Often the new plants gardeners stumble upon each year at our nurseries, feed stores and big boxes are happy accidents. We see, we lust, we buy. But what most don’t realize is the incredible journey that the plant made in order to have the opportunity to hypnotize us – or the other plants it had to beat out to get there.
This week, Scott Beuerlein and I are going to witness an important part of that journey. We’re packing parkas and hand warmers, shelving our differences, grabbing a referee in the form of Digging In Gathering founder Andrea Gasper, and braving the currently tumultuous weather of California to experience The California Spring Trials (aka CAST). It’s my second time at the trials, and Scott and Andrea’s first.
Though we’re a little bitter we’re having to shelve the open toed sandals this year, we’re very excited. And we’re hoping to sneak in a little superbloom – even if it’s on the side of the road at a truck stop off the Grapevine while munching Doritos.
What is The California Spring Trials anyway?
CAST is a massive coordinated effort between breeders, distributors, media outlets and other horticultural industry worker bees to introduce new plants and products to the industry over one short week at the end of March and beginning of April. It’s not one place, it’s not one company. It’s like a progressive dinner party at nine stops over the course of four days and annual flowers are the main course.
Up and down the coast of California, greenhouses fling open their doors, exciting venues are rented, and thousands of critical eyes are focused to view the best and brightest. Many of these plants are making their screen debut after years of intensive breeding in research fields and greenhouses all over the world, and will be available to consumers in 2024.
In 2018, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the event as one of six National Gardening Bureau PlantNerds that year. I have fond memories, made lasting friendships, and learned an incredible amount. I also had the joy of sharing my home state at her very best – the technicolor miracle of spring unfolding in coastal California is the reason why Oprah and Meghan live there, and why my husband and I can no longer afford to. It really is a special place.
The 2024 CAST Road Trip Crew
Scott was due to go on that trip in 2020, but COVID had other plans, which is convenient for me as that leaves me as chief know-it-all, which is a comfortable place generally and a great fallback position during arguments. Unfortunately however, he used his star-power and general affability to make all the appointments, which means I could be left on the side of the road at any point trying to hitch a ride back up to my mother’s house in Tuolumne County.
Our referee is Andrea Gasper, who is also originally from California, but lives in cold and snowy Michigan. There she started a very successful container gardening business and founded the nationwide network of professional container gardeners, Digging In Gathering.
She and I met as arranged roomates on a Carex Tour of Normandy gardens in 2018, and fiercely hit it off – you can’t have a better travel companion than Andrea (sorry Scott) – as her life mantra is “It’s good to do things that are hard.”
This is a mantra she uses to help her jump out of planes when her niece needs a partner crazy enough to do it, or order the weirdest thing on the menu with me in Rouen, or indeed start a new travel company of her own – Inspired Escapes. She’ll be joining us by way of a travel conference in Budapest where she’s been plotting our next garden travel adventure.
Why are we going, and what does it matter?
Believe it or not, Scott actually has a real job at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, where they use thousands of incredible annual plants to create displays for people who insist on coming to look at the animals. Though perennial plants have in recent years had a bigger presence at CAST, annual bedding and container plants are the star attraction, from Profusion Zinnia cultivars to the latest Wave Petunia. Scott will no doubt be stealing all their ideas and passing them off as his own.
As a professional container gardener and native Californian, Andrea has wanted to attend CAST for many years, and is thrilled to finally make it happen – even if it has to be in a car with Scott and me. Though she is slowly transitioning to garden travel, her love of container planting and her continuing work with Digging In Gathering allows her to share the newest and bluest (or pinkest) cultivars with a nationwide network of professionals. She’s excited to see what will be hitting the market in 2024.
As for me – I have to admit I’m looking for what’s new on the tropical and subtropical front for the home gardener. By the looks of the tradeshows so far this year, ‘outdoor’ tropicals are still surging in popularity – especially as people begin to use their favorite houseplants outside – and I have no doubt that I’ll see some exciting new begonias, cannas, crossandras, mandevillas, crotons, papyrus, philodendron, etc.. cultivars on display. I’m particularly excited to see what Dummen Orange has to offer on the tuberous begonia front, as it is always swoon-worthy. I’ll leave the petunias to Scott.
Scott will no doubt be oversharing on Facebook to anyone who will listen to him or send him a friend request, and I’ll take up the story on Instagram @marianne.willburn. If I have the patience, I’ll show him how to post to stories on IG @scottbeuerlein – there’s no way I’m teaching him reels.
California here we come. Hope you’ll keep up with us!