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Lompoc Still a Bloom Town Despite Drought


LOMPOC — "Not even my own wife grows our garden flowers from seeds," confesses Bill Scott, president of the Lompoc-based Denholm Seeds Co.

"She just goes to a nursery like everyone else and buys plants for instant color. Very few people start their flower gardens from seeds anymore."

But the boss of the most colorful industry in the Lompoc Valley isn't complaining. His company sells billions of seeds to the growers who supply the nurseries with flowering plants. Some sales also are made to mail order seed companies.

The seeds are harvested from acres of flowers that come to bloom throughout summer and turn the valley floor into a beautiful patchwork quilt of alyssum, lobelia, marigold, sweet pea and a dozen other varieties.

Next month Lompoc will host its summer flower festival and parade, the 38th annual celebration of the valley's flower seed industry. The major community event runs June 20-24.

In addition to a parade with floral floats, there will be a flower show, an arts and crafts fair, a carnival, food booths, stage entertainment and tours of the flower fields.

"This is the best place in the country to see fields of outdoor flowers," remarks Scott, whose seed company also grows flowers in the Gilroy and Morgan Hill areas of California. In Lompoc Valley, Denholm has about 400 acres in flower.

Considerably more acreage was devoted to seed production in past years, Scott explains, but land use has decreased because of precision planting. Another reason is that flower fields are being established in foreign countries because the cost of labor has increased in the United States.

The research director of the other major seed producer in Lompoc Valley, Bodger Seeds Ltd., confirms that the size of the valley's flower fields has diminished over the years.

"From our original 1,200 acres at Lompoc, we're now down to 250," says David Lemon. "Because there's a lot of hand labor in seed production, we've established fields and greenhouses in such less expensive countries as Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala and even Zimbabwe."

Headquartered in El Monte, Bodger Seeds is a fourth-generation family firm that has been in business for a century and maintains its research facility in Lompoc.

"This is still the best place to grow sweet peas," said Lemon, who adds that the popular garden flower loves the cool coastal climate of Lompoc Valley.

"I dream about having a heat-resistant sweet pea," says the research director, who guides the work of four flower seed breeders. "I also would like to create a marigold that blooms anytime of the year."

Lemon's quest for seeds to produce new and improved flowers goes on west of town in a cluster of greenhouses that are off-limits to the public. But visitors can follow a road through Bodger Seeds property to reach a hilltop observation point that reveals the valley's rainbow of flower fields.

Directions to the lookout are in the 1990 Lompoc Valley Flower Field Tour brochure available from the chamber of commerce office at 111 S. I St.

A map gives locations of the fields and identifies the varieties of flowers grown in each this year. The blossoms are best from June to September.

We asked how the drought was affecting the area and Gary Keefe, Water Resources Manager for the city of Lompoc explained that the agricultural pumpers are conserving water. He reminded us that the area does have ground waters (underground springs) and assured us that the flowers this year would be as beautiful as any other year.

Thousands of visitors come to the valley every summer to see the brilliant display, and the chamber of commerce requests that vehicles be kept on the paved roads and not driven on the dirt shoulders because dust will harm the flowers. If you stop, leave room for other vehicles to pass.

Flower viewers also are reminded not to walk in the fields (or let pets run in the fields), and especially not to pick the flowers.

Another opportunity for viewing various blossoms is during the 68th annual Lompoc Alpha Club Flower Show. It will be held the weekend of June 23-24 during the flower festival. This is one of the state's major flower exhibits, with more than 300 arrangements by amateurs and children, plus commercial floral displays.

The show begins at noon both Saturday and Sunday in the Veterans' Memorial Building at the end of South H Street. Admission is $2 at the door; children under 12 years free.

The same weekend you can board a bus for an hourlong narrated tour of Lompoc's flower fields. Tickets are $3. The tour bus departs from Ryon Park at Ocean Avenue and O Street, the center of activity for the flower festival.

In addition, a free shuttle bus will run to the veterans' building for the flower show, the Lompoc Museum, where there is a special exhibit on the flower seed industry, and the historic Spanne-Fabing-McKay House, which has been furnished as it was a century ago.

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