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The green thumb of Mission Hills

By Ken Williams | Editor

Jim Bishop calls himself a “plantaholic.” His friends will toast him — maybe even teasingly roast him — for that.

Over the past six years, Bishop has served as president of the San Diego Horticultural Society. He will step down from his leadership role following his talk about “My Life with Plants: Confessions of a Plantaholic” at the Aug. 14 meeting of the society.

Mission Hills resident Jim Bishop is proud of the garden, which has been featured in local and national publications. (Courtesy of Jim Bishop)

Meanwhile, Bishop has written more than 60 columns about plants for the society’s newsletter, “Let’s Talk Plants!” — and they can be read on the society’s website at sdhortnews.org.

Bishop and his life partner, Scott Borden, have lived in Mission Hills for more than 20 years. Their garden is such a thing of beauty that it has been featured in local and national publications.

Here are five questions with Jim Bishop:

1. This month marks your final meeting as president of the San Diego Horticultural Society (SDHS). How has the society evolved under your leadership, and what do you consider your legacy to be? 

Indeed, I’m finishing up my sixth year as president of the San Diego Horticultural Society. As I step down, I’m pleased that we have 1,100 members from all over San Diego County, and the organization is in good standing.

I know that with the dedication of incoming president Frank Mitzel, our board and volunteers, SDHS will continue to grow and educate San Diegans about environmentally responsible horticulture.

During my tenure, we’ve made the organization more efficient, including bringing the events and membership processes online and tied directly to our website sdhort.org. An individual membership has remained the same at $30, which is a great deal since non-member attendance at one of our monthly meetings is $15.

We moved the meetings from Del Mar to the UTC area to increase participation from members and garden enthusiasts from central San Diego, East County and South Bay. Our new venue, Congregation Beth Israel, is wonderful. It’s comfortable, has great acoustics, is right off the freeway, and has easy, free parking.

We also have one of the largest and most successful annual tours featuring private gardens in a different area of San Diego each year. I’m speaking at our Monday, Aug. 14 meeting, sharing not only my experiences in creating gardens, but photos from the many, many places I’ve lived, as well as adventures with my partner, Scott Borden, traveling to horticultural sites around the globe.

2. Who or what inspired you to what has been called your lifelong “addiction and obsession” with plants?

My mother gardened as time allowed, while raising three boys and moving every couple of years. She liked unusual plants, which is probably why I’m fascinated with exotic plants. With dad being transferred to a new place every couple of years, I was exposed to many different plants, climates and environments.

Though I’ve lived in California for 35 years, I’ve also lived in South Florida, Texas and the Midwest. We went on annual family road trips visiting many national parks, so I developed an appreciation for nature and natural environments. I enjoy creating garden spaces and watching plants grow, thrive, and change with the seasons.

Jim Bishop leads a nature tour in San Diego area. (Courtesy of Jim Bishop)

3. The home garden you maintain with your life partner Scott Borden has been featured in local and national magazines. What was the idea behind the garden, how has it changed over the years, and do you guys have plans to shake things up in the future?

For our garden, which we created and have tended for almost 20 years, we wanted to create a sense of place. We have an historic, Spanish-style home, so we wanted to play off of the architecture, incorporating water-wise plants including succulents, agaves and aloes, as well as plants of Australia, South Africa, and of course, California natives.

Currently, we are restoring the bottom slope of our property to be mostly California native plants, especially locally native ones. Our garden is on a steep, north-facing slope, and there’s a 100-foot elevation change from the top to the bottom. Because we’re next to wild areas, we try to grow what the animals won’t eat; keeping the gophers out is a constant battle. To conserve water, a few years ago, we installed 2,000 gallons of water storage and we are still using water we collected from last season’s rains.

4. What advice would you give to amateur gardeners in the Uptown and Mid-Cities areas?

Join the San Diego Horticultural Society! At our monthly meetings, we showcase experts in the field, and their presentations are always insightful and inspiring.

The garden societies in Balboa Park are another great community resource for gardeners. As you try to decide what you want to grow, find a garden you like and copy it. It’s totally fine to copy what someone else does because it will look different in your yard, it won’t look exactly the same. Find plants that are easy to grow and maintain, and that are appropriate for your space.

Get inspiration by going on local garden tours and visiting our local botanical gardens. Of course Balboa Park is wonderful, but also visit the San Diego Botanic Garden, Water Conservation Garden and San Diego Zoo for ideas. The San Diego Horticultural Society’s newsletter site, sdhortnews.org, has links to years of informative articles, including the 60 I’ve written for the column My Life with Plants.

5. What do you like about living in Mission Hills? 

The location is so convenient and close to everything. It’s also private, quiet, and laidback, and we like the sea breeze that comes up the canyon. Also, there are restaurants and shopping nearby, and the airport is just minutes away. We enjoy the Mission Hills Garden Club, and I co-chaired their garden tour for four years. Our garden might be on next year’s tour. We often go to restaurants in Uptown and Hillcrest, and will be doing so even more now because Scott, my partner, is now co-proprietor of Uptown Tavern. Maybe you’ll catch me there and we can talk about plants.

 —Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at ken@sdcnn.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.

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