Nursery Field Day Reflections

Jen Gerger

by Mark Gilson

Since its inception in 1928, the nursery association of Lake County has featured major industry events to promote local operations, new plant introductions and technological innovations. In the organization’s first year the American Nurseryman’s Association traveled by train and by car from their annual convention in Cleveland to the heart of Lake County. Tours and events were coordinated by local nursery icons including E.George, Storrs & Harrison Nursery, T.B.West, West Nursery, W.B Cole, Cole Nursery, Arthur Champion, Champion Nursery, JJ Grulemans, Wayside Gardens, and others.

Over the next forty years industry icons utilized the Lake County Nurseryman’s Association (renamed Nursery Growers of Lake County Ohio in 1998) as a lively forum to address challenges and opportunities. Landscapers, architects, students, educators and other nursery professionals were received each year for tours and discussions. LCNA Minutes from June, 1958, describe one such tour. It began at the Charles Irish Estate in North Perry Village, traveled to Champion Nursery for a demonstration on nematode control, Lake Erie College for a recognition of locally donated plants, Horton’s Nursery at County Line Road for presentations on drainage, irrigation and a new tree planting machine, then back to the Irish Estate for dinner and an evening program. Soon after the Association began hosting allied groups for Oyster Dinners each fall.

The first summer Field Day was hosted in 1967 by Champion’s Nursery in Perry. Their field on Rt 20 near Middle Ridge Road (Champions Block 14) under the supervision of Donnie Crawford was used to demonstrate herbicide sprayer techniques. Fred Buscher, OSU Area Extension Specialist, with assistance from Bill Cartee, local OSU Extension Agent, organized this and subsequent events. The 1968 Field Day, again at Champion Nursery, was billed as ‘The 2nd Field Demonstration and Exhibit of Tools, Equipment and Supplies’. For 1969 an entourage of OSU Professors including Ken Reisch flew up for the event. In 1970 the event featured the ‘West Side’ nurseries at Lakewood Nursery, later purchased by Hortons. An early Field Day in Mentor featured the operation of Paul B Bosely, Bosely Nursery, and Richard Bosley, Bosley Plant Systems. Buscher was often blamed for scheduling these events on the hottest and muggiest day of the summer, which increased popularity of the beer truck, managed by local chemist and nurseryman Carl Gullo. (Carl used his expertise as a chemist to mix his own rooting hormone of K-IBA favored by rhododendron growers of the time). While supporting these annual OSU Extension events in Lake County, LCNA hosted their own major events in June and September each year, plus regular meetings and additional tours throughout the remainder of the year. This was a very proactive group. Charlie Brotzman, Brotzman’s Nursery, organized a long-running nursery-sponsored horseshoe contest at the Lake County Fair.

In 1969 the summer Field Day corresponded with the Mid-West Nurserymen’s Summer Meeting. By 1973 the Field Day at Champion’s Nursery attracted 450 visitors with 160 staying for the evening barbecue. Other Field Day hosts during the 1970s included Roemers, Klyns and Warners. Attendees continue to remark on the popularity of ‘pig roasts’ often coordinated by Latino workers. An event at Bill Burr’s MacKenzie Nursery Supply, a local association stalwart for many years, featured their new warehouse on Shepard Road.

There was a late-1980s Field Day at Warner’s Nursery on Pleasant Valley Road, after which visitors ran into Bernie Kosar, Al ‘Bubba’ Baker and other Cleveland Browns following their practice at nearby Lakeland Community College. Mario Cekada attributes his booth at a Ridge Manor Nursery event for getting his new business off and running. Years later, Mario and Rusty Oak Nursery hosted a successful ‘West Side’ Field Day that included a fishing contest, lunchtime NGLCO Annual Meeting and later a live-fire skeet shooting contest.

OSU Extension continued to coordinate the summer Field Day until 1996, when it was turned over to the local association. A special LCNA/NGLCO field day committee operated the event under the direction of Jay Daley, Sunleaf Nursery, from 1996 to 2001 and Maria Zampini, Lake County Nursery, from 2002 to 2006. Hosts included Cottage Gardens, The Holden Arboretum, Willowbend Nursery, Ridge Manor, Loselys, Sunleaf Nursery and others. A well-attended event hosted by Willoway Nursery on the ‘west side’ featured Rocky Blier, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back. Maria’s final year culminated with a popular event at LCN with over 1200 attendees. Local access for this event remained constricted due to the ‘great flood of 2006′ two weeks before.

Subsequent events were directed by Carla Lee (Sunleaf Nursery), Mark Gilson (Gilson Gardens) and, most recently, the NGLCO Board. Hosts during this time included North Coast Nursery, Lake Metroparks FarmPark, The Holden Arboretum, Stanton Park (Madison Township) and Debonné Vineyards. Along with trade shows nationwide, Field Day attendance has diminished in recent years. Some attribute this to the emphasis on social media, internet communication and real-time-sales in the new economy. Others, (rightly so!), insist upon the continued importance of face-to-face contact… as we enjoy at trade shows and field days! Despite beer trucks, skeet shooting, heavy equipment demonstrations and oppressive heat, the Field Day survives without notable casualties.

Mark Gilson
December, 2016