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Growing in the Green: Sampling this year’s Spring Trials

June 17, 2013  By Melhem Sawaya

The California Spring Trials, in reality, is a showcase event by breeders.

The California Spring Trials, in reality, is a showcase event by breeders. And that’s why I like calling it exactly what it is – The California Showcase.

The problem is that it is running out of ideas to attract the same visitors each year. If you are visiting the trials for the first time or for the last two years, then yes, you will still learn something new. However, you may want to go every second or third year to really make the trip worthwhile.


In my experience, less than 15 per cent of the participants are growers. It’s primarily geared to buyers, and more specifically to brokers or chain buyers.

Perhaps that is why the trial aspect has disappeared, or it may be that growers were not finding anything new, other than new colours and new cultivars that had not yet been tested.

And taking a whole week to visit the trials, at a cost of about $3,000 to $4,000 per person, means most growers are unable to attend.

Again this year, I heard the familiar rumour that many breeders are working to have the event in one large location in an effort to attract more visitors and save thousands of dollars. It’s only a rumour, because this will require co-operation and a change from the way we’ve been doing it all these years; unfortunately, too many people feel that change is a bad thing.

This has been talked about for the last few years. In a sense it is already happening. Companies are being bought or are amalgamating, thereby reducing the number of players. It’s also meant breeders are now geographically closer to each other, so much so that next year, to the best of my knowledge, there will be no southern California location.

As we said before, most attendees are chain store buyers. They sometimes seek exclusivity for new cultivars. And in my experience, that process is the number 1 factor of profit shrinkage for growers and the chains, and is also the best recipe for discouraging consumers. This is because many new varieties don’t go through a sufficient garden performance trialling and they haven’t been tested for customer appeal. As well, the know-how to produce a top-quality product for a specific date has not been established.

These exclusive products are usually more expensive for growers, the chain puts them front and centre in its promotional materials, and the store has to place the product in its most prominent display area.

The breeder sold the product to the chain, which then spent a lot of money advertising a product the consumer will no longer buy. The chain’s credibility is diminished in the eyes of the consumer and, worst of all, the grower is left with a product that cost a great deal to produce.

The consumer is disappointed with the garden performance, and we have lost him or her for a long time.

Increasing consumption of horticultural products can only be done by helping consumers be successful and satisfied with their purchase … not setting them up for possible failure.

This is the reason I share these varieties with you. They are meant to be trialled at your facility so you know best how to grow them. You can track consumer appeal and monitor garden performance.

Featured here is only a sampling of the hundreds of varieties on display in California.

Most are new introductions for 2013. Some are older varieties that have been improved. Others have been around for many years, but new trends have made them more popular in the market.

This is only a sample of the new varieties we get bombarded with every season. Hopefully with the amalgamations taking place, we will see many cultivars disappear and the proven ones retained.

Here is a sampling of varieties that caught my eye in California. A second feature will run in August.

You’ll find almost all of these varieties, along with 2,200 others, in the Sawaya Garden Trials near Simcoe, Ont. The annual open house will be held Wednesday, July 24.


Lobularia ‘White Night’ (1)  

■ Lobularia ‘White Night’ (1) is more compact than ‘Snow Princess Excellent,’ along with other cultivars that prefer cool temperatures for growing, in hanging baskets. The flowers will last longer and are much larger. I have seen other lobularias grow well as a bedding plant. They will take the summer heat as long as you do not let them dry out.

Pomegranate Punch’(2)  

‘Pomegranate Punch’ (2) is a new mounding calibrachoa in the Superbells series, which is the preferable type compared to the trailling varieties. It has excellent colour and a controlled habit. Mix with other calibrachoas that have different centres or eyes. Mixing cultivars of the same genus makes for a better combination and offers better performance. ‘Pomegranate Punch’ is great in hanging baskets, especially in larger sizes.

Salvia hybrid ‘Amistad’ (3)  

Salvia hybrid ‘Amistad’ (3) has a very full bloom and strong colour that will look great in gallons for bedding applications or as a centre plant for combinations. It is proof there are other plants, besides dracaena spikes, that look great as a centre for combinations.

Calocephalus ‘Silver Stone’ (4)


Calocephalus ‘Silver Stone’ (4) is a unique plant that can be grown in large containers alone or in combinations where the silver leaf colours will enhance the combo, and not overpower it.

 ‘Viva Glow,’ ‘Blue Stardust,’ ‘Mocha,’ and ‘Rose Star’ (5)


‘Viva Glow,’ ‘Blue Stardust,’ ‘Mocha,’ and ‘Rose Star’ (5) are petunia varieties that will look great in landscapes. I do not recommend using them in combinations because they split when they get large.

'Santa Cruz Sunset’ (6)


‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ (6) is a Boliviensis begonia from seed that branches easily and makes great hanging baskets. It is also great in combinations. This is a good 4” product with one plug, or with two plugs in a 6” pot. Boliviensis begonia is becoming quite popular and here is a chance to try a seed variety.

 Graffiti pentas series (7)


The Graffiti pentas series (7) consists of different colours and a distinctive growth habit. It is not a new series. Pentas is still under-utilized in gardens or patio containers despite being a magnet for hummingbirds. It has strong garden performance and excelled in our trials the past four years.

 Trailing impatiens ‘Spellbound Pink Splash’ (8)


Trailing impatiens ‘Spellbound Pink Splash’ (8) provides a great show in hanging baskets. It has a colourful mounding habit that works well in monoculture or mixed combinations.

Ilavea Sriracha (9)


Ilavea Sriracha (9) is a large-leaf cuphea series with three colours. Try it in 4”, 6” or combination containers. It looked great in California and we will see how well it performs in our trials this summer.

 ‘Star Rose’ (10)


‘Star Rose’ (10) is a new colour in the Whisper petunia series that will stand out in large containers or mixed combos. I like the trailing habit of this series because some of the more upright varieties will split when they get to full size. Most of the colours in this series are very floriferous. They do not take over a combination but rather enhance it.

 Picnic petunia series (11)


The Picnic petunia series (11) features mounding varieties. In my opinion, they shouldn’t be used in combinations but are ideal in quarts or gallons for landscape uses.

 ‘Twisted Red’ (12)


‘Twisted Red’ (12) is another addition to the Lanai verbena series. It features very colourful early flowering that could be good and bad; it depends how fast we are shipping the product. As with many verbenas, the earlier they flower the more likely flower shattering will take place. Ethrel treatment will help to time the crop properly.

Coreopsis Prairie ‘White,’ ‘Gold’ and ‘Amber’ (13) 


Coreopsis Prairie ‘White,’ ‘Gold’ and ‘Amber’ (13) is a perennial series that flowers not only the first year, but also the entire summer. Sell them alongside your gallon crops. You can also mix colours to make perennial combinations. The Prairie series has loads of flowers that put on a great show in any landscape and especially at sales time.

 Petunia ‘Cascadia Indian Summer’ (14)


Petunia ‘Cascadia Indian Summer’ (14) is a unique colour shade with a good growing habit and early flowering. We will find out its botrytis tolerance this summer during our trials in Ontario.

Petunia ‘Marvel Beauty Cranberry’ (15)


Petunia ‘Marvel Beauty Cranberry’ (15) has an upright habit with bicolour flowers. It is good for quarts, gallons and hanging baskets. It puts on a good show and has long-lasting flowers.

Petunia ‘Littletunia Pink’ (16)


Petunia ‘Littletunia Pink’ (16) has very small flowers with a good growth habit. It is not sensitive to high pH levels. It is one colour in this series that flowers early with a massive amount of small flowers.

 ‘Cascadia Rim Magenta’ (17)


‘Cascadia Rim Magenta’ (17) proves that petunia breeders are still able to introduce something new and unique despite all the colours and styles already in the market. Try growing in a matching container to receive an upscale price.

 Sanvitalia Talya ‘Great Yellow,’ ‘Sunny,’ and ‘Lime’ (18)


Sanvitalia Talya ‘Great Yellow,’ ‘Sunny,’ and ‘Lime’ (18) all make great quart sales for landscapes. They can also be used in larger containers or with combinations.
Sanvitalias are among the best garden performers, thriving in sun, shade, rain, dry, hot or cold conditions. There are no deadheading or disease challenges.

 Impatiens Sun Harmony (19)

SunPatiens Compact (20)


Impatiens Sun Harmony (19) and SunPatiens Compact (20) are the new popular impatiens alternatives to walleriana impatiens, which is very susceptible to downy mildew. Sun Harmony and SunPatiens also have better garden performance. Sell the smallest size as gallons.

 The Angelic series (21


The Angelic series (21) is a great garden performer, much like other argyranthemums, and is an early flowering and fairly compact series. It is great in quarts and gallons, and also works well as centres in combinations.

 Santana (22)

 Prism (23)


Both Santana (22), a spreading lantana series, and Prism (23), an upright lantana series, are great garden performers. They have no problem with summer heat and will flower all summer long.

 Grand Duke (24)


Try to sell Grand Duke (24) kohlrabi as a decorative ornamental. Utilize a distinctive container to ensure you have a different product for the market.

Part 2 in this two-part series will be published in August. Don’t forget these varieties will be among 2,200 others in the Sawaya Garden Trials. Everyone is welcome to the July 24 open house and no registration is required. Enjoy the trials, the fellowship, and of course, the lunch!

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; please e-mail, or visit .

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