Learn How Unconventional Plants Can Be Hidden Gems

Clematis Amber
Clematis ‘Amber’ (Taylors Clematis, U.K.) opens up opportunities for growers while maximizing retail appeal. It took Plant of the Year honors at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Full disclosure — I’m going to beat up on petunias again, if only en route to a bigger point. Mea culpa. As a professional plant geek, it’s no surprise that the lens I use to evaluate new plants skews toward novelty, style, and interest that might differ from the prototypical consumer. Might. (I’m convinced we underestimate and misjudge the motivations our consumers bring to horticulture, and in so doing, we fail to connect with their wants and needs in a genuine way.)

I can suspend my own biases, though. I may not love most new petunias that hit the market, but I understand the forces that generate them and bring them to market. I understand that the mass market loves them, just as I understand that more burgers are sold at McDonald’s every day by comparison to the local craft eateries that I’m more apt to frequent. The burgers are better at the latter. I also appreciate, with deference to my parenthetical sidebar, that we don’t serve just one consumer. We serve an audience difficult to calibrate when motivated so variously by affinities for branding, product value, price, and access in a globally accessible, locally conscious marketplace.

What I’ve always struggled to reconcile is the rather industry-centric notion that consumers consciously buy petunias (or any other mainstay) over the alternatives because of some lack of familiarity or ignorance to the value those alternatives have. We say “Oh, consumers will never buy that plant, because they don’t know what it is.” We seem to assume that their petunia consumerism is motivated by an all-knowing, overriding belief in the superiority of petunias. Wave probably has something to do with that, and for good reason — it performs. So maybe, petunias outshine their benchmates at point of sale. But maybe it’s because we want to sell petunias. There are consumers looking for more. These consumers are experience seekers.

An Unconventional Experience

Some breeders and plant development companies chart new territory with unconventional plant introductions that innovate on the edge, bring diversity to the marketplace and the landscape, and satisfy a craving that consumers have for uniqueness and personal expression.

Take a new craspedia from Danziger called ‘Golf Beauty.’ Sure, go ahead. “What the hell is craspedia?” Drumstick flower, billy buttons, or billy balls, in colloquial parlance. Why bring it to market? What does it do?

“The spectacular yellow-colored balls of craspedia are gaining momentum in the cut flower fields,” says Anat Gissin, Marketing Manager at Danziger. “We believe something similar will happen in the bedding plant market.”

The variety’s debut at California Spring Trials and Cultivate’16 seemed to confirm their hunch.

I asked Gissin to weigh in on how a novelty like this comes to market.

“This unique variety was introduced to the market as a result of our constant search for innovation and interesting varieties with added value,” she says. “We believe ‘Golf Beauty’ is the perfect product for every combination possible. [We] invest in the development of varieties that are beyond the standard,” Gissin says.

Clematis might not seem beyond standard, exactly, but any variety that isn’t a large-flowered hybrid is probably unfamiliar to most consumers. Cue Peter Van Rijssen of Concept Plants, a Netherlands-based new plant introduction company. Concept Plants recently brought to market a new cultivar of Clematis chiisanensis, hardly a mainstay, even with serious plant nuts (and yes, I have one). It’s called ‘Amber,’ from Taylors Clematis in the U.K., and took Plant of the Year honors at the Chelsea Flower Show this spring.

Craspedia Golf Ball Beauty (Danziger)
The spectacular yellow-colored balls of Craspedia are gaining momentum in the cut flower fields and bring diversity to the marketplace. Pictured in photo: Craspedia ‘Golf Ball Beauty’ (Danziger)

Winning that award “created a big buzz for ‘Amber,’ ” Van Rijssen says. “Within two years, we will be doing 50,000 units per year.”

He acknowledges that clematis are a bit of a specialty plant and a tricky sell to both growers and consumers.

“It’s driven by novelty. The breeder is always looking for perfection,” he says.

The consumer just wants an uncomplicated, summer-showy vine. Van Rijssen says he believes a breakthrough variety like this, which reblooms throughout the season and doesn’t require pruning, opens up new opportunities for growers while maximizing retail appeal.

“[‘Amber’] is easy to propagate, easy to flower, and has all the advantages that a clematis should have.”

The Gamble

With new forays come new risks, a tolerance for which can be a gamble in a low-margin, volatile marketplace. User-directed innovation, instead of merely innovating within the commercial pipeline, offers the greatest chance of breaking through and feeds a consumer class hungry for rich, novel experiences with new varieties. Those consumers will always spend more money than fair-weather gardeners because they intrinsically value plants and the experiences they have with them.

Independent breeder Joseph Tychonievich sees a brighter future for gladiolus as hardy perennials, instead of funeral cut flowers.

“I think they have been neglected for so long and wedged into just one sector,” he says.

His crop choice might strike some as unconventional or dead on arrival. Tychonievich says he believes gladiolus faded from general consumer interest because of the hassle of digging them up each season.

“I always want to think like a gardener,” Tychonievich says. “We think about what a plant does in the garden. Many companies think of propagation, shipping, etc.”

After several years of evaluating, he’s got cold-hardy selections in trials with an open-minded approach to how these varieties might appeal to consumers.

“They could go mainstream again, but it could be a special niche market with a higher profit margin even though you’re not selling in volume,” Tychonievich says. “They aren’t as trendy as they were, but I feel as an independent breeder, [focusing on unconventional plants] is what I have to do.”

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Learn How Unconventional Plants Can Be Hidden Gems

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