Is It Time to Centralize California Spring Trials?

Impatiens heart design at Ball Horticultural

While there’s a lot to love about California Spring Trials, it might be time to change things up a bit. Photo by Robin Siktberg

I hear a lot of stories at California Spring Trials (CAST). Stories about the new plants and how they came to be, and stories of the people behind the plants. Every year the stories change, shaped by new introductions, big reveals, and industry gossip — after all, that’s what makes attending the event so exciting. This year, I noticed the story of CAST itself is changing. It’s a discussion that’s long overdue.

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More breeders this year opted to stay open a day less. Cost and lack of traffic were cited as two of the primary justifications. I can only imagine the time and expense that go into setting up for the event and staffing it, and breeders who participated in The Home Depot trials went to even more expense. Additionally, as attendees generally start their trip at the south end of the trials and travel north, or vice versa, visitors can be few and far between depending on the location of a given trial. But here’s the big problem — logistics.

Our team had to hustle to visit all 15 stops, despite two breeders graciously allowing us to visit a day early. If this trend continues, visiting all the stops will be more difficult, which might force attendees to choose what stops they’ll have to skip for the year.

And was it just me, or was there a noticeable lack of growers this year? The north to south route our team traveled may have accounted for that if most of the growers started at the other end and we missed them, but I think there are a couple more pertinent reasons. First, the time of year stinks. It couldn’t come at a worse time than during the busy spring shipping season. Second, The Home Depot held its own trials this year prior to CAST. I’m sure growers who attended didn’t feel the need to make the trip twice, and I’m betting the other big boxes will soon follow suit.

As much as I enjoy traveling up and down the California coast seeing new plants, maybe it’s time to centralize CAST and think more realistically about the timing of it, thus reducing travel time, days spent away from operations, and expenses for attendees and breeders. The introductions of new plants also seem to have slowed down, and breeders are simplifying their displays to focus on the new intros that really matter. If this trend continues, it might make sense to congregate at one location that can accommodate everyone.

Don’t get me wrong. I love California Spring Trials. I love the plants, the passion, the excitement, and the people who make it the event we know and love. But at a time in our industry when profit margins and labor are tight and many are looking to cut costs wherever they can, maybe the prudent course is to rethink the direction of CAST.

Sound-Off
What differences did you notice at CAST this year? Do you think it’s time to change up the event? What do you suggest? Submit your thoughts, rants, and ideas in the comment section below or email them to me at [email protected].