Classique performers

August 31, 2011
Written by Claude Vallée
Five years after its inception, Les Exceptionnelles® has become an annual event that enjoys a level of fame never seen before in the history of horticulture in Quebec. Everyone can be proud of this success, since it is the result of an exceptional collaboration between all players of the horticultural sector, its institutions and the media.

Les Exceptionnelles is a lot more than a selection program. It is the only project promoting annual plants in Quebec. Its contribution stimulates a renewed interest for these products among amateur gardeners, after having lost their favour over the last years.

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Claude Vallée, and this year’s Exceptionnelles.

 
PROMOTING ANNUALS TO THE MARKETPLACE
■ Annuals create an explosion of colour and fun over the whole summer. They offer everyone the opportunity to express their creativity. They are the only type of plants that allow gardeners to renew their creations every single year.

There is always a place for annuals and it is wrong to believe that this type of product has reached a saturation point in Quebec. The time when flower beds were boring, repetitive and without imagination is long gone. By stepping off the beaten path, Les Exceptionnelles are changing the perception of annuals and proving that they can be simple, well performing and full of originality. Consumers need to be offered plants that are both exciting and disease-resistant, in order to provide them with a wonderful summer experience, without fear their plants won’t survive the season.

TRIALS ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION INCLUDES PRESENTATION OF ‘CLASSIQUES’

■ For the fifth anniversary of Les Exceptionnelles, a one-time, special selection called Les Exceptionnelles Classiques was launched. These plants were chosen by the program’s experts for their performance and distinctive look. They will become proud ambassadors of the program, reminding us that Les Exceptionnelles have succeeded in becoming reliable selections and among the best plants offered to amateur gardeners in order for them to feel a sense of achievement in their gardens.

Here is the complete lineup of “Les Exceptionnelles Classiques”:
  • Chamaesyce hypericifolia ‘Diamond Frost’® (Euphorbe ‘Diamond Frost’®).
  • Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ (Red Leaved Banana).
  • Pennisetum purpureum ‘Prince.’
  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘TigerEye™ Gold.’
  • Solenostemon scutellarioides (Coleus) ‘Henna.’
In recognition of its fifth anniversary, Les Exceptionnelles organized free training sessions on annuals. They were primarily directed to garden centre employees. Renowned horticulturists Mélanie Grégoire, Albert Mondor and Rock Giguère focused the workshops on the advantages of using annuals and outlined ways to better market them at retail. Suggestions on how to improve merchandising and sales were given to a targeted group of people who are involved directly in the sale of annuals, but who often lack basic knowledge of merchandising and customer service. The workshops were a big hit and industry members may decide to carry them on in the future.

REVIEWING PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS
■ This year, Les Exceptionnelles is moving forward, beyond adding training for garden centre employees and launching the Classiques lineup. Here are a few other highlights:
  • A new website was launched: www.itasth.qc.ca/exceptionnelles .
  • A new Facebook page was created.
  • For a fourth consecutive year, media visibility received was valued at more than $1 million in advertising exposure.
  • A new partnership with the Jardin de Métis, located farther east in Quebec, increasing to four the number of great gardens sharing their expertise for the selection of Les Exceptionnelles.
  • A new partnership with the Fleurons du Québec corporation, in order to provide more visibility to Les Exceptionnelles and to promote their use by municipalities and citizens. Fleurons du Québec is a program that rates municipalities (on a scale of one to five “fleurons,” just like hotel ratings) for their improvement efforts through landscaping and use of plants.
  • The garden centre display contest of Les Exceptionnelles was united with the “Défi commercialisation” event, an activity of the Association québécoise de commercialisation en horticulture ornementale (AQCHO – Quebec association of marketing of ornamental horticulture) meant to develop efficient strategies for marketing and market development.
INTRODUCING LES EXCEPTIONNELLES
■ For the fifth consecutive year, the public and horticulture experts have worked together to select the new products to be part of Les Exceptionnelles, a label consumers are seeking more than ever.

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Angelonia angustifolia ‘Carita™ Raspberry’ (Photo 1)
Height: 40-50 cm.
Width: 30-35 cm.
Exposure: sun or partial shade.
Ground spacing: 20-25 cm.
Use: in containers alone or in combinations, in flower beds.

Imagine a large number of orchid flowers laid out on a gracious stem dashing towards the sky: this is how an angelonia flowers. The variety ‘Carita Raspberry’ stands out with its nice pink flowers with a raspberry heart and its spectacular summer-long flowering. Do not let this plant’s delicate look turn you away. In fact, this variety is pretty sturdy. It tolerates drought and heat and doesn’t seem to attract insects or diseases. For cut flower fans, its nice stems can last up to 10 days in a vase. This is the flower of angels!

Begonia tuberhybrida (multiflora) ‘New Star® Red’ (Photo 2)
Height: 20-25 cm.
Width: 15-20 cm.
Exposure: sun or partial shade.
Ground spacing: 20 cm.
Use: in containers alone or in combinations, in flower beds.

The series New Star® is known for its compact and sturdy plants. The cultivar ‘New Star Red’ is the most popular among visitors at Jardin Daniel A. Séguin (in Saint-Hyacinthe). It deploys a profusion of
crimson-red flowers, imitating perfectly a mature rose. It is simply irresistible. It flowers abundantly until frost occurs. This flower can be used everywhere and anywhere, alone, in a bunch or with other plants. It will never go unnoticed.

Begonia x ‘Gryphon’ (Photo 3)
Height: 50-60 cm.
Width: 70-80 cm.
Exposure: shade of partial shade.
Ground spacing: 30-40 cm.
Use: in containers alone, or in flower beds.

This plant’s name was inspired by a mythological beast with a lion’s body and the head and wings of an eagle – an agile and formidable animal. One can easily imagine this begonia’s silvery leaves being the armour of this legendary creature. This rex (king) type begonia is more vigorous and robust than any other. Its majesty allows it to be a star attraction by itself, or to bring volume to an arrangement. Easy to grow and highly resistant, this variety resists stress far better than most begonias. This is a king and it deserves its place in every garden!

Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ (Photo 4)
Height: 0.8-1.2 m.
Width: 0.8-1.0 m.
Exposure: sun, preferably partial shade.
Ground spacing: 45 cm.
Use: in containers alone or in combinations in a large container, in flower beds, or as main attraction.

The name of this plant was inspired by the rum, lime and mint Cuban cocktail writer Ernest Hemmingway was so fond of. Colocasia ‘Mojito’ brings a touch of tropical freshness. This seducing tropical plant has leaves the shape of an elephant ear, reaching 45 cm high and 25 cm wide. Discovered in Florida, this new cultivar has marbled stems and leaves that make it unique. In a container, it behaves like all other annuals. Our tests have shown that its leaves best develop in partial shade. In a well-watered pot set on a window sill, ‘Mojito’ will easily survive the winter inside.

Cyperus papyrus ‘Little Tut’ (Photo 5)
Height: 60-75 cm.
Width: 75-85 cm.
Exposure: sun and light shade.
Ground spacing: 45 cm.
Use: in a container alone or in combination in a large container, in flower beds.

This cyperus is a miniature version of the larger ‘Egyptian Papyrus’ Graceful Grasses® King Tut® that was selected as an Exceptionnelle in 2010. It is easy to grow and it resists wind very well. Its short and rigid stems withstand heavy weather very well. This plant is sculptural, versatile and absolutely insensitive to insects and diseases. This cyperus will be at ease next to water or in a standard flower bed. It is perfect for the balcony, the main entrance or to bring a touch of luxuriance among other plants.

Echinacea purpurea ‘PowWow™ Wild Berry’ (Photo 6)
Height: 50-60 cm.
Width: 30-40 cm.
Exposure: sun.
Ground spacing: 20-30 cm.
Use: in a container or flower bed.

A surprise this year: a perennial plant has made it among the winners! Les Exceptionnelles almost exclusively rates annuals that are new on the market. On occasion, an exception can be made to rate a perennial that blooms the first year it is planted. This seems to have been appreciated by garden visitors, who reacted strongly as soon as Echinacea ‘Pow Wow’ Wild Berry showed its first flowers by giving the plant the greatest number of votes. This plant is very easy to grow. It resists drought and all other possible threats. Unlike others of the same species, its shorter stems remain straight and very solid. Its numerous flowers are 7.5 to 10 cm in diameter and they last longer than those of other cultivars. Their intense pink colour has earned the plant the “Wow” in its name.

Mecardonia x ‘GoldDust’™ (Photo 7)
Height: 5-12 cm.
Width: 30-40 cm.
Exposure: sun.
Ground spacing: 20-25 cm.
Use: in a container alone or in combination, or lining the edge of a flower bed.

Finally, a groundcover plant that is truly different from others! From May to September, Mecardonia ‘GoldDust’ creates a dense cushion of small, sparkling yellow flowers. This heat-tolerant plant is perfect for the edges of flower beds, rock gardens and containers. Even without maintenance, this plant will definitely take its place in consumer gardens. It adds a nice, bright touch that lightens everything around.

Petunia x Rhythm & Blues (‘Balperblues’) (Photo 8)
Height: 20-25 cm.
Width: 25-35 cm.
Exposure: sun.
Ground spacing: 20-25 cm.
Use: in containers alone or in combinations, in flower beds.

This petunia’s dancing name is inspired by its marvelous purple-blue flowers and their contrasting wavy white strip. Its effect is like a New Orleans crescendo. This eye-catching visual delight provides rhythm to any arrangement. The public and experts were charmed by its flowering. Easy to grow and highly resistant, this bushy petunia flowers abundantly all summer.

A NOT-FOR-PROFIT BRAND
■ Les Exceptionnelles is a registered brand name belonging to the Fondation en horticulture ornementale de l’ITA de Saint-Hyacinthe, a not-for-profit organization that maintains the Jardin Daniel A. Séguin on the site of this agriculture college. The foundation’s main mandate is to promote and support the development of ornamental horticulture knowledge in Quebec.

The program’s success could not have been possible without the contribution of these partners. Thank you to Fafard, Passion Jardins, Botanix, Ball Horticulture, JVK, Norseco, La Coop fédérée, Fleurs Plantes et Jardins, FIHOQ, Horticolor Canada, IQDHO, Plant-Prod Québec, Teris, Déco Style, Corbeil et Bigras, Association des responsables d’espaces verts du Québec, Compostage GL, Savaria, ITA, Jardin Daniel A. Séguin, the Montreal Botanical Garden, Jardin Van den Hende, and now also Jardin de Métis. ■

Claude Vallée, agr. M.Sc., professor of horticulture and coordinator of technological innovation at ITA-campus Saint-Hyacinthe, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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