How I Spent My Spring Break

How I Spent My Spring Break

Geez Louise! I could have been playing in the garden, lobbing a softball on the old ballpark or just lazing around on spring break. But oh no, I got a note from Kate Santos at Costa Farms near Miami, Fla. She asked if I would help judge the outdoor trials.

I had never been to Costa, but did I really want to judge more annuals when we’ll be judging thousands of our own at the University of Georgia? I waffled a while longer and thought, “I know I will learn something.” Lots of room remaining in this Swiss cheese brain of mine, after all, so there I was on a plane to Miami to help make the world a better plant place for my daughters.  

First Impressions
Good for Costa Farms! They have made serious time and space commitments. This is not something they have to do. Heck, most growers have no ideas and no concern what their plants look like when they leave the bench. And let’s not forget the money! Costa hired two fantastic young ladies, Kate Santos and Angelica Cretu, to manage the trials–and they are making Costa proud.

They have created a lovely setting, but more importantly, a very credible trial ground. And they even bring in guest judges–veterans like Doug Jimerson from Better Homes and Gardens in Iowa and Heather Will-Brown from Disney World in Orlando.

So there we were in beautiful Homestead, Fla.–clipboard in hand, hat and sunglasses in place–like gladiators off to fight the lions in the noonday heat. Emperor Kate blew the whistle, and away we went. Kate and Angelica had everything ready for us, and their work made our efforts like a walk in the park.

My Observations

The plants went in the garden approximately week 45, and we were evaluating on week 11 (March 15). So they had gone through a Homestead winter–not exactly Kalamazoo–but nevertheless a real-world Florida-style winter.

There had been some cold nights (mid to high 30s) and not too many hot days (greater than 80 degrees). We evaluated the plants on many criteria, and while this was just a snapshot in time (Kate and Angelica take data throughout the season), here are my impressions about plants that caught my eyes. That a plant is not listed does not mean it is not good, but simply that on this day, others stood out more.

We all wondered then if we would see some of these great plants at the California Spring Trials, and if and how the breeders would market them.

Allan’s Picks

Alcea ‘Spring Celebrities Lemon’ (American Takii): Terrific upright habit, flowers not hid by the foliage, no rust or mildew.

Argyranthemum. Two exceptional argys caught my eye: ‘Beauty Yellow’ (Westflowers) and my old-time favorite, ‘Flutterby Yellow’ (Ecke Ranch), which is the best of the best.

Caladium. I know little about caladiums but oh my, nearly all the caldiums from Classic Caladium Co. looked outstanding.  
Capsicum. Few many peppers were on display in this trial, but I was taken by an upright form with golden fruit, ‘Rio’, from Takii. It’s very different and eye catching.

Coleus. I did not see anything too new and nothing that blew me away–an unusual non-occurrence for coleus. I was still impressed with the old trailer ‘Burgundy Wedding Train’ (Ecke), even though it is not new and not in the least bit sexy. Still, what a great plant for combination planters and baskets!

Erysimum. I just don’t know why we are not jumping on the wallflower wagon. There’s great breeding and good performance .Yes, it will not be a colorful summer annual, but for this time of year, they are hard to beat. The variegated ‘Fragrant Star’ (Aris Horticulture) was performing exceptionally well, just getting ready to flower.

Gaillardia. ‘Gallo Yellow Trumpet’ (Aris) was fantastic, with large colorful flowers.

Gazania. At this time of year in this climate, there is definitely a place for basket flowers. Some great introductions, with large flowers and disease-free plants, were on display. I really liked the New Day series, particularly ‘New Day Bronze,’ while ‘Sunbathers Sunset’ (Ecke) was the best of all.

Geranium: So many geraniums, so few standouts. One of the surprises to me was the excellent performance of the not-so-new Pinto series. ‘Pinto Scarlet’ (Syngenta Flowers) stood out. A couple of new entries from PAC Elsner are ‘Darko Deep Red’ and ‘Candy Colors Bicolor,’ both of which certainly caught my eye.
Of course, you are tired of hearing me extol the virtues of ‘Caliente Orange’ (Syngenta), but it is the best of the best.

Lobelia. It’s a good time of year for lobelias. ‘Hot Waterblue Imp’ (Westflowers), and ‘Techno Heat Upright Light Blue’ (Syngenta) looked very good.

New Guinea impatiens. Like a worn-out record, I keep repeating myself: The SunPatiens (Sakata) series are quite exceptional, and once again, they proved their value at Costa. I particularly like the Compact series. For the most impressive plants with the largest flowers, you will be hard pressed to beat the Magnum series (Dömmen). Fire and Peach take your breath away.

