Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Day In The Life - The Growers

The same day I visited Pottery Planet, I also paid calls to two different plant growers, Pacific Plug & Liner and Soquel Nursery Growers. The central coast of California, with its mild climate and agricultural focus, is home to many kinds of growers, from small specialty to annual color to huge commercial wholesale.

My first visit was to PP&L, a starter-plant grower in Watsonville that provides small plants in large quantities to wholesale growers (Like Soquel) who grow them on until they are ready to sell to retail nurseries and landscape professionals. PP&L also tests and develops plants provided to them by breeders all over the world.

The gorgeous Gaillardia above is one of PP&L's summer perennial trials; if bee votes count, this beauty is a sure thing!
~click any picture to enlarge~

Boy, not a plant in sight! This is where it begins for many of PP&L's plants, the cold closet where seed stock is kept at a preserving temperature until ready for propagation. I felt a bit guilty, thinking of all those unscientifically stored seed packets in my garage!

Check out the seeding machine! Large trays with compartments not much bigger than sugar cubes are run through this machine, where the seeds are planted at the proper depth, covered and watered, just like that. I was impressed. The planted trays are then taken to the indoor growing field.

And, I do mean field. You are looking at thousands and thousands of perennials, grasses, even small shrubs and groundcovers, on a vast sea of waist-high tables in a carefully controlled greenhouse.

The next field over is the propagation room; the plants you see aren't the end result, they are the beginning...mother plants from which thousands of cuttings are taken and rooted in a similar fashion to the seed trays, but with slightly larger cells.

These mother plants are never sold; they are harvested until that can't take it any more, and then composted. Here we see a field of Dianthus.

These are starts of Cordyline 'Festival Grass' from FitzGerald Nurseries in Kilkenny Ireland, who provide very small sprouts to PP&L to be started like this. These will probably grow for another few months before being sold to growers, who might tend them for another six months (small wholesale size) to a year (full retail size) before selling.

Ah, that's more like it! Some of the many plants they are developing; a couple of beautiful Carex in the middle (also from FitzGerald) a beautiful variegated Euphorbia, pink Agastache, and some bright Coprosma.

Here's what all the cuttings and seedlings look like when they are ready to come outside, still in their propagating trays. Amazing to see familiar plants in their infancy! I believe the foreground trays are the ornamental cabbages that are a common winter annual in California.

This is a batch of a new variety of Pennisetum Rubrum almost ready to ship out for planting in 1g containers; these will likely be going in to gardens next spring. It was fascinating for me to see the 'early childhood development' of some of my favorite (or next favorite!) plants! Now on to one of my favorite wholesale nurseries.

A half hour north of Watsonville you'll find Soquel Nursery Growers. I've been shopping at Soquel for years. They are a small wholesale only (sorry!) nursery specializing in unusual perennials, grasses, groundcovers, shrubs and vines, mostly in 1-and 5-gallon size.

As you can see, they are a terrific place to go for color, also a good choice for a client visit. They nearly always have an electric cart for me to use, and a tour of inspection is always a pleasure!

I was shopping for the containers I had purchased earlier at Pottery Planet, which were destined for a partially shady deck. So to the shade house I went, for a look at their choicest plants. Here we have two varieties of red Loropetalum chinense, Lamium 'Purple Dragon' and blue-flowered Brunnera.

Southern sword fern, (Nephrolepis) Coral Bells (Heuchera) and Sweet Flag (Acorus 'Ogon') remind me of how gorgeous these three are planted together!

I'm a visual designer, and prefer to choose plants on the spot rather than plan everything out and just execute a shopping list. I played with groupings on the flatbed of the electric cart until I had what I needed. Then, I went home.

Thanks for joining me on this 'Day in the Life' it's always more fun when someone comes along!


  1. And thank you, Laura, for providing the transport!
    And expert guidance. Cheers, Alice

  2. I love seeing the behind the scenes stuff - thanks!

  3. Time for a nursery crawl here too. Haven't been in a while...maybe a companion post brewing?

  4. Thanks for the the behind the scenes tour!

  5. What a wonderful description of how plants are grown! I'm so sorry I couldn't go with you that day - I obviously really missed out! My daughter has very fond memories of riding around with me on Soquel's electric carts - especially when I'd accidentally plow them into a row of plants.....

  6. Thanks everyone for the great comments, and LOL Rebecca, my daughter loved riding shotgun in the carts at Soquel too! Her self-appointed task was to hop out and pick up any tall plants that had fallen over. Thanks for bringing back that nice memory! Visiting my nurseries is one of my greatest joys, the splendor of quantity (at wholesale prices!)

  7. Oh, and Susan, an east-coast companion post would be great!

  8. Susan, just found your blog and it's beautiful! Thanks for the pics of "the beginning" of how plants end up in our local nurseries. Very cool stuff!

  9. Wonderful post - I am now drooling to get my hands on some of these plants. Even though I've been in this industry for some time, it's only recently that I grasped just how many people actually touch a plant as it makes its way from a tiny start to a garden.

    And as the lucky recipient of some of the beautiful plants from Pacific Plug and Liner, it's a treat to learn a little more about their operation. FYI, do you know the cultivar of the Gallardia at the top of your post? It's gorgeous.

  10. Wow, my jaw is dropping from the size of that indoor growing field. Amazing to see the huge scale of it all. Fun tour. I want a ride on one of those cart too! Landscapers have all the fun.

  11. A couple years ago I went to Sierra Azul and Suncrest with the Botanical Garden people to buy plants for the big plant sale. It was overwhelming. Those places, esp. Suncrest, went on forever and ever. And ever.

  12. Chuck, my first visit to a wholesale nursery was to Western Tree in Gilroy (one of the few places that 'civilians' can buy wholesale btw, but it's strictly self-serve cash & carry). This place is so huge you need maps, and you drive your own car around. And you better know what you're looking for/at, because Annie's Annuals they're not, signage-wise!