Going back to the first spectacle in 1890, the Tournament of Roses Parade has always celebrated the botanical bounty of Southern California—how just about anything grows here, and prolifically. There was no better testament than the blooms saturating the floats rolling down Colorado Boulevard, which had all arrived from fields within a 200-mile radius of L.A.: Lompoc, Carpinteria, Pacific Palisades, Oceanside, and Carlsbad.
As a kid living in Pasadena, Jim Hynd frequently volunteered for float duty and recalls the freshly picked marigolds from the Palisades bluffs, the chrysanthemums from the Carlsbad meadows. By the 1980s, however, the landscape had radically changed. Rising real estate prices, competition from overseas, and the incentive to switch to more profitable crops had done in many growers, making foreign product more plentiful and affordable.
Now most of the 18 million flowers dazzling viewers each January 1 (this year it’s January 2) come from exotic places: roses from Ecuador and Colombia, lilies and tulips from Holland, daffodils and hyacinths from Australia, orchids from Thailand. Then last year Hynd, who’d turned his passion into a profession as co-owner of Fiesta Parade Floats, got a request for a display made only of California-grown plants. “I really didn’t think it could be done,” he says. Fittingly, it was a clockmaker who had asked Hynd to, well, turn back the clock. Woody Young wanted to honor the 80th anniversary of Kit-Cat, the iconic bug-eyed, tail-wagging feline that Young’s California Clock Co. manufactures entirely in Southern California. The challenge for Hynd was to create the float’s giant timepiece, jukebox, and one-of-a-kind skateboard feature from in-state sources.
Drawing largely from veteran growers in Santa Barbara and San Diego counties, Hynd persevered. With a few tweaks of the design, everything—even the pro skateboarders careening around the specially designed ramp—will be local. Who knows? With sustainability on everyone’s mind, a man’s quest to keep his float close to home might blossom into a trend.
Photograph by Alyson Aliano