How to describe my experience last week (March 28th – April 2nd) touring the California Spring Trials (CAST) for the first time with friend and co-hort, garden writer Marianne Willburn and her (now our) friend, Andrea Gasper? Maybe it was big. Yes, it was very big.
Thousands of miles traveling by air, 624 miles by car winding down California from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Ten tour stops in four days. About 35 plant breeding and marketing companies. Throw in two botanical gardens, scenery out the wazoo, a Dodgers game in a luxury box, my first Thai curry, and, my first In & Out burgers, and damn right it was big. It was huge!
Of course, as a plant nerd, I was eager to see the plants but one of my ulterior motives was to better understand how the annuals business is structured. I’ve been involved in annuals trialing for twelve years and, frankly, I have been and might still be (but to a lesser extent) ignorant of who all the players are and how the pieces fit together.
The condensed version as I now know it? It is a big, byzantine world. There are a handful of huge, worldwide corporations and then a bunch of smaller companies. All are competing for their piece of a finite pie through better breeding and better marketing. But, to hedge their bets, there is also a lot of jockeying for partnerships and licensing deals between them. Caught in the gravity of all this are all the known Universe’s brokerage companies, garden centers, big box stores, and more. It seems messy, but the end result, honestly, is a surprisingly wide assortment of some of the most breathtakingly beautiful plants in the world, all of which are destined to brighten the lives of people all over the globe.
It’s amazing it all somehow works. This industry offers a very perishable product. A product that is aimed at the moving target of public taste. A product that can take a decade or more to breed, produce, and introduce. And, ultimately, a product that is, for many end users, an impulse purchase using discretionary funds. But the industry has been around a long, long time. Uninterrupted really. Impulse buys and discretionary spending, I suppose, but people seem to really want and need beautiful plants in their lives.
See Marianne’s first blog on CAST here.