Armitage: Hort Couture, Westhoff Infuse Style, Craze Into Genetics

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Florist Holland's Garvinea series gerberas have many smaller flowers and incredibly vibrant colors.

Day 3 and life is still good, at the California Spring Trials. We are in beautiful Santa Barbara, so it is difficult to complain about my lot in life. Our day started out with seven stops in the GroLink facility in Oxnard. We walked in the door and knew we were to be overwhelmed!

Florist Holland

We started out with Florist, and I was stunned by the number and the colors of the gerbera daisies – wonderful colors – and a diversity of flower sizes. I have long enjoyed the Garvinea series, with smaller flowers and incredibly vibrant colors. Although bearing smaller blossoms, plants flower for a long period of time. I have worked with these in Georgia, and many have been excellent in their performance.

But to be truly blown away is to wander through the Patio series of gerberas, with their mammoth flower size, dozens of different colors and handsomely displayed plants. These may look very nice in a protected patio area or in containers that are somewhat shielded from the worst of the weather. Florist is doing a fabulous job with its gerberas. I was most impressed.

PlantHaven

We went across the aisle to see the people at PlantHaven, a wonderfully innovative company that represents breeders. PlantHaven showed off a new black-leafed colocasia called ‘Hawaiian Punch,’ which might be as good or even better than ‘Diamond Head’. It is certainly shorter.

The Penhow Little diascias at PlantHaven were also quite spectacular. They have mounded habits, are full of flowers and have an assortment of salmon, coral and reds – you could not take your eyes off them. Diascias do very well in areas of cool summers, and I think this new group of plants is one growers might want to look at.

PlantHaven always has some interesting plants, but one of the most eye-catching was the black-leafed Mystic Wonder dahlia. These are vigorous plants with deeply cut leaves and handsome red flowers. What really caught the eye, however, was most some of the darkest purple, essentially black, foliage I have seen in some time.

Hort Couture

Moving over to Hort Couture, I knew I was in for a treat when I was immediately assailed by Gerry Raker and Jim Monroe. Both of these men have more energy than 10 other people combined. They are using that energy to build the Hort Couture brand.

I am probably as fashion-challenged as anyone, yet even I was impressed with Hort Couture’s stylish runway and beautiful becapped models. Hort Couture has a story; it is one on how young people are buying plants now and in the future. People are talking about Hort Couture because of the way they approach their merchandising and marketing.

But marketing will only go so far. To be successful, there must be good plants behind the marketing plan. Under The Sea coleus are a good example of well executed marketing, and these are always fun to look at – especially when you take a leaf off and check out the wily crustaceans.

The variegated petunia, ‘Glamoflauge Grape,’ caught my eye and if the variegation holds up in hot summers, I expect to see much of this plant in the future. ‘Blue Zebra’ primrose was fun to look at – an example of what Hort Couture is all about: making the buying and the use of plants fun at every level. Good job, Hort Couture

Westhoff

From Hort Couture, we marched over to Westhoff– we needed no more than a glance to see that these German breeders are quickly figuring out how to be successful in the American market. Their beautiful new calibrachoa, ‘Peach Cobbler,’ was visible across the greenhouse. If the colors hold up in the landscape, Westhoff absolutely has a winner.

I don’t know how many more petunias I can stand, but Westhoff’s Perfectunia series stopped me again, with its very large flowers and handsome colors. But for sheer joy in looking at petunias, I had a blast with Westhoff’s Crazytunia program. These provided colors and hues that you just don’t normally see in petunias. ‘Cherry Cheesecake’ and a few beautiful experimentals absolutely made me chuckle, and I know others would enjoy buying flowers even more. Who said Germans have no sense of humor?

Westhoff has been well known for its lobelia breeding, and it presented a number of good forms and colors. The most potentially outstanding was ‘Hot Night Blue.’

GreenFuse Botanicals

Visiting my friends at GreenFuse is always an adventure. This year was no exception with a couple of additions to their Blanket petunia line, a line of which they should be very proud. .

I really like the Gumdrops double begonias that GreenFuse has stayed with. The market for double begonias has not been terribly strong in the past, but they believe in them and so do I. As a shade-tolerant plant, these should have good market traction this year.

GreenFuse also showed off a number of interesting other annuals, including some new additions to its bacopa line (‘Betty Pink’) and interesting scaevola (‘Scampi White’ and Blue).

It was interesting to see GreenFuse moving more strongly into perennials. I love GreenFuse’s gauras, ‘Bantam Pink’ and ‘Bantam White,’ and I believe some of their salvias hold great potential in the perennial salvia market. Green Fuse has been strong in the agastache breeding, and it has not disappointed this year as well.

Athena Brazil

I’ve always loved what Athena Brazil does with “off-the-trodden-path” plants for the greenhouse industry. They always have something exciting, such as alternanthera ‘Little Ruby’ and different clerodendrums, as well as other plants that are potentially money makers – but they simply are not petunias. This year, I was pleased to see Athena is offering a collection of vines – annual vines for the greenhouse grower that I know the retailer will do well with. This is a step on the wild side to be sure, but I will be supporting them all the way down the line. We need people who will take chances, and Athena does not shy away from such challenges.

GroLink

Then off to GroLink where I was thoroughly educated about hardy mums. They have been doing this for many, many years and have programs in place that even someone like myself could be successful with. Six- and seven-week response groups, small and large flowers, and all plants providing color and mounding habits for containers or the landscape.

One tends to overlook hardy mums when petunias, calibrachoas and pansies fill the air. But mums are a strong, stable group of plants with which GroLink is doing an excellent job.

Skagit Gardens

The visit to Skagit was a great opportunity to see how the breeding of the Gold series of helleborus are being positioned. Skagit showed how some of the new generation of helleborus can be used for Christmas sales and to bring traffic into garden centers much earlier than normal. They showcased many beautiful cultivars in the helleborus program, my favorite being ‘Pink Frost,’ hands down!

It was also enlightening to see how Skagit grouped its perennials for early spring, mid and late summer offerings. For example, Skagit showed off primulas and wallflowers for early spring while scabiosa and coreopsis are positioned for summer sales. I was most impressed with coreopsis ‘Big Bang Mercury Rising,’ whose dark flowers and compact habit caught my eye. Skagit’s new Centaurea looks promising and I still enjoy seeing gaillardias like ‘Moxie’ and ‘Frenzy.’ 

 

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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