ENCINITAS, Calif. — You won't see any "Please Don't Pick the Flowers" signs at Weidners' Begonia Gardens because the Weidner family invites visitors to dig up the flowering plants.
Take your pick from an acre of beautiful tuberous begonias-- more than 20,000 plants in all colors. The Weidners supply digging forks, containers and even wagons for carrying the freshly potted begonias to cars.
Summer is the big blossoming season for begonias, reason enough for a trip to Encinitas, the self-proclaimed flower capital of the world. Nurseries, as well as public and private gardens, are open to visitors.
The suburban sprawl of San Diego County now surrounds flower fields and greenhouses in this once-rural city that recently incorporated with the neighboring communities of Leucadia, Cardiff by the Sea and Olivenhain. Next to a freeway is a spectacular splash of floral color, Weidner's Begonia Gardens.
Get there from Los Angeles by driving south on Interstate 5 to the Leucadia Boulevard exit, turn left to cross over the freeway, then immediately go left again on Piraeus Street.
In Business 15 Years
Evelyn Weidner and her late husband, Bob, opened their dig-it-yourself begonia garden in 1973. Over the years they expanded the family business to include many other flowering plants sold in pots and baskets.
Near the garden entrance is a floral feast of double impatiens, royal purple brunfelsia, yellow Chinese lantern, hanging red flame carnations, strawberry firetails, colored callas and other uncommon plants.
A canopy of netting covers an array of fuchsias hanging in pots, as well as the garden's namesake and major attraction, tuberous begonias. Most of them are still in the ground, ready to be dug up and planted in pots.
Each begonia costs $4, those in pots $9.50. (Small and large plastic pots for replanting can be bought for 50 cents and 80 cents.) Digging tools and instructions and advice on plant care are free.
While parents search for their favorite begonias (wear old shoes in case the ground is muddy), children can watch the Weidners' chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep, goats and other farm animals. They can also ride a pony named Stormy.
The begonia gardens are open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 15, then close for the season until April. For more information, call (619) 436-2194.
Return to Leucadia Boulevard, cross back over the freeway, and turn left immediately on Orpheus Avenue to visit another floral center.
At No. 737 is the Stubbs Fuchsia Nursery, a family-run business that brightens the area with 30,000 fuchsia plants.
Jill and Bob Meyer grow more than 300 varieties, including popular types called Display, Nonpareil, Swingtime and Voodoo. While most are sold wholesale to plant shops, you can buy bountiful fuchsia baskets on the premises for $12.50 in a plastic pot or $19.95 in a redwood container.
Also available are potted begonias and impatiens, and adaptable Boston ferns that are grown on outdoor patios instead of in a hothouse.
The nursery is open daily from9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Its fuchsia season begins in March and continues into September or October. For information, call (619) 753-1069.
Continue south on Orpheus Avenue and bear left on Vulcan Avenue that parallels the railroad tracks to Encinitas Boulevard. Turn left, go under the freeway, and turn left again at the sign to Quail Gardens. Look for the left-hand entrance to the San Diego County-run botanical park, a 30-acre preserve of flowers, plants and trees.
Pay four quarters for parking, then go to the gift shop/nursery for a free map of the gardens. Paved paths and dirt trails lead to botanical specimens from Australia, South Africa and other regions that adapt well in Southern Californian.
Named for the official state bird, Quail Botanical Gardens has the most varieties of bamboo anywhere in the United States. It also boasts the largest hibiscus collection on the West Coast.
Some of the plants and trees have name plaques but others are identified by docents who guide free tours through the garden every Saturday at 10 a.m. Group tours can be scheduled at other times. For more information, call (619) 729-3824 or (619) 436-3036.
A free summer lecture series is held Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the Paul Ecke Building. This week's illustrated talk is about begonias, ferns and other plants to use in a shade garden.
A concert on the lawn is set for7 p.m. Aug. 21. A Day in the Gardens on Oct. 1 and 2 will feature tours, an art and a photography show and a plant sale.
Specially propagated plants are sold at the garden gift shop-nursery, which is open every weekend, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Quail Botanical Gardens is open every day between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
A private garden open to visitors overlooks the Pacific at a religious retreat of the Self-Realization Fellowship. Go back to Encinitas Boulevard and turn right to go under the freeway to Old U.S. 101/1st Street.
Turn left and look for the golden-domed towers. Bear right onK Street and drive uphill to the gates leading to the retreat garden. Park outside.
Shaded pathways, ponds with colorful koi fish and dramatic ocean vistas from the cliff-top garden make it a pleasant stop. Hours are9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sunday from 11 a.m.); closed Monday except when it's a holiday.
Along 1st Street (San Diego County S21) in Encinitas are various dining places including Piret M, a bistro and art gallery in the Lumberyard shopping complex. On Encinitas Boulevard is the Boathouse, a restaurant adjoining Sanderling Place Inn, where rooms begin at $95. Reservations: (619) 942-7455.
Return to Los Angeles on Interstate 5. Round trip is 230 miles.