Scarcely a day goes by at San Diego Botanic Garden without someone mentioning Bill Teague. Bill was a plantsman and a designer, and he brought many things to San Diego Botanic Garden, but chief among them was aesthetics. In later life, Bill said, “I just want to make the world a more beautiful place,” and that’s precisely what he did. With his tremendous plant knowledge and eye for design, he succeeded in making the Garden beautiful as well as botanical. And his influence extended well beyond this Garden into his community and into the horticultural world of North San Diego County.
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 here at the Gardens, he was a sort of Star Wars “Yoda” of the Garden—a Zen-like mentor to the horticulture staff and many of its docents and volunteers, and to the San Diego horticulture community in general.
And he did this with his trademark warmth, generosity, and friendly smile. To all who knew him, Bill was one of the nicest, warmest people you could ever meet. He was not just loved, he was “beloved.” Always helpful and encouraging, he inspired everyone around him.
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.
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 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 Overlook Succulent Garden, the African Garden and the Succulent Display Garden were his last projects. In all of these areas, 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 year-round color, and he was fond of saying, “Color is the name of the game.”
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.
He was known to get up with the rising sun and in the early morning light and go to public places in Del Mar, his home town, to plant flowers and perennials. His improvements are visible throughout Del Mar and on Jimmy Durante Boulevard, leading to the County Fairgrounds. He also consulted on and improved many people’s home and private gardens, and said he “would almost like to pay people to let him consult with them on their gardens.”
Sadly, Bill Teague passed away in 2010 from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In his last months, from his wheelchair, he continued to oversee significant designs here. This gentle giant made a lasting impression on the lives of many and an impact at San Diego Botanic Garden that will be enjoyed by the multitudes who visit in years to come.
Banner Photo: Rachel Cobb