Photographer at Spring Trials

– Posted in: Garden Photography

holt_1099_374.CR2When the international flower industry gets together in California to show off what’s new, I’m there.

The gardener in me revolts.  The Gardening Gone Wild side chokes.  In any practical realm, this does not compute.  How does this massive display apply to any reality in the gardening world?  Ahh, but the whole thing provokes.  Acres of perfect flowers in scientifically controlled greenhouses ?!  Mindboggling new plants like the Hula Berry – a strawberry that tastes like a pineapple ?  Intergenetic hybrid flowers like Digiplexis or the new Echibeckia – a cross of Echinacea and Rudbeckia ?

As a photographer, I’m all over it.  I get to mix work and play

The California Spring Trials is an annual event for plant breeders, propagators, brokers, and nurseries to showcase new flowers and plants.


Entry to Spring Trials at Sakata


Spring Trials display at Sygenta

Deals are made where the big box stores like Walmart and Lowe’s invest in flowers.  Ever wonder why the amazing Sunpatiens plants were only available at Home Depot when first released ?  A deal was made ….

I go every year to be bathed in the beauty of flowers, to find new material for my art, for my stock photo library PhotoBotanic, and most importantly to help my clients market their latest and greatest.

Marketing material often requires silhouettes so I will set up a mini studio in order to shoot many varieties in different containers and configurations.

Festival Gerbera Neon Rose with Eye from Sakata ornamentals

Festival Gerbera Neon Rose with Eye from Sakata ornamentals

Sometimes I will have a last minute request and need shoot a plain container in the nursery greenhouses that I will later clean up.  Here is my favorite new introduction – Digiplexis, a cross between traditional Foxglove (Digitalis) and Canary Island Foxglove (Isoplexis).


Sunset Western Garden Collection – Digiplexis Illumination Apricot

In recent years more and more requests for “real” vignettes and we will create a setting for containers of plants.  Danziger created an outdoor patio in the middle of a lawn for a series of 18 containers of their newest annuals.

Calibrachoa and Petunias in mixed container of annual flowers from Danzige

Calibrachoa and Petunias in mixed container of annual flowers from Danziger

At Sakata we created a patio in one of the greenhouses.

SuperCal 'Salmon Glow' and 'Grape', Petunia Petchoa hybrids flowering in pot on patio at Sakata Seeds

SuperCal ‘Salmon Glow’ and ‘Grape’, Petunia Petchoa hybrids flowering in pot on patio at Sakata Seeds

There was a time when I went to the Trials to photograph as many of the new introductions that I could so that I could have them to license in my stock photography business.  But that business has shrunk and now I only photograph what captures my eye, planning for my own calendars and notecards.

Pansy flower, Viola x wittrockiana, Anytime Quartz Pansiola from Proven Winners

Pansy, Anytime Quartz Pansiola from Proven Winners


Transvaal daisy, Gerbera jamesonii Cartwheel Strawberry Twist from Sygenta


Festival Gerberas, Transvaal daisy in orange watering can at Sakata Seeds Spring Trials

What’s really new ?  I mentioned the intergeneric hybrid of Echinacea and Rudbeckia ?  The first named introduction of Echibeckia is Summerina.


Echibeckia ‘Summerina’; intergenetic perennial flower hybrid

And the Hula Berry ?  Its a small white strawberry that tastes like pineapple.  Really.  They were planted at the Trials in baskets and need to have traditional strawberry plants in the mix for fertilization.  I had to look hard to find one to photograph as they were being picked as fast as they ripened.

Hula Berry, pineapple flavor strawberry

Hula Berry, pineapple flavor strawberry

The most fun at the Trials is always finding new flowers to try new photo techniques.  I have been experimenting with focus stacks where a photographer can achieve extraordinary depth of field in a photograph by stacking together multiple images, each having a slightly different focal point.  Sakata displayed huge beds of their latest pansies.  In order to see them all in one photo, at ground level where all their faces could be seen, I needed to use 8 different focal points.


I use a software tool called Zerene Stacker which allows you to go back into the individual files and clean up the occasional blurry lines which happen when you merge multiple frames.

Another of my favorite software tools is a Photoshop plug-in called Topaz Simplify.  It’s a very complex tool with lots of interconnected tools to blur edges, soften colors, and generally reorganize a photos pixels for painterly affect.


Nasturtium, Tropaeolum ‘Alaska Raspberry’ from Thompson & Morgan

Simplified Nasturtium

Simplified Nasturtium

The wonderful Nasturtiums coming from Thompson & Morgan lend themselves to painting.

Watch for more detailed explanations in my upcoming e-book.  If I would spend more time writing the book than going out and taking photos, I might actually get that project done.  But Spring Trials ?!  How could I not go and not take hundreds of photos ?  Enough material for a whole book…  Stay tuned.



Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Jeri Mearns April 26, 2014, 4:55 pm

Sounds like such an amazing event, this “Spring Trials”.

I started working with Simplify after reading one of your earlier posts and I’m having a blast with it. I’m really looking forward to your ebook.

Debra April 29, 2014, 11:35 am

Wish I could share the love here but I just can’t. I do agree that ‘the whole thing provokes’ and that there is enough material here for a book but it would not be a happy one. I am glad you had fun but these pictures of ‘products’ coming from some of the worst environmental offenders only fills me with heartbreak. These companies don’t even seem to be aware of the irony of calling a flower Salmon Glow. That actually is so ridiculous in a Frankenstein kind of way that it does make me laugh a bit. Sorry if I sound a bit harsh but this post really struck a nerve.

Cathy April 30, 2014, 5:49 pm

So many wonderful plants, so many incredible photographs! I couldn’t be there in person, but it was great to be there through your camera lens. Thank you, Saxon!

Saxon Holt May 2, 2014, 5:02 pm

Thanks Cathy – It’s a bit overwhelming but candyland for a photographer.

Saxon Holt May 2, 2014, 5:31 pm

Thanks for taking the time for such a thoughtful comment Debra. I am not unaware that some companies in this corporate global floral trade take liberties with responsible environmental issues and I am always amazed at how much money goes into the hybridization and production of these “new” flowers. Yet each division of the corporations is different and each person comes to their job with different sensibilities. As a professional photographer, there are no better client, at my level – the hybridizers, the growers, the sales crew, the nursery folk, all love what they do and never talk about environmental issues, just the beauty of flowers. Their bosses and their bosses’ bosses may be bloodsucking corporate types, and some may question the chemistry and carbon needed to perpetuate this business, but when pressed I think they would shrug off those concerns as balanced by pleasure the flower trade brings to so many people.
I know deep down, their practices are unsustainable and indeed harmful to the planet … but they are a tip of the iceberg. I honestly believe it is way too late to do anything about it. Have you read Bill McKibbens book “Eaarth”?

Saxon Holt May 2, 2014, 5:34 pm

Thanks Jeri – The book is finally close. If you want to see more of my work with filters, I do one post a month on my personal blog, ‘Mental Seeds” on my website

Johan May 6, 2014, 3:51 am

Really nice pictures. I am absolutely fascinated by the Hula Berry. Never heard of it or saw it before. But on the other hand I feel a little like Debra. I do believe it can be a good to modify plants in some occasions. But modifying all of them is absolutely not the way to go. Although they look really awesome like the Hula Berry. I do believe we should let mother earth do here job once in a while instead of trying to manipulate her all the time.

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