Costa Farms presented the 2016 Season Premier at its 2-acre Trial Gardens in Miami, FL, in the third week of January. The event showcases varieties from breeders of all sizes to growers and major retail buyers, providing a look at what genetics are coming to the market and how they’ll perform in retail settings and in the landscape, when consumers bring them home. The mild winter climate in South Florida allows Costa Farms’ Research and Development Department to simulate the spring growing conditions of various regions in the country.
Because each group of visitors to Costa Farms’ Trial Gardens wants to see what the new plants look like in the environments that matter to them, Season Premier offers several areas within the Trial Gardens that highlight different ways to look at the wealth of new varieties. The New Product Showcase offers a way for retailers to see how plants will look in their stores. The Core Garden includes rows of landscape beds that mimic garden conditions of consumers when they actually bring plants home to put them in their gardens. The Mixed Container and Hanging Basket Trials, this year highlighting breeders’ choices for the different combos they wanted Costa Farms to evaluate, provide a look at how new genetics work together in containers. Finally, Costa Farms provides marketing displays and ideas for extending the season into summer for retailers. This area highlights ideas on how to bring more style to garden centers and attract a new group of consumers.
Trial Gardens Provide Education For All
The goal of the trial gardens, and of Season Premier, is to provide education to breeders, growers, and retailers to show how new varieties will perform at retail, as well as in the landscape, and what consumers are getting when they take these new plants home and put them in their gardens, says Research & Development (R&D) Director Angelica Cretu.
Before Season Premier, members of the grower councils of the major big box retailers will meet for a variety preview to see new genetics and vote on their favorites. Then, the breeders, grower councils, and buyers come together to review how the new genetics fared in the trial gardens at Costa Farms. There, they’ll begin to form decisions about the varieties they’ll trial for their operations for production the following year. The next step is seeing the varieties again at California Spring Trials, so they can compare the South Florida conditions to what they see in California.
Being able to work with the industry supply chain to provide that point of comparison was the vision when Costa Farms launched Season Premier in 2010, says Maria Costa-Smith, Executive Vice President – Color Division.
“By the time you get out to California, that will not be your first look. You will at least be able to say, ‘I saw that — and it didn’t look good in Florida but it looks good in California. It could be that it’s harder to grow anywhere else,’ or ‘Hey, I saw that in Florida and it really is a winner, and now the second time I see it, it looks really good.’ It gives you more confidence to invest in a bigger production trial.”
With Costa Farms’ investment in the perennials division of Costa Color, the operation is working to move the needle toward providing more of a comparison of perennials, similar to what has happened with annuals in the industry, Costa-Smith adds.
Costa Farms CEO and President Jose (Joche) Smith says running an unbiased trial of new varieties is important to the operation, because giving all breeders, regardless of size, an equal chance to showcase their genetics will ultimately provide the best products to the consumer, which should always be the objective.
“What we committed to from the beginning when we started the trialing program at Costa was to be completely unbiased,” Smith says. “There is no handpicked product. We don’t want to favor one breeder over another because we want to bring the right solution to the end consumer, period. It doesn’t matter who it is — it could be a breeder that has been established for 100 years or someone who is brand new and they’ve got something great to see. Let’s show it, and let’s bring the consumer a good solution. I think it forces the breeders also to bring us the best product they possibly can and to constantly bring new solutions to the marketplace.”
Highlights In The Core Garden And New Product Showcase
In the Core Garden row beds, Costa Farms planted varieties in week 51 and 52, transplanting at the finished stage, which is typically when most plants are shipped to retail. The evaluations are meant to simulate what the average consumer experiences after purchasing plants for their home garden. Once planted, they are fertilized but otherwise left alone. If there is an infestation, they’ll be treated, so the R&D team can also assess things like growth habit, but otherwise, the plants will attract natural predators, which keep pests away, Cretu says.
This allows Costa’s R&D team to measure transplant stress, how plants handle disease in the landscape, insect pressure, and the heavy rain in South Florida. Data is collected every week, and all information collected from the trial gardens is input and shared on the Costa Farms R&D department website. The website is open to the public, and the information is usable by breeders, customers, and all other growers.
Starting off, Ball FloraPlant revealed a new color in its Archangel line of angelonias. The first red in the Angelonia species known to date, ‘Archangel Cherry Red’ was a bit spindly in habit and not quite as upright as its blue bicolor counterpart, but the color is striking and looks great in both containers and the landscape.
Ball FloraPlant is introducing the Grandessa Interspecific Argyranthemum series for 2017. The series is daylength sensitive, so they’ll likely flower more as the days get longer, Cretu says. The flowers were large and attractive, among bushy, vigorous foliage.
