Didn’t you love class field trips when you were a kid? I know I sure did! Anything to get out of the classroom and outside to see some cool things.
This hasn’t really changed much now that many of us are trapped inside offices. It’s the same clock ticking down as you try to focus when there are so many more interesting things going on outside. It even happens at Good Earth Plant Company once in a while. We forget to take time to get out and get a fresh perspective.
So our design and buying team of Rachel Hecathorn and Cassidy Braddy and I took a field trip recently to two of our favorite commercial nurseries in the North Inland area of San Diego County. We had several objectives: to see in person the people on the other end of the phone, see their operation, talk about expanding our relationship and look for additional opportunities. Plus the added bonus of seeing their new plant varieties and be inspired with new ideas for our plant-loving clients.
First, we visited Olive Hill Nursery in Fallbrook and Denise Godfrey (daughter of founder Tony Godfrey) and her husband Will. Denise is on the Green Plants for Green Buildings Board of Directors with me so I typically see her twice a year. Before connecting with Denise and Will they had their salesperson Terry take us on a tour of multiple greenhouses covering I swear several miles. It had been a long time since I was last there and they have grown a lot! Pun intended. Olive Hill specializes in bromeliads, anthuriums, ferns, aglaonema and much more – all in 4”, 6” and 8” pots.
Next, we headed to San Marcos for a visit to West Coast Nurseries with longtime friend Brad Semino. It really made my day when we walked into Brad’s office – and there were some photos posted on the wall including one of the two of us on our way out on a fishing boat trip with friends Paul Needleman and Bill Meade 20 years ago – and a dozen other plant people. Paul sponsored a two-day boat annually for his clients and guests.
Running a nursery is not easy. The San Marcos greenhouse focuses on larger plants – typically 10” pots or larger (with a healthy selection of 6” and 8” green plants). They use various sensors to operate automated systems, including opening and closing exterior walls (to control natural airflow); irrigating certain plants on a programmed schedule; opening and closing interior ‘shade’ covers; providing heat to programmed bench areas to keep roots warm to maximize growth; turning on/off large ceiling ventilation fans to circulate or remove air from the greenhouse; providing ‘misting’ to reduce temperatures, etc. You need more than a green thumb these days. You need to be a tech geek too!
The automation is wonderful, but growing quality plants still requires a true love of plants. West Coast Nurseries imports many of its tropical plants from Hawaii. They are wrapped in protective paper and loaded onto pallets, then placed in containers on cargo ships from Hilo for direct delivery to San Diego or into Long Beach. For this reason, I must visit Hawaii frequently to tour their operation there.
When the containers arrive and clear customs, the plants are put in a quarantine area in the San Marcos greenhouse. The overly strict California Department of Agriculture inspects all newly arriving plants in order to stop pests entering California. The same protocol goes for plants coming in from Florida, without the long ocean cruise. Thank God for West Coast being able to carry some large indoor trees
One of the challenges of the indoor plant business in California is getting really big interior acclimated plants. Most of these are grown in the massive shade houses in south Florida, but without a specialized certificate, getting them across the California border is at best difficult and often prohibited. I swear I don’t want to go to jail for smuggling a 20-foot palm tree into the state!
Take a look at some of our favorite finds from our recent trip.
Checking out the plants has always been one of my favorite things. I used to take my kids Ted and Allie with me to nurseries wherever we went – from Hawaii to Maryland, Costa Rica to Brazil. They only had to visit a flower shop when we were in Europe last year. When they saw me post some photos from this field trip on social media, they had serious flashbacks. I apologize in advance for traumatizing them with this blog post.