The California Spring Trials is such a well-attended event because it’s the first time the industry gets a look at new varieties for the following year.
The Michigan Garden Plant Tour, which took place August 2-13 this year, doesn’t offer that exhilarating first look for most attendees. But the tour is equally important to Midwestern growers who can travel the state in two or three days to evaluate the regional performance of the newest cultivars and species of annuals, perennials and shrubs.
The tour is in its seventh year now, and seven greenhouse operations participated along with Michigan State University. Those operations are C. Raker & Sons, Pell Greenhouses, Mast Young Plants, Spring Meadow Nursery, Walters Gardens, Zylstra Greenhouses and Four Star Greenhouse.
Greenhouse Grower Editors Delilah Onofrey and Kevin Yanik made the trip to Michigan for this year’s tour. Here are a few highlights from each stop.
C. Raker & Sons
Greenhouse Grower visited the Raker Trial Gardens during the inaugural Hort Couture Day that brought representatives from McHutchison, Eason Horticultural Resources and Fred C. Gloeckner Co. together. Together, the three formed an alliance as Hort Couture brokers.
Highlights at Raker were breeder-sponsored beds, container trials, hanging calibrachoa basket trials and comparison row trials.
One interesting program Raker showcased is Living Roof, which the operation has been researching the last two years. Raker has been trialing several green roof types, including sedums, grasses and natives. The operation is approaching green roofs as an emerging opportunity here in the United States, both from sustainability and business standpoints.
With 10 acres of greenhouses in Hudsonville, Pell serves 18 Home Depot stores and a variety of Meijer stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. Green Fuse’s Blanket petunias and Beaucoup begonias were among the standout performers in Pell’s trial gardens. Additionally, Pell is in its first year producing material from Fides.
Pell specializes in pre-finished regal geraniums, finished spring crops, fall mums and poinsettias.
Spring Meadow Nursery
Impressive performers like Oso Easy roses and ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ hydrangea were on display in Spring Meadow’s garden in Grand Haven. ‘Invincibelle Spirit,’ the pink Annabelle hydrangea, actually has a strong garden center campaign behind it. The campaign’s goal is to raise $1 million for breast cancer research, and $1 from each ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ sold is donated to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
In all, Spring Meadow has about 20 acres of greenhouses and it produces about 400 varieties. About 100 of those are Proven Winners varieties, and 90 percent of Spring Meadow’s production is out the door by April 1.
Located in Zeeland, Walters has more than 500,000 square feet of modern plug production greenhousesâ€“plus hundreds of acres of bare root field production. Its expansive display gardens feature more than 700 varieties of new and classic perennials.
One surprise you’ll find at Walters is tropicals. Items like ‘Thailand Giant’ colocasia and ‘Siam Ruby’ musa are fast-growing tropicals that greeted tour attendees.
Zylstra trialed varieties from Ball Horticultural Co., GroLink and Selecta. Zylstra produces everything in the Selecta line, including all 17 Trixi combo liners. In the spring, Zylstra finishes material for independent garden centers in the South. It also ships to landscapers in the Chicago market.’
Most recently, Zylstra has become a Midwest tropicals supplier of AG3 and Agri-Starts material. “We’ll do a finished program of 1 gallons for tropicals,” says Head Grower Brent Troost.
In all, Zylstra has five facilities. The Kalamazoo facility hosting Zylstra’s trial gardens is its cross-docking facility. That facility features state-of-the-art rolling benches that clearly make the operation one of Michigan’s most efficient.
Four Star Greenhouse
This spring marked the debut of Four Star’s multi-cutting liner called the Streamliner. Several varieties are rooted together. Response has been strong, with one grower customer ordering 230,000 in spring. Demand was greater than expected and the company plans to produce more on speculation next year.