Lobularia. What a plant I found! Giga White from Benary is outstanding.

Osteospermum. Each year, like the argys, they get better. Even though there was no significant sapping heat, I can say that the breeding with the cape daisies has come miles. Ecke has some of the best with ‘Crescendo Yellow’ and ‘Crescendo Dawn Blush,’ but Ball is making strides with ‘Serenity 1999 Pink,’ ‘3D Daisy Silver’ and ‘Ballerina Pink.’

Petunia. If ever one genus continues to reinvent itself, it is the petunia. There’s lots of eye candy at Costa. My favorite, without a doubt, was ‘Littletunia Sweet Pink,’ followed by ‘Littletunia Ultra Purple’ (Ecke). I also was most impressed with ‘Whispers Star Rose’ (Syngenta).

Everyone is breeding excellent petunias. ‘Sweetunia Blueberry Ice’ from Dömmen was excellent; Westflowers has ‘Perfectunia Purple’ and ‘Perfectunia White’; ‘Supertunia Lavender Skies’ from Proven Winners, ‘Fortunia Purple Picotee’ from Fides and ‘Famous Violet Picotee’ from Ball Horticultural Co. round out the winners.

Phlox. Everyone, including me, was impressed with ‘Phloxy Lady Pink’ from Dömmen. The ‘Phloxy Lady White’ was only a tad behind.

Scaevola. Westflowers brought ‘Top Pot Blue’ and the bicolor ‘Diamond’ to the trials. They both looked very good.

Verbena. ‘Royal Chambray’ from Proven Winners could be seen from across the trials, and I was also pleased to see an upright verbena, ‘Lanai Upright Rose with Eye’ (Syngenta), make an appearance. It’s very interesting.

Viola. There are lots of pansies and violas from which to choose–the best was the Plentiful series (Ball), particularly ‘Plentiful Yellow.’ I was taken with the colors and performance of ‘Ultra Radiance Red’ (Sakata), and the Sorbet series, particularly Raspberry and ‘Blueberry Swirl (PAS).

I could think of better ways to spend my spring break, but not many. Kudos to Costa for investing the time, space and money into this most important transition between industry and consumer. I recommend a visit. Kate and Angelica will only be getting better at this, so get there soon.

Allan Armitage is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. He can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
phlox-fashionably-early-flamingo-walters-gardens

September 27, 2016

Walters Gardens Partnering With Darwin Colombia On Unrooted Cuttings

Beginning in spring 2017, Darwin Colombia will offer unrooted cuttings of more than 40 varieties of Walters Gardens’ new genetics, including many popular genera such as Agastache, Monarda, Nepeta, and Phlox.

Read More
Streptocarpus Ladyslippers Grape Ice (Green Fuse Botanicals)

September 27, 2016

9 New Blooming Potted Plants To Jazz Up The Home And Garden

Blooming potted plants are the ideal gift for anyone, from a homesick college student to a spouse in need of some cheering up. Check out nine these new introductions hitting the retail market in 2017.

Read More
clematis-taiga-feature

September 24, 2016

Plantarium 2016 Honors Winning Novelty Varieties

Novelties at Plantarium 2016 were judged by an expert committee from the Royal Boskoop Horticultural Society.

Read More
Latest Stories
phlox-fashionably-early-flamingo-walters-gardens

September 27, 2016

Walters Gardens Partnering With Darwin Colombia On Unro…

Beginning in spring 2017, Darwin Colombia will offer unrooted cuttings of more than 40 varieties of Walters Gardens’ new genetics, including many popular genera such as Agastache, Monarda, Nepeta, and Phlox.

Read More
Streptocarpus Ladyslippers Grape Ice (Green Fuse Botanicals)

September 27, 2016

9 New Blooming Potted Plants To Jazz Up The Home And Ga…

Blooming potted plants are the ideal gift for anyone, from a homesick college student to a spouse in need of some cheering up. Check out nine these new introductions hitting the retail market in 2017.

Read More
clematis-taiga-feature

September 24, 2016

Plantarium 2016 Honors Winning Novelty Varieties

Novelties at Plantarium 2016 were judged by an expert committee from the Royal Boskoop Horticultural Society.

Read More
mukgenia-nova-flame-terra-nova-nurseries-feature

September 23, 2016

Growers Offer Advice On How To Grow Mukgenia ‘Nova Flam…

‘Nova Flame’ is best brought in as a summer or fall crop and bulked over the winter.

Read More
deutzia-yuki-snowflake

September 22, 2016

Allan Armitage Suggests Plants That “Even My Neig…

When the urge to garden strikes, every homeowner needs a few plants like these for their yard.

