A tour with the San Francisco Succulent Society turned out to be a short history of plant collecting.
Our first stop was the Arizona Garden at Stanford. Back before Stanford was Stanford, when it was just the estate and future home of Jane and Leland Stanford and called the Palo Alto Stock Farm; they hired landscape architect Rudolf Ulrich to design a garden of exotic desert plants. As was typical of the day, they sent crews down to Arizona to rip up plants and bring them home. Up the road – in what is now Menlo Park – James Flood did the same thing and – in what is now known as San Marino – Henry Huntington sent a train down to Arizona to get his plants.
As an aside, they also kept exotic animals on their estates, so Michael Jackson was is good company. End aside.
Anyway, after the Stanford’s son died and they started Stanford in his honor, the garden slowly fell into disarray. It has only recently been restored. This time in a more conventional botanical form with plants from both the Old World and New World. We were give a tour by one of the main restorers and then left on our own to look at some of the blooming plants.
This being the San Francisco Succulent Society, the next stop was wine tasting at a local winery.
Then it was on to a exotic plant grower. People no longer rip plants out of the desert – at least they are not supposed to – now they buy the plants at Home Depot or a nursery. Increasingly, the plants are not grown from seed, but from plant tissue culture. The plants are propagated in laboratory conditions to produce exact copies. Plants that used to be rare are now easy to find.
I am not sure that I am ready for thousands of identical plants, then I see a South American cactus from Argentina blooming and fall in love.