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Features Crops New Varieties
California dreaming and beaming

January 17, 2008  By Melhem Sawaya

Melhem Sawaya offers highlights of this year’s Breeders Variety Showcase, in this first installment. 

15Another year has passed since we last wrote about the California Breeders Showcase, and the same major industry needs remains the same: increasing the demand for our products, not just offering more products.
Though the CBS is geared mainly for brokers and chain store buyers, which is a great way to connect with them, the ultimate customer base (gardeners and landscapers, etc.) is not taken as seriously as it should, in my view. There are exceptions, of course, as a growing number of breeders – or more correctly, brand groups – are looking for even more, excellent garden performers to put under their banner.

During the 1970s and early ’80s, the impressive expansion of bedding plant sales was mainly due to the introduction of an excellent garden species, namely impatiens. Consumers couldn’t get enough of them, and it got to the point where growers devoted up to 75 per cent of their production in impatiens. This was a species that provided great value and superior customer satisfaction.


What a simple concept: one species able to handle 75 per cent of your production. This is where production efficiency and customer satisfaction was met without much marketing effort or cost. The product almost sold itself, providing a win-win situation for customers, retailers, brokers and breeders.

They say history often repeats itself. If that’s true, I hope it will happen soon because many growers are looking for more market winners.

Here is a sampling from this year’s California Breeders Showcase. These are not all new varieties for 2007.
Many times we forget that there are many good varieties other than the mainstream lines of geraniums, petunias and impatiens. Nierembergia Dark Blue Lara (1) is one of the nierembergia that is under-used. We always look for plants with blue flowers and minimal deadheading. Nieremberga works very well, especially with its mounding habit and season-long flowering.

Calibrachoa is one of the fastest growing genus to get well-established since the impatiens phenomena in the early 1980s. Breeders are capitalizing on this popularity by introducing different colours and flower forms. Calibrachoa Mini Famous Double Blue (2) is one of these improvements. Last year, Mini Famous Double Pink was introduced. I have seen these two varieties show their true potential in hanging baskets rather than in 4" pots.

Another genus that is under-utilized by gardeners, but well appreciated by landscapers, is heliotrope.

Heliotrope Marino Blue (3) is one such variety that grows well with a nice blue colour and green foliage. Butterflies simply can’t leave the blooms alone.

Sometimes on these trips you see a new idea or are reminded about a concept. Organic Vegetable Mix (4) is grown in a certified greenhouse for a niche market. With the green movement taking root, I can see a small greenhouse operation or a section of a larger operation capitalizing on this opportunity if the marketing is done properly.

An excellent shade survivor plant is torenia. Now with so many bloom colours available, it is more interesting than ever.  Torenia Magenta Moon (5) is a new colour that will enhance many combinations.

And of course, the genus that started all the vegetative flowering crops is being diversified on a quick pace. Petunia Cascadias Mystic Pink (6) is another bicolour variety that will add brightness to any combination. It also works well on its own in a large container or even small pots.

Osteospermum is an established cool crop, side by side with pansies. This popularity is due to the fact that breeders are adding different flower colours, better growing habits, and plants that will flower well into a hot summer. Side Show Golden Yellow (7) is a compact osteospermum with many blooms and sturdy stems.

Coleus Witch Doctor (8) is a coleus that got a lot of attention, and was projected for many uses, either by itself or in combinations. It features a different leaf shape with a good growing habit and bicolour leaves with different shades. This past spring, I have noticed many combinations that only include different coleus varieties. They look great and never need deadheading.

Another petunia with loads of vibrant blooms is Supertunia Bermuda Beach (9). It has a good mounding habit that will attract a lot of attention to any garden. It works well alone or in mixed containers.

Cuphea Flamingo Cha Cha (10) is a wider leaf variety that will not die if dried out sometimes, unlike some other heather varieties. It will bloom the whole summer and requires very little maintenance to keep its shape.

As we said before, calibrachoa is the fastest growing genus. Calibrachoa Superbells Saffron (11) is a bicolour flower. It has more of a semi-mounding habit that keeps its shape. This has a striking bicolour flower that will stand out by itself or in combinations, and hummingbirds are all over it.

Genista lydia Bangle (12) is a plant with very tiny leaves and loads of yellow flowers. It performed very well in trials and is quite different than most other plants. It is worth a try on a small scale to gain the proper culture under our environment.

Another impressive osteospermum series is Margarita Mix (13). It works well in 4" pots and mixed containers. It features a mainly upright habit and is self-branching. Like any other osteospermum, it is a better product when grown under cool temperatures.

Amalia Snapdragon (14) is a group of eight colours with small, semi-double flowers. It has a mounding habit, is early flowering and is fairly vigorous. It is good in 4" to 6" pots and in combinations.

With the unlimited size and different colours of pansies and viola, you would think it is all here. However, Pansy Matrix Morpheus (15) has uniquely different flower combination colours that are quite appealing. It is excellent for 10" pots for early spring sales.

Vinca Titan Pure White (16) is one of many colours in this series. It is a good performer, with self-branching. It works well in hot, summer conditions, and not just in beds but also in combinations.
Bacopa Snowtopia and Blutopia (17) are the two bacopas from seed. The advantages are:
•    No early flower to drop or dieback, or be a host for botrytis
•    Self-branching
•    Easy to program
•    Better chance of being disease-free.

Try to mix the two colours together in the same pot.

Torenia Summer Wave Violet Ice (18) is a new addition to this popular series. It features vigorous growth that most other torenias lack. It is excellent alone or in mixes. It likes hot temperatures, but it is important to keep it moderately moist.

Scaevola Surdiva Blue (19) has a naturally compact cluster of flowers with green foliage. Scaevola is one of the best garden performers. It requires no deadheading and continuously flowers throughout the season. Grow it in baskets, alone or in combination.

Petunia Surfinia Baby Pink Ice (20) is a new colour in this series that features exceptional colour and continuous bloom. Its extreme growing habit makes it the perfect candidate for large containers, either alone or in combination.

The ultimate hummingbird plant is pentas. Pentas Northern Lights (21) is a moderately vigorous plant compared to other varieties where some of them really don’t grow all that well. This variety is excellent for mass flowerbeds and containers, either alone or in combination.

The Nonstop Mocca begonia series is gaining popularity among growers and consumers. Mocca Yellow (22) is one colour in this series with such exceptional bronze leaves. It is excellent in 4" or 6" production, and in combinations where the foliage and the flowers enhance any container or flowerbed.

Another pentas that caught my eye was Lava Red (23). It features a nice, bright-red colour on a plant that grows nicely in a 6" pot or combination of plants. It will attract its share of hummingbirds.

Salvia Stampede Pink (24) is one of many colours in this series that works so well in landscape beds. It's best to grow them in 6" pots, rather than 4" pots, to get the best impact at sales time.

Begonia Ikon Blush White (25) is a vigorous plant that is an ideal garden performer. It works best in 6" pots and larger containers, and is effective alone or in combination. Ever blooming and self-cleaning, it puts on an excellent show.
Geranium Moulin Rouge (26) is a seed variety that grows large, self-branching, zoned foliage. It has sturdy flower stems and is botrytis-resistant in rainy weather. It is an excellent alternative to vegetative geraniums, and is in my view, a better summer garden performer.

Osteospermum Summertime Cranberry (27) is another addition to this popular series. There is no reason to grow only the pink shades of osteospermum with so many flower colours available.

Petunia Potunia Pink (28) is one colour in this series that needs minimal growth regulators and will flower under short days. It is excellent for 4" production and containers.

Petunia Sweet Surprise Pink Morning (29) is a bicolour variety that stands out nicely on its own or in mixed containers. This is a different colour of flower in the crowded petunia segment.

By far, the Impatiens Fanfare series is the best garden performer among all types of impatiens. Fanfare Bright Coral (30) is a new addition to this series. Its mounding habit works well in hanging baskets and mixed containers.

Bacopa Abunda now includes the Improved Blue, Colossal Lavender and White (31) offerings. Mix them together for an amazing look.

Angelonia (Summer Snaps)  is the best summer garden performer genus and Angel Mist White (32) is one example in this top-performing series.

Trying some of these varieties on a small scale is a smart business choice. But changing totally from another variety with which you are familiar to something news is not! Try a little of something new to see if it sells better, and then make your decision whether to change.

Part Two in this series continues in August. Please note that most of the varieties mentioned here will be included in the Sawaya Garden Trials. An open house will be held Aug. 8. For more details, please log on to

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