An Industry Driven By ... ‘What’s New?’
By Dave Harrison
July 13, 2017, Simcoe, Ont. – If you asked plant retailers to give you the most common question they get asked by consumers each spring, we’re sure “what’s new?” would be near or at the top of the list.
It’s a question that drives the industry. There is always something new.
The California Spring Trials (CAST) showcases dozens of new items each year, and growers and retailers take close note of them. This month’s cover story offers a view of some of the varieties – some new, others tried and true. The feature, first of two, goes into this in more depth, but here are a few observations from my first CAST:
- This is not a sight-seeing trip. True, this part of the state has beautiful scenery, but those attending CAST live a nomadic lifestyle. I was only there eight days, but I experienced Los Angeles (arrival), Santa Paula, Oxnard, San Luis Obispo, Salinas, Gilroy, Watsonville and San Jose (departure). I visited about a dozen CAST sites, some hosting a number of breeders. You had to be nimble and you had to have a good GPS system. I had hoped to dip a toe or two in the Pacific at some point along the way, but simply ran out of time.
- There are a growing number of amazing combo recipes, both in ornamentals and garden vegetables. If you are looking for attention-getters with strong sales appeal and proven performance, these combos are a good place to start.
- I’ve seen them before at Cultivate, and I was again drawn to them in California. The Coleus Under the Sea program of Hort Couture features great colours and interesting leaf shapes – similar to lobsters, coral and crabs. This line is bred at the University of Saskatchewan.
- Growing plants is one thing – selling them is a whole different challenge. Many breeders showcased imaginative new ideas in plant marketing, including some with a family activity focus.
- Fragrance. Past breeding may have sacrificed this trait for others, but it’s definitely important for consumers.
- Pollinators. Every garden should have its share of pollinator plants, and there were many of them at CAST.
If you can’t make it to California, there are numerous other trial and show gardens across North America.
Within an hour’s drive of my home in southwestern Ontario there are two major trials – the Sawaya Garden Trials and the University of Guelph trials sites. U of G also hosts a container trial at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (just over an hour away from me).
And there are Les Exceptionnelles garden sites in Quebec. This program, coordinated by the Fédération interdisciplinaire de l’horticulture ornementale du Québec, recognizes top performers in the province each year.
I’m sure every province has plant trials or show gardens. Check with your provincial hort specialist for locations in your region.
Take a day away from the greenhouse or garden centre to visit a trials site to see “what’s new” and how it’s performing. Your next market winner is probably on display there this summer.