Allan Armitage Finds A Lot To Love On His Last Day At Trials

On the last day of the 2015 California Spring Trials, Allan Armitage and the Greenhouse Grower team visited three stops that accounted for 12 breeding companies. From annuals and perennials to herbs and strawberries, Armitage found plenty to get excited about.

Hem Genetics

Walking into the diversity of plant material at Hem Genetics is always a treat. I enjoyed the butterfly snapdragons in many colors. Most of the new cultivars were fill-ins to complement its existing series of plants. I was pleased to see Hem getting into the ornamental/edibles. The basils were exciting; I particularly like the lemon basil.

I was most impressed with the Limbo GP (Garden Performance) series of petunias. I have seen more petunias than one person should ever have to look at, but this group had more basal branching and more compact habit than any others. They added new colors to round out the series.

Thompson & Morgan

The innovative breeding at Thompson & Morgan continues to impress; we have seen its introductions picked up by other companies throughout our travels this week.

T&M is always fun to visit, and generally have some interesting plants to show. Its cupcake cosmos were really neat. The flowers do not spread out as in common cosmos but stay in the shape of a cup. The off white and blush offerings were most eye-catching.

I happen to be a nasturtium fan. T&M has a new nasturtium series called Phoenix, whose flowers have cut petals. It is hard to describe, but I believe the colors and flower shape should do well.


Strawberries, strawberries and more strawberries. ABZ has come out with a bright-red-flowered strawberry ‘Ruby Ann’ to complement its pink-flowered strawberry, ‘Toscana.’ Add to this a tasty white-flowered form, ‘Montana’ and it is obvious ABZ is on its game.

Plant Source International (PSI)

How can you not love PSI? It does everything against the grain. Its plants are not patented; it bring common but unusual forms of plants that people know, enjoy and need. PSI is the source of some of the old-fashioned coleus, which still perform as well as any other. It has scented geraniums, ivies and neat plants like the popcorn plant. These great, well-established plants are difficult to find elsewhere, and it’s nice to know we have a source for reliable and time-tested material. Kudos to PSI.

Vista Farms

It is hard not be impressed when you see several types of bougainvillea. VistaFarms varieties are much more compact than others. Although it is a climber, it takes a little longer because of the short internodes on the plant. ‘Ruby’ and ‘Fire Opal’ are the latest introductions from Vista.

Southern Living/Sunset Western Collection

It is always good to see brands like Southern Living/Sunset Western expand its offerings and remain available to both independent garden centers and box stores. This year, I was taken aback by a variegated lomandra grass, ‘Platinum Beauty.’ This is going to be a winner. Its an annual in much of the country, but a drought-resistant, fabulous looking grass.

It also showed off a variegated lavender, called ‘Meerlo,’ which was truly handsome. It is mostly grown for the foliage, but with foliage like that, who needs flowers?

Southern Living/Sunset Western had many offerings, but one that caught my eye was salvia ‘Killer Cranberry.’ It is different from others in having very strong stems that do not flop over during shipping or in the landscape.

Lastly, among many of its offerings, I stopped again and again at the golden ligustrum. No flowers, therefore no nuisance.



Cohen Nurseries

Cohen had dozens of new introductions this year, but I couldn’t help but spend time with petunia ‘Happy Classic Yellow.’ This was one of the finest yellows I saw all week. The brilliant, large-flowered ‘Happy Magic Giant Dijon’ had exquisite color. This looked to me to be something that would move off the shelf very quickly.

Hishtil Nurseries

Hishtil had a number of exciting plants, even on the last day of our trip. The pink scabiosa, ‘Kudo Pink,’ had large flowers, nice color and a vigorous habit. This is a terrific looking plant. Hishtil also had a new Garden Star series of hardy campanulas, which were covered with handsome blue flowers. They should make a terrific landscape plant. I did not determine the cold hardiness, but they appeared to be hardy to at least Zone 5.

Another group Hishtil was showing off was the fun herb collection, a santolina that smelled like olives, another plant that smelled like cola and additional good-looking herbs for the end consumer.

Pacific Plug & Liner

The two plants that stopped me in my tracks were the echibeckia and the new perennial sun flower.

I have never been a fan of Echibeckia, but what I saw at PP&L made me want to try these out in my own garden. The flowers are large and colorful. Time will tell more about their garden performance, but I will tell my friends to try them out.

The new double helianthus sunflower, ‘Double Whammy,’ was the only perennial sunflower we saw all week. The large, double flowers were a handsome golden yellow and did not appear to be so vigorous as to go out of control. I am looking forward to trying these myself.

Lastly, PP&L is trying to package and market Hula Berries so consumers will not be intimidated by a white, strawberry-looking fruit. The packaging is simple, and provides good gardening instructions for the user.


Cultivaris always makes me smile with some of its fun-loving frolicking introductions. It continues to offer new colors and better forms of hybrid digitalis (digiplexis). This plant is a terrific annual whose noble stature and eye-catching colors will be profitable for some time.



I really like the new heart-leaf golden geranium called ‘Caroline’s Citrine.’ It glowed from the other side of the greenhouse and is an easy plant to combine in a mixed container. The flowers are not spectacular or prolific, but the foliage more than makes up for that. I think this is definitely worth a try. This will be introduced in 2016 and may be a highly profitable sleeper.


Our last stop was to the Ernst Benary Co., best known as begonia breeders. Benary has not lost a step in the many years it has been in business. The new companion to their popular ‘Santa Cruz’ begonia is the pink-flowered ‘San Francisco.’ It is similar to ‘Santa Cruz,’ but with slightly larger and handsome, light-pink flowers. This will do very well if pendulous begonias are in your mix.

Benary is marketing Big begonias, and is supporting growers, retailers and consumers with useful and pertinent information on how to better use the series.

Nonstop begonias were introduced by Benary, and it has not lost sight of this important crop. Nonstops have performed better in the ground than in containers, so this year, Benary is offering the yellow-flowered ‘Nonstop Joy,’ specifically selected for containers and baskets. Today, only Yellow is available, but additional colors are in the pipeline.

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