Armitage’s Take On The California Spring Trials, Day 2

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Allan Armitage mixing it up with Sakata breeder Mark Seguin.

Allan Armitage mixing it up with Sakata breeder Mark Seguin.

With the hundreds of people coming through California Spring Trials (CAST) and the hundreds of ideas and plants on display, you would expect different things to appeal to different people. I listen. I nod vigorously. And at the end of the visit, I recall what has passed through my filter, likely different from the clarion of others.

So here goes, let’s wander through the trials together.

Takii

It is impossible not to be impressed with Takii’s introductions over the many years we’ve been here. They have brought many innovative plants to us, especially in the past few years. In fact, Takii plants have garnered AAS awards for the last three years. Here are a couple of this year’s plants that caught my eye.

The agastache Arizona series provides good looking pot material in three unique colors. Plants are compact, well-branched and best of all, give us wonderful fragrance — and fragrance should not be underestimated. They are produced from seed, which is going to allow the grower a tough plant at a reasonable price. I would look forward to seeing these with my eyes and nose in the 2014 season.

You cannot help but be awed by the diversity of cut flowers Takii has introduced to the market. I saw some spectacular stocks (matthiola) and was most impressed with the white and cream colors of these cuts. Others on display such as dianthus ‘First Love’ and ‘Sunrich’ sunflowers are leaders in the cut flower marketplace. Our American cut flower growers are better because of these efforts.

I was also impressed with Takii’s new Mambo and Congo series of peppers  — handsome, shiny, colorful fruit and lustrous foliage. And lastly, the experimental violas were very good. If I talk more about them, they will have to kill me — just be on the lookout for them.

OHP

I’m very impressed with Marengo pre-emergent herbicide for greenhouse use. Officially labeled for greenhouses, it is non-volatile and incredibly effective. If weeds are an issue in the greenhouse, I believe this would be a great help.

Sakata

Sakata has been responsible for such huge introductions as Majestic Giants pansies and SunPatiens. From the grower and retailer perspective, anything Sakata does to enhance those labels is good news for all. They showed new colors in Majestic Giants II, which keeps the brand alive and well. It is the most widely recognized brand of plant to American consumers, and Sakata is trying to keep it that way.

Sakata has long known that SunPatiens grow well in shade, but they are now attempting to differentiate which ones work best there. This will be a boon to growers, retailers and landscapers needing plants that perform in the shade. This is an excellent product, and new improvements to SunPatiens continue.

The Profusion zinnias, another outstanding series from Sakata, continues to improve with the introduction of new double flowers. Profusions are one of the finest zinnias to be introduced in many years and will continue to be so.

I’m a sucker for interesting vegetables, especially those that are ornamental as well as tasty. I am in love with baby broccoli, which is also known as Broccolini in grocery stores. These took my fancy because the plants were upright, so I can put more in my garden. They produce tasty broccoli-like spears. I can’t wait to plant these at home.

Another cool season veggie that caught my eye was ‘Peppermint’ chard. With its beautiful foliage and spectacular pink and white striped petioles, this is a no-brainer for use in cool seasons.

And lastly, Sakata is working hard on vegetables for smaller gardens, such as compact zucchinis, pumpkins, peppers and tomatoes. I tasted the ‘Sweet Treat’ cherry tomatoes, and I can’t wait to taste it again.

Smithers Oasis

The stop at Smithers Oasis was eye-opening. They are working on providing a variety of foam products that will allow growers to propagate and grow almost anything, focusing on rapid and full development of the root system of almost all propagules. They also have their sights set on the world of hydroponics, for which their products are eminently suited.

Greenex

As always, Greenex has some superb breeding in kalanchoes, as well as unique ideas in interesting succulents. Their kalanchoes, both single and double, are compact and come in vibrant eye-catching colors. However, the most exciting thing was their display of mini-kalanchoes and orchids that could be shown at any retail garden center or grocery store. Why don’t we use these mini-kalanchoes and orchids as a gift for mixers or to be put on a window sill or coffee table and enjoyed. The individual colors were handsome, but Greenex’s gift box of four mini-kalanchoes was brilliant. Creativity is alive and well in horticulture.

Plant Source International (PSI)

I am in awe of Plant Source International. Surrounded, flanked and smothered by intense breeders of geraniums, petunias and begonias, PSI brings a breath of fresh air to the blue-collar gardener and grower. Troy Lucht offers no excuses for his common herbs, scented geraniums, popcorn plant or common periwinkle that he brings to the marketplace. Many of his plants are not patented but are excellent plants nonetheless. I saw what all of us would consider old coleus yet they are as good as anything on the market today. Tony’s credo, “Just because it is not new, does not mean it’s not good,” makes great sense.

Hem Genetics

The celosia, petunia and dianthus at Hem Genetics are always well worth exploring. The ‘Supra’ dianthus were compact and vibrant, while their petunias, especially with the GP (garden performance) designation, were compact and well-branched in containers and promised to spread out in the landscape. These plants have good colors, great vigor and promise to have strong garden performance. It was good to see an ageratum going against the stream.Planet Blue’ is a vigorous landscape-type ageratum as opposed to the common meatball types. Hem also has a line of seed geraniums, some with excellent zonation and large flowers. I was also impressed with the Reddy series of salvia. I noted some terrific bicolors on well-branched plants with many flowers.

Thompson And Morgan

Thompson and Morgan is always a treat to visit. Their diversity of plant material is never ending. This year, we saw the Rainbow series of beets and radishes, which cannot help but make a gluttonous beet and radish eater out of you. On the flower side, I liked the Cosmix series of cosmos, a mix of colors of large flowers on sturdy, short plants. Other plants that caught my eye were some excellent vines, such as bell vine (rhodochiton) and black-eye Susan vines (thunbergia). However, the treats for me were the double-flower nasturtiums and a new split-petal form called ‘Phoenix.’

ABZ Strawberry

ABZ Strawberry is always a mouthwatering visit, with dangling fruit ready to be picked. Their introductions make any garden more interesting. Hanging baskets, containers or in the garden, ABZ has a great product.

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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