Confessions of a ‘plantaholic’

Posted: September 15th, 2017 | Features, Profiles, Top Story | No Comments

By Ken Williams | Contributing Editor

Mission Hills gay couple builds a ‘sense of place’ with their garden

Jim Bishop calls himself a “plantaholic.” His friends will toast him — maybe even teasingly roast him — for that.

Over the past six years, Bishop has served as president of the San Diego Horticultural Society. He stepped down from that leadership position last month, following his talk about “My Life with Plants: Confessions of a Plantaholic” at the August meeting of the society.

Jim Bishop is proud of the garden he and his life partner Scott Borden have built at their Mission Hills home. (Courtesy of Jim Bishop)

The society’s mission is, “To inspire and educate the people of San Diego County to grow and enjoy plants, and to create beautiful, environmentally responsible gardens and landscapes.”Bishop and his life partner, Scott Borden, have lived in Mission Hills for almost 20 years. Their garden is such a thing of beauty, that it has been featured in local and national publications.

Bishop and his life partner, Scott Borden, have lived in Mission Hills for almost 20 years. Their garden is such a thing of beauty, that it has been featured in local and national publications.

Those interested in how Bishop and Borden created their wonderful garden from scratch starting in 1998, can find details in a dozen of his “My Life With Plants” columns on the society’s online newsletter, “Let’s Talk Plants!” found at

Here are five questions with Jim Bishop:

1. Last month marked your final meeting as president of the San Diego Horticultural Society (SDHS). How has the society evolved under your leadership, and what do you consider your legacy to be?

Indeed, [just finished] up my sixth year as president of the San Diego Horticultural Society. As I step down, I’m pleased that we have 1,100 members from all over San Diego County, and the organization is in good standing.

I know that with the dedication of incoming president Frank Mitzel, our board and volunteers, SDHS will continue to grow and educate San Diegans about environmentally responsible horticulture.

During my tenure, we’ve made the organization more efficient, including bringing the events and membership processes online and tied directly to our website

An individual membership has remained the same at $30, which is a great deal since non-member attendance at one of our monthly meetings is $15. We moved the meetings from Del Mar to the UTC area to increase participation from members and garden enthusiasts from central San Diego, East County and South Bay. Our new venue, Congregation Beth Israel, is wonderful. It’s comfortable, has great acoustics, is right off the freeway, and has easy, free parking.

We also have one of the largest and most successful annual tours featuring private gardens in a different area of San Diego each year. [I spoke] at our Monday, Aug. 14 meeting, sharing not only my experiences in creating gardens, but photos from the many, many places I’ve lived, as well as adventures with my partner, Scott Borden, traveling to horticultural sites around the globe.

2. Who or what inspired you to what has been called your lifelong “addiction and obsession” with plants?

My mother gardened as time allowed, while raising three boys and moving every couple of years. She liked unusual plants, which is probably why I’m fascinated with exotic plants. With dad being transferred to a new place every couple of years, I was exposed to many different plants, climates and environments.

Though I’ve lived in California for 35 years, I’ve also lived in South Florida, Texas and the Midwest. We went on annual family road trips visiting many national parks, so I developed an appreciation for nature and natural environments. I enjoy creating garden spaces and watching plants grow, thrive, and change with the seasons.

3. The home garden you maintain with your life partner Scott Borden has been featured in local and national magazines. What was the idea behind the garden, how has it changed over the years, and do you guys have plans to shake things up in the future? 

(l to r) Borden and Bishop have travelled all over the world in search of horticulture gardens. These days you may find them at Uptown Tavern, where Borden is co-proprietor. (Courtesy of Jim Bishop)

For our garden, which we created and have tended for almost 20 years, we wanted to create a sense of place. We have an historic, Spanish-style home, so we wanted to play off of the architecture, incorporating water-wise plants including succulents, agaves and aloes, as well as plants of Australia, South Africa, and of course, California natives.

Currently, we are restoring the bottom slope of our property to be mostly California native plants, especially locally native ones. Our garden is on a steep, north-facing slope, and there’s a 100-foot elevation change from the top to the bottom. Because we’re next to wild areas, we try to grow what the animals won’t eat; keeping the gophers out is a constant battle. To conserve water, a few years ago, we installed 2,000 gallons of water storage and we are still using water we collected from last season’s rains.

4. What advice would you give to amateur gardeners in the Uptown and Mid-City areas?

 Join the San Diego Horticultural Society! At our monthly meetings, we showcase experts in the field, and their presentations are always insightful and inspiring.

The garden societies in Balboa Park are another great community resource for gardeners. As you try to decide what you want to grow, find a garden you like and copy it. It’s totally fine to copy what someone else does because it will look different in your yard, it won’t look exactly the same. Find plants that are easy to grow and maintain, and that are appropriate for your space.

Get inspiration by going on local garden tours and visiting our local botanical gardens. Of course Balboa Park is wonderful, but also visit the San Diego Botanic Garden, Water Conservation Garden and San Diego Zoo for ideas. The San Diego Horticultural Society’s newsletter site,, has links to years of informative articles, including the 60 I’ve written for the column “My Life with Plants.”

5. What do you like about living in Mission Hills?

The location is so convenient and close to everything. It’s also private, quiet, and laidback, and we like the sea breeze that comes up the canyon. Also, there are restaurants and shopping nearby, and the airport is just minutes away. We enjoy the Mission Hills Garden Club, and I co-chaired their garden tour for four years. Our garden might be on next year’s tour. We often go to restaurants in Uptown and Hillcrest, and will be doing so even more now because Scott, is now co-proprietor of Uptown Tavern. Maybe you’ll catch me there and we can talk about plants.

 —Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at or at 619-961-1952.

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