Ball FloraPlant also tested its new Ipomoea Spotlight series in three uniform colors — Black, Lime, and Red.
Three new coleus from Ball FloraPlant are large, vigorous varieties that thrive in both containers and the landscape. They offer striking color in Ruby Slipper, Inferno, and French Quarter.
PanAmerican Seed has introduced its new MegaWatt Begonia series, with four new flower colors available with both green and bronze foliage. This new series is similar to Benary’s Whopper series, and the flowers are huge, like Big Begonias, also from Benary.
The new Pentas ‘Dwarf Magenta Star’ is a patented variety in multiple colors with a unique star pattern.
Two new ornamental peppers from PanAmerican Seed offer interest in the garden with adorable, tiny fruits. Hot Pops has round, purple fruit that matures to orange. Sedona Sun has oblong, pepper shaped fruit that starts white and matures to yellow.
Lavender ‘Lavenlace’ requires no vernalization and is unique in that it was flowering this time of year in South Florida, which isn’t normal for most lavenders due to daylength, Cretu says.
A unique ornamental ‘Pink Zebra’ corn variety boasts pink striped foliage and miniature corn ears.
Two new marigold varieties — ‘Fireball’ and ‘Strawberry Blonde’ — from PanAmerican Seed start out with red flowers, and mature to lighter colors. Fireball flowers turn into different shades of orange, while Strawberry Blonde flowers go from red to peach to a light yellow. These are sure to provide interest to gardeners of all experience levels.
Costa Farms trialed some roses from Certified Roses, to see how resistant they are to disease, because typically, roses don’t do well in Miami, Cretu says.
From Beekenkamp, the Kelos Fire sticcata type of Celosia are daylength neutral and stay in flower all season. The series is available in several colors, with Atomic Violet the most striking.
The Dahlia Labella Grande series are compact, large-flowered dahlias. It’s been tough, Cretu says, to find a series of dahlias that have a large flowers and a compact habit, because many compact dahlias have small flowers and many tall, vigorous dahlias have large flowers. But this Labella series from Beekenkamp may be the breakthrough, in handsome, rich colors including Orange Bicolor and Magenta.
Begonia Spring Plus is a new line of begonia from Benary, with seven colors — and they appear to be long to flower in Miami.
Syngenta Flowers is introducing three new Pentas varieties. Falling Star is the first-on-the-market series of trailing pentas, with four colors — Pink, White, Pink Star and Rose. They look incredible in containers, with the trailing habit and large flowers.
Bee Bright in three colors and Honey Cluster in four colors are two large-flowered, upright landscape varieties with huge flower heads and bright, clear colors. Cretu says they have beautiful architecture and are well-branched, with nice colors.
Sakata has a new gerbera series in the Majorettes. They are fairly compact plants with large flowers, and they look great in the landscape. The breeder is also trialing new Petchoa varieties, including a bright Magenta and a deep Red. This is a warm-weather petunia that will help extend the season with large flowers, Cretu says.
Selecta is debuting a new compact phlox in the Gisele series, with a few bright, clear colors. Its exciting new ‘Night Sky’ petunia was also on display, showing great vigor and a more clear, present pattern in the Miami sunshine.
Plant Haven has a great new series of Dianthus in American Pie that includes the incredibly fragrant Georgia Peach, which was wonderful and perfumey in the landscape.
Classic Caladiums has seven new caladium varieties with very striking and interesting patters. All were trialed in the core garden, and will add great interest to containers and shady landscapes.
Dümmen Orange presented several pre-introductions of its new Bloomtastic series of Calibrachoa. These high-impact, bright-colored varieties are bred to be more vigorous and will be positioned for landscape solutions. The new SunStanding New Guinea impatiens series from Dümmen Orange will be re-introduced in 2016 after a soft launch in 2015. They’ll be available for sale in 2016 after week 14. The series is bred to be more compact with larger flowers, and includes 14 colors, with as many in the pipeline to be introduced for 2017.
Costa Farms’ Research and Development department ran a trial of the New Guinea Impatiens for sun, including the now 10-year-old veteran SunPatiens from Sakata, SunStanding from Dümmen Orange, and Sun Harmony from Danziger. It was interesting to see how they compared in the garden with different habits and flower sizes.
Flowers and Flavors is one new program Costa Farms is offering this year. It’s being tested at one of the national retailers, and being considered by a couple of retailers. The program combines vegetable varieties with flower varieties for functional combinations that appeal to Millennials, as well as young families.
For more information on the trials, visit Costa Farms’ Research and Development website. Be sure to also check out our dedicated coverage of Florida floriculture with an upcoming in-depth article on new varieties, products, and trends presented at TPIE.