June 17, 2024


Amazing design, nonpareil

Canadians inspired by protea garden to make Ramona their home


The 26-acre property Daniel MacDonald and Stephen Leonard call home is on the northwestern slope of Mt. Woodson overlooking Lake Poway and the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve.

On a clear day they have unobstructed views to the ocean.

But it wasn’t just the stunning view that prompted the two Canadians to move from Toronto to settle in Ramona. They were also drawn by an exotic garden planted with 5 acres of proteas, which are brilliantly colored flowers with unusual shapes and textures.

In the early 2000s, the partners were looking for a vacation home in an area with a warm climate where they could be “snowbirds” in the winter months, MacDonald said. During their search, they visited Florida, Texas and Arizona but none of them had what they were looking for — a property surrounded by nature, plenty of land and access to the mountains and ocean.

Daniel MacDonald and Stephen Leonard grow a variety of Proteas on their property on the northwestern slope of Mt. Woodson.

Daniel MacDonald and Stephen Leonard are growing a variety of Proteas on their property located on the northwestern slope of Mt. Woodson.

(Courtesy Daniel MacDonald)

When MacDonald was attending a conference in Rancho Bernardo for his job as a portfolio manager at a public pension plan in 2005, he called Leonard and asked whether they’d consider Southern California for their second home. MacDonald had never been to San Diego County before and Leonard had only been there once before, so they gave it some thought.

“In 2005 real estate was crazy expensive so we started our search after that,” said MacDonald, who earlier had done a presentation on proteas for the Ramona Garden Club). “We first visited Ramona in 2007. We were looking for property in San Diego County with acreage.”

A real estate agent took MacDonald and Leonard on tours of area properties and the partners also drove around looking on their own. They found 15 acres near Lake Sutherland that suited them, but three months after they purchased the open land the October 2007 Witch Creek fire went through and burned a lot of the trees, MacDonald said.

“In 2008 and 2009 we built a small house that was supposed to be our winter place as snowbirds,” MacDonald said. “We were going back and forth.”

Then in April 2009, MacDonald and Leonard saw an announcement about the Ramona Garden Club’s annual garden tour in the Ramona Sentinel and decided to go. They were awestruck by 5 acres of proteas on the property of Joann Cruz on the self-guided tour.

“I thought, there’s no way these can grow on planet Earth,” MacDonald said. “I thought they were so beautiful. It was really within 15 months after that that we saw the property for sale and jumped on it.”

Instead of coming to Ramona as snowbirds, the two decided to stay. Aside from the garden, the property had a Southwestern-style house with a wraparound deck, and a couple of water features in a secluded location. In 2016 they got their green cards to live in the United States full time.

While continuing to work in their fields, MacDonald as a consultant in the investment field and Leonard as a residential property manager in San Diego, they grow protea, Leucospermum (pincushions), Leucadendron (cone bushes), Banksia, Grevillea and other African and Australian native plants for the cut flower industry.

Their flowers are cut on and off throughout the year by the international wholesaler Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers, based in Rainbow near Fallbrook.

“The flowers are in such high demand and they have longevity in floral arrangements,” MacDonald said. “They ship well and last long.”

Proteas make beautiful, long-lasting floral arrangements.

Proteas make beautiful, long-lasting floral arrangements.

(Courtesy Daniel MacDonald)

MacDonald and Leonard also propagate by cuttings and seeds and offer a small selection of protea and Australian native plants for sale at their home-based Mt. Woodson Flora business. Later this year, they plan to sell plants, cut flowers and seeds through the Etsy online store.

The Ramona Garden Club asked MacDonald to give a presentation on protea at the May 11 meeting, held at Mountain View Community Church. During his slideshow of colorful flowers in the Proteaceae family, he gave tips for growing them. Among those highlights were Banksias and Grevilleas.

Most species of Banksias are from Southwestern Australia and can range from groundcovers to manageable large bushes to trees. They require well-drained soils, full sun, good air circulation and low humidity, he said. Although they are not drought-tolerant, they don’t require a lot of water, especially in the winter months. Different species flower throughout the year and attract hummingbirds and bees.

Like the Banksias, most species of the Grevilleas are from Southwestern Australia and can range from groundcovers to small bushes to trees. Grevilleas are low maintenance and produce colorful, spiderlike or toothbrush-shaped flowers.

Southern and central California areas are among only 3 percent of the world that has a climate where proteas can grow and thrive, MacDonald said. Other areas are Chile in South America, Southwest Australia, the Cape region in southwest South Africa, and the Mediterranean.

In addition to Mt. Woodson Flora, proteas can be purchased at Gnosis Nursery and Farmstand 67 in Ramona, at Walter Andersen’s Nursery in Poway or online at eBay or Etsy.

For more information, MacDonald recommends the books “A Guide to Cultivated Species and Varieties of Protea,” by Lewis Matthews, and “Proteas of the World,” by Lewis Matthews with illustrations by Zoe Carter.

To purchase proteas from MacDonald and Leonard by appointment, call 760-315-2260 or email them at [email protected].


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