California Nursery Historical Park
this area is being updated
as new information is uncovered
California Nursery under
by Julie Cain, Historian
John Rock, a German immigrant born
Johann Fels, studied plants and horticulture from the
he was a young man. He moved from Germany to New York in 1852,
fought for the Union side in the American Civil War and came to
California in 1863. He may have worked for James Lick before
setting up his own nursery business in San Jose.
Rock initially worked on a 48-acre site,
then set up a nursery near Wayne Station just outside San Jose.
He was in business here for several years but soon ran out of
space, being situated on 138 acres. When landscape gardener
Rudolph Ulrich needed plants for the Leland Stanford estate in
Palo Alto, he purchased them at Rock's Nursery, sending an
assistant by train from Palo Alto to San Jose. Rock's Nursery
was one of the best-known in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Rock ultimately ran out of space. He and
a group of partners bought 463 acres in Niles, chosen
specifically for its climate, soil and availability of water.
They called the new company the California Nursery Company and
ran it as an experimental station for plants from back East and
around the world. Rock specialized in hybridizing plants and
produced hundreds of varieties for market. He worked closely
with Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa, who was president of the
Board of Directors of the California Nursery Company for a time.
The 1888 catalog offered 500 varieties of fruit trees, 700
different ornamental shrubs and 273 varieties of roses. If Rock
was not actually growing a particular plant, he would arrange to
purchase it from another nursery for the customer (a common
nursery practice at the time).
Rock's wife and child still lived in San
Jose while Rock took up residence in a house on the California
Nursery property. His test orchards included 55 varieties of
figs, 130 of apples, 85 of pears, 41 of apricots, 56 of
cherries, 20 of nectarines, 75 of peaches, 115 of plums, 16 of
prunes, 22 of almonds, 17 of chestnuts, 24 of walnuts, and many
other fruits. Rock also grew ornamental plants.
an 1888 Pacific Rural Press article about the nursery
business in California, the growing grounds, a group of workers
and the main entrance into the California Nursery were
prominently featured. If Rock's Nursery had been the best-known
in the Bay Area, the California Nursery Company became the
best-known in the state.
Here is a phorograph of workers taken in the early 1890s.
Before his death in 1904, Rock managed the nursery so
successfully it was worth $150,000, with 60 employees on a
$30,000 payroll. He had strong connections with other
horticulturalists throughout the state, was a member of
various horticultural-related associations and took part in
many flower shows, as well as fruit exhibitions. Rock had
introduced more new plants into the state than any other
nurseryman and his contributions to the state in terms of
fruit cultivation was unequalled.
1) "California Nursery Company," Pacific Rural Press
2) Duval, Charlene, " Historical Background of the
Vallejo Adobe on the Former California Nursery Property,"
cultural landscape report (30 May 1977),
California Nursery Company Legacy Council
(24 May 2010),
4) Kruckbeberg, Henry, George Christian
Roeding: A Tribute, Los Angeles: The California Association
of Nurserymen, 1930,
5) Taylor, Judith and Harry Morton
Butterfield, Tangible Memories: Californians and Their
, Xlibris Corporation, 2003
"The Nursery Business," Pacific Rural Press
1888). The 1889 map of the California Nursery Company
grounds was courtesy Mas Nakamura of Naka Nursery, Niles,
California Nursery (1904-1917)