Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The magus of Santa Barbara

I have been privileged to visit many gardens in many cities, but few have enchanted me like John Bleck's little masterpiece. "Little" sounds so patronizing--John's garden is in a suburban neighborhood with typical modest lots--his does seem more generous than most. But it is the way he has conjured it that is amazing: Jan and I spent several days with John as his guest (our stay had been arranged by Greg DeChirico--president of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, who had just arrived back from Columbia about the same time we got to Santa Barbara). Typically, John opened his house to strangers--although I think we stayed in that state for a nano-second: like all bona fide plant nerds, we bonded promptly and eternally! What can I say? I am posting a ridiculous number of pictures of John's majestic, endless, artistic, jam-packed and just generally perfect garden: can you imagine--in February? Santa Barbara is everything it's cut out to be in the mythology of gardeners: a paradise of subtropical, warm temperate and even a few borderline tropicals all seem to find it to their taste...and an astonishing number of them in February, for God's sake!
The "grand" view out the back of John's living room window/ February, mind you!
A Lachenalia: John had it labeled. (I was lazy)

One of the raised benches on the left hand side of the yard as you look out: full of pellies, mesembs and more...all perfectly grown!

He grows tons of sedums--most of which I'd never seen before like this one...

One of dozens of Pelarboniums...should have written the name down for you. Sorry!

An adorable tiny sedum (notice the fingers below--it's minute!)

This is not Scilla peruviana--it's yet another similar species I'd never heard of...

Kniphofia--he had the name. I forgot it..

I saw this Moraea here and there around the garden....forgot which. Kill me!

I do remember this is Sedum dendroideum--but a special subspecies (forgot which)...

Aeoniums and Aloes whereever you looked--giant ones on this steep slope at the back...

A view down towards the growing areas from the top of the garden. This place is endless!

The guru again--with a giant daisy shrub...

Raised beds with agaves et al. All impeccably maintained...

Forgot this one two..but it was a gem!

I believe this is the plectranthus discovered by and named for Ernst Van Jaarsveld, the monographer of the genus...

He had Senecios from the Canary Islands hybridizing with African species...showed me the subtle differences. I forgot!

A friggin' SOW THISTLE! On steroids of course (also from the Canary Islands)..

His orchids are housed in a quarter section of a sort of lath structure: this one was a stunner.

More sedums and more Sencios (a different kind)...Sheesh!

A succulent Bonsai--to die for!

Bulbinella hookeri from New Zealand: in the front garden...


Another quadrant of the lath house is given over to Bromeliads...Tillandsias mostly...

A brilliant yellow Lewisia cotyledon: I praised this a tad too much and he gave it to me (along with divisions and cuttings of dozens of plants: this man is SERIOUSLY generous...I can't wait to visit his garden "when there's more to see"--gimme a break! I know many botanic gardens that would kill to have collections half as well maintained and numerous. I have not told you that John has been a lifetime gardener (professionally too), and maintained the University of Santa Barbara's greenhouse collections for years--although he worked as a conchologist for many years, and has had great experience in coastal ecology. He's one of the most modest, accomplished horticulturists I have ever met. I'd find out how to visit him if I were you!


  1. Looking at these pictures sure beats looking out the windows here in Wisconsin. What an amazing garden!

  2. I've heard his name mentioned for years as the source of many plants in the SMG catalog, and appreciate seeing his garden and collections thru your eyes. Looks like a great garden and interesting collections, I'm envious, for sure. No doubt Santa Barbara is special in February, or any time, actually...

  3. What a great garden, and collect of plants.

  4. As I enter the second half + 2 of my 60th year on this orb I am more than entertained at the memory lapses of the indefatigable.

  5. John Bleck is wonderfully knowledgeable plantsman. He has given us so many great plants over the years that we cannot thank him enough.

  6. Panayoti, You should bring a voice recorder along on your trips.

  7. Nice, the white flowered pelargonium with nice leaves is P barklyi, and to its left I can make out flowers of P echinatum. A P xerophytum is in there too, it has tiny leaves, to the right. Looks like a fun place to visit!

  8. PK, that succulent bonsai is Plectranthus ernstii.


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