Instant gardening — that’s the term Cultivaris’ Garry Grueber predicts will be the next buzzword in tomorrow’s market, and container gardens fit right in with that concept. Today’s consumer is perpetually busy, doesn’t always have garden know-how and is all about instant gratification. Mixes and combos offer an easy route to attractive containers — an instantaneous look, no fuss involved.
“Consumers crave plants and combos that emphasize and embellish the best attributes of the changing seasons,” says Grueber. “The plant collections growers currently offer are custom-built to promote seasonality, which will be a huge factor in creating a longer, more profitable sales window.”
Randy Uhl of Green Fuse Botanicals and Henry F. Michell Co. says a great diversity of items is being mixed for colors and textures in containers. These will be ideal for retailers to make up and sell on location. Box store retailers will have a more difficult time producing these mixes.
Whether it’s pre-mixed combos or well-matched plant collections that take the guesswork out of do-it-yourself containers, consumers will have more options this year than ever before. Annual mixes that have monopolized the market are now being joined by new arrivals that incorporate perennials, flowering potted plants and even edibles.
Traditional Flowering Potted Plants Dress-Up Combos
Flowering potted plants dress-up combos, too, adding an unusual element for a twist on standard go-to combinations. But new favorites like phalaenopsis orchids and pot hydrangeas are upstaging traditional potted crops like Easter lilies and poinsettias.
Flowering potted plants are no longer just traditional annual varieties that one buys at the grocery store for a gift. The category is reshaping itself to include dwarf varieties, perennials, woody ornamentals and much more.
“Traditional favorites that have dominated the North American market for decades will either undergo a dramatic transformation through breeding and/or crop technology, or sexier, cooler crops more in sync with the lifestyles and needs of tomorrow’s consumers will displace them,” Schneider says.
One way breeders are transforming flowering potted crops is to turn them into durable outdoor plants, says Grueber, like the Drakensberg gerbera daisy variety that is hardy to Zone 7. Or think Senetti pericallis or Belarina primroses.
Perennial Combos Taking Off
Joan Mazat of Ball Seed Co. recently showcased several perennial combinations at Darwin Perennials Day in June. She says perennial combos have the advantage of adding texture and color early in the season. Once past their prime, they can be moved into the garden for an added bonus.
Josh Schneider of Cultivaris agrees. “Perennials provide interesting, frost-resistant foliage and seasonal flowering, so they can be marketed as seasonal (i.e., disposable) color for early spring and autumn, rather than as hardy perennials. The winter hardiness is attractive to the consumer, but not really a criteria for purchase.”
Perennial combinations also trend toward being exclusive to perennials, such as three colors of heuchera, salvia and many others, says Danziger Flower Farm’s Mike Hernandez.
Monochromatic themes stand out in containers, as well, says Pamela Straub of Emerald Coast Growers. She recently noticed a stunning black mix of colocasia ‘Black Magic,’ pennisetum ‘First Knight’ and some unusual black petunias.
Single-genus combos using well-matched varieties within a series are also in style. For example, varieties from the Babycakes nemesia series and the Uptight angelonia series are perfectly matched for planting in one container, Grueber says.
Lastly, edibles blended with ornamentals continue to gain momentum. Dwarf fruit varieties, such as blueberry ‘Top Hat’ are popular and can be surrounded with annuals for long-lasting color and tasty fruit all season long, says Lisa Hervieux of Skagit Gardens.
Think Outside The Box
The shifting boundaries for combos/mixes and flowering potted plants provide flexibility and new possibilities for growers.
“We need to start thinking outside the box,” Grueber says. “We need to wow the consumer again and again with tasteful combos for all seasons by using our horticultural expertise and the full palette of wonderful plant material that is at our disposal today, and even more so, tomorrow.”
See 29 Reasons To Mix It Up With Combos And Flowering Potted Plants for a slideshow of some of the most recent introductions of mixes and flowering potted plants.