Theodore Payne In His Own Words

subtitled, "A voice for California Native Plants" was one of my Christmas reads. I received the book from Juli because of my interest in native plants, but it's only tangentially about native plants. The book is written in three parts. The first part is a fairly detailed account of Payne's life as a ranch hand on the Modjeska Ranch, now known as Modjeska canyon and one of the sites of recent wildfire in Orange County. The second and third parts of parts of the book are anecdotes about the nursery trade. There's a lot of local place references, so for someone who knows the South Coast it sounds like familiar territory.

Here's some of the parts I found interesting:

One afternoon my wife and I went to Redondo Beach. We walked out onto the sand dunes where I usually collected seed of Bush Sunflower, White Snapdragon, and a few other things. I found the Beach Wallflower was ripe, so while I gathered some of the seed, my wife sat down and read a magazine.
Pretty soon a woman came along..."What's it good for, rheumatics?...Makes a good tea, eh?" she exclaimed and started furiously to grab all she could. If she saw a plant before I did, she would try to beat me to it. I was only interested in the seed spikes but she took the whole plant. After gathering all she could carry in her apron she left.
(Seed Collecting at Redondo Beach, p. 131)

From Goleta I went by train to Ellwood Station to visit the Ellwood Cooper ranch. Ellwood Cooper came to Santa Barbara in 1870 and bought this ranch. he became interested in growing eucalyptus and by 1875 had 50,000 trees growing....
I enjoyed meeting them very much. I visited this place on a number of occasions in later years and Fanny Cooper, one of the daughters, collected seed of various kinds of eucalyptus for me.
(p. 95)

During the Eucalyptus boom in Southern California which started in 1907 and continued for five years, there was a good demand for young eucalyptus trees in flats. Quite a number of small Eucalyptus Nurseries sprung up almost overnight. Many of these were operated by people who had regular jobs and who did this work in their spare time. A man would rent a vacant lot, have a water meter installed, purchase a quantity of flats and seed and raise perhaps 50,000 or 100,000 trees.
I supplied many of these dealers with the seed and helped dispose of their young plants....On one occasion I had a customer for a carload of young trees of the Red Gum (Eucalyptus rostrata) to be shipped to the San Joaquin Valley. I made arrangements to buy these trees from a man who raised them on Crocker Street. He was a stock broker by profession and had taken up eucalyptus raising as a side line.
(p. 132)

The Eucalyptus boom burst about 1912. There was now no demand for seed or trees. I had over 100 pounds of seed on hand. Nobody wanted it.
(p. 145)

There's no lesson here about the housing market, is there?

In April 1896 I entered the employ of the Germain Fruit Company, Seed and Plant Department....In those days Germain's handled pampas plumes which were then grown extensively here in Southern California. I represented the firm on this trip and sold over 40,000 of these dried plumes on London, Hamburg and Erfurt. (p. 191)

When I first came to California, what impressed me perhaps more then anything else was the wonderful native flora. But as the years went by it was with deep regret that I saw the wildflowers so rapidly disappearing from the landscape. I made up my mind that I would try to do something to awaken a greater interest in the native flora. Thus it was the a I began to specialize in the growing of wild flowers and native plants. I collected seed of a few kinds of wild flowers, grew then and offered the seed for sale.
Little or no success attended this first venture, it being generally conceded that it was foolish to waste time on "wild flowers." As a demonstration I secured the use of a vacant lot in Hollywood and sowed it with wild flower seeds. I went to Walter Raymond of the Raymond Hotel in Pasadena and asked him for the use of a piece of ground for sowing wild flower seeds. Mr Raymond readily consented and the following spring there was a splendid display. I also secured the use of two lots in Pasadena, one on Green Street and the other at the corner of Lake and Colorado, which I sowed with wild flower seeds. All these plots were greatly admired and I received complimentary letters from many people. This was really the beginning of wild flower planting.
My first wild flower catalog was a very modest little booklet published about 1906. (p.192-193)

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