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Gardening : Love in Bloom: The Weidners and Their Begonia Gardens in Leucadia

July 22, 1989|ELIZABETH CHRISTIAN | Times Staff Writer

The shoppers trek to Leucadia from all over Southern California. As often as not, they bring grandmas, children, picnics and--of course--spades and a spare pot or three.

Weidners' Begonia Gardens is not your typical neighborhood nursery.

This weekend, Weidners' hosts its annual begonia festival, during which you can attend free lectures on everything from putting color in your garden to propagation tips. You also can dig up tuberous begonias for as little as $4.95 a plant.

Bob and Evelyn Weidner grew up in the plant business. "I was retail and married wholesale," Evelyn Weidner says. The couple owned Buena Park Greenhouses for years but decided they'd had enough, took early retirement in 1969 and moved to a lovely piece of land 10 miles south of Oceanside.

The retirement lasted two years. "Bob came to me one day in 1971 and asked if I would like a nice big patch of tuberous begonias," Evelyn Weidner recalls. "I thought he meant 50 for the back yard." But Bob Weidner planted 25,000 of the gorgeous plants in raised beds, and the family was back in the nursery business. Today, Evelyn and daughter Mary Witesman run the nursery; Bob Weidner died last year.

Enormous Selection

Weidners' Gardens is chock full of not only the tuberous begonias--they do have thousands of them, in both regular and non-stop varieties--but also an enormous selection of flowering plants from all over the world.

"At first, there were just the begonias. Then we hung a basket of fuchsias near the checkout stand and everyone wanted it, so we started carrying fuchsias," which are, like begonias, shade-loving, Evelyn Weidner says. "Then people started saying, 'But we have no shade,' so we put in Sunshine Alley."

Weidners' thus began a tradition of adding a new type of plant every year. "We either look for something old that people have sort of forgotten about or we find something overseas," Weidner says. "That's why some of our plants' names don't mean anything to people, because they're nothing you've ever seen."

And Weidners' has what few nurseries have--a green and inviting lawn dotted with picnic tables, a stream with a bridge, a pond with ducks and a petting zoo full of friendly goats, sheep and assorted unusual fowl. Stormy, perhaps the most patient pony ever born, whinnies at the corral's gate, eager to be fed a snack and willing to carry the smallest of children on his plump back. And the air is fresh with ocean breezes even on scorching days.

Gardener Motivator

But the best thing about Weidners' is the inspiration it provides for the weekend gardener. Plants--most are in pots; the begonias are usually the only things you dig yourself--are meticulously tended and displayed; color is everywhere. Hand-written signs give simple, clear advice on how to grow your selections, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. And the prices are almost incredibly low: Many shoppers question the staff repeatedly to make sure they've heard correctly when told a 4-foot basket of wax-leaf begonias is only $7.95.

"We wanted this to look like a flower show all the time," Weidner says. "People shouldn't have to go all the way to Santa Cruz to see a big display of begonias."

The begonias are at their peak now; many are 6 inches across and available in shades of orange, yellow, red and pink. They're planted in neat rows hundreds of yards long under high, white tarps to filter the sun. Fuchsias--thousands of them in a rich range of hues--spill from baskets hanging from the rafters.

A prize specimen of one of the most spectacular plants available at Weidners' greets you just as you park: An 8-foot angel's trumpet tree (Brugmansia) drips with butter-yellow flowers more than 7 inches long. Angel's trumpet likes sun and space and will bloom three seasons out of the year.

The front fence is densely covered with an Alice DuPont Mandevilla vine studded with deep pink, horn-shaped blossoms with golden throats.

Covers Vast Expanses

"The Mandevilla likes sunny to partially shady locations," Weidner says. The vine grows fast, allowing you to cover vast expanses of trellis by the end of summer, but it does freeze back.

A close cousin to the Mandevilla is the Red Ridinghood Dipladenia, which Weidners' found in Australia. The plant doesn't vine but stays bushy and relatively small; cherry-pink blooms will flourish year-round in Southern California if you feed the plant every two weeks and keep it where it will have a bit of relief from midday sun.

You'll find colored calla lilies in shades of yellow and pink. Gold coin daisies from the Canary Islands do beautifully in big pots. "The old blossoms on the gold coins just disappear, so you don't have to spend a lot of time dead-heading (removing faded flowers)," Weidner says.

Peruvian lilies--those delicate, orchid-like flowers that adorn so many restaurant tables and that last two weeks after cutting--have been hybridized to stay short and compact for the home garden.

Weidners' has them all, and more--enough to keep your family busy for hours to allow you to enjoy your afternoon.

For information, contact Weidners' Begonia Gardens, 695 Normandy Road, Leucadia; (619) 436-2194.

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