Chasing The Flags – Market Research From Trial Gardens

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Solanum wendlandii

During the Trial Gardens at University of Georgia open houses for the industry and the public, we asked visitors to place a small flag marker in their favorite plants. Approximately 700 people shared their passions this year, and the flags provided useful information about what catches the eye in the landscape.

This exercise is a snapshot in time. The annuals do not change dramatically in the intervening month, but the perennials do. Because of this, the plant lists may be different two weeks before or after this time period.

There are hundreds of plants in the garden, and asking people to choose only five is a daunting task. Many different plants had one to five flags, but only those with a significant number of flags have been included here. If a plant is on one of these lists, it may be worth taking a second look.

The Industry Open House

This gathering occurred in mid-June and was attended by approximately 300 landscapers, retailers, designers, breeders and brokers.

Industry Top 10

This list goes from fewest to most flags and includes my comments under each variety.

10. Begonia ‘Bonita Shea,’ UGA
A fabulous begonia, I hope some growers get it back on the market. It is too beautiful to let it go to waste.

9. Dahlia XXL ‘Vera Cruz,’ Dümmen
We seldom see dahlias look good in the heat and humidity of the gardens, but we are really excited about them this year. It was pleasing to see a dahlia selected. Many others in this series also looked healthy.

8. Pelargonium ‘Caliente Orange,’ Syngenta Flowers
The Caliente series is so good you can pick out the various colors 100 feet away. The Calientes always score well.

7. Eucomis ‘Reuben,’ De Goode Bulbs
A bulb is seldom selected, but this new cultivar of pineapple lily caught many eyes. The fact that it was hidden beneath a tree in the garden, yet still selected, says volumes about its beauty.

6. Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Lemon Slice,’ Proven Winners
We have approximately 80 calibrachoas in the garden. For two of them to stand out from the rest means they had to be something.

5. Petunia ‘Fortunia Purple Picotee,’ Fides
With more than 100 petunias looking exceptionally good, how could one be a clear winner? Whatever the reason, this one was.

4. Calibrachoa ‘Mini Famous Orange,’ Selecta First Class
See number six above.

3. Echinacea ‘Big Sky Solar Flare,’ ItSaul Plants
This is a perennial people never seem to get enough of. It was nice to see one of the Big Sky series of purple coneflowers heavily flagged.

2. Phlox ‘Peacock White,’ Syngenta Flowers
Another perennial that people could not get enough of, ‘Peacock White’ is always on lists at this time.

1. Solanum wendlandii Paradise Vine, UGA
The most flags went to a vine — and it was chosen by industry members. Who would have thought? Breeders, brokers and growers (all curmudgeons) stabbed this relative of the potato. The trial gardens team is making cuttings as you read this.

The Public Open House

This was held on July 14, almost a month later than the industry shindig, with about 350 people. It is interesting to note that the tastes of the consumer are somewhat different than those of the industry; in fact no calibrachoas or pelargoniums were chosen despite the fact that they looked good. As with the Industry Open House, many more plants were flagged. These are only the top 10.

Public Top Ten

This list also goes from fewest to most flags and includes comments.

10. Phlox ‘Peacock White,’ Syngenta Flowers
When any plant is picked on both lists, go find it, grow it and sell it. Enough said.

9. Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun,’ Ernst Benary of America
The yellow coneflowers were stunning. This one was chosen as the most stunning of the varieties with such flowers.

8. Capsicum ‘Basket of Fire,’ Vegetalis
We are trialing dozens of veggies, from tomatoes to peppers, and this tasty, but very hot, pepper was chosen as the best of all of them.

7. Impatiens ‘SunPatiens Blush Pink,’ Sakata
All our impatiens looked very good, but the public couldn’t get over the performance of the SunPatiens and the beautiful color of Blush Pink.

6. Coleus ‘Colorblaze Marooned,’ Proven Winners
The dark color was wonderfully set off by a handsome pink petunia in the same container.

5. Caladium ‘Tapestry,’ Bates Sons & Daughters
Caladiums just get better as the weather warms up, and this large-leaf cultivar caught everyone’s eyes.

4. Begonia ‘Bonita Shea,’ UGA
See number 10 on the Industry Top 10 list.

3. Petunia ‘Debonair Black Cherry,’ Ball Horticultural
That the public picked a petunia is simply amazing — this one really caught everyone by surprise.

2. Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess,’ Ball Ingenuity
This was not at all surprising. It is simply a fabulous plant with great foliage and great flowers.

1. Solanum wendlandii Paradise Vine, UGA
What can I say? The same plant was selected as the best plant in the entire garden by both groups! I know it will never be a mainstream item, but for those who grow vines, it would be wise to add this to your availability as soon as possible.

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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