Plants I Know My Daughters, Neighbors And Friends Would Like To See At Retail

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Whenever I go shopping for plants, admittedly not very often, I wander around aisles and see what is being offered. At the box store, I notice carts piled up with bags of fertilizer, fungicide bottles, weed and feed and ant killer bags. It doesn’t appear that the eco–boom has lasted very long.

At both the boxes and the independent garden centers, plants are also flying out the door. Thirsty hydrangeas, junky junipers, boring boxwoods and crepes are on their way out, as well as the everyday ivies, marigolds, petunias and red salvias. In the boxes, I see bench after bench of random color. In the independent garden centers, I observe far more creativity, far more ideas and in many cases, for better or worse, far more selective customers.

 

 

There are dozens of new plants appearing this year —“new” being quite different to my friends than to us — that should appeal to all customers regardless of their shopping venue. I have looked at dozens of plants and ran many of them past my daughters and friends for their opinions. I could write about dozens the many plants with sales appeal, but here are five plants I hope to see more of in the future:

Rex Begonia Hybrids

Rex begonia hybrids such as the Shadow King series and Jurassic series. There is nothing I have seen recently that compares to the wow appeal of these plants in containers at retail. Nothing. People know what they are and are not intimidated by them, and they are simply quite beautiful. They require good grower skills, creative marketing to show them off and correct information for my daughters to be successful, but these are potential winners.

The Return Of Impatiens

Impatiens need to return to retail, landscape beds and gardeners. No doubt we rang the sirens about downy mildew on bedding impatiens — they are next to impossible to buy this year — and that is not a bad thing at all. However, shade needs to be filled with a low-growing spreader and until we find downy-resistant bedding impatiens, I have great hope for varieties like the Bounce series. I am in the process of trialing these in my own garden, but if they stay low, spread well and are truly shade tolerant (as we have been promised), landscapers and my daughters will eat them up. However, if they are not, homeowners and landscapers will turn off in droves.

Novelty Annuals

I dislike the term novelty, as when you call a plant a novelty item, it is often the kiss of death. However, nowhere can it be stated that geraniums and petunias are not mainstream, even if there are as many as grains of sand. People love them, and the more catching forms are perfect for decks, patios and balconies. I hope to see more people trying out the Glitterati geraniums like the new ‘Ice Queen’ and variegated petunias, like the Glamouflage series. There have been variegated forms of both these plants in the past, but I am particularly taken with these series of plants — they add pizzazz — and boy, do we need pizzazz.

Gerbera Daisies

I have always had a tough time embracing Gerbera daisies, but I seem to be the only one. My wife, my daughters and everyone at the retail store are walking out with pots of these brilliant, colorful flowers. I have seen a dozen series over the last few years, all quite beautiful, but I hope multiflora forms like the Garvinea series appears on more retail benches. The colors are outstanding; the choices are plentiful, and the performance in my trials has been the best of any gerberas I have tried, even returning after Zone 7 winters. When my daughters ask which one, this is what I would like to see them take home.

Veggies

If anything seems to be walking out the doors this season, it is the veggies. Traditional Big Boy tomatoes and bell peppers will forever be popular, but I see more and more emphasis on other forms, as well. There has been a good deal of interest in patio forms, and I am a big believer in veggies on the deck. There is enough room in the market for such innovations, and when I see what is coming down the pipe, like the ‘Rapunzel’ tomato, I shake with joy at the possibilities.

Such innovations are difficult to market in the spring, but I believe there is a potential upside to the grafted tomatoes finally getting some traction. If the yield and vigor of heirloom forms of tomatoes like ‘Brandywine’ can be improved, and if the rootstocks convey additional disease resistance to marginal but tasty cultivars, the concept can take off. These are not new to us, but certainly new to the gardener. I even paid the higher price (which will be an issue), but I am looking forward to more ‘Brandywines’ than ever.

Allan Armitage was a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia for 30 years. He recently retired and remains an active consultant, author and lecturer.
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