The 2015 Readers’ Choice Finalists Up Close And Personal

In Greenhouse Grower’s Medal of Excellence award tradition, you, our readers, have spoken. You have narrowed down your top-pick varieties in the Readers’ Choice Annuals, Perennials and Best of the Rest Categories. Now, it’s time to pick a winner.

In anticipation of the announcement of a Readers’ Choice winner at the Medal of Excellence reception on Monday, July 13, at Cultivate’15, here’s your chance to get to know more about the three finalists vying for the award.

Annuals Finalist
Celosia argentea plumosa ‘Dragon’s Breath’ (Sakata Ornamentals)

‘Dragon’s Breath’ Celosia is an extra-large, late-flowering variety that is quick to produce for spring or fall. It will add a bright-red splash of color to containers, beds and large landscapes.

Retailers will like ‘Dragon’s Breath’s’ two- to three-week shelf life, while growers will find it economical to produce because there is little need for plant growth regulators (PGRS) or fertilizers. The variety also holds up well under less than ideal growing conditions like high heat and humidity and infrequent watering.

“‘Dragon’s Breath’ is unique because of its potential height (up to three feet in the summer landscape) and deep, maroon-red foliage,” says Ken Harr, product technical manager for Sakata. “It may be likened to a robust, new-look Celosia. Consumers will be pleased with its outstanding garden performance, its full, symmetrical habit, deep red foliage and full red plumes that last all season.”

Harr says ‘Dragon’s Breath’ has been trialed at several places in the U.S. and Asia, being grown as a spring bedding plant, summer landscape plant and as a fall plant to test its marketability under different environmental circumstances.

Perennials Finalist
Leucanthemum ‘Luna’ (Terra Nova Nurseries)

‘Luna’ has pom-pom type double flowers that grow atop a dense mound of foliage. The blooms start off as yellow and retain their color for two weeks or more before gradually finishing off to white. And the blooms have a nearly undetectable scent.

“During its second year of trials, the original ‘Luna’ plant produced as many as 95 blooms all at once, says Chuck Pavlich, director of new product development at Terra Nova Nurseries. “The unique flower form and color will charm even jaded ‘I’ve seen everything gardeners.’ Leucanthemums are cool again.”

According to Terra Nova Nurseries grower notes, ‘Luna’ is a facultative long day plant with a recommended vernalization of eight weeks at temperatures below 45˚F. Pavlich says it is vigorous with a high crown count.

“‘Luna’ doesn’t require pinching or PGRs to bring it to market. PGRs can be used to tone the plants for shipping, but they are not necessary for height control,” he says. “Growers benefit from a naturally manicured looking plant that is a flower machine and requires less labor and chemicals, thus a cost savings. Unrooted cuttings will be available soon, so that also drops production costs.”

Best Of The Rest Finalist
Rosa ‘First Editions Above and Beyond’ (Bailey Nurseries)

Above and Beyond is a near-species hybrid with extreme cane hardiness (Zone 3), reliable spring flowering and vigorous growth, making it a reliable climber or nice free-standing shrub in colder regions where plant dieback from cold is not an issue. Orange flower buds open to groups of five or more apricot colored, semi-double to double flowers in mid- to late-spring, with sporadic repeat flowering in summer. The variety presents a strong package for rose lovers, with a nice blend of color, fragrance and disease resistance.

David Zlesak, an associate professor of horticulture at University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a long-time rose breeder, made the original cross for ‘Above and Beyond’ with the hopes of pairing the repeat-bloom characteristics of commercial varieties with the hardiness and durability of species roses. The variety comes from a Rosa virginiana cross that Elton Strack, a longtime friend of Zlesak’s and founding member of the Rose Hybridizers Association, found in the wild. The original variety name of Above and Beyond, ‘ZleeltonStrack,’ is Zlesak’s way of honoring his childhood mentor.

On the Rose Hybridizers Association Forum, Zlesak says “This is my favorite seedling from all these years of breeding roses because it combines so many nice features. It is my hope to get a stronger repeat bloom in more compact seedlings while hopefully retaining enough winter hardiness and heath that they are reliable here in a typical low maintenance landscape. I’ve been trying to cross it with roses that are more double than it in order to increase the petal count.”


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