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Growing in the Green: Showstoppers in Trials tour

August 9, 2012  By Melhem Sawaya

A few years ago, the California Pack Trials were renamed the California
Spring Trials, but in reality, there are no true trials being hosted.

A few years ago, the California Pack Trials were renamed the California Spring Trials, but in reality, there are no true trials being hosted. It is a showcase hosted by the breeders, which is why I prefer to call it the California Showcase.

Thanks to Anne Marie Klaas of Seacliff Farms for the photos used in this feature.



The event is running out of ideas to keep attracting the same visitors each year. However, if you are visiting the trials for the first time or have been going every couple of years, you will still learn something new.

I would say that less than 15 per cent of visitors are growers. The Showcase is geared to buyers and, more specifically, brokers or chain buyers. Perhaps that is why the trial aspect has disappeared. It might also be that growers are not finding anything new, other than new colours and cultivars that have not yet been tested.

Taking a full week to visit the trials, at a cost of about $3,000 to $4,000 per person, puts it out of the reach of many growers.

There’s been talk of having the event in one location as a way to save money and attