California Nursery Historical Park
this area is being updated as new information is uncovered

California Nursery under John Rock
by Julie Cain, Historian

Johannes (John) Rock, a German immigrant, studied plants and horticulture from the time 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 worked for James Lick before setting up his own nursery business in San Jose in 1865.

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.

In 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 (27 Nov 1886),
2) Duval, Charlene, " Historical Background of the Vallejo Adobe on the Former California Nursery Property," cultural landscape report (30 May 1977),
3) 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 Gardens, 1800-1950., Xlibris Corporation, 2003
6) "The Nursery Business," Pacific Rural Press (14 Apr 1888).
The 1889 map of the California Nursery Company grounds was courtesy Mas Nakamura of Naka Nursery, Niles, CA.

California Nursery (1904-1917)



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