On Friday, October 4, 2019, San Marcos Growers opened up its wholesale nursery gates to celebrate 40 years in horticulture. On this Field Day event, the first since 2010, the gardens throughout the nursery were seemingly shouting their own full-throated congratulations, with aloes firing off blooms like roman candles and fall-blooming grasses handling firework display duties for full sun.
What this nursery means to West Coast plant lovers looking for the best and most beautiful plants for summer-dry gardens is incalculable. The website alone is an invaluable public service. In the detailed entries tracing the complicated provenance and origins of SMG’S plant inventory you’ll find many of the names of those who were on hand for the celebration. SMG always emphasizes the community effort that goes into a great nursery; for example, throughout the day you’d overhear exchanges like Marcia Donahue admiring a certain plant, and Randy Baldwin, General Manager and President, responding, “You gave me that.” John Bleck was thanked for Agave shawii ‘Variegata,’ and Tom Cole’s Cold Spring Aloes was credited for Aloe lukeana, named after Tom’s deceased brother Luke. Fremontodendron ‘Dara’s Gold’ was named for horticulturalist Dara Emery, and on and on — the people and stories behind the plants are given as much emphasis as hardiness and growing conditions. In 40 years SMG has become a critical linchpin in the vibrant horticultural community it has helped grow and sustain, with its plants interwoven through all of our public and private gardens. And, fittingly, this 40-year anniversary Field Day was an unabashed lovefest.
The day-long celebration allowed for plenty of time to wander among the plant displays and take notes. Tours of the growing grounds were provided, and the Baldwin’s private garden was also open to tour. During a lunch of salads and sandwiches, Randy Baldwin talked about the nursery’s origins on land that was formerly an avocado grove and how episodic, serial droughts shaped the philosophy of the owners James and Marcia Hodges. Announcements included the arrival of another must-have Jeff Moore book, Spiny Succulents, and a great new program by Calscape that works with nurseries on promoting and marketing California natives was introduced by Kristen Wernick (see here for more information).
Some of the plants that caught my eye were Cheirolophus burchardii, brought to SMG’s attention by Annie’s Annuals (Annie Hayes’ ears must have been burning, because I heard a lot of love directed her way on the Field Day); a new selection of Pseudopanax lessonii called ‘Moa’s Toes’; Tulbaghia violacea ‘Edinburgh,’ a tall society garlic I first saw at the 2018 APLD plant fair brought by John Greenlee, when it was tentatively named ‘Big Violet,’ one of the new tulbaghias he’s trialing in his work with meadow plantings. I asked Randy about another new tulbaghia, ‘Cosmic,’ which stopped blooming for me in August, and he affirmed that it does not have as long a season of bloom as other tulbaghias. He also mentioned that Senecio candidans ‘Angel Wings’ reputedly does really well in Scotland — infer from that what you will for those of us in Southern California. Mine here in Los Angeles lasted all summer then dwindled and disappeared in September. (Check the link to learn why it’s correctly referred to as Senecio candidans, not candicans.) Another striking plant new to me on display was tall, slim, yellow-flowered Texas Shooting Star, Echeandia texensis. A cutting of Aloe pluridens was recently given to me, so it was nice to see a mature plant in the aloe displays. And I will mention for all the fans of Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ that it was still in furious bloom in the Baldwins’ own garden. Randy mentioned that after first seeing it all over Europe it was initially difficult to find here in the U.S. He planted it in the garden for the bronzy leaves and was surprised to find it bloomed nonstop on very little supplemental irrigation.
I’ll leave you with a few questions from the Attendee Questionnaire:
- Do you feel there is adequate promotion/marketing of new plants and landscaping ideas in California? If not how might it improve?
- How do you feel social media sites fit into the promotion of landscaping/gardening? How do you use them yourself and which platform do you prefer?
- How did California’s recent bout with the drought change the plants you purchase or landscape with?
- What plants would you like San Marcos Growers to grow that we aren’t currently growing?
*(edited 10/10/19 to add Randy Baldwin’s helpful clarification on the Hans Hansen mangaves from Walters Gardens: “The display plants were actually not for sale because these are our oldest plants of each variety and were sent to us 2 years ago as part of a trial – a couple varieties were actually discontinued after the trial and will never be sold. All of the newest Manfreda and x Mangave cultivars are those bred by Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Michigan (where these plants ALL have to be grown in a greenhouse in winter). We currently are growing and selling eleven of Hans’ plants and all but ‘Kaleidoscope’ we purchase directly from Walters Gardens as plugs to grow on. All of these plants are patented or have patents pending (PPAF). In our display we had a questionnaire asking Field Day attendees what their favorite varieties were so we could know which ones to add to future orders from Walters Gardens. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is actually the only Mangave cultivar that Walters Gardens has licensed us to self-propagate. This because it has not been stable in the tissue culture lab, so could not be massed produced by them and so was on the brink of being discontinued. Interestingly, in our initial trial evaluations, when we put all of these plants in 1 gallon pots in front of our sales office, we found that while some really liked this cultivar, others (myself included) initially thought it a bit gaudy. I may actually have passed on it if not for the fact that others really liked it and realizing it was going to be hard to find elsewhere. We received about 50 plants from Walters Gardens last year and have built this up to nearly 300 plants so far. We think it likely that will be able to release this plant for sale in 2020.”)