Reviews of CAST 2021 from 4 CNGA Members

Exciting Trip, Great Weather & Beautiful Displays

I can’t think of a better way to decompress from a busy season than to travel to the California Summer Trials (CAST) to visit the beautiful Central California Coast and get to see exciting plants every day! CAST has always been a worthwhile trip for us at Tagawa Gardens as we are a grower/retailer. Even when held in the spring (anywhere from the end of March to early April) we always took the time to make the fun and exciting trip to preview the new and improved plants. We love coming back and sharing what we saw with our staff, and being able to offer something new and different to our customers. The conversations and pictures always create an energy and buzz at the garden center as we look forward to planning for the next spring.

The summer dates for CAST this year were June 23 to 27. The new dates definitely made it an easier, more relaxed time to travel, especially for our grower. We are just beginning our production planning for 2022, so we were able to focus on what each location had to offer. It can be challenging to make the trip in the spring, especially if the weather is good. In the past, when we have returned from the Spring Trials, we have had to jump right into the busy spring season at the garden center. We did not have the time to ruminate about what we saw until late June.

We did hear from many of the breeder locations that having the trials at a later date presented problems for them in growing what they wanted to show in the condition they would have liked. The hot weather, experienced earlier in the greenhouses, was a challenge on some varieties. It wasn’t really noticeable to us as there was so much beautiful product to see. All the locations set up beautiful presentations for viewing outside with social distancing and safety. The weather couldn’t have been nicer for being guided outside through all the different locations.

My recommendation to CNGA members would be to make it a point to visit the Colorado State University (CSU) Trial Gardens in Fort Collins and the trials at Welby Gardens this summer. A good number of the new and improved plants at CAST should be tested at CSU so we can see how the favorites from California perform in Colorado. Welby Gardens also does a preview trial of new and improved plants, and it is always a lovely time talking with old and new friends within the industry. Representatives from each breeder are also there to share information and literature is available to take home.

– Jere Fukui, Tagawa Gardens Nursery & Garden Center

Worthwhile Trip Regardless of Season

Traveling to CAST was a wonderful reprieve after 18 months of restricted travel. As a first-year attendee, it was fantastic to finally meet the folks that I have been working with virtually for a whole season. The relationships that Welby has formed over nearly 30 years make it worthwhile for us to attend the trials regardless of the time of year. The new summer dates worked for us this year, but long term, earlier trials give us a better opportunity to plan the program and catalog for our upcoming season.

All the breeders did a great job working around restrictions to provide a beautiful showing of all their plants. Hopefully, we will see another fantastic season this year. There are plenty of great new varieties, but the return of orange petunias is sure to get consumers excited.

The lasting effects of COVID were still evident, as a couple farms had spacious greenhouses with spread out displays to provide space for social distancing. California had only lifted restrictions the week prior.

The weather and locations for the trials were perfect, with some June gloom every morning that opened to clear, sunny and mild days. Apparently, the temperatures were up above 100 degrees during the set-up and there was some worry that the plants would see a little bit of damage, but from what we saw, the heat didn’t cause any lasting issues.

Overall, CAST was a welcome opportunity to reconnect with our peers and catch up on the new and improved offerings from our suppliers. Any growers that produce annuals or perennials would find this to be a very worthwhile trip. With any luck, we won’t have to wait another year and will be able to return to the trials next April.

Quinn Kender, Young Plant Program Manager, Welby Gardens

Important Plant Education, but Missed Some Breeders

CAST was well worth the time once again this year. Many of my customers do not get to travel to CAST or Cultivate, so I believe it is important that I see what is coming out and educate myself on what might fit well into my group’s production plans for 2022.  

It is very hard to evaluate a plant presented on Zoom; seeing things live and in person is very important. It is just more precise when you can see the nuance of the plant’s habit, branching, foliage, and flower color.  

The trials were very well done. Folks really trimmed presentations down to the key releases in most cases. There were in-ground, outdoor presentations that gave you a really good feel for what a plant could do for a home consumer. The enthusiasm of the presenters was at a high level; people were thankful and happy to see their peers in person! However, one downside was that the PW group, Danziger, Hishtil, Jaldety, and Cohen were not present.

As far as the summer timing of the event, the weather was perfect that week – not too hot or cold. There was some fog, but overall, it was awesome and the plant material looked good.

The timing was great for the broker customers: just in time for us to get reinvigorated for our booking trips and past the spring shipping and sales peak. I am not sure that it was as well-received in other segments of the industry.

It will be interesting to see when the industry decides to offer CAST in 2022. The later date in 2021 allowed for the big outdoor and well-spaced indoor displays. This allowed folks to spread out with plenty of elbow room, making for a comfortable visit. The displays were well grown and full so the shift in dates did not affect what we saw. I think that most groups had a successful grow out. Something I did miss was all the awesome pansy displays that are usually part of Spring Trials in a standard year.

I have been attending CAST (or Spring Pack Trials) since the 1990s, and I think that it is well worth attending every few years to see trends in breeding, flower color, plant form, and display ideas. In our quest to bring the best to our home gardeners and landscape clients, the trials are a great place to see all the new and learn why and how they fit into your assortment directly from the folks that breed them. It also allows you to cull things out that may not be for you or don’t quite have the habit you thought they would. I can’t tell you how many times we brought a fun idea home from California to implement in the garden center where I worked. It was not only fun, but revenue driving as well.

Susan Stauber, Sales Representative, Ball Horticultural Company

Nice Adaptation but Lower Attendance & Difficult for Many Growers

CAST was very different than any other year in the past. Breeders presented outdoors due to the possibility of COVID restrictions and the opportunity to present in summer weather. At Syngenta Flowers, we specifically wanted to showcase landscape application in our beautiful garden grounds, which are the perfect place to do just that. The attendance was down due to a combination of timing and uncertainty. 

The summer dates were more difficult to navigate for most growers. Southern growers liked it because they start and finish their season earlier than the rest of the country, but the majority prefer that early April timing. It is the perfect window when young plant season is winding down and before the finished spring season goes into overdrive. Growers that produce rooted liners for other greenhouses have the opportunity to make decisions about what will be in their catalog and program for the next season. Brokers can get educated about what they will be selling for 2022.

Having CAST in the summer competed with typical tourist season in California. Hotels and restaurants were very busy and there was more traffic to contend with as well. However, having CAST in the summer allowed many sites to utilize their outdoor spaces. At Syngenta Flowers, we were able to show the full potential of our plants with landscape applications throughout our gardens on our site.

Typically CAST will give you a sneak peek at new varieties for the following year and inspiration for displays. This year gave us a different look at new varieties and their application in the landscape. Since this was an atypical year in general, it was a nice change, but overall the industry preference remains to hold this event in the spring.

Mandy Gerace, Root and Sell Account Manager, Syngenta Flowers

Photo by Tagawa Gardens