By DELLE WILLETT | Uptown News
It’s not unusual for Brett Allen to return home in University Heights to find an ailing plant or two sitting sadly beside the dumpster, looking for a little love.
The 40-year-old is known as “the plant guy” who runs a free “plant hospital.” He started on his career path when he was just four years old, as he helped his mother manage their large property filled with a variety of fruit trees and grass that looked like a putting green. And with his father, he built a greenhouse where he propagated tomatoes (and later learned how to like them). And rescued failing houseplants.
He initially thought he wanted to be a horticulturist who works in labs and creates new plant varieties, but Allen’s head turned when he learned about the profession of landscape architecture through Future Farmers of America (FAA), which he later studied at Arizona State University.
For the last 16 years he has worked as an Associate at Van Dyke Landscape Architecture in Solana Beach, which specialized in landscape architecture, planning, irrigation design, water management services and graphic communication.
The in-office, knowledgeable person for anything plant related, he gets frequent emails from all over the country with questions about plants.
He explained, “For some reason, my mind remembers the botanical or Latin name of every plant and I can tell you where it will and won’t grow, how much water and light it needs, and what kind of soil it requires.”
Since he bought his condo on Oregon Street 16 years ago, he has become the go-to guy in the community he calls “Between Heights,” as it sits between University Heights and Normal Heights.
Working with parents at Garfield and Birney Elementary schools, he has helped them plan out gardens, raised beds, and irrigation. But with the Covid-19 situation, everything has gone unmanaged “and the weeds are knee high by the 4th of July,” so on his own, he takes his battery-powered weed-wacker there every few weeks to keep things under control. “It really breaks my heart to see the parents’ and students’ hard work go down the drain.”
Over the years as a volunteer, he has been working with city planners on neighborhood bikeways, parking realignment, trees, stop signs, and roundabouts.
As the current president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, San Diego Chapter, Allen is hoping to meet again with the City of San Diego Community Forest Advisory Board regarding the City’s Tree Code Revision Project. This group meets regularly to revise code language as it applies to the 2008 General Plan and 2015 Climate Action Plan which both provide for increased tree canopy and green spaces to benefit the community.
At his cozy condo in an eight-unit building, Allen has worked with his neighbors to improve the building. To date, that includes all new plumbing and wiring, new windows, and new roof. To come is new stucco and painting. “I’m never going to sell it!”
Allen’s growing reputation about his work has resulted in improvements and renovations at neighboring buildings and properties where he can apply skills that he learned from his grandfather and the FFA: painting, welding, building with various materials, managing greenhouses and learning parliamentary procedures.
On his daily five-mile runs, Allen keeps up with community goings-on. Neighbors he meets call him frequently with questions about plants, hedges, trees, grievances, and city codes.
A Mr. Rogers-kinda guy, Allen says, “I’m just super elated that people call and am happy to speak with them. I just really care. It’s what I love doing.”
— Delle Willett has been a marketing and public relations professional for over 30 years, with an emphasis on conservation of the environment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.