Vaughn Fletcher visited a dozen variety trial sites this year, including the California Spring Trials, Costa Farms, the Dallas Arboretum, Colorado State University and C. Raker & Sons. As Midwest sales manager for McHutchison, the information Fletcher gleans from his visits adds value to his grower customer relationships–as well as the other McHutchison representatives with whom he shares his information. Fletcher is also one of Greenhouse Grower’s Medal of Excellence panelists.
Recently, Fletcher reflected on his 2010 trial visits with Greenhouse Grower, and he shared his thoughts on new varieties, variety trends and the world of distribution. Fletcher also shared a few varieties photos he took during his summer tours.
GG: What are your thoughts on the number of new varieties in the industry? Too many, too few or the right number?
VF: Plant breeding and significant introductions are critical to the profitability and long-term strategy of the breeding company. They’re the lifeblood of our industry. The breeding companies are striving to offer complete programs of plant varieties, and this is creating some confusion for the growers when it comes to production decisions. If you add new varieties to the program what are you going to delete?
More choices lead to more indecision and confusion for the grower, so plant selection focusing on grower-friendly varieties and improved landscape and garden performance is essential.
GG: A few varieties, ‘Black Velvet’ petunia included, have dominated industry headlines this year. But what are a couple of the lesser-known varieties that performed spectacularly at many of the trial sties that growers should know about?
VF: I chose ‘Black Velvet’ as my Medal of Excellence choice for the year because I feel it’s the best introduction. But I also think SunPatiens are outstanding. I’ve seen them from north to south, and they’ve been truly outstanding in landscape sites. The landscapers I’ve talked to have been happy with their performance, and I’m finding a lot of growers are shifting some of their New Guinea impatiens business over to SunPatiens.
Other plants that have been outstanding in summer trials and landscape sites include rudbeckia ‘Denver Daisy,’ pennisetum ‘Jade Princess’ and the gaillardia Gallo series.
GG: Is there a color or a characteristic lacking in the market for which there’s a real need?
VF: The industry needs non-fading dark blues, deep yellows, picotees and doubles.
We could use more picotee flowers in vegetative lines. We have a few picotees in petunias but not other plants. We could use more in calibrachoas. We’re seeing some in verbenas and even geraniums. It seems like this year at retail, the consumer was really attracted to anything picotee or unusual. Anything with bright, vibrant colors sold very well. I think that will continue to be a breeding trend or a breeding focus.
We could also use more double flowers with greater heat tolerance. We have a few doubles in petunias, calibrachoas and bacopas, but we need more double flowers in more series with more colors.
Black is also going to be a niche color. When it was combined in other plants to accent this summer, it was very attractive in containers. If you plant black plants with yellow lantanas or anything white, it’s going to stand out. And, yes, it’s going to sell.
GG: What other variety trends are emerging?
VF: Disease resistance, compactness, early flowering, garden performance and significant new and unique colors are all here. But compactness: We have a lot of genetics coming out with more compactness. The reason for this is the grower wants to produce a plant that’s more production friendly. If, in fact, growers have less input costs in a variety, they’re going to save money.
But with all the genetics going into the marketplace, how does Mrs. Consumer know when she’s buying a compact plant? Maybe she wants something that really trims down. So it requires education from the retailer. It’s not going to happen at the box store. They buy what they think looks good.
GG: Has there been a shift from growers working with brokers to growers selling direct? If not, do you see a shift in the future?
VF: I don’t think we’ve seen a major shift. The brokerage chain is still very important. We offer a lot of very important things. Most of the brokerage companies offer a professional sales force. A lot of reps are well informed and educated, so they offer value to the grower. Also, distribution allows the brokerage company to handle the credit, order processing, resolution of claims and other ordering concerns.