Allan Armitage’s Top Plant Picks From Day One of CAST 2018

Allan Armitage’s Top Plant Picks From Day One of CAST 2018

The Greenhouse Grower Variety Team at California Spring Trials (CAST) 2018 visited Green Fuse Botanicals, Floranova and Vegetalis, and Ball Horticultural Co. on the first day. Here are my top plant picks of the day.

Vinca Tattoo Series (PanAmerican Seed)


Vincas are vincas are vincas, right? Except for the differences in disease resistance and colors, they are all pretty much the same. Saturated colors, some with eyes, and all claiming to be the best.

Yet when I saw the new series of Tattoo vincas from Pan American Seed, I was a vincite once more. It is hard to describe the colors; the photos do more justice, but suffice it to say they are unlike any others I have seen.

Pan American Seed will tell you they are far better as patio plants than in the garden, and hopefully that message will filter down to the decorators of the world. As I overheard a millennial’s oxymoronic statement, “These are so hot they’re really cool.”

Begonia ‘Canary Wings’ (Ball Ingenuity)

Who does not value the impact that ‘Dragon Wings’ begonia has made to begonia sales? Add the Baby Wings and other “wings”, and it is not a stretch to suggest that plant performance really has been appreciated. When I walked in the greenhouse of Ball Ingenuity, I noticed a chartreuse leaf “wings-like” begonia. As I approached, the large ‘Margarita’-like color of the foliage combined with the standard red “wing” flowers is an eye-catching combination. This is going to be a winner.

Ivy Geranium Reach Out Series (Floranova)

The heat tolerance of ivy geraniums is well known and many summer trials across the country have borne this out. Seed propagated ivy geraniums have lacked the compact habits of zonals and interspecific crosses. However, the Reach out series from FloraNova showed that a full strong habit with excellent flowering could be obtained in more than one color. Seed will be available and I expect this series to do well in areas where heat limits the usefulness of zonals. There is a good number of interspecifics tolerant of warm temperatures, but I think this is going to enhance the respect that growers and landscapers have for the lowly ivy geranium.

Salvia ‘Big Blue’ (PanAmerican Seed)

The large showy salvia reminded me of the old fashioned ‘Indigo Spires’, but greatly improved. It is big, bold and bodacious but with strong robust stems and handsome metallic green foliage. The flowers are large; this is not a prissy plant. Landscapers will love this salvia; retailers will find it in flower in gallon containers before it hits their shelves. A great addition to the salvia world, and this time from seed.

Geranium ‘Super Moon Red’ (Selecta)

Just when I thought I was fairly sure about geraniums and what type was best for where, along comes an extraordinarily strong looking zonal that the Selecta folks say is the most heat tolerant of any zonal out there. It certainly is a handsome plant and will look good at the retail level. However, the consumer will not know it is different from any other zonal if additional signage is not used at retail, something I fear will not occur.

But what a knockout, and if its heat tolerance is borne out, zonals will have taken a huge step forward.

Verbena Cadet series (Ball FloraPlant)

The Endurascape series of low growing verbenas has been a highly popular item at retails and as a landscape item. They have provided excellent plant performance due to heat tolerance and reduced disease susceptibility. However, the new Cadet series provides the performance of Endurascapes but in an upright form. I pushed, poked, and prodded them and was impressed with the stem strength in the containers; they don’t look like they will fall over. Outdoor trials have been very positive around the country. An upright verbena in half a dozen handsome colors; who can say no to trying a few of them out?