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Bill Teague's Legacy

Reprinted from Quail Tracks, Volume 22, No. 2, April/May/June 2011
by Dave Ehrlinger, Director of Horticulture

Bill Teague's Legacy


Last fall, our colleague and dear friend, Bill Teague, passed away.

We miss Bill—his warmth, generosity, and friendly smile. To all who knew him, Bill was one of the nicest, warmest people you could ever meet. Always helpful and encouraging, he inspired everyone around him.

A tall, “gentle giant,” Bill was kind and mild-mannered, but passionate about plants, their aesthetic qualities, how to use them in gardens, and how to grow them. For many of us, he was a sort of Star Wars-like “Yoda” of the Garden—a mentor to the horticulture staff and many of its docents and volunteers, and to the San Diego horticulture community in general.

Bill grew up in a horticultural family and was the grandson of pioneering citrus growers. He graduated from California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. For many years, he grew proteas, eucalyptus, and other plants for the cut flower markets. Later, he found his calling in landscape design and was involved in dozens of residential and civic landscape projects.

Bill was a founder of the American Bamboo Society and in 1980, he traveled to Costa Rica to acquire a number of bamboo species. Later, at the Garden, he worked with architect and artist James Hubbell to install Hubbell’s fountain and stream by the Bamboo Pond as well as bamboo plantings.

In 2001, Bill became a part-time horticulture staff member at the Garden. His first projects were the stream and pond by the Visitor Center and later the dry stream in the Australian Garden. The Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden came next in 2003. Here he devoted months of time and energy planting, building bamboo structures, installing fountains, benches, green roofs, and garden features.

The Undersea Succulent Garden became one of Bill’s favorites. Inspired by Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents, Bill collaborated with Jeff in creating a simulated marine coral reef composed of volcanic rock and dozens of succulents and other quirky flora, all with a maritime flavor.

Later, Bill moved into the central core areas of the Garden adding to, developing, and accentuating existing plantings. These gardens included the Walled Garden, Herb Garden, Lawn Garden, and Mediterranean Garden. The Succulent Display Garden, the Overlook Succulent Garden, and the African Garden were his last projects. In all of these gardens, he worked with a variety of staff members and docents, inspiring, sharing, tutoring, mentoring, and befriending.

Bill readily shared his design techniques to create landscape interest and drama. A key principle was changing elevations, especially through building mounds of soil to showcase plants and large boulders. These boulders were often quite interesting geologically and gave solidity, permanence, and strength to his landscapes. His plant selections were often the “new and trendy” together with great “old tried and true” plants. His favorites provided color year-round—he was fond of saying, “Color is the name of the game.”

Some of his favorites were: Alstroemeria ‘Casablanca,’ Arbutus ‘Marina,’ heartleaf geranium (Pelargonium cordifolium), Texas olive (Cordia boissieri), Cordyline ‘Electric Pink’, island bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida var. harfordii), elephant’s foot trees (Beaucarnea species), sweet pea shrub (Polygala x dalmaisiana) and milkwort (P. virgata), Salvia ‘Indigo Spires,’ Geranium ‘Jolly Bee,’ Ceanothus ‘Cliff Schmidt,’ Tibetan princess bamboo (Himalayacalamus asper), and bulbs like Babiana and Nerine. Since doing the Undersea Garden Bill expanded his interests in succulents, especially ones with few to no spines including the everblooming little pickles (Othona capensis), bulbine (Bulbine frutescens), pearl bluebush (Maireana sedifolia), aloes, and a variety of aeoniums including ‘Kiwi,’ ‘Zwartkop,’ ‘Sunburst,’ and Aeonium urbicum.

Bill was a longtime board member of the San Diego Horticultural Society, active in monthly meetings and a key player over the years in the spring and fall Home and Garden Shows and the displays at the San Diego County Fair. In addition, Bill was the inspirational leader in the Garden’s own annual display at the Fair, working for weeks with docents and volunteers to create award-winning displays.

This gentle giant made a lasting impression on the lives of many and an impact on the Garden that will be enjoyed by the multitudes who will visit in years to come.

Photos: Rachel Cobb and Sally Sandle

Bill Teague's Legacy

Banner Photo: Rachel Cobb





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