Post-Drought Cali, Calycanthus, and Leaving a Legacy

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Friday, May 05, 2017

Nursery & Landscape Insider

So-Cal, Post-Drought
H2B Update
The Superbloommmmmm
Calycanthus Hartlage Wine
Impact Washington
Bloomerang Dark Purple Lilac
Notes from the Edge of Sanity

Southern California Post-Drought Trends

I spent last week in San Diego (to be precise National City) at mi abuela’s casa, eating like a king and suffering through the sunny 70-degree temps. But I lived to tell the tale and actually did a bit of work between food comas. I was very interested in determining how post-drought landscape life was going in southern Cali. It seems like it rocks on!

Yes, rocks. You know, the landscape input that requires no water to thrive? It appears that even though Governor Brown has declared that the drought is over, that memo hasn’t been seen by all. Case in point, I spoke with James Comacho who works the desk at Southwest Boulder & Stone. James indicated that business is absolutely booming, with no drop from last year. It looks like the multi-year drought has caused a shift in consumer thought, whereby consumers now accept and value low-irrigation landscape solutions. I find that very interesting being from the southeast, where droughts are much more temporary, and as soon as rain picks up consumers forget about conservation.  

This put me on a secondary mission ... to survey three neighborhoods to see just how many landscapes were rocking out versus sticking with turf. I picked three streets in three neighborhoods. The results were quite interesting.

A Southern California stone "mulched" landscape, which is an attractive alternative to turf in arid regions.

Neighborhood 1: Chula Vista. I took a stroll down Flower Street because, well, duh! There were 47 single family homes on this typical middle-class street. Of the 47 homes, just THREE had maintained turf, while 18 had stone (e.g. decorative pebbles or gravel) as a “yard”—many with shrubs and/or small trees poking out to provide some topography to the landscape. The remainder were unmaintained, decorated by vehicles and attack Chihuahuas.

Neighborhood 2: San Diego. I picked Kalmia Street because I was feeling homesick. There were 68 single family homes on this upper-middleclass street, and of those, 22 featured stones as a “yard” and 16 had turf. The remainder had groundcover (primarily delosperma or juniper) as a backbone. 

Neighborhood 3: La Jolla. I picked Hillside Drive and I drove because that is a serious hill! There were 48 visible homes on this seriously high-income street. Of these, 27 featured stones as a “yard” and six featured turf (granted these lots were large enough to actually have a back yard that may have been turf). The remainder all had groundcovers or a natural/native look as a backbone.  

What I did find interesting when comparing all three neighborhoods, as well as so many others I drove through, is that a conservation mindset really has seemed to stick post-drought. I’ve been to San Diego many times over many years, and the transition from turf to “other” has been dramatic. What will be interesting is to see how long it sticks! 

H2B Update

It seems that a massive effort from the National Association of Landscape Professionals and AmericanHort (among many others) has paid dividends. H2B provisions have been included as part of the FY17 budget bill that would fund the federal government until October 2017 and that should be signed by President Trump on Friday, May 5. These provisions are seen as a victory by many in the Green Industry who rely on H2B workers to fill seasonal positions.

Generally speaking, changes to the H2B system would allow for the Secretary of Labor, with the council of the Secretary of Homeland Security, the authority to alter the H2B cap annually based upon need.

There is another angle to this though, which I have not seen anyone mention. While many are celebrating this move, allowing the administration to annually set the H2B cap may backfire. I read the amendment and nowhere does it mention that the cap cannot be reduced. That’s right folks, if the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor decide that no H2B workers are needed (or are politically motovated to reduce the cap), then they can set the limit lower than what is allowed under current law.

Aye de mi! Be careful what you wish for! And no, I am not trying to convey a negative outlook. I’m just a canary in the coal-mine.

The Superbloom is On!

Back to San Diego we go. When I travel, the first thing I do when I land is check out the newspapers to see what’s going on. On the front page of the San Diego Tribune I was amazed to see the headline “SUPERBLOOM.” Given that we live in a world where death and destruction dominate front page news, I was hyped. To see a horticulture story, I was thrilled!

I can say that in all of my years visiting the West, I had never seen anything like a superbloom. But it did not disappoint! Down in Southern California, it seemed that the primary species showing off were purple desert sand verbena (Abronia villosa), desert sunflowers (Geraea canescens) and coast sunflower (Encilia californica).

Everywhere we turned, there was color! This was particularly exciting for my girl (and wildflower model) Lily-Anna (who insisted I use this photo with the C-5 Calaxy in it).

So if you’re ever up for a spontaneous trip, I’d highly recommend a trip in March to San Diego to see a superbloom. Just remember to make sure it has rained a few inches before booking your travel.  

Calycanthus x raulstonii Hartlage Wine

I came home to Georgia to find Calycanthus x raulstonii Hartlage Wine blooming away. What a magnificent plant! It’s another one of those plants that J.C. Raulston promoted, even though it was developed by Richard Hartlage as a cross between Calycanthus chinensis and C. floridus.

Hardy in Zones 5-9, it definitely deserves more recognition and credit than it gets. I suppose that’s the life of an unpatented plant that has no marketing program to boost its popularity. Nonetheless, you should consider this beauty for as an understory shrub (although it does well in full sun if it has good soil moisture). It blooms in April-June and the blooms are big (4-5” in diameter) and unique in that the inner petals have a white fringe. The plant can get big, as in a 10 ft. by 10 ft. lovable shrub, but it doesn’t seem to sucker nearly as much as the species C. floridus—although I like that because it means less holes to dig. 


One thing I have always wondered is how far south this cultivar will grow and flower. I’ve seen it in Zone 10, but never seen it flower there. So if you’re reading in Zone 10 and have seen it flower, let me know!  


Our customers (and also politicians—maybe because reading is difficult for them) love pictures, so when I ran across an infographic from the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH) recently, I was excited. Many of you may not know the mission of NICH, so to summarize, they promote the art, science and business of plants. NICH does a magnificent job of acting as an advocate of horticulture and as an information source to consumers and government officials on the benefits of horticulture. We could always use more of that!


The infographic above does an excellent job of laying out how horticulture impacts our lives. NICH estimates that horticulture contributes $196 billion to the U.S. economy annually and is responsible for two million jobs. Granted, this includes all aspect of horticulture, not just our end, but nonetheless it is something to be proud of, and to flaunt whenever possible!  

Impact Washington—Make a Difference

Speaking of flaunting ... AmericanHort has organized Impact Washington, an opportunity for you to step up and allow your voice to be heard in Washington, D.C. this September. Yes, this is your opportunity to share your story at an advocacy summit with the politicians in Washington D.C. who otherwise would have no concept of your struggles, successes and odd tendencies.  

To quote AmericanHort, “Over the course of two days, participants will hear from elected leaders, their staff and other policy experts on issues of great impact on green industry business success. Attendees will share their experiences directly with policy makers, providing real-world context and influence to the decisions being made.”

AmericanHort is calling on the landscaper, grower, garden retailer, and green industry communities to step forward and take action on our collective advocacy concerns. This is your opportunity to tell elected officials and decision makers directly how policy affects your business success and why that matters to both the national economy and your community.

So, in short, if you complain regularly or are singing the praises of horticulture from the rooftops, this is a perfect opportunity to get in someone’s ear who can turn your frown upside down (or make you sing in two-part harmony)!

Bloomerang Dark Purple Lilac Puts on a Show

Blooms on Bloomerang Dark Purple put on quite a show during the initial flush. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners (because for some reason I don't have a good shot of this plant).

There are the purists who think that a lilac (or a rose, hydrangea, etc) should only bloom once and then be done. Then there is the consumer who thinks a plant should bloom from April until it gets too hot to go outside (other than to visit a pool) and then still be blooming in September when it cools off enough to drink Corona outside again. Maybe the purists are just hiding a fear of gardening in heat!

I’ve had Syringa Penda (a.k.a. Bloomerang Dark Purple) at my super-secret northern tobacco farm (Zone 7) trial garden location for three years now and am impressed that it actually does put on a season-long show. Granted, the initial flush is more impressive than its later sporadic blooms, but nonetheless it is still chugging along in September and early October. It does suffer from some minor mildew issues, but what lilac doesn’t? Final verdict? It is impressive and is a (relatively) new shrub worth giving a shot. Well done Spring Meadow/Proven Winners!  

Our Wacky Wonderful World – Notes from the Edge of Sanity

Alternate Title: Dr. Bryson James—Leaving a Legacy

If you take a look at my tagline, it reads “live authentic.”

There probably aren’t many of you who know (or now, sadly, knew) Dr. Bryson James. Dr. James was a resident of McMinneville, Tennessee (an epicenter of nursery production in the U.S.) and an alumnus of Auburn University who passed away last week.

Dr. James received his bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture from Auburn University (then A.P.I.) in 1951 and, after completing military service in the U.S. Air Force, went on to earn masters (1956) and Ph.D. (1959) degrees at The Ohio State University.

Dr. James was a professor and director of the University of Florida’s Agricultural Research Center in Fort Lauderdale until 1974. Thereafter, he was joint-owner of a 120-acre propagation facility and conducted training courses for the nursery industry.

He also served as director of research for the Southern Nursery Association for many years and was honored with a student research competition being named in his honor. He was the editor of the Annual Proceedings of the SNA Research Conference and was past editor of the SNA Nursery Research Journal. He was also a longtime participant and Fellow in the International Plant Propagator’s Society southern region meetings and was known and respected by its members and the industry worldwide.

So what does this have to do with you? It has everything to do with the legacy that has helped to sustain our industry (and hence you): Dr. James for more than two decades was the coordinator of the Southern Nursery Association Student Research Conference. From this conference stemmed some names you may recognize; Tom Saunders, Stuart Warren, Frank Blazich, Mark Windham, Bridget Behe, Joseph Albano, Patricia Knight,  Joseph Eakes, Gary Bachman, Alex Niemiera, Kris Braman, Ted Whitwell, Thomas Ranney, Gerald Keever, Joe Eakes, Jeff Sibley, Ed Gillman, Mike Arnold, Brian Jackson, Richard Olsen, Jim Owen, Andrew Bell, Gene Blythe, James Altland, Amy Wright, Stephanie Burnett, Sarah White, Jean-Jacques Dubois, Jason Griffin, Cheryl Boyer, Matthew Taylor, etc., etc.

Those are the names of individuals who are spread across the United States and were mentored by Dr. James and who have (and continue to) better our industry. I, too, am part of this group—and I often recall something Dr. James said to me more than two decades ago: “Science is worthless unless you can pass it to those who need to know.” Dr. James was tough on us kid-scientists and future growers/landscapers, forcing us to convey a message that could be used in the daily lives of nursery owners/workers or landscape contractors. As a result, our industry has been blessed with a group of industry leaders and university-types who connect well with those who need the information.

That is living authentic. That is leaving a legacy. Let’s all live that way.

Thank you Dr. Bryson James. We’ll miss you.  

Live authentic,

Matthew Chappell
Nursery & Landscape Insider


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