June 25, 2008

Touring The Gardens At Michigan State

The Michigan State University (MSU) Garden Plant Showcase will take place at the Plant & Soil Sciences Building this year on August 6. University faculty and staff will lead presentations on new plant material, how to regulate plant height of floriculture crops using plant growth retardants and how to recognize and treat common greenhouse diseases. Advanced registration for the showcase is encouraged and accepted by July 28 for $35. Registration includes lunch, a parking pass and a copy of the annual trial book, which is also available for purchase at the university’s visitor center. MSU has seven acres of floral displays in the Horticulture Gardens, and it trials about 1,000 cultivars of annuals and herbaceous perennials growing there each year. For more information on this year’s showcase, click here.

Read More

June 24, 2008

The Bread And Butter Of Perennials

  One of the best conferences I have ever been part of was held in Indianapolis in late September 2006. The Perennial Production Seminar was hosted by Ball Publishing and was attended by 400 or more of the who’s who of production, marketing and promotion of perennials for the greenhouse and nursery industry. They must have run out of speakers so they asked me to talk a little about plant selection. I talked about the great new plants, of course, but the point I was trying to make is that new is good, but tried and true is necessary. Here are some of the plants you should put on your A list. They are not new. In fact, some of the newer cultivars may be better and may be more popular, but these are always asked for, often by name. This list was compiled with the help of many colleagues and […]

Read More

June 24, 2008

Variety Shorts

Powerful Poinsettias Selecta First Class recently introduced several new poinsettias to its lineup. ‘Christmas Carol White’ and ‘Christmas Carol Pink’ are new additions to Selecta’s red Christmas Carol introduced last year. They are early-season varieties with slightly oak-shaped bracts and foliage. The response time is 7.5 weeks. They have a medium to high vigor, upright growth habit, excellent branching characteristics and large, showy bracts. The Christmas Carol series is extremely energy efficient, very uniform and easy to grow. ‘Apricot Candy’ has apricot bracts and stands in contrast to the cinnamon-colored ‘Cinnamon Candy’ introduced last season. It flowers mid-season (8.5 weeks’ response time) and because of its similar vigor and response time, it is a great addition to the Christmas Feelings series. Dark-green foliage, upright habit, medium vigor and large cyathias complement the unique color. A great specialty variety joining the Christmas Feelings series, ‘Christmas Feelings Crazy’ is more compact than other […]

Read More

June 24, 2008

In Search Of The Variegated Tapioca

The world of plants is changing. No, it has changed. New plants have become so important that even backyard gardeners are approaching breeders with Grandma’s plant in the hope they will obtain some royalties. It used to be that people wanted to introduce the plant to provide a legacy for Grandma, but times have changed. Larger companies have become so important in the introduction of new plants that it often becomes a numbers game. And the numbers, good grief, it seems that breeding companies and distributors almost dictate that a new plant must sell at least 10,000 liners, often more. If not, they pass. We have made the introduction of Grandma’s plants more and more difficult by throwing up obstacles everywhere. First is the issue of patenting. Patenting costs money, therefore sufficient plants must be sold to pay for that. In order to do so, promotion of that plant is necessary, […]

Read More

June 24, 2008

Variety Shorts

Sweet Perennials The new Darwin Plants perennials trade catalog for 2007 is now being distributed in the United States. Here are some highlights: ‘Heart and Soul’ astilbe features large, fully fluffed plumes of light lavender-pink flowers set off with a subtle blue sheen that creates an appealing effect. Large petals contribute to the visibility of the sheen, as do low light angles at the start and end of the day. It has more robust qualities than many others, including increased tolerance for heat, humidity and sun. It also holds up better in transport. ‘Sweet Heidy’ is a new hybrid hardy geranium from Dutch breeder Marco van Noort. The flowers have distinct, white centers surrounded by pink, which fuses into blue, with an overlay of dramatic dark veins completing the look. The variety is the result of several crossings, including G. wallichianum, which is responsible for giving it an exceptionally long […]

Read More

June 24, 2008

Breeding A Stronger Heuchera

How does one go from a Ph.D. in the evolutionary genetics of butterflies and moths to establishing a well-respected breeding program for heucheras? “It’s almost an accident,” says Martha Oliver of the career path her husband, Charles, found himself traveling in the 1980s. This near accident took Charles from the genetics of winged things to the genetics of native plants — with a detour in the field of water testing — and can partially be blamed on bees. While operating a drinking water testing facility in western Pennsylvania, Charles and Martha Oliver were avid gardeners with a deep interest in native plants. The hobby soon pushed the nine-to-five job out of the way. The Primrose Path nursery and mail-order business began in 1984. “I was just starting into the retail business, building up stock from seed for lots of plants,” Charles says. “I was getting heuchera hybrids out in the garden […]

Read More

June 24, 2008

Color Exravaganza

We know what you’re thinking: “Sure, cineraria are pretty in pots but what about the great outdoors? It’s not what my customers are looking for.” Look at Senetti cineraria, part of the Suntory Collection, and think again. Traditional cinerarias are one-hit wonders, putting on a powerful display of potted color. The Senetti series (Pericallis hybrids), the first re-flowering cineraria on the market, changes the concept completely. In essence, the Senettis give you and your customer a two-season plant in each pot. Senettis offer four stunningly vivid hues that shout, “think spring” for weeks on end in the midst of winter, just when the indoor environment needs it most. And Senettis will bloom again — outside this time, when cool-but-kind spring temperatures arrive. Just cut back the first flush of flowers once they have faded to rejuvenate the plants for a second flush of color.  For gardeners in mild-winter climates, Senettis […]

Read More

June 23, 2008

The Green Menace

Habitat destruction is the number one greatest threat to biodiversity, and second place goes to the spread of invasive species. Invasive plants overcrowd native vegetation, affect animal habitats and can even increase flooding and fire hazards. While most landscape plants are not invasive, species that do escape and invade can cause major ecological damage. According to the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers (CANGC), which represents wholesale nursery growers, retail garden centers and associated businesses in California, the landscape trade is to blame for about 85 percent of invasive woody plants in the United States, while 53 percent of California’s invasive species have horticultural origins. In order to prevent the spread of invasive species, CANGC recently approved voluntary codes of conduct for nursery professionals to follow to prevent aggressive plant invasions. CANGC is developing a plan for implementing the codes in California garden centers and nurseries by participating in Cal-HIP, […]

Read More

June 23, 2008

Variety Shorts

High-Color Foliage Recently released by ForemostCo, Rhoeo ‘Tricolor’ adds a vivid splash of color to every situation. ‘Tricolor’ can be used as a bedding plant, patio plant and as a stand-alone foliage option. Mix it in planters or use it in landscapes–’Tricolor’ will add color everywhere. With regular availability from ForemostCo as unrooted cuttings, ‘Tricolor’ plants root and grow quickly and can be saleable in four to six weeks. It can be used in all light exposure situations from deep shade through full sun. Combining a low input cost with great performance, ‘Rhoeo Tricolor’ will be an attractive addition to a grower’s bottom line. In its 20 years of operation, ForemostCo has become a large importer of live plants to the United States, accounting for more than 20 percent of all plants brought in to the country. Working in partnership with its customers and growers throughout the globe, ForemostCo, Inc. caters […]

Read More

June 23, 2008

Floriculture, European Style

For 2007, the National Floriculture Forum (NFF) is doing something new — traveling to Europe. We will first spend four days in the Netherlands visiting the Dutch Auction, pot plant growers and other horticultural sites. Then we will travel down to Essen, Germany to spend two days at the International Trade Fair for Plants (IPM). IPM is a unique combination of exhibition areas, plants, technology and floristry that offers a comprehensive overview of the green industry. With 1,400 exhibitors from 41 countries and 62,100 trade visitors every year from all over the world, the IPM ESSEN show is the world’s largest event of its kind. This is where the decision-makers of international floriculture meet to invest, conclude business transactions and expand business relations. The dates for the 2007 NFF are January 21-28, arriving in the Netherlands on January 22. The group will then travel to Essen, Germany by bus for the […]

Read More

June 23, 2008

Ornamental Grasses — In Search Of No Maintenance

I have long contended that people who purchase our plants don’t really care what the plants are, they only care what they do. They don’t buy red begonias because they are begonias, but because they are red–and if we are smart enough, we sell the best red begonia out there. Similarly cannas are popular because of their bold colorful look, not because they are cannas. Margarita sweet potato provides the eye catching element, hostas are popular because they work in the shade, etc., etc. One of the most significant “what they do” elements is low maintenance. It always has been important and is becoming even more so as the population ages and less time is spent in the garden. Perennials have provided many low-maintenance items and shrubs are ready to burst from the greenhouse onto the landscape if they can be properly positioned at retail. However, if one asks any […]

Read More

June 20, 2008

The Kew Gardens Of The North

I am writing this column from Ontario, Canada, where I have taken a desk at the Niagara School of Horticulture (www.schoolofhorticulture.com) in Niagara Falls. I wanted to see a different perspective of horticulture education and so I cleverly talked the superintendent, Liz Klose, into inviting me for a sabbatical at the school during the summer of 2007. Established in 1936, the program was originally known as The Training School for Apprentice Gardeners, based on the long-standing gardener apprenticeship offered at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England. The name was changed to Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture in 1959. The three-year program is intense and difficult to get into. Applicants are filtered based on academic criteria, written evaluations and live interviews. After the dust has settled, only 12 to 14 students are selected each year. However, the training these students receive is unique compared to the two- and four-year […]

Read More

June 20, 2008

The Saga Of Osteos

We have all seen them in the last eight years or so, the steady, lava-like stream of new plants, some spectacularly good, some much less so. The daisy family has been well and truly represented in the new plant movement, including gazanias, gerberas, arctotis, brachyscome and the bazillions of cape daisies, particularly argyranthemum and osteospermum. It is the latter plant whose rise I have watched with dismay. The dismay is well documented in my lectures and writing. I have seen new cultivar after new cultivar introduced through pack trials and promotions and watched as their spring flowers stopped appearing as soon as temperatures rose above 70ºF. As I trialed these cultivars (literally hundreds of them) over many years, I watched the plants morph into shrublets by June 15, all leaves, no flowers. Year after year after year. Yes, there has been a slow and steady improvement, but not enough to give […]

Read More

June 20, 2008

The Right Plant At The Right Time

In the hotbed of bedding plant producers of Cheshire, Conn., the staff and employees of N. Casertano Greenhouses and Farms keep their eyes fixed on the big picture of the market. The goals of the company constantly keep the home gardener in mind. That idea affects everything, including how the greenhouse helps its retailers, its stance on marketing and the products its offers. Reaching through to the end consumer is wrapped up in everything the company does and believes in. “We no longer exist in the bubble of wholesale producer,” says John Casertano, vice president and general manager of Casertano Greenhouses. “We’re much more keenly aware what’s required to be on retail shelves and make our customers more successful.” A Plant For Each Season To give extra guidance to home centers and small regional chains selling their plants, Casertano Greenhouses breaks down its product mix into five mini-season umbrellas: early spring […]

Read More

June 20, 2008

Variety Shorts

Liners For Landscape Ball Ornamentals, a new division of Ball Horticultural Co. supplying the nursery industry with unique trees, perennials and shrubs selected for the landscape, announces its product offering. The division is starting with a focused line-up of new varieties available from Ball’s dedicated propagation network. Products include: – Abelia ‘Lavender Mist’–Features colorful blooms, bred by the University of Georgia. – Abelia ‘Plum Surprise’–Colorful foliage, bred by the University of Georgia. – Abelia ‘Raspberry Profusion’–Brightly colored flowers, bred by the University of Georgia. – Agonis flexuosa ‘After Dark’–Dark, almost black foliage. – Agonis flexuosa ‘Burgundy’–Burgundy foliage. – Campsis tagliabuana ‘Kudian’–Grafted onto standards for patio containers and dramatic landscape applications. – Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’–Grafted for a fast finish and quick sales. – Hibiscus rosa-sinensis–Bold, exciting flower colors for patio planters. – Lagerstroemia indica ‘Whit II’–Grafted onto standards for patios and landscapes. – Phormium–A unique line of colorful foliage that finishes […]

Read More

June 20, 2008

Going Holistic

For the past year and a half, Syngenta has been making headlines by aggressively expanding its footprint in ornamentals. From 2000 until last year, Syngenta consisted of Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. and Syngenta Professional Products, focusing on turf and ornamentals in Greensboro, N.C., and S&G Flowers, a breeder and distributor in Lisle, Ill. In 2006, Syngenta purchased Fafard, a leading growing media producer. This year’s big acquisition was Fischer, the largest breeder producer in geraniums along with other key staple crops, including poinsettias and New Guinea impatiens. While S&G has been strong in seed and was building its vegetative lines, German-based Fischer was already one of the largest flower cuttings producers in the world. In September, Syngenta announced Fischer USA in Boulder, Colo., will manage Syngenta’s entire portfolio of flower genetics from seed and cuttings and S&G Flowers will focus on being a full-service broker/distributor. “We want to open the distribution […]

Read More

June 20, 2008

Variety Shorts

Showy Roses The 2007 Easy Elegance Rose Collection features several new varieties, including ‘Pink Pearls,’ ‘Snowdrift’ and ‘Sweet Fragrance.’ ‘Pink Pearls’ looks as though it’s strewn with multitudes of little, pink pearls. Frilly petals open wide, revealing a white eye and golden stamens. Sturdy and low growing with a tight, compact habit, the plant is attractive in the front of mixed borders or in decorative pots. Disease resistant, it is accepting of less-than-perfect growing conditions. ‘Snowdrift’s’ habit is upright and uniform with blooms covering the plant all the way to the ground. Gorgeous, full, cup-shaped blossoms are creamy white with just a hint of apricot in the center as they open. ‘Snowdrift’ is reminiscent of English roses. Each cluster of blossoms retains its pure color before dropping cleanly. This hardy, disease-resistant beauty is at home in any border and also makes a graceful hedge. ‘Sweet Fragrance’s’ hybrid tea-shaped buds in […]

Read More

June 19, 2008

The Issue of Nativars

Just a few columns ago, I suggested we all need to seriously consider the issue of native plants. I said we should be telling people many of the plants we already grow are American natives, or at least make a Native Plant heading on your availability list. The desire to use natives is no longer a fad. The movements to ecological awareness, to gardening as a lifestyle — not an activity — and the need to make gardening more of a feel-good experience are washing over us. A subset of the feel-good experiences is the desire to include more native plants in American landscapes and gardens. Great performing plants and native plants are not at all exclusive. Why would I suggest that you can get into trouble if you grow natives? It comes down to peoples’ very different definitions of a native plant. There are often two big questions when a fight breaks […]

Read More

June 19, 2008

The Oracle At OFA

I spent a little time at the OFA Short Course a few weeks ago. As usual, it was an exceptional show, with hundreds of vendors and thousands of visitors. It may not be worth it to go every year, but you really should try to make it once every two or three years. The educational sessions alone are worth the price of admission. However, the trade show is getting to be more like the Cirque du Soleil each year, so if nothing else, a wide-eyed gawking should be on the agenda every few years. I was asked to talk about some of the plant material that the vendors wanted to highlight. When I talked to the various vendors, it was of course, just as you would expect. All of them were shy, none wanted their photo taken and no one wanted to tell me how good their products were. (If […]

Read More

June 19, 2008

On The Road With Uncle Al

One of the many activities I have enjoyed is meeting some of the people involved in the Ontario greenhouse industry. In the Niagara region of Ontario, there are dozens of greenhouses supporting the landscape and retail markets. Historically, these landscapers and retailers have had a number of trial sites to visit, but recently, the Canadian Ornamental Plant Foundation (COPF), in cooperation with Greenhouse Grower and Greenhouse Canada, initiated a multi-site field and container trial extravaganza. Nearly all the “popular” breeders were represented in at least one of the trial sites, so growers could see a wide range of annuals, all within a 90-minute drive. The sites included Stokes Seed, JVK, George Sant & Son, Ed Sobkowich, Sawaya Garden Trials, Schenk Farms, Vineland Research Station, University of Guelph, Linville Farms and Jeffries Greenhouse. Although attendance was not overwhelming, everyone involved felt it was a good idea and plans to continue it next […]

Read More