San Francisco Flower and Garden Show looks to local growers

One of the nation's leading garden expos taps local resources

It should not be surprising that Monterey Bay area garden professionals and growers are hard to miss at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, which opened Wednesday, March 18, at the San Mateo Event Center, and continues until this Sunday, March 22.

The Central Coast is justifiably famous for its salubrious climate and its ability to push seeds into lush crops. A stroll through the exhibition halls just off Highway 92 between Highways 280 and 101 on opening day revealed several familiar area businesses, including Sierra Azul Nursery of Watsonville, Four Winds Growers, with production farms in Aromas and Watsonville, Mountain Feed and Farm Supply of Ben Lomond, Love Apple Farms of Scotts Valley, Gold Rush Nursery of Soquel and Old Truck Organics of Gilroy.

A trip to opening day at the garden show revealed an enviably lush collection of demonstration gardens, nursery sales booths and a dangerous assortment of tools, gadgets, art and clothing designed to appeal to people who like to plant themselves in soil.

One of the most passionate exhibitors was Joseph Simcox, who speaks at the show on Friday and Sunday. Dubbed the “Botanical Explorer,” Simcox travels the globe collecting rare seeds – the genetic legacy of agriculture that predates hybridization and genetically modified crops.  Simcox had an almost impossibly varied array of corn cobs collected during a recent visit to Peru. Far from the supermarket conundrum of white or yellow, the cobs showed kernels in a host of colors and shapes.

Simcox’s mission in life is to save open-pollenated plants used as food crops by indigenous people around the globe. Unlike modern hybrids, the seeds from these plants can be counted on to produce successive generations of crops that are true to the original.  The seeds from a hybrid squash, for example, may produce something more akin to a pumpkin than a squash, depending upon what pollen made its way to the blossom that led to the fruit.

Carefully arrayed on a table that also had two laptop computers running photos and videos of his expeditions, Simcox displayed seeds from across the world. Their colors and shapes stopped visitors who were arrested by the beauty of the living jewels.

Cynthia Sandberg, the owner of Love Apple, was on hand and busy selling robust tomato seedlings. Love Apple produces vegetables for the Michelin-starred Los Gatos restaurant Manressa, and her biodynamic approach to food production is recognized as a leader in agriculture.  She has a crew of ambitious apprentice growers from around the world at her small farm, and hosts classes throughout the year.

Sandberg’s marquis crop is the tomato – love apple is a translation of an old Italian term for the fruit.  Her vines are so robust that she cages them in tall towers of the re-enforcing mesh used in concrete driveways, and her approach involves a host of soil amendments that include fish heads and living cultures of beneficial fungus.

The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show is open daily through Sunday, March 22, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (6 p.m. on Sunday).  Tickets are $22. The San Mateo Event Center is located at 1346 Saratoga Drive in San Mateo. Further information is available at





Mark Paxton

I've been at this most of my life, and it still fascinates and challenges me. San Benito County can be a cruel mistress at times, but we can share in our love for her, even with all her quirks.