On The Road With Uncle Al
The Canadian Ornamental Plant Foundation trials were full of great varieties.
June 19, 2008
One of the many activities I have enjoyed is meeting some of the people involved in the Ontario greenhouse industry. In the Niagara region of Ontario, there are dozens of greenhouses supporting the landscape and retail markets. Historically, these landscapers and retailers have had a number of trial sites to visit, but recently, the Canadian Ornamental Plant Foundation (COPF), in cooperation with Greenhouse Grower and Greenhouse Canada, initiated a multi-site field and container trial extravaganza. Nearly all the "popular" breeders were represented in at least one of the trial sites, so growers could see a wide range of annuals, all within a 90-minute drive. The sites included Stokes Seed, JVK, George Sant & Son, Ed Sobkowich, Sawaya Garden Trials, Schenk Farms, Vineland Research Station, University of Guelph, Linville Farms and Jeffries Greenhouse. Although attendance was not overwhelming, everyone involved felt it was a good idea and plans to continue it next year are already in the works. Peggy Walsh Craig, the director of COPF, and Laurie Scullin, a board member of COPF, were pleased it became a reality and believe it will become a highly anticipated tradition.
I was not able to get to all sites, but I was impressed with some of the material I saw. For me, the interesting part is how it compared with the same material at other sites I have visited such as Georgia, Ohio and Vancouver. They were different indeed, but many of those I had admired in one place were also admirable in Niagara, and often even better.
This is a great chance to see all the major new plant groups in a day. The region is glorious, the wine plentiful and the plants excellent. Write Peggy (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information about next year's event, you will not be sorry.
Here are my top ten - just a sampling of what impressed me from the three sites I visited. Next year, I'll get to all of them. See you there.
Agastache 'Orange Acapulco' (Bodger Botanicals, Kieft Seed). A handsome, upright, strong-stemmed and nicely fragrant plant. The anise plants have come a long way in recent years and as the combination of color and fragrance become more important, this group of plants should fare well. 'Orange Acapulco' bears dozens of salmon-orange flowers and is an easy plant to combine with others.
Begonia Solenia series (Ecke/Oglevee). I have been impressed with this series of begonias since I first saw them this spring in our Georgia trials. They were heat tolerant and the best of any large begonia I have seen. In Niagara, they were bursting from their pots and equally impressive. I think the reds are the best, but other colors also catch the eye.
Calibrachoa 'Million Bells Crackling Fire' (Suntory). As many new calibrachoas as come out each year, it is hard to be impressed with yet another. However, the striking color of 'Crackling Fire' stopped me long enough to put it on my top 10 list. It is still a calibrachoa, so be aware of drainage and pH requirements.
Celosia 'China Town' (Stokes Seed). While unusual annuals are dominating the airways, some fine breeding continues in the bedding side. This feather celosia stood out from others with the dark scarlet flowers and the deep green foliage.
Fuchsia Wind Chimes series (Bodger Botanicals, Kieft Seed). Fuchsias are the province of cool nights and warm days, and I have been getting my daily allowance of fuchsia fix here in Niagara. However, I have never seen such compact, floriferous fuchsias as the Wind Chimes. I can't say I even like them, but boy they make you look twice and are impressive in a container.
Ipomoea 'Sweet Caroline Red,' 'Bewitched' (Bodger Botanicals, North Carolina State University). 'Margarita' sweet potato should be named the All North American, no, perhaps the All World annual of the last 10 years. It is everywhere, and its ability to combine with almost anything doubles its beauty and usefulness. However, the folks at Bodger Botanicals are no fools; they jumped on the new sweet potatoes and have been showing them off for a number of years. I like them all, but 'Sweet Caroline Red' and 'Sweet Caroline Bewitched' really looked good in Niagara as well as in the rest of the sites I have seen them. The only complaint I have is the confusion of the series. I see Sweet Caroline series and also SweetHeart series. I understand the difference in leaf shape, but if you look closely, leaf shape can be quite varied on the same plant. There are not enough sweet potatoes to confuse us with two different series. Call them all Sweet Caroline and simplify.
Iresine 'Blazing Lime' (Ball FloraPlant). The foliage craze will not be over for a long time yet, and the introduction of 'Blazing Rose' a couple of years ago put this genus back in the game. I looked at 'Blazing Lime' and was not sure if it was worthy of discussing, but the more I looked, the more I felt it would be a good companion for 'Blazing Rose' and an interesting landscape plant as well.
Petunia 'Potunia Pink' (Dömmen). I was impressed with the plants at the OFA trade show. As 4- to 6-inch container plants, they really held a nice round shape and were particularly attractive. At the trial in Vineland, Ontario, Wayne Brown showed me a large landscape container with beautiful gentle pink flowers and a wonderful full waistline. Wayne also commented on the ease of growth and lack of photoperiodic sensitivity. I am sold.
Petunia 'SuperCal Neon Rose' (Sakata). Some of the best of the petunia/calibrachoa crosses can be found in the SuperCal series. More vigorous than calibrachoa and less sensitive to some of the calibrachoa problems, 'Neon Rose' impressed me, and I have not been easily impressed with these hybrids. Definitely worth a try for next year.
Salvia farinacea 'Fairy Queen' (Stokes Seed). Just as 'Margarita' sweet potato is everywhere, so is 'Victoria' salvia. So when another blue salvia emerges, it will always have a tough time competing. 'Fairy Queen' should find a place, however, in that blue/white color niche that has evolved recently in designers' genre. I revisited this cultivar at the Stokes trials many times, commenting on the habit, the color, the uniformity and the stem strength. Is there a market for a bicolor salvia? In this case, I believe the performance may satisfy many doubters.
Allan Armitage is a professor, Department of Horticulture, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.