California Spring Trials 2013: Allan Armitage On Up-And-Coming Crops

California Spring Trials 2013: Allan Armitage On Up-And-Coming Crops

Mecardonia 'Magic Carpet'

Although the market for kalanchoes is challenging, it is good to know that for those who wish to grow them, there are some excellent choices.  I was blown away with the diversity of flower size and color of the kalanchoes at Greenex. I especially loved the double flowered series (RoseFlowers), and especially fell in love with the iridescent orange ‘Phoebe.’ All the kalanchoes were superb, but some will just walk off the bench. If you are looking for kalanchoes, I believe we found the right source.


We have been seeing a lot of vegetables in our travels this spring, and vegetables will always be an important part of gardening. It is always good to see edible vegetables combined with ornamental value as seen in the selection of banana peppers, both hot and sweet flavors. Three cultivars, ‘Hot Banana,’ ‘Hot Burrito’ and ‘Snack Pepper Orange’ have large fruit, good taste and a nice habit. These peppers are well worth looking at.

After breathing fire with hot peppers and calming down with sweet peppers, I ran over to my favorite fruit, the ‘Toscana’ strawberry, from ABZ Seeds. I loved ‘Toscana’ in the Spring Trials last year, I was impressed with it in my trial garden in Georgia last summer, so I am pleased to be able to recommend it again this spring. ‘Toscana’ has beautiful flowers, prolific fruit, a sweet taste and is a great grower in both containers and baskets. It’s a true ornamental, edible strawberry, and I can’t wait to grow them again.

American Takii
I have been visiting Takii for many years, and last year we saw the beautiful Spring Celebrity hollyhocks in several colors. The plants this year were equally impressive. However, this year, Takii has shown how the grower can produce these plants more effectively to improve transportation and retail sales. They demonstrated proper use of PGRs and enhanced the look and toughness of this plant. Hollyhocks aren’t the easiest plant to ship and show off, but kudos to Takii for showing us how to do both.

Upon arriving at Sakata, my eyes immediately went to the cascading snapdragons called Candy Showers. Cascading plants are becoming more important, because smaller gardens demand baskets and containers. We’ve been looking at cascading pansies and violas, and cascading snapdragons can be grown side by side with them. Candy Showers snapdragons are grown from seed, so many growers are already comfortable with snapdragon production protocols. These are available in many colors and appear to be just what we need to provide an even better class of snapdragons.

As I rounded the corner, my eyes fell on one of my favorite plants, gomphrena. Globe amaranth is by definition tough and durable and is also a prolific bloomer. It is so tough as to be the plant of choice to landscape fraternities — nothing bothers it —enough said.  Today, I saw the Pinball series, a group of vegetative, medium-sized gomphrenas, and I am indeed impressed. Three colors were shown, and I liked them all. The fact that they’re vegetatively, rather than seed-propagated, might be a bonus for growers of this plant. There are a number of fine gomphrenas in the marketplace; the Pinball series should take its place beside them.     

Last, but surely not least is another of my favorite plants on display, Mecardonia, yellow sundrops. I have watched this groundcover plant evolve for many years, and I believe ‘Magic Carpet’ is the finest I have seen. On the bench and in the landscape, plants are covered with golden yellow flowers. This is not a plant many people know, but if you are familiar with yellow sundrops, give this new cultivar a try.