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Growing In The Green: November 2007

January 16, 2008  By Melhem Sawaya

The Sawaya Garden Trials: part two.  Growers, breeders, retailers and gardeners enjoy chance to see how the varieties perform under local conditions

When we put an idea into practice, we should have a definite purpose in mind. This goal can evolve, but we should never lose focus of the main objective.

The purpose of the Sawaya Garden Trials has always been to introduce growers to the different varieties available – old and new – and show how they perform under the same environmental conditions in which they will be sold. The program has evolved to include buyers in the process, so that they and their growers can see the best-performing products. At the same time, breeders/brokers are involved to ensure the varieties proving most popular are available in large enough quantities. In addition, the trials are open to consumers, gardening societies and similar groups. We also host youth group visits, such as 4-H, to encourage these future consumers – and some potential growers – to enjoy the beauty of flowers.


The gardens receive substantial media coverage. This helps spread the word about the many dependable performing plants that will increase consumer success. This year marks our seventh year. Here are some of our observations:
•There were many new introductions, but fewer than in previous years.
•Breeders and brokers are dropping varieties that are slow sellers or of poor quality.
•The quality gap among the top and bottom varieties is much narrower.
•Many of the top variety genetics for the past few years are being reintroduced faster than ever in the new introductions. There are more cross-bred varieties on the market. The result can either be improved or poorer quality. It depends on many factors, including the breeders’ perceptions with respect to good quality, the breeding environment, the parent plants, and how fast the newcomers are introduced to the market.
• Many varieties retain their original name but perform much differently, because after breeding a new variety, the process of selection starts. The resulting product can either be better or worse, depending on what the grower is looking for in the specific zone in which the plant will be grown. For example, the plants could be bred for earlier blooming, or to feature more compactness, vigour or colour intensity, among other traits. This means that some changes that would be welcomed by growers in some regions might not be so popular in other areas.

This is the main reason why comparative and objective trials in your sales area are important. They help growers and buyers select and provide products that will perform better.

This is the second in a two-part overview of the 2,000 different varieties at the Sawaya Garden Trials. Please note we can’t possibly mention all the varieties and species, but those not mentioned are not inferior or less important. Pictures of all the plants will be available online in the near future.

Many of the plants don’t put on their full show until we put them in the garden. There they improve with warmer weather, long days, and bright sunshine.

Lantana Bandana Red (1) and Lantana Landmark Gold (2) are two of the lantanas with a compact, upright habit and a seemingly unlimited number of flowers that don’t need deadheading. They also attract butterflies and hummingbirds. All the lantana varieties performed well. Your selection from among the numerous varieties will depend on whether you’re looking for an upright or spreading growth habit, compactness or vigour, or a particular colour combination. Start them later in the season in early April for June sales.

Pentas is similar to lantana in the sense that it loves heat, bright sun and long days. Bahama Lavender (3) is one cultivar in the pentas species. Hummingbirds and butterflies love pentas. They should be programmed for June sales, not May.

Until this summer season, I hated verbena because of powdery mildew problems. However, this year at our trials, almost every verbena showed significant mildew resistance. This could have been the result of breeding improvements by companies addressing this issue; it could have been the drier than usual weather; or it could have been improved production techniques by growers.

Verbena Aztec Silver Magic (4) is one of the one hundred-plus varieties that put on a floriferous show all summer, and with minimal deadheading. Verbena can be part of mixed containers or displayed alone in 10” or larger baskets.

Coleus Stained Glass Sawgrass (5) and Coleus Aurora Black Cherry (6) are two varieties that demonstrate the different growth habits of coleus. They are compact and vigorous. Other varieties fall somewhere between those ranges. Coleus is the most mosaic foliage plant and is extremely dependable. The various sizes and growth habits make it quite flexible to be part of container mixes. They also work well alone.

To show it at its best, coleus should be grown in large containers. You should also try mixes of different colours and textures for a variety of pleasing combinations.

Nemesia Serengeti Upright Violet (7) offers excellent heat-tolerance and great colour. The picture was taken on Aug. 11, as were the other photos in this feature, and it is still of good quality.

Lobelia Magadi Blue (8) displayed excellent performance throughout the heat of the summer. This shows how lobelia continues its strong performance all summer long. Many other lobelias are also bred for heat-tolerance.

Diascia Sunchimes Burgundy (9) is an excellent variety with well-balanced flowering and vegetative growth. Sunchime Burgundy works best in combinations. It can be grown in early combinations that require either cold or warm growth habits.

Brachyscome Mauve Delight (10) or any other brachyscome for that matter, is an excellent 4” product that also works in
larger containers. It’s also ideal for rock gardens or in combinations where a vigorous growth habit is not required. This is a good accent plant with other plants in low-profile containers for smaller outdoor patios.

Bracteantha Dreamtime Jumbo Yellow (11) is an ideal bracteantha that shows a great growing habit. It has especially long lasting flowers and bright colour on its own, and works even better in combinations. If you are planting 10” baskets, use only one cutting per container, but give it extra time. You can also plant a 4” pot into the hanging basket, but you only need one plant. This will avoid the splitting effect that can occur if you use three plants. Bracteantha also attracts butterflies (12) and hummingbirds.

Many bidens are quite vigorous, though their flowering slows with high temperatures. Bidens Marietta Gold Spark (13) is
very compact and flowers even during a hot summer. It is excellent for 4” production and works well with other compact varieties.

Scaevola is the species that started the vegetative revolution. It’s still the best garden performer due to its excellent growing habit, heat-tolerance, no-maintenance requirement, and its compatibility in combinations with other plants. Scaevola Fancy Blue (14) is an excellent blue-flower variety, while Scaevola Diamond (15) is an impressive blue/white bicolour. Scaevola is a long – but extremely rewarding – crop.

Gaura Pink Fountain (16) remains an excellent, tender perennial plant that will flower early and continue into late fall with an awesome display of airy flowers. It is a natural in combinations because it blends in with other plants and does not dominate.
Phlox is not as popular as it should be, and this is because we market it in 4” pots, which shortchanges its potential. Phlox should be in grown in 10” or larger baskets for late May sales. It is also perfect in combinations. The new colours, such as the bicolour Intensia Starbrite (17), put on an excellent show.

The sanvitalia lineup has a new double-yellow flower offering, Tsavo Double Gold (18), which features a cascading habit. It loves the heat and full sun and is quite forgiving if it dries too much. The excellent double-yellow flowers are perfect in combinations and alone.

The begonia genus is the best garden performer. When you add the beauty of Bonfire begonia (19) to this excellent garden performance, you’ve truly got a winner. Great on its own, it also improves the look of any combination.

If you’re looking for a nice looking and fragrant flower that is moderately vigorous, low maintenance and loves the heat, try Baby Pink (20) carnation. It has a long growing period, but if you plan your sales date for June, the growing time is half. For an upscale plant that gives great customer satisfaction, try the Baby Pink carnation and the Spice series.

A summer garden without Purple Fountain Grass (21) is like a summer without sunshine! This excellent variety has a majestic look from early spring, and it only gets better during the season and through to the onset of frost. It is not cheap to produce; however, it is an excellent performer that should only be sold in large containers of at least a gallon in size. It works well in upscale combinations.

The hybrid Cleome Senorita Rosalita (22) is an excellent species that performs well the whole summer, provided it is planted in a large landscape.

If you want a plant that is bushy and flowers throughout the summer, try Achillea Gypsy White (23). It grows well and hot weather speeds up the flowering. It is good alone or in combinations.

A plant that is different and adds value and beauty to any combination is Setcreasea Purple Heart (24). It has an excellent contrast leaf colour and texture, and boasts the ideal flower colour combination.

Next month: the top-three combination baskets and our Top Ten list for this year’s Sawaya Garden Trials. n

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome by e-mailing him at

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