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Growing in the Green: Sampling the California showcase

June 28, 2008  By Melhem Sawaya

Using teamwork this year, I welcomed a little help from friends in creating my Pack Trials overview

Due to some last-minute and unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to tour this year’s California Showcase (more widely known as the California Pack Trials). So I’ve done the next best thing, by getting feedback through the eyes of three colleagues who did make the trip. These helpful “roving correspondents” include a buyer for a large garden centre chain, a wholesale grower and a retail grower.


 Jim and Chris Pepetone

Shelley Elgar is a buyer for Sheridan Garden Centres. John Ondejko and Laura Martindale, from Seacliff Farms, offered their top picks, which are part of our variety highlights, among other suggestions. Supplying a retail grower viewpoint were Jim and Chris Pepetone (photo, top right) from Terra Greenhouses. Chris was also helpful in providing many of the photos.

The California Showcase, according to Chris, was much more than new variety introductions, though it is definitely not a true trials format. It was a place for:

  • New varieties and old tried-and-true performers.

  • A place for networking and building relationships.

  • New marketing ideas and concepts.

  • A container gardening source.

  • New industry ideas.

  • Exciting retail displays.

  • Creativity and fun ideas.

Many growers, buyers and brokers go to the Showcase only to check out new varieties. They ignore the older ones. And that’s too bad, because many times it is the older varieties that are better. As growers, we know how well they will perform in the greenhouse, thereby ensuring we will hit our shipping dates.

It’s a good idea to trial new varieties, to see how best to grow them. We can see if they are better than the older ones. If they are, we can drop the old varieties and go with the new ones, especially if they are close in key characteristics.

There are many varieties we should cover, but we only have so much room. This year, we will cover the Showcase in only this edition. I will cover other new varieties with my review of the Sawaya Container Gardening Trials later this fall. An open house will be held on Aug. 13 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ( ).

Here are some of the varieties to whet your appetite for next season’s production schedule.

Coleus is one of the oldest species in horticulture. Over the last 10 years, the many new introductions have given it a boost. It’s become a major component of many plantings or combinations.

‘Dark Chocolate’ Coleus (1) is new for 2009. Like other coleus, it loves the heat and fits within any low-light location. Its deep chocolate colour is eye-catching in landscapes and in combinations of large containers.

‘Juncus Twisted Arrows’ (2) offers a real different foliage texture that adds a lot to any combination. The totally different, curly spikes become more bush-like with age to provide a better show. Juncus is very good in the shade.

The crossover of perennials and annuals is increasing every year. ‘Digitalis Dalmation White’ (3) adds another dimension to annual beds, or among evergreens or other shrubs. It has a long-lasting flower and offers excellent show.

Annual vegetative phlox varieties are becoming much more popular since we use them for late season production when we have warmer temperatures and high light levels, conditions that promote branching and strong growth. ‘Phlox Pink Splash’ (4) is an addition to the Astoria series. It is excellent in larger pots and combinations and shows better in hot weather and full sun.

Zonal geranium is, by far, the oldest of our most popular annual plant species. Many breeders have dedicated their entire careers to come up with the perfect or different flower colour, plant habit and disease resistance. ‘Calliope Dark Red’ (5) is a breakthrough in flower colour unmatched by other geraniums. It’s a true dark-red variety that is versatile for use in pots, baskets or landscapes. Calliope is an inter-species geranium that is a cross between zonal and ivy geranium. The breeder achieved the excellent red colour of ivy geraniums, with the robust growth habit of zonal geraniums. It looks like a winner.

Bacopa is not just boring white any more. Now there are blue and large flowers, double flower varieties, and now we even have a pink offering. ‘Great Pink’ (6) is a new addition to the Scopia series. It is excellent for pink combinations or in mixed colour bacopa baskets.

The double flower ‘Sweet Sunshine Petunia’ (7) is an excellent variety with outstanding flower show, sturdy stems and very long-lasting flowers that will add to any combination.

The fastest growing genera in popularity is the calibrachoa. Every year, we see new varieties or improvements to old varieties. ‘Mini Famous Double Yellow’ (8) is the latest addition to the Double Mini Famous lineup. It is a strong grower with showy flowers. It is ideal in hanging baskets alone or in

Lobelia used to be an excellent spring plant that would fade or disappear in the summer. However, thanks to breeding, many of the new lobelia perform well throughout the summer and into the fall. ‘Lobelia Magadi White Evolution’ (9) is one such newcomer. It is excellent by itself, or in baskets, or in combinations.

Colourful leaf ornamental peppers are a welcome addition to any landscape or combination. They perform very well in the hot summer. ‘Calico Ornamental Pepper’ (10) is a new introduction that has very colourful, variegated leaves with peppers that show well throughout the summer.

A forecast of hot summer days is music to the ears of Mediterranean Vinca. The warmer the temperatures, the better it performs. Baskets with ‘Mediterranean Lipstick Mix’ (11) give a good show all summer long in full sun.

There are two new series of ipomea this year, in addition to the popular Caroline Series. ‘Ipomea Desana Bronze’ (12) is a very vigorous variety that puts on an excellent show in large landscapes and extra-large pots.

Patio vegetables are on the rise. Every new variety that performs well is a welcome addition to container gardening. ‘Pepper Cheyenne’ (13) fits that category. It provides fresh peppers from your deck or balcony for any meal.

Many compact dahlias are available, but the mid-size to large-size ‘Amazon’ (14) are somewhat different and perform very well for a long time in the summer. They are excellent by themselves, in landscapes or in combinations.

The Lavender Madrid Series (15) puts on an excellent show for lavender lovers. This is a tender perennial that flowers the whole summer. It is excellent in landscapes.

Next to Wave Petunia, the ‘Potunia Petunia’ (16) is the most popular petunia, mainly due to its mounding and compact habit. It is also photoperiod neutral. ‘Potonia Petunia’ works well in landscapes and is excellent in small to large potted plant production.

Osteospermum is another genera that is not only for early spring any more. New breeding means many varieties now flower throughout the summer. ‘Summertime UFO’ (17) is a large variety that is great in landscapes and large container combinations.

If you are frustrated by trying to produce canas from rhizomes that tend to be infected with viruses, try the Tropica Series (18) from seed. It has an excellent growth habit, flowers at a good height, and comes in many colours. It is excellent in landscapes and combinations.

Gerbera is an excellent potted plant and bedding plant. ‘Festival Spider Salmon & Red Shades’ (19) offers a new look for potted gerberas with great colour and versatility.

Salvia is one of the largest genera and covers different species. ‘Salvia Mesa’ (20) is a fast growing variety with superior heat tolerance. It works well in any landscape or combination.

Another lobelia that can tolerate the heat and will flower the entire summer is ‘Lobelia Techno Heat’ (21). It is excellent with heat-loving combinations or with early cool crops.

As noted earlier, the California Showcase offers much more than only trials. This is a great opportunity to build relationships among growers, brokers and breeders. In many cases, it is not only what you know, but who you know.

Laura Martindale of Seacliff, Diane Surette of Dummen, and John Ondejko of Seacliff, discuss some of the new industry trends and introductions (22).

Taking time to pose (23) in the Wave Petunia costume … anything to promote flowers!

Laura Martindale (24) also checks some completely different flower
packaging that could be used at their operation.

Breeders showcase a lot of creativity with their combinations during the Showcase. After all, this is California!

Some containers (25) well complement their location. Container selections, such as this one (26), add a lot of value and customer appeal at retail. Many new ideas are learned that can be applied in different situations, including these Message Pots (27) and the use of biodegradable pots (28).

Showcase organizers devote a lot of effort and money to display their products at their best. Growers can apply what they learn from these displays to their own new variety marketing efforts (29), or for new uses of products (30).

And from every trip there are many highlights. If I had attended the Showcase this year, I would be inspired to make my garden look like this (31), and set up my bed in it (32)!

We always look for ways to improve our businesses, to better serve our customers. This is our business, not a hobby. You never want to get stuck doing the same thing every year while the world around you is adapting to new challenges and moving forward.

A few weeks ago, I took the plunge and, with the help of my son Thomas, went through the stacks of binders I have collected over the years, each full of flower slides. I discarded most of them. It dawned on me that this was probably about $40,000 worth of photography. They weren’t needed any more. For the past 10 to 12 years, I have been using digital images. By my estimate, switching to digital photography has saved me about $26,000 over the past dozen years or so.

If it can be applied more effectively, calculated change is the pulse for our industry, if not for our existence.

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 sample30-32 sample29

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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