Kelly Norris: Three Variety Trends That Caught My Eye This Spring

Amsonia Short Stop from Intrinsic Perennials
Amsonia ‘Short Stop,’ from Intrinsic Perennials, is a promising amsonia with purplish-black stems that is half the size of the standard A. tabernaemontana.

As Director of Horticulture at a young, entrepreneurially charged botanical garden, I’m passionate about exposing public garden users to new plants. Without fail, spring is an intense season for horticulture, visitation, and programming. But with each spring comes a new opportunity for planting and curating the latest varieties and underappreciated gems for our collections and the visiting public. On the move with trowel in hand, I’ve made note of a series of recurring thoughts on the subject of new varieties. Here’s one slice of the season that was.

First Impressions

Mother always said they mattered. Here are a few new or recent introductions that did more than show up for the first date. (Keep in mind, nobody’s getting married here, but I’m smitten enough for a follow-up text.)

Phlox ‘Opening Act Blush’ from Walters Gardens and Proven Winners isn’t even planted, and I’m already in love with the possibilities. Truthfully, I’m in love with the hordes of new, shorter, disease-resistant phloxes coming onto the market that redeem and reinvigorate the possibilities in this truly American genus. Smooth leaves, abundant flowers, and compact habits — what’s not to love?

For gardeners and growers alike, amsonia have perennial appeal, probably because they offer silvery blue flowers in season when the whole presentation just feels right. Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials plans to further capitalize on the potential of amsonia with two recent releases, including ‘Short Stop,’ which measures up to only half the size of standard A. tabernaemontana with purplish-black stems. In Intrinsic’s distinctive purple pots, stems flushing with buds, the effect of ‘Short Stop’ at retail was palpably exciting.

In the annual realm, Gomphrena ‘Cosmic Flare’ from Plants Nouveau looks to light up our world this summer. I’m still a sucker for what Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ does in the garden, even if the plant Illuminati view it as a bit cliché. Introduce chartreuse foliage, however, and you’re ready for hardball with any holdouts. I can’t imagine consumers won’t crave these electric leaves.

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden Festival
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden hosts a four-day, pop-up retail festival, featuring nearly 500 different kinds of plants.

Market Penetration — Not As Deep As We Think

Each Mother’s Day, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden hosts a pop-up retail festival, featuring nearly 500 different kinds of plants and educational opportunities for all ages. While the event is young, it generates around $100,000 of gross revenue for our budding institution, and gets about 2,500 people through our doors in high spring.

As I interacted with customers at the festival, I couldn’t help but think of how long it takes for most varieties to reach any kind of mainstream awareness. The hard reality is that our plants, in theory, have (need) longer lifespans than we often realize. Qualitatively, I don’t seem to associate any particular level of consumer awareness with demographics. Even astute gardeners with higher disposable incomes (or at least a willingness to spend more on plants) might not recognize a variety that’s been on the market for nearly five years.

We take for granted that even among our most inveterate patrons, what we do doesn’t matter as much as we think it should. To put it another way, in marketing parlance, even the people who love us the most, don’t care most of the time. That’s the reality of an information-inundated, fast-paced world, and it should make us thoroughly consider what we bring to market and why we’re doing it. It isn’t easy to get people’s attention, let alone maintain it. Gamble wisely.

Just Ship It

I’ve long prescribed to the Seth Godin-proffered wisdom of “shipping” as a metaphor for productivity and success in business. To distill it into a few words — if it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t matter. The idea might be genius, the process might consider every detail, the product might be your best yet, but if you don’t put it in a proverbial box and ship it to the end user, it doesn’t matter. Godin says avoid resistance at all cost and just ship.

The shipping analogy made a lot of sense to me as a teenage entrepreneur running a mail-order business. If a customer placed an order, they had a reasonable expectation that they would receive what they had ordered. If what they ordered didn’t ship in its entirety, we had no reason to think they should be satisfied with the experience, no matter how kind or gentle we were in our communications, how easy the ordering process was, or how quickly we responded to their questions. Even if only one product on their order failed to ship, we had no reason to expect that the quality of everything that did ship would override the disappointment of the thing that didn’t. If it didn’t ship, it didn’t matter. Nobody for a minute would expect anything different in food or hospitality services. Why should horticulture be an exception?

What does this mean for a business that hangs its hat on innovation and new product development? Does it mean we’ll always hit the mark? Of course not. The struggles of a living inventory make for painful, bitter realities in comparison to manufactured goods. Creating a value-added experience for consumers starts with a supply chain that produces value in the first place.

Understand my empathy for our business, particularly for anyone growing product in open fields. But we can do better. We can manage the supply chain differently, more cost effectively, and with greater return on consumer experience. Some companies do just this. Others miss the mark. Here capitalism wins — the best plants don’t necessarily make it to market the fastest or most efficiently. The faster, more efficient systems make it to market with the plants they produce — better, best, or otherwise.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
Pentas-Lucky-Star-Red

November 22, 2017

2017 Louisiana State University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results Louisiana State University in Hammond, LA.

Read More
Echeveria-First-Lady

November 21, 2017

2017 D.S. Cole Growers Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon, NH.

Read More
Millet-Copper-Prince

November 20, 2017

2017 Colorado State University Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

Read More
Latest Stories
Pentas-Lucky-Star-Red

November 22, 2017

2017 Louisiana State University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results Louisiana State University in Hammond, LA.

Read More
Echeveria-First-Lady

November 21, 2017

2017 D.S. Cole Growers Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon, NH.

Read More
Millet-Copper-Prince

November 20, 2017

2017 Colorado State University Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

Read More
Achillea-Ritzy-Ruby

November 19, 2017

2017 Green Leaf Plants Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Green Leaf Plants in Lancaster, PA.

Read More
Ball-Bed-with-Midnight-Snack-tomato_Cornell

November 18, 2017

2017 Cornell University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Read More
Pepper Cayenne ‘Red Ember’ (Johnny’s Selected Seeds)

November 17, 2017

Presenting All-America Selections’ Latest Round of Awar…

All-America Selections has announced the latest round of its award-winning varieties, each of which was trialed throughout North America by professional, independent, volunteer judges.

Read More
Eason-New-Calibrachoa-Hi-Graft

November 14, 2017

Eason Horticultural Resources Introduces New Decorative…

Created by Hishtil Nursery in Israel, the new decorative forms of calibrachoa feature an 8- to 12-inch stem and come in four colors of calibrachoa blooms on top.

Read More
Pennisetum glaucum 'Copper Prince'

November 13, 2017

Top Performing Plant Varieties from 2017 Field Trials

See some of plant varieties that made top performer lists in 2017 field trials across the country.

Read More
Sakata-Trial-at-Clemson-1

November 10, 2017

A Quick Look at Sakata’s Clemson Landscape Trial

For the first time, Sakata Ornamentals hosted a 2017 Southern Garden Tour trial stop at Clemson University.

Read More

November 8, 2017

2017 Metrolina Greenhouses Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, NC.

Read More
Youngs-Plant-Farm-Themed-Plant-Beds

November 8, 2017

How Young’s Plant Farm Uses Its Trial Gardens to …

The purpose of the trial gardens is to ensure that Young’s is consistently bringing the right product to the marketplace, so consumers will continue to be successful.

Read More

November 7, 2017

Update: Dümmen Orange Acquires McHutchison and Vaughan’…

The move further expands Dümmen’s Orange’s grower reach in North America. McHutchison and Vaughan’s Horticulture will continue to provide full-service offerings to grower customers.

Read More
Metrolina-Home-Garden-Panel-feature

November 6, 2017

Metrolina Shows Off Its Summer Best During Southern Gar…

This summer’s Southern grower trials experienced unseasonably cool weather, but the plants still thrived. Consumer panels topped off the week, providing valuable insight for suppliers, growers, and their retail customers.

Read More
Ball Ingenuity Catalog

November 3, 2017

Ball Seed Releases New Mums, Ball Ingenuity Catalogs

The mum catalog features a new format that organizes mums by color, while the Ball Ingenuity Catalog focuses on marketing opportunities.

Read More

October 29, 2017

Green Leaf Plants New Catalog is Now Available

The new catalog for 2017 and 2018 includes 800 varieties in eight cell sizes, including vernalized.

Read More
Allan Armitage San Marzano tomato plant feature

October 26, 2017

Allan Armitage: Why Simplicity Rules for Younger Homeow…

Most starter gardeners are not looking to buy the ingredients to make a combination planter or basket. They want it made for them — no muss, no fuss.

Read More
Suntory Blue Rose Applause

October 21, 2017

Suntory’s Blue Rose ‘Applause’ Now Available to U.S. Fl…

‘Applause’ was originally introduced to the U.S. in 2011, and since then it was been successfully tested and selected to meet new market conditions.

Read More

October 17, 2017

14 New Shrubs With Fringe Benefits

What’s popular with shrubs? Consumers want varieties that will give them more return on their investment, in terms of long-lasting blooms and multi-season appeal that lasts from spring until fall and at times stretches into the winter months. Here are 14 new varieties of shrubs and sub-shrubs to consider for your product mix in 2018.

Read More