Spring Trials Highlights From The South

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'Blue My Mind' evolvulus

People ask me if going to the California Spring Trials every year has made me ho-hum, made me feel they are less important, or if I have become a little jaded. Absolutely not! Nor are they less exciting for others. The California Spring Trials are a shot in the arm for the growers and brokers who attend each year. To be here is a treat, to be here is to rediscover what is right with our industry. We need to rekindle the passion, and that is what the Spring Trials offer.

On the first day of the 2012 Spring Trials, I saw a number of exciting new plants and concepts. We started the day at Proven Winners before visiting with Suntory Flowers, Plug Connection and Benary. Here are my thoughts on what each of these companies had to offer.

Proven Winners

Proven Winners provided more new plants than I expected. I saw everything from evolvulus (‘Blue My Mind’), which I consider a potentially great plant, to additions to the lobularias (‘Blushing Princess’ and ‘Frosty Knight’). The new Superbells calibrachoa, ‘Lemon Slice,’ looks excellent as well. Proven Winners continues to do an excellent job on the annuals side.
On the perennials side, Proven Winners’ marriage to Walters Gardens is the smartest thing the company has ever done. The marriage gives Proven Winners a ready-made perennials program. If our industry has trouble with any group of plants, perennials probably led the list. But this year we saw baptisias being offered – of all things – false indigo. If we can get good production and supply, perhaps Proven Winners can finally provide a no-brainer perennial for landscapers and consumers.  

We also saw some pretty darn good hibiscus, fantastic sedums (my favorite ‘Maestro’ was displayed), and some interesting dianthus.

Suntory Flowers

Suntory always does Spring Trials beautifully. I loved the non-climbing mandevilla, Garden Crimson. It has potential for growers who don’t want to mess with climbers and for consumers who will be able to put them in areas that they haven’t been able to grow mandevillas before.

I thought Suntory’s new Surfinia Summer Double petunias were beautiful. Its commitment to the promotion of material through digital videos, helping growers and consumers be successful, should be applauded (as well as what Marshall Dirks has been doing to drive consumer success at Proven Winners).

We saw a couple of boliviensis-type begonias today, including Suntory’s Crackling Fire. The plant material Suntory has looks superb, and it seems to be getting growers the information they need to produce these begonias correctly. I have always had question marks concerning landscape performance of boliviensis begonias, but Suntory is working hard to provide good information to growers. They’re also delivering the right information for best use in the landscape.

The Princettia euphorbias, which are being promoted for different holidays and seasons throughout the year, are certainly intriguing. If Suntory can make these a longer-season pot plant, I’m all for it. These euphorbias certainly reflect beautiful breeding. There is no lack of information concerning year-round production; it is a matter of talking consumers into buying poinsettias at times other than Christmas season.

The blooming potted market is so dominated by mums, Easter lilies and Christmas poinsettias that it’s really tough to introduce a new crop to it. It’s not that the breeding and the production know-how isn’t there; it’s that the consumer still considers a Princettia a Christmas plant. It’s going to take some time to break this mold. The marketing of the Christmas poinsettia has been so successful that it’s made it very difficult to market a non-Christmas poinsettia.

Plug Connection

I looked at 90 different cultivars of geraniums with Pac Ellsner, and boy are they excited about them. After I was done, even I was excited!  

As always, interesting plants are what Cultivaris is all about and they displayed everything from Tacoma to an Isoplexis hybrid.  I also believe that if they can get their wallflower plants into grower’s hands, there’s a definitely a place for them.

Benary

Benary is doing a very good job showing off plants that work in certain regions, and I appreciated their displays of plants for the Southwest, Northeast, Southeast, etc. Benary is trying to regionalize its offerings as well as anybody. They also demonstrated plants for special situations, such as those that tolerate lack of water and high sun (think parking lots), as well as displays for park situations or ways to break the monotony of somewhat boring foundations. Benary is doing a very good job of showing people what their plants do.

The new seed-propagated boliviensis begonia, ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ may be a winner. It looks very good out here in Vista, Calif.

Allan Armitage was a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia for 30 years. He recently retired and remains an active consultant, author and lecturer.

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