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...

May 23, 2017

USDA-APHIS Bulletin on Unauthorized Distribution of Genetically Engineered Petunias

On May 2, 2017, USDA-APHIS was informed that an orange petunia variety was potentially genetically engineered and had been imported and moved interstate without required authorization by APHIS. This led to testing of numerous petunia varieties, which confirmed this particular variety and several others are genetically engineered, and meet the regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations. APHIS continues to work with the industry to ensure unauthorized GE petunias are not distributed in the United States.

Read More
Petunia F1 African Sunset from American Takii

May 22, 2017

Genetically Modified Petunia Update: Question and Answer with AmericanHort’s Craig Regelbrugge

AmericanHort’s key role interfacing with the USDA on the recall of genetically modified petunias has helped the horticulture industry rapidly address the problem. Senior Vice President Craig Regelbrugge talks about recent updates, the impact on the industry, and where it goes from here.

Read More
Eason 2017 spring trials report

May 16, 2017

New California Spring Trials Report Now Available From Eason Horticultural Resources

The report features genetics from 21 different breeding companies and information gathered from the 15 different stops on this year’s tour.

Read More
Latest Stories

May 23, 2017

USDA-APHIS Bulletin on Unauthorized Distribution of Gen…

On May 2, 2017, USDA-APHIS was informed that an orange petunia variety was potentially genetically engineered and had been imported and moved interstate without required authorization by APHIS. This led to testing of numerous petunia varieties, which confirmed this particular variety and several others are genetically engineered, and meet the regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations. APHIS continues to work with the industry to ensure unauthorized GE petunias are not distributed in the United States.

Read More
Petunia F1 African Sunset from American Takii

May 22, 2017

Genetically Modified Petunia Update: Question and Answe…

AmericanHort’s key role interfacing with the USDA on the recall of genetically modified petunias has helped the horticulture industry rapidly address the problem. Senior Vice President Craig Regelbrugge talks about recent updates, the impact on the industry, and where it goes from here.

Read More
Eason 2017 spring trials report

May 16, 2017

New California Spring Trials Report Now Available From …

The report features genetics from 21 different breeding companies and information gathered from the 15 different stops on this year’s tour.

Read More
Schizachyrium scoparium The Blues

May 13, 2017

How Ornamental Grasses and Sedges Can Play a Role in Po…

Grasses and sedges provide food, shelter, and support for pollinators and the birds and mammals that keep insect populations in balance.

Read More
Asclepias with a bumblebee

May 8, 2017

How to Choose the Best Native Plants for Pollinator Gar…

The popularity of native plants is rising as gardeners become conscious of the need to plant more pollinator gardens. The challenge is to select the right plants to put in them.

Read More
Allan Armitage Of Naked Ladies and Forget Me Nots

May 2, 2017

Allan Armitage: How Growers Can Be Creative to Take Gar…

Our industry does a good job of making things convenient for our customers. It’s time to take it a step further.

Read More
Asclepias tuberosa

April 29, 2017

Greenhouse Growing Tips for Asclepias tuberosa

Madeline Maynor, Growing Operations Manager for Landenberg, PA-based North Creek Nurseries, shares greenhouse growing tips for Asclepias tuberosa, the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Read More
Andropogon gerardii Blackhawks (Intrinsic Perennial Gardens)

April 25, 2017

Kelly Norris: Diversity is the Key to Growing the Ornam…

Offering a selection of ornamental grasses that cater to customer needs will keep sales from stagnating.

Read More

April 25, 2017

41 New Vegetative Petunias From California Spring Trial…

With the abundance of new introductions for the 2018 retail season, we’ve made it easier for you to sift through them by separating out the vegetative petunias from the Northern sites, which includes selections from Westhoff Flowers, Sakata Ornamentals, Danziger, Proven Winners, and Syngenta flowers.

Read More
Begonia Spectre Silver Terra Nova Nurseries

April 20, 2017

Terra Nova Nurseries Releases Two New, Attractive Begon…

Stardust is the latest addition to Terra Nova Nurseries’ existing T Rex Begonia series, and Silver is the first introduction to the company’s new Spectre Begonia series.

Read More

April 18, 2017

Cool Combos From CAST 2017 – Editor’s Choic…

With container gardening becoming more of a lifestyle among consumers than a trend, and breeders continuing to put more effort in container mixes and components, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't share some of the special combinations that not only caught my eye at California Spring Trials, but absolutely took my breath away and made me want to immediately get started gardening.

Read More
Danziger New Hires

April 16, 2017

Danziger Invests in Continued North American Business G…

As part of a new business structure for its North American market, Mike Fernandez has been appointed Market Manager North America for Bedding Plants and Perennials, and Kate Zvara was named as Key Account Manager and Retail Specialist.

Read More
Florida Flower Trials

April 12, 2017

Looking for Info on New Varieties for Hot Climates? Che…

The Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association’s Florida Flower Trials, which are focused on new and improved varieties able to thrive in the extremes of Florida’s climate, are a great opportunity to connect with national breeders.

Read More
Lupinus Staircase Series (Green Fuse Botanicals)

April 11, 2017

Begonias, Celosias Among Dr. Allan Armitage’s Favorites…

Check out some of Allan’s top picks from his final day at CAST 2017, which included visits to Green Fuse Botanicals and Floranova.

Read More
Rex Begonia container mix at Green Fuse Botanicals

April 11, 2017

Green Fuse Botanicals’ Rex Begonias and First Looks; Fl…

Here are the highlights from Green Fuse Botanicals and Floranova on the last day of CAST 2017.

Read More

April 7, 2017

Hort Couture Wows With Farm to Table; Florist Holland R…

On the last day for GroLink and the second to last for the Greenhouse Grower team, the wealth of genetics, marketing programs, and announcements were pleasing to our eyes, ears, and hearts.

Read More

April 7, 2017

California Spring Trials Day Five: Notable New Plant Va…

See some of the new varieties for 2018 displayed at Ball Horticultural and GroLink Plant Company on day five of California Spring Trials 2017.

Read More

April 7, 2017

PanAmerican Promotes Pentas, Plug-and-Play, and Veggies…

On Day 5 of the California Spring Trials, the Greenhouse Grower team hit the Southern California Trials and saw a multitude of new introductions and exciting programs.

Read More