeting during my visits. I don't recall where I first met everyone, but friendship grew with Don and Dorothy Walker, Bill Teague, and of course Susi. I have learned so much about plants as I have assembled the newsletters now for 14 years.
I treasure all the people I have met and worked with over these years. I continue to enjoy the meetings and the garden tours. Congratulations to the San Diego Horticultural Society for 25 years. I hope, I continue to be a part of the next 25 years.