California Spring Trials 2011: Variety’s Vanguard
Just as growers who serve large retailers are becoming responsible for all live goods categories in the stores, the California Spring Trials have become a one-stop shop, featuring so much more than annuals. Here’s a look at trends and introductions by crop category.
Spring Trials has its roots in seed annuals. What would become the California Pack Trials began in 1967 with Glenn Goldsmith inviting customers to come see his new varieties. Friendly competitors in the area joined in later. Now, many of the seed lines that have been on the market for more than 25 years are getting refined and upgraded with modern genetics without losing name recognition. Examples are Syngenta Flowers’ Pinto geraniums becoming Pinto Premium and Accent impatiens becoming Accent Premium. Sakata is doing the same in pansies. PanAmerican is upgrading lines to XP.
Bread-and-butter crops pay for the research to develop niche crops. PanAmerican continues to add interesting seed items to its Fantastic Foliage collection. Two designer additions to large containers are leycesteria ‘Jealousy,’ which grows into a chartreuse bush, and hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor,’ a dark upright thriller. PanAmerican also offers affordable seed versions of vegetative items, like its new Akila osteospermums.
Takii introduced two All-America Selections winners. Kale ‘Glamour Red’ is the first kale with a waxless leaf for bedding. Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’ is earlier and more compact than other coccinea types and striking in landscapes and containers.
Hem Genetics continues to build its presence in dianthus with ‘Diana Lavender Picotee’ being a striking addition to the chinensis series. Thompson & Morgan introduced more interesting niche crops–high contrast Halo hollyhocks, sterile Polkadot digitalis and a collection of agastaches.
This category dominates the trials and is most crowded with vegetative companies outnumbering seed three to one. Much of this is due to consolidation in the seed industry and the proliferation of global cuttings production. Although cuttings cost more than seed as an input, plants can be brought to market faster as clones.
Osteospermum continues to be a hot category. The big hit of the trials were the 3D double osteos from Selecta, an industry first. Tufted, button-like blooms stay open and come in Pink, Purple and Silver. 3D is in the running for our Industry’s Choice and Editor’s Choice awards for breeding. (See page 28.) Fides and Dummen introduced compact versions of their leading osteo series, Margarita Nano and Summertime Sweet, respectively.
Most of the excitement in vegetative annuals revolved around new colors. The distinctive calibrachoa ‘Superbells Cherry Star’ from Proven Winners captivated many, along with Grape Punch and Sweet Tart in that series. Dummen introduced some very dark Sweetunia petunias–Black Jack and Bordeaux. Just as Black Jack will take on Ball FloraPlant’s ‘Black Velvet,’ Proven Winners’ lobularia ‘Snow Princess’ will be challenged by Danziger’s ‘Silver Stream.’ Other noteworthy additions include Deep Purple to Green Fuse’s Cathedral salvias and Ice Pink to Sakata’s Supercal Petchoas.
Blooming Potted Plants
We saw a renewed interest in blooming potted plants, especially new spins on old fashioned varieties. Green Fuse showcased Lady Slippers streptocarpus from tissue culture and Helium hydrangeas, which are being sold dormant and prefinished. Ball Seed is offering a line of showy double gloxinias. Syngenta Flowers is breathing new life into pot mums with new colors and forms, including an incurve type, ‘Shanghai Red.’
Paris kalanchoes from GreenEx have larger rose-shaped flowers. ‘Paris,’ which is greenish white, won an award at the IPM show in Essen, Germany, this year. ‘Pink Paris’ is light pink and green.
‘Belonica’ rose lily from Flamingo Holland is the first double oriental on the market that has no pollen and very little scent. It is being used for cut flower production and tested for pots.
Ecke Ranch introduced euphorbia ‘Luv U Pink.’ It’s positioned for sales February through June and will not be called a poinsettia. It works well in floral applications, as a potted plant and mixed with annuals and succulents.
Suntory reinvented bougainvillea with its Sunvilleas, which are compact for pots as small as 4-inch in Rose, Pink and Cream. The Sunvilleas were recognized as one of the best introductions at the Tropical Plant Industry Exposition.
Perennials & Shrubs
Each year, we’re seeing an increase in the importance of perennials and shrubs, which is where the new frontiers in breeding seem to be–making these plants perform like annuals in terms of compactness, flower power and bloom time.
Skagit Gardens makes a splash with high-quality introductions in hellebores, gaillardia and coreopsis. Scabiosa ‘Mariposa Blue’ boasts flowers twice as large as ‘Butterfly Blue’ with sturdier stems. Two new series include Nectar agastaches in five colors and Candy Drops phygelius in four. Both attract hummingbirds.
Pacific Plug & Liner (PP&L) introduced showy double primulas and an innovative creeping phlox series, Paparazzi, in six colors. The interspecific hybrids produce larger flowers and mounds of color.
As a breeding agent, PlantHaven specializes in perennials, shrubs and tropicals, coordinating production with companies like Skagit and PP&L. The complete line of Wetman dianthus was on display.
Greenheart Farms continues to put roses on the map. Drift roses are now getting the Knock Out branding treatment and Home Run roses are now part of Proven Winners, which continues to broaden its lines.
One new Proven Winners partner is perennial powerhouse Walters Gardens. Spring Meadow Nursery continues to lead the designer shrub category and is Proven Winners’ partner for woody ornamentals. Key introductions were the gorgeous, thornless, fruitless Double Take flowering quinces in three colors, Bloom-A-Thon azaleas and hydrangea ‘Little Lime.’
Ball Horticultural Co. continues to build its strength in perennials and shrubs. All perennials from seed are under the Kieft Seeds brand. Darwin Perennials focuses on vegetative introductions. Both offer impressive echinaceas, which are trialed to survive Chicago’s winters. Younique astilbes were a big introduction in seven colors. Ball Ornamentals introduced the compact Flutterby buddleias and’Bombshell’ and ‘Fire and Ice’ hydrangeas.