American Takii emphasized where its varieties fit into green strategies under the theme "Garden Performance Naturally." Even the Opera petunias were presented as an alternative to mulch by crowding out weeds as a beautiful groundcover. Varieties were grouped in solution-oriented themes for growers, gardeners and landscapers: drought tolerant, disease tolerant, deer resistant, nematode tolerant, resistant to snails and slugs, attract butterflies, energy efficient and genetically dwarf. "It’s what we’ve been saying all along but just another way to present it," says American Takii’s Bonnie Marquardt.
In other news, Takii was integrating new acquisitions, Sahin in Holland and Global Flowers in Denmark. The companies continue to do business as usual, but under the umbrella of Takii & Company, LTD. While Global Flowers specializes in potted plants, like gerbera, Sahin breeds niche products, including grasses, perennials and annuals.
Ball Horticultural Co.
In past years, both Ball FloraPlant and PanAmeri-can Seed hosted their own stops at Pack Trials. That changed this year with a combined presentation at PanAmerican’s facility in Santa Paula. Ball integrated its seed and vegetative trials into one stop, creating a more open and convenient experience for growers and buyers. While Ball FloraPlant used to have restricted attendance, PanAmerican has always been open to all Pack Trials visitors. It was great to see how both product lines work together in each genus and Ball’s commitment to offering growers a choice in product inputs.
Ball also has expanded its perennial offerings by acquiring innovative propagator Darwin Plants. The assortment of more than 1,000 products is available bare root and as liners. Ball continues to expand its selection in common perennials from clean stock and has added a line of woody ornamentals. Ball’s goal is to back these categories with its usual high level of customer service.
On the varieties side, the most exciting news was in breeding breakthroughs from seed. Ball continues to develop high quality seed alternatives to popular vegetative varieties. One example is the new F1 hybrid Toucan purslane series, with flowers that resemble the popular Yubis from cuttings. Ball also introduced Southern Star, the first dwarf ruellia series from seed as part of its Hot Summer Survivors collection. Another addition is tecoma ‘Mayan Gold,’ the only tecoma from seed with tropical yellow trumpet flowers.
Another big debut was the Zahara zinnia series that will compete with Sakata’s Profusions and bring a bright yellow to this class. The Fantastic Foliage collection continues to grow with innovative new grasses and coleus varieties. ‘Twisted Arrows’ combines straight and spiral juncus seed into pellets. Salmon Pink is a striking addition to the Kong coleus series. New variegated purple ornamental peppers also add foliage interest.
This was a big year for Benary in more ways than one with breakthrough introductions and its 100-year anniversary of breeding begonias. In 1909, Benary bred the first F1 hybrid begonia. And what better way to celebrate a big anniversary than with a new begonia series, BIG (Begonia x benariensis F1 hybrid). Varieties in the series include Red with Green Leaf, Red with Bronze Leaf and Rose with Bronze Leaf. These robust plants offer large flowers and glossy leaves and flourish in sun or shade.
Benary also has brought a brand new genus to market with Ptilotus ‘Joey,’ one of the finalists for our breeding awards. Native to Australia, this variety is 20 years in the making. The silvery foliage with lavender and rose-colored feathery flowers should be a hit with consumers.
Benary also bred the ‘Denver Daisy’ rudbeckia that will be planted throughout the city of Denver for its 150-year anniversary. Millions of seeds in packets are being distributed to the public.
Two showstopping introductions from Bodger Botanicals were phormium ‘Electric Blacklight’ and cordyline ‘Electric Pink.’ While the cordyline reaches a height of two to three feet, the phormium is more compact at 1.5 feet.
We were also pleased to see the addition of four more Giant Spinner gerberas, which received our Editor’s Choice award for breeding when it was introduced in 2005. Bodger has taken over the breeding since then. New colors include Lemon/Cerise, Orange/Yellow, Red/Gold and Rose. Other key Bodger Botanicals introductions were colors in Acapulco agastache, Miracle diascia, Nemo nemesia, Morning Glow lantanas and Blanket petunias.
On the seed side, Bodger brought the Discovery African marigolds back. They had been taken off the market due to seed production challenges. Other big seed introductions were the Aero violas in 10 clear and blotched colors and the Distance zinnias in seven individual colors.
Nemesias were one of the main attractions from Israeli flower breeder Danziger. In the Nesia Nemesia fruticans series, there are striking dark blues, pinks and purples and a blue-and-white bicolor. The larger Supernesia hybrids come in Red, Pink and White Gold. They were bred for large flowers, striking colors and a mounded, brnaching floriferous habit.
Danziger continues to expand its offerings in petunias with 15 introductions and two more series. The Ray series emerged around the yellow petunia ‘Sun Ray,’ one of Danziger’s top performers. Additional colors include White, Candy Pink, Purple, Purple Vein and Red. A new tiny double petunia series called Doupetini debuted in four shades of pink.
Oro Farms produces cuttings for Danziger and other breeders, including Florensis and Suntory. For the past year, Oro’s Mike Fernandez has been successfully driving sales by getting out to visit larger greenhouse operations regularly.
For the next two years, Dümmen’s big project will be building a new cuttings farm in El Salvador and will be the first floriculture cuttings producer to build there. "Everybody is asking why El Salvador, because nobody is there, but we have experience being the first in Ethiopia and understand the startup struggles," says Managing Director Perry Wismans. "We produce the best geranium cuttings in Ethiopia and were looking for a climate to achieve the same results."
Dümmen has six geranium series: Survivor (vigorous with green foliage), Pinnacle (compact), Countryside (medium vigor), Savannah (dark foliage and vigorous) and Pacific and Atlantic ivies.
The Potunia compact mounding petunia series has been very successful and Dümmen has added two new colors, Lobster and Dark Red. The whimsical UFO osteospermums have very large flowers. Dümmen also will be producing fellow German breeder Westhoff’s cuttings.
The hottest introduction at Fides was Dahlinova Hypnotica dahlias in seven colors – Bronze, Red, Orange, Pink, Light Pink, White and Yellow. Hypnotica is being positioned against the Gallery dahlias offered by GroLink while offering missing colors. From an unrooted cutting, a plant can be ready in 10 weeks. Plants are big and full and do not require pinching.
Another attention-getting introduction was the Inticancha alstroemeria from Dutch breeder Hilverda in four colors – Red, Purple, White and Pink Blush. The collection has a much improved habit over typical garden alstroemeria, with deep dark, durable and compact foliage that avoids the splitting commonly seen in garden varieties.
Beyond varieties, Fides continues to promote clever marketing ideas that tie in with lifestyle themes, like health, sports and beauty. Adding flowers can make themed gifts extra special and open more retailers up to carrying plants.
Floranova’s Patio Vegetable collection continues to be a big hit, especially with the current resurgence in vegetable gardening. These garden vegetables are bred to be naturally compact for containers and small spaces versus traditional garden beds, although they can be grown there, too. They are selected for both ornamental value and taste. All of Floranova’s vegetable seeds will now be offered as organic seed due to strong grower and retailer interest in organic programs. New varieties this year include ornamental pepper ‘Chenzo’ with hot fruit that turns from green and black to red. Another is a collection of zucchini and squashes.
The U.K.-based breeder’s big introduction in annuals is the Infiniti multiflora geranium series bred for pack production. Plants are early flowering with outstanding garden performance. Crop time is 12 weeks, two weeks shorter than competing varieties. Colors include Appleblossom, Rose, Salmon, Scarlet, White and a mix.
Goldsmith greeted visitors with stylish outdoor living vignettes, including an outdoor gazebo lounge bed with pillows surrounded by flower beds you’d see at a home and flower show. A serene ceramic blue tile rectangular pool with matching urns was another big project setting up for the trials to show how plants are part of the dreamy outdoor living settings we’d like in our yards.
While the front of the greenhouse showcased varieties from seed, the back half was the home for vegetative introductions through Goldsmith’s alliance with Fischer, which is now Syngenta Flowers.
In seed, Goldsmith hit a home run with its first rudbeckia introduction being the industry’s first F1 hybrid, ‘Tiger Eye Gold.’ Other key seed introductions include a new Penny viola named Mickey after Mickey Mouse with its Mousketeer hat pattern. Goldsmith also upgraded the Fantasy milli-
flora petunias with the more vigorous Picobellas.
This was the second year Greenheart Farms in Arroyo Grande was the destination hosting the John Henry Company and German flower breeder Dümmen and special guest Westhoff, also of Germany. John Henry does a wonderful job integrating all the plant material into marketing displays and retail concepts.
While Greenheart has been a miniature rose liner specialist, it is working with two rose breeders who have created a revolutionary new form that is a cross between a miniature rose and a hybrid tea form and is more elegant than shrubby. The result are plants that will produce easy cut flower roses for consumers. The new collection, My Bouquet, has been picked up as an exclusive by Ball Horticultural Co.
Greenheart also announced it has a division called Mesa Magic Nursery that produces potted cyclamen. Niches seem to be a formula for success for Greenheart.
GroLink started a tissue culture program two years ago and now it is ready to release liners from tissue culture – cordyline, hosta and alocasia. GroLink’s Paul Gaydos says what prompted them to do this was asking growers and brokers what they can’t get. "They said these things are too expensive and never available, so we decided there would be room in the market to do this," he says.
GroLink also is introducing a hosta that can take full sun in Florida. Plants have been trialed in Central Florida with no shade out in the field.
The company also builds on its leadership position in coleus by introducing 22 more varieties. Lantana is another strength and gained 16 more varieties. GroLink’s top landscape performers are indicated by its Landscape Elite designation.
GroLink also hasn’t forgotten the crop it was built on, chrysanthemums. While Belgian mums are the globe-shaped European style of garden mums, High Flyers are more traditional.
While we were at Kieft, we learned that Dutch breeder Florensis has an ownership interest in Kieft. Florensis is a vertical distributor, breeder and young plant producer in Holland serving Europe. Its parent company was the world-famous young plant producer, Hammer. Oro Farms also produces Florensis varieties from cuttings. This was the first time we got to see the Florensis vegetative offerings at Kieft and many were bred by Kieft. The Gallo gaillardias, which are still in the experimental stage, were really impressive in shades of orange, peach, yellow and burgundy, along with a dark bicolor.
In perennials, Kieft showed an experimental scabiosa called ‘Blue Note,’ a compact alternative to ‘Butterfly Blue.’ Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ is a promising purple-colored variety from seed. Kieft’s Color Grass program is still growing strong, with two captivating varieties shown as experimentals – milium ‘Flashlights’ and isolepis ‘Wi-Fi.’
Pacific Plug & Liner
Pacific Plug & Liner (PP&L) in Watsonville, Calif., is the young plant division of Smith Gardens in Bellingham, Wash. Specialty designer items from tissue culture have been a growing niche for PP&L. These include architectural items like cordylines, phormiums and colocasias in striking designer colors. "Anything that can replace a dracaena spike," says head grower Ryan Hall. These plants can be high-end accents in large containers, planted in landscapes or grown as impressive specimen plants.
PP&L hosts the Agrexco group of cuttings propagators from Israel at its trials each year. In the group, Hishtil’s herb displays are always a big hit with a wide selection and unusual forms. Combination planters grouped herb medleys that go with fish, poultry, cheese, salads, soups and making tea and even martinis. Cohen is the largest propagator in the group focused on vegetative annuals. Jaldety focuses on niche annuals and perennials and Schwartz specializes in geraniums.
Paul Ecke Ranch
This was the first year Paul Ecke Ranch hosted the trials in the newer greenhouses built in 1985. Since then, the Ranch has expanded production by building 60 acres in Guatemala. In the ‘90s, Paul Ecke III recognized the long-term future would be offshore to remain competitive in a global market. All breeding is still done in California.
Ecke Ranch also has been investing in Web-based resources to help growers. The Ecke Tech Help Bulletin Board is the industry’s largest online grower support community that has been the go-to place for fast, accurate information on poinsettias and annuals and has just launched a geranium forum.
Ecke’s freight logistics Web tracking system integrates all aspects of orders and freight/logistics to provide more accurate and timely information to customers, no matter where the order is shipping from or how the order was placed. Live Web inventory lets growers see product availability by week and select specific companies and sales groups.
The big kahuna of an introduction at PlantHaven’s trials was the Royal Hawaiian Colocasia collection bred by Dr. John Cho at the University of Hawaii. While his work was focused on the plant as a food crop, the first five plants were chosen for ornamental value – Blue Hawaii, Hilo Bay, Hawaiian Eye, Diamond Head and Pineapple Princess. This fast-growing premium crop is sure to be a moneymaker for growers. Plants finish in a gallon size in five to seven weeks and in a 5-gallon size in 12 to 15 weeks.
PlantHaven also came up with a great marketing idea for the collection, printing one tag with photos and descriptions of all five varieties. The single tag not only is efficent for retailers but shows consumers other varieties that are available, encouraging them to collect all five.
Other innovative introductions were the two-toned carex ‘Rekohu Sunrise’ and rosemary ‘Gold Dust’ with green and gold variegation.
Plug Connection is now licensing growers to produce Organiks, its branded organic herb, vegetable and fruit program. The licensing is being managed by Cultivaris North America LLC and will expand beyond North America to Europe and Australia. Besides helping growers complete the organic certification process, Plug Connection and Cultivaris will provide marketing materials, sales support, staff training and coordination of sales with retailers.
Plug Connection also has been working with Josh Schneider from Cultivaris to offer a collection of plants from New Zealand from Kia Ora Flora. Most are only hardy to Zone 8, so they would be treated like an annual in most of this country. Another new line is a collection of jewel-colored streptocarpus from a European breeder.
During Pack Trials, Plug Connection showed neutral comparison trials in seed and took on two big vegetative classes, calibrachoa and angelonia.
In plants, Proven Winners’ biggest introduction is a collection of begonias similar to the popular Begonia boliviensis ‘Bonfire’ introduced a few years ago by Selecta. The double-flowered Bellagios and single-flowered Mandalays were bred by Kientzler in Germany. Together, they have been nominated by our panel for our breeding awards. Proven Winners’ John Gaydos says the key to successful production is long days or supplemental lighting. During short days, the plants will create tubers and stall.
Proven Winners also has added three lines to fill out empty spaces in its assortment – Daredevil zonal geraniums, Colorblaze coleus and Graceful Grasses. In Supertunias, Vista Silverberry captured a lot of attention as a light-colored sport of Vista Bubblegum, and Citrus is the strong yellow the series has been missing. Flirtation is the beginning of a new diascia series that promises to "reinvent the genus" by delivering multiseason performance.
On the woody side, Spring Meadow has added 12 new shrubs to the Color Choice assortment. These include two chartreuse-colored barberries, two more Rose of Sharons, two hydrangeas, another weigela, a hypericum and Strawberry Crush in Oso Easy Roses
Garden celebrity P. Allen Smith has increased his "hot list" from 21 to 25 Proven Winners plants and shrubs. Eleven of these 25 are new to his hot list for 2009. Proven Winners Marketing Director Marshall Dirks says that over the course of three years, sales of varieties on Smith’s hot list have grown an average of 31 percent compared to industry growth of 4 percent or less.
Pack Trials also is an opportune time for the three Proven Winners propagator partners to showcase their additional product lines as Proven Selections. Key products from EuroAmerican propagators include Savvy Succulents, Senetti cinerarias from Suntory and Scooter scutellarias in five colors.
Under the theme, "Sakata Understands," the breeder created educational vignettes for growers, retailers and landscapers. Grower messages included:
• Benefits of primed seed
• Transplant age studies
• Saving labor through direct sowing
• Crops that can be grown with low to no heat to jumpstart spring and save energy costs
• Variety selections for bench run efficiency
• Plants that require less chemical applications
• Plants that can be grown for spring or fall.
One interesting concept was growing for a better shipping cart value. Growers can increase the value of each cart full of plants by selecting premium varieties that display well on a cart.
Varieties that captured a lot of attention this year were the new colors in the Profusion double zinnias – Golden, Fire and White – and the showy Rebelina creeping violas.
Selecta First Class
Selecta showcased innovation in rooted cuttings with its Trixi-Liner, rooting three cutings in a 72 deep-cell standard tray, and Mini-Rooter in a 200-cell standard tray. For the Trixi-Liners, it can be three cuttings in the same crop or mixed genuses. The result is a simple way to create combinations that finish well together while saving labor. Even though each liner has three cuttings, only one royalty will be charged. The Mini-Rooters save growers freight costs because they can get nearly twice as many rooted cuttings per box.
Selecta supported most of its series with outstanding additions this year. Highlights include Blush Pink and Yellow in MiniFamous double calibrachoas, which received our Industry’s Choice award two years ago. In Serengeti nemesias, Upright Violet & White and Upright Purple were stunners. Selecta also boasts a global position in osteospermums, producing 25 million cuttings. The series are Flower Power, Zion and Kenai.
This was the first time Skagit Gardens, based in Mt. Vernon, Wash., had its own Pack Trials exhibition at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden. Skagit has had a relationship with the garden for some time and grows some of its introductions. As a grower, Skagit specializes in perennial young plants and also does some breeding.
The Commotion gaillardias promoted by Novalis were bred in propagator John Dixon’s garden at home. He set about to bring red color into the fluted forms, push toward double petals and have strong, garden-worthy plants. While ‘Commotion Frenzy’ has red buds that open to dark red petals with yellow tips and a yellow and red center, ‘Commotion Tizzy’ has deep russet buds with petals from red to rosy terra cotta outlined with yellow.
A collection of Heuchera villosas from a French breeder, Thierry Delabroye, were especially note-worthy for unusual colors and leaf forms.
For the past few years, plug giant Speedling has hosted trials for a group of international breeders and propagators at its San Juan Bautista facility in conjunction with broker Henry F. Michell Co. in King of Prussia, Pa. We visited with Speedling’s CEO Mike Samilian and Kathy Enders, who manages the plug program.
Enders explained how Speedling’s offerings have gotten too wide, spanning 16,000 SKUs, including multiple tray sizes for the same variety. Her mission to cut the number by 10 to 20 percent and eliminate the redundancy of carrying so many varieties of red impatiens, etc. Making cuts is difficult because each broker representative in each region has favorites.
The four product-oriented themes Speedling communicated were:
• "Color Is The Name Of The Game" for the spring program.
• "Cool Nights, Bright Lights" for the fall pansy program grown in Blairsville, Ga.
• "The Biggest Thing Ever" for its custom-finished program, letting customers know Speedling is available for contract production. Examples include 1-gallon clematises and 6-inch geraniums.
• Grasses – "People don’t know we do them and we can’t sell them if they don’t know we do them," Enders says.
We also visited with Michell’s President and CEO Rick Michell and talked about evolving market strategies. One is looking for differentiated varieties, which is why Michell’s has brought together exhibiting breeders from all over the world. Five quonset greenhouses housed breeders and propagators from Denmark, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.
One new exhibitor was Plant Source International (PSI), which has had a minor presence over the years at various locations. Setting up at Speedling was a good move this year for owner Troy Lucht, whose family owns Malmborg’s Inc. in Minnesota. While PSI’s niche has been mostly generic, unpatented varieties from cuttings, the company also produces patented lines.
Northern Innovators jazzed up its Klahanie hibiscus by putting the plants in sand pails. Larger flowers stay in bloom up to four days. The robust Landscape gerbera collection from Florist also continues to be a hit with its large plants and striking bicolors.
German cuttings producer and breeder GGG International/Young Plants Gruenewald continues to expand its popular mixed six packs for combination plantings. In addition to flowering varieties for sun or shade, herb collections are popular with a French set and an Italian one. A fall foliage collection is winter hardy. These six packs can be merchandised along with the components and planted up in urns, window boxes and baskets to demonstrate the concept.
As a breeder, GGG has made an interesting vegetative cross between verbena and creeping phlox called Velox. The flowers are set more like a mat, like phlox, in pink and soft pink.
In blooming potted plants, Schoneveld Twello of Holland showed off its cyclamen series in graduated sizes of garden boots. The new Verano series is for warmer temperatures. Greenex showcased its kalanchoes in eyecatching ceramic pots.
Even though they’ve been out a few years, this is the first time Sun Parasol mandevillas have been shown at Pack Trials in a big way. Suntory has divided the collection into three groups: the Original series, the Giant large-flowered series and the Pretty series, which used to be called Mini. Suntory demonstrated how the variety could be used in an upscale retail setting as a more vertical element in containers with elegant metal architectural supports. They even showed it in large baskets and mixed containers.
One completely new series for Suntory is Desana ipomoea (sweet potato vine). Plants feature a compact habit with short internodes, ideal for 4-inch and 6-inch pots. In combination planting, the Desanas add drama without dominating. Colors are Maple, Lime, Compact Red and the heart-shaped Bronze.
We also met Tetsuya Kako, the young breeder working on the new Summer Wave torenia and Angel Earring fuchsia varieties.
Pack Trials gave visitors the opportunity to see how the newly integrated Syngenta Flowers is organized. While all the vegetative annuals bred by Syngenta were over at Goldsmith Seeds along with Fischer, seed annuals and perennials were the focus of the S&G location. In recent years, Syngenta has been breeding both seed and vegetative lines of perennials to perform as color items in the pot for growers and retailers and stimulate more impulse sales.
In seed annuals, Syngenta introduced Volumia begonias as an improvement over older, large-flowered landscape begonias, which grew to be more leggy and open. Plants are extra vigorous and branched for premium pot programs of 4 inches or larger. Colors include Pink, Scarlet, Light Pink, White and Rose Bicolor, which received a Fleuroselect Gold Award. Other noteworthy introductions were an F1 hybrid sunflower, ‘Constellation,’ and Arrow early flowering snapdragons in four key colors.
This was a banner year for vegetative annual introductions. The new synergies between Goldsmith, Fischer and Syngenta have created a breeding powerhouse that is raising the bar in all vegetative annuals and creating new ones. Collectively, the companies have 16 breeders collaborating on crops globally. That could be why more than 90 new varieties and improvements debuted. Key introductions include:
• Rio dipladenia series bred by Fischer to be compact without tendrils in pots/gallons.
• Sidekick compact ipomoea series bred by Goldsmith.
• Confection nemesias bred by Goldsmith.
• More Techno lobelias from Goldsmith – Electric Blue, Dark Blue, Violet, Upright Light Blue and Upright Dark Blue.
• ‘Calliope Dark Red’ interspecific geranium bred by Goldsmith. While most ivy-zonal crosses look more like ivies, this one looks more zonal but has the beautiful red only available in ivies. Colors in the works include Burgundy, Magenta, Rose and Scarlet Fire. ‘Calliope Dark Red’ impressed our panel and was nominated for our Medal of Excellence breeding awards.