I came close to dancing when I received the news about my selection as the first recipient of the Dr. Allan Armitage Scholarship to attend the 2017 California Spring Trials (CAST). How could I not be excited? Not only was I going to gain experience with an industry of people who are the best of the best, but I was also going to hang out with Dr. Armitage himself. It was only two quarters ago that a professor required me to have Dr. A’s third edition of Herbaceous Perennial Plants for one of my courses at Oregon State University. Now I was going to travel with the man who has made some of the most reputable contributions to horticulture in the nation.
Being a small-scale grower at Spokane Community College (SCC) in Washington State, I had heard of CAST but never really knew the details. I immediately jumped onto YouTube to catch up with what I was about to be a part of. It’s easy to find videos of Dr. Armitage ranting and raving about the newest introductions. I could only anticipate feeling the same type of excitement that he experienced.
Landing in San Jose to meet the Greenhouse Grower crew created just as much excitement as the trials themselves. Editor Laura Drotleff, Managing Editor Janeen Wright, and Dr. Armitage were all there to greet me in sunny California. I was arriving from the Pacific Northwest, which still had areas of snow; California, not so much. It surprised me to see beautiful green landscapes filled with landscape material that I classify as houseplants. The trials had not even started and there was so much to take in already. It wasn’t until the next morning that I would realize what I had gotten myself into.
So I dove into the deep end, writing my thoughts at the end of each day. I tagged along with the veterans. I wandered through hundreds upon hundreds of plants. I met new people. When it came to the plant material, I saw some of what I was expecting. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a plant snob, but I do not get too riled up over petunias, impatiens, and pansies (unless they are very unusual). You might say I’m seasoned. I saw my fair share of such genre, plus all the others that we call the bread and butter of our industry. Yes, I enjoy growing all of these for a living; however, I still need my fix of new genera. I worried that I may come off as being bored. I did see plenty of improvements in the plants considered the common staples that we find on our benches. In fact, I hope to share some of those with gardeners in my hometown.
Spring Trials Unlocked a World of Possibilities
Over the course of five days attending the trials, I had the opportunity to analyze not only the industry, but also my own career. I am a grower, plain and simple. I look at plants differently than gardeners do. I love to see the progression of success through production. I love the art of plant growth regulators and knowing when to pinch. I went home realizing that the students enrolled in our Greenhouse Management program at SCC and students studying elsewhere need to experience the trials. Attending allowed me to see the forest for the trees, and opened doors of opportunity. I was introduced to plenty of companies that are looking to hire ambitious students with drive and passion. Having the ability to network is key to climbing the ladder. I look forward to keeping in touch with many of the people I met along the way.
As far as being a horticulturist, there’s no better opportunity than getting to hang out with Dr. Allan Armitage. I have learned many things from him out of books, but hearing it directly from him, outside of a classroom setting, was the opportunity of a lifetime. I wish more people were as honest as Dr. A. He cuts to the chase when it comes to plant performance. He also adds interest when it comes to telling a story. There are some things that I think only he could get away with at the trials. He makes gardening and plant selection look cool. I look up to him even more now that I have traveled with him. I will continue to study and grow new introductions year after year, and I will remember my trip to the 2017 California Spring Trials for a lifetime.
Thank you to Kemin Crop Technologies for its support of the 2017 Dr. Allan Armitage California Spring Trials Scholarship.