Read More
Phlox 'Pink Profusion' (Green Leaf Plants)

September 13, 2016

Aris Horticulture Names Blair Hoey As Managing Director…

Hoey brings more than 20 years of greenhouse production and management experience to Green Leaf Plants, a young plant supplier of perennials serving the U.S. and Canadian markets.

Read More
hibiscus-hollywood-hot-shot

September 12, 2016

New Variety Award Winners Announced At Farwest 2016

A panel of industry experts, as well as show attendees, selected a thornless blackberry and a hydrangea for the top honors.

Read More

September 7, 2016

Check Out The Best Annuals For Attracting Bees And Butt…

Public interest in protecting bees and other pollinators has initiated a new market for flowers that are good food plants for pollinators. Here's a list of annuals Michigan State University Extension recommends that are attractive to bees and other pollinators.

Read More

September 6, 2016

10 Colorful Spring Plants For Sales In 2017

Trends with plants come and go, but color always sells. These spring crops for 2017 offer color choices ranging from bold and vibrant hues to understated, softer tones, and they’re versatile enough to be used in baskets, containers, beds, and borders.

Read More

September 5, 2016

7 New Shrubs And Foliage Plants For Spring Interest

Perennials and annuals aren’t the only plants that supply spring color to the garden. Shrubs and foliage plants also add color and interest and are a great way to round out your spring product mix.

Read More
Janikia Eckert

September 4, 2016

All-America Selections Presents Achievement Awards At I…

Jim Nau of Ball Horticultural received the AAS Medallion of Honor, while Janika Eckert of Johnny’s Selected Seeds took home the Breeders Cup.

Read More
Phlox 'Pink Profusion' (Green Leaf Plants)

August 30, 2016

14 Cool Season Plants To Kick Off The Spring Season

These new cultivar introductions for 2016 are spring bloomers that can take the cold for early-season sales.

Read More
Penn State University Trial Day

August 26, 2016

How Greenhouse Growers Can Broaden Their Horizons

Allan Armitage says you can learn new ideas to help your business when you get out to visit plant trials and other growers.

Read More

August 23, 2016

Kick Spring Sales Up A Notch With 20 New Plant Introduc…

It’s time to look forward to the spring season and what plants will get your business off to the right start. These 18 new cultivars have all the traits of good breeding — uniform habits, bold colors, showy blooms, good vigor, and excellent branching.

Read More

August 23, 2016

Gardens Alive! Parent Company Buys Zelenka Farms

  Zelenka Farms, which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, says LM Farms, which owns Gardens Alive!, has purchased the company and all of its assets. BFN Operations LLC and its affiliated entities, d/b/a Zelenka Farms, operated one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the U.S. Its products include shrubs, trees, perennials, roses, and groundcovers. The owners of Gardens Alive! have successfully purchased several other companies from bankruptcy and are experienced nursery managers. Niles Kinerk, Chairman of LM Farms, stated that “the opportunity to purchase Zelenka Farms assets and to continue the turnaround that is well underway is exactly the kind of opportunity that we look for. We understand the efforts of the management team led by Eric Ek and others have been successful, and we will support the management team in the coming months and years.” Zelenka Farms operates its six facilities across the key growing regions in the […]

Read More
Coreopsis-UpTickCream-19793-DarwinPerennials

August 20, 2016

Growing Tips On Coreopsis UpTick Series From John Wilso…

Editor’s Note: In this new feature, the Greenhouse Grower varieties team will choose one noteworthy variety each month we think is worth bringing to your attention. Then we’ll share growers’ and breeders’ perspectives on the best ways to produce it successfully at your operation. This month we focus on the hardy Coreopsis UpTick series, winner of Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Industry’s Choice Medal of Excellence for Breeding. Growing Tips From John Wilson, Seville Farms When asked about producing Coreopsis UpTick, John Wilson says he doesn’t have much to say because it was so easy to grow. Wilson, a Corporate Grower for Seville Farms, says based on the new series’ strong performance during the trialing he has done so far, the nursery ordered a large quantity of the plants for future growing. “If breeders were looking to come up with something that says ‘wow,’ they have done it with the UpTick Series,” […]

Read More
Eucomis arrangement from Golden State Bulb

August 19, 2016

What’s New With Blooming Potted Plants

From exotic orchids and lilies to flashy red cyclamen and jaunty gerberas, new blooming potted plants come in every shape, size, and color.

Read More
Craspedia Golf Ball Beauty (Danziger)

August 19, 2016

Learn How Unconventional Plants Can Be Hidden Gems

According to Kelly Norris, plant breeding inspired by consumer motivations and interests restores our connection with consumers thirsty for out-of-the-ordinary plants.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]