With strong horticultural backgrounds, Mark Hamm and Gene VanSchyndel founded West Coast Nurseries in 1984 and rapidly grew to three greenhouse locations in Leucadia, California. One of their major challenges was increasing utility costs to cover the winter months — and in 1998 a $47,000 one month utility bill was the final straw in forever changing the future course of West Coast Nurseries.
In early 1999, West Coast started growing operations on the East Coast of the Big Island in Hawaii where the temperature, humidity, rainfall and other climate variables are near ideal for growing indoor plants without the expense of utility bills. While the plants grow well in the Big Island’s warm climate, many of the plants need to be protected by ‘shade structures’ to prevent any burning or discoloration of leaves and thus our Hawaiian properties have both extensive ‘shade structures’ and also some greenhouses together with unshaded benches and extensive ‘stock fields’, where we grow ‘cane’ or seed.
Interestingly enough, other than the ‘stock fields’, none of our plants are ever grown directly in the Hawaiian soils. All of our plants are grown in pots on benches that are at least 18 inches above ground to avoid any contaminated Hawaiian soils subsequently entering either California of any other States where our plants are destined. Our potting soil is a proprietary mixture of peat moss that we import from Canada, mixed with ‘cinders’, which are decomposing Hawaiian lava granules. This potting soil mixture tends to hold moisture well while also providing the desired level of aeration that, when combined with the right fertilization and climate conditions, results in our ability to grow very high quality plants.
In 2000, West Coast acquired the current San Marcos Property with the objective of growing certain plant species and also providing sufficient space for incoming plant shipments to ‘acclimate’ before being shipped to those in the plantscape industry. The San Marcos greenhouse is highly automated with various sensors that operate many systems, including automatically: opening and closing exterior walls (to control natural air flow); irrigating certain plants on a programmed schedule; opening and closing interior ‘shade’ covers; providing heat to programmed bench areas to keep roots warm to maximize growth; turning on/off large ceiling ventilation fans to circulate or remove air from the greenhouse; providing ‘misting’ to reduce temperatures, etc. The automation is wonderful but growing quality plants still requires a true love of plants and a commitment to not settle for anything other than the very best!
Plants coming in from Hawaii are wrapped in protective paper and loaded onto pallets whereupon we transport them to the docks in Hilo where they are loaded into containers for direct shipment to San Diego or, occasionally, into Long Beach. Upon arrival the containers ‘clear customs’ and the plants are then placed in a quarantine area in the San Marcos greenhouse. We then contact the California Department of Agriculture to arrange for them to inspect all newly arriving plants in order to eliminate the prospect of any ‘pests’ entering California. Other than the ocean voyage, we follow the same process for plants coming in from our Florida ‘grower partners’.
Our total commitment is to provide the plantscape industry, and their customers, with the highest quality plants possible. In order to achieve that objective we have a highly trained, experienced and dedicated team of employees living in both Hawaii and in California.
As we strive for perfection we also have to dodge large tropical storms, hurricanes, some occasional lava flow, dock strikes, etc — but we love what we do and plan on doing it for many, many more years to come!