At California Spring Trials (CAST), I saw new shrubs, new perennials, and new annuals. I smiled as breeders spun yarns about their newest varieties and as brokers listened, nodding sagely, while wondering how they would ever sell such a thing. I noticed excitement, confidence, and incredulity.
I heard Sim McMurry, a California trials veteran, without embarrassment or apology, say, “I am always so excited being here. I never get tired or bored of seeing so many people be so excited.”
New never gets old for Sim.
And I heard my colleague Janeen Wright, who was attending her first spring trials, say, “I think I learned more about plants in one week than I did in four years of college.”
We need to always be pumped up by what we do and understand that excitement is contagious, as is lethargy.
As I made my way up the California coast, here are three things that were made abundantly clear to me
1. New Plants Will Never Stop Coming
“New” is our lifeline. We had better understand that newness is the horse under our saddle. If it stops moving, so do we.
Congratulations to all the breeders and staff who put such a show on. While we might catch ourselves saying “so what” about a new plant, it is essential to remember that new is an absolute necessity.
Let us all encourage curiosity, encourage risk, encourage gardenscaping, and always encourage new ideas from young people.
2. At Spring Trials, There Was A Dearth Of Young People
I suppose this is to be expected. Students are in school, and workers are working (Is there any worse month for having CAST than April?). However, I see the same lack of young people at trade shows and at lectures. At CAST, I talked to other horticulture professors concerned about the fall-off of horticulture majors.
We have always had a tough time recruiting people, but I don’t recall such a rapid and deep decline in young talent for some time. Just as I believe that without new plants we will do poorly, I know that without new people, we will die.
I can’t do anything about getting a student to attend a two- or four-year hort school, but I can do a little bit to inspire and encourage them. In that light, I have asked Greenhouse Grower magazine to work with me to support The Allan Armitage Spring Trials Scholarship. I want a young person to be as inspired as Sim and learn as much as Janeen every year. I want that student to come back so pumped up they are ready to take on the world.
I will do this by providing a chunk of money, being their mentor at CAST, and introducing them to the excitement and people responsible for making this such an exceptional industry. I hope everyone will support us on this.
3. Where Are The Emperor’s New Clothes?
While I can go on about the wonders and positives about what we do, I also see the warts. One of the biggest warts is only getting worse and is rather like the Emperor With No Clothes. As we all talk about the great new plants, as we look at last year’s intros and anticipate next year’s, the reality is that most of these new plants are almost impossible to find at retail outlets.
We parade our new plants like the Emperor’s fine clothes, but to most consumers, we are not wearing anything. Nothing gets to the consumer — certainly not with the plant names we are all seeing at the trials. I have asked and whined about the fact that the extraordinary wares we see in California never reach retail. I am tired of excuses.
If I hear one more broker saying they are too busy to learn about the new because the old sells well enough, I will go mad. If I have one more retailer tell me that consumers don’t care about the label and a 4-inch annual is just fine, I will stay in bed. If I hear one more retailer tell me they are too busy to get the newest varieties and display them well, I may spew my dinner. Enough! Everyone is busy! That is not a reason, but a lousy excuse.
I know it will likely not get better, but we must try. This is an industry-wide problem, and while I feel I am spitting in the wind, I will continue to do so. I do not know where the bottleneck occurs, from the grower, the broker, or the retailer, but I do know the best things I have seen over the last five years at CAST have barely trickled down to the consumer.
Let’s try to do better.