And the envelope, please

November 30, 2008
Written by Melhem Sawaya
In keeping with tradition, we consulted with Trials visitors to tabulate our Top Ten container performers

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Every year, I combine feedback from growers, breeders, sales people and buyers with my own observations throughout the growing season to come up with a Top 10 list. This is not easy. If it were only my opinion, I would say the Top 10 would be the Calibrachoas … and nothing else! I am going to start with Number 10 then continue through to this year’s top pick.

‘Garden Meister’ (#10) is the only Fuchsia that does well, year after year, whether in sun or shade, and alone or in combination. It always looks good and healthy. No deadheading is needed because the flowers last a very long time and it is self-cleaning. So why don’t we grow more of this excellent plant? The only reason is that it is not patented, so no sales company is promoting it.

Viola ‘Velocity Lemon & Plum Picotee’ (#9) is one of the new series that blooms in early April under cool temperatures. However, where it shines is in the hot summer days when it looks as good as – or better than – it did in the cool days of April. This Viola breeding is a true garden favourite when consumers learn of its durability through the entire season, from early April to past the first few frosts.

Cuphea ‘Totally Tempted’ (#8) is the result of new breeding, where the first flower does not seem to age but is accompanied by a whole cluster of new ones. It has excellent performance the whole summer, requires no deadheading and will not collapse or die like some other Cuphea if it dries out. It looks good on its own in large containers and will enhance many combinations where colour and texture are co-ordinated.

‘Tsavo Yellow Ice’ (#7) is one of the fascinating Sanvitalias on the market that display excellent performance throughout the season. Sanvitalia is one of the few genera that gets better with age, and by this I mean very late in the summer to early frost. It has excellently formed tiny flowers, along with green foliage that shines all the time. No deadheading is required. You never see the old flowers – maybe because they don’t get old. It is excellent on its own, and a definite enhancer for any combination.

‘Artist Blue’ (#6) is a different Ageratum that grows very tight. Little deadheading is needed. It has excellent quality foliage and an ideal growing habit. How about a combination of ‘Artist Blue,’ Sanvitalia, and Euphorbia? Do not plant too early. With all the rain we got this year, ‘Artist Blue’ still looked great all summer without any disease or die-back.

‘Butterfly Yellow’ (#5) is still the Argyranthemum that breeders try to target. This a vigorous variety, but it can be grown to flower at a shorter height if planted later in the season. ‘Butterfly Yellow’ is a knockout the whole season. No matter what the conditions – hot, cold, rainy or sunny– its great performance will make any consumer a satisfied gardener who will come back for more.

‘Stratosphere White’ (#4) is a vigorous Gaura, which makes it an excellent garden performer. Those Gaura varieties that are cute, compact and look good in 4” pots will not, most likely, be much of a show in the garden. Grow Stratosphere in 6” or gallon pots and your customers will be back next year to buy more.

Euphorbia ‘Silver Shadow,’ ‘Silver Fog,’ and ‘Diamond Frost’ (#3) are three new varieties that could be an excellent enhancement to any combination, or alone. Euphorbia offers terrific performance the whole summer long, and is maintenance-free since we do not vacuum the gardens. It can take cool weather, very hot weather, rainy weather, or any other weather conditions with no sign of disease or slowdown in performance. Euphorbias are excellent and a must in any program.

‘Vista Bubblegum’ (#2) is the landscaper’s Petunia, which means it grows well, shows well all summer long, and requires no maintenance. Rain or sun, Vistas are quite flexible in any weather condition. Many visitors take pictures of their favourite plants alone or with someone standing near them, and I can easily say ‘Vista Bubblegum’ is the most photographed plant in our Trials. Vista falls into the Tidal Wave group, where both have excellent garden performance but growers don’t like to grow them because they are vigorous, which is also the reason they make excellent garden performers. The solution is to start these plants two to three weeks later than other Petunias so that they will flower earlier compared to plant size, and the consumer will be successful because of their excellent garden performance. Let’s make sure we’re selling garden performers, not production-convenient varieties.

This year’s Trials’ Champion is Rudbekia ‘Tiger Eye Gold’ (#1). It requires no deadheading, and features superior garden performance and habit, amazing colour and long-lasting blooms, and is resistant to powdery mildew. In our trials, it was placed near another variety of Rudbekia that was covered with mildew but the mildew didn’t dare approach the ‘Tiger Eye!’ Its excellent breeding makes any landscape look fabulous. Grow it in 6” or gallons and price it high. When consumers are successful with their plants, they don’t mind the price. Sell them a cheap plant that doesn’t perform and they will think twice about buying more plants and, definitely, they will not buy from the same place. ■

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research co-ordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome, please e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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