When it comes to the commercial growing of cacti and succulents, Tom Jesch is known as a pioneer. It all began at Hines Wholesale Nursery as a manager back in 1973 where Tom developed an entire product line at age seventeen, years before any others began even taking notice.
In 1997 – after having experience in the industry, both as a sole proprietor, as well as in management at some of the largest California nurseries – Tom and his wife Jackie were well positioned to finally start a nursery of scale, of their own.
The couple located a site in Bonsall, California (just north of San Diego) on an old, decomposed granite and sand pit that ran the entire property. Tom asked the owner if they could rent an acre for $100. The answer came back in the form of a handshake, and “it’s a deal.” With that their nursery location was born.
Daylilies were the main specialty at the time, and acres in color waves of them were planted, crossing the property like tulip fields in Holland. And they were popular. Within a year or so, the husband-and-wife team had convinced the farm owner to rent them an additional 15 acres, developing the wholesale nursery that was then called “Daylily Hill.”
“We found a niche and a good market for our plants. And that led us to start diversifying with other varieties,” said Tom. “Starting my career in cactus and succulents, we were growing those as well. But, other than shipping them to Arizona, they really weren’t very popular in California until Debra Lee Baldwin’s first book, ‘Designing with Succulents,’ was published in 2007. That book, a showcase for growing succulents in southern and coastal California, really drove interest in making California succulents popular.”
Today, the company has a self-sufficient farm just shy of 20 acres. Roughly 90 or more varieties they grow are unique in the industry — either developed at the farm or re-introduced from antiquity or obscurity. Now their plant palette is full-range- from cacti and succulents to perennials, ornamental grasses, and shrubs. It even does its own soil manufacturing on-site.
Employing 40 workers, the company sells plants to independent nurseries and landscape contractors. In about 2010, Tom and Jackie sold the operation to the Altman family, who are also the owners of Altman Plants, Inc. The Altman family retained Tom and he has stayed on managing the developed nursery. Because of the times (drought) and because of the broad range of plant materials they now represented, the name of the nursery was changed to “Waterwise Botanicals.” Just a couple of years later, the operation went from wholesale exclusively, to being open to the public for walk-in and retail sales. It’s now established as a popular destination for customers and families from all over southern California and beyond. It’s not just a nursery anymore, but a real attraction — with 1.5 acres of demonstration gardens, ponds with fish, frogs and turtles; greenhouses and shade houses and attractions.
A successful commercial nursery operation can’t exist without trucks and delivery. Tom and Jackie operated a bob-tail and semi-tractor, but that experience had its drawbacks and trials. When Altman purchased the company, the decision was made to go to leasing, an option far more manageable in the California business climate.
“In 2010, we started leasing trucks from PacLease, and it’s been a great relationship,” said Tom. “The local PacLease franchise is a standup company, and they take care of us. Our PacLease rep has provided great support for us, and he keeps his word.”
Waterwise leases a Kenworth T380 for local deliveries and a Kenworth T680 Next Gen with 76-inch sleeper for longer deliveries up the coast to San Francisco and into Arizona and Las Vegas. Those trips are up to three days, with between eight and 12 drops. The company rents additional trucks on the short term, during busy seasons, and rents reefer trailers for the long-haul trucks.
Since specialty plants – especially succulents – are temperamental, PacLease worked with Waterwise and the body builder to design a 26-foot box trailer for the T380 to provide ventilation. “Stagnant air can destroy certain succulent plants in just 45 minutes,” explained Tom. “Transporting our plants is a challenge unto itself. But, working together we designed a custom body with scoop ventilation in the front of the body and exhaust vents in the back. It also has a liftgate. It’s been working great. It also shows how PacLease works with us to customize trucks – we can’t lease off-the-shelf equipment.”
The Kenworth T380, spec’d with a PACCAR PX-9 engine rated at 300 hp, utilizes the PACCAR TX-8 automatic transmission. According to Tom, the truck covers about a 100-mile radius around the Bonsall area. Each delivery heads out in the morning and typically makes three or four customer drops before heading back to the farm.
The T680 is spec’d with the PACCAR MX-13 engine, rated at 455 hp and is equipped with the PACCAR TX-12 automated transmission. It features the Diamond interior package to give added comfort for drivers.
“Our drivers do like the Kenworths, and they’re getting great fuel mileage,” said Tom. “They’re comfortable and reliable and PacLease does a great job with maintenance. And, if there ever is a case where a truck is down for more than a day, they supply us with a substitute vehicle.”
All told, Tom said everything is running smoothly with its business and deliveries. “We’re pretty passionate about what we do,” he concluded. “We have a great niche with the plants we grow, and we have a great following. It’s nice to work with a company, PacLease, that is as passionate about customer service – it’s why everything is working so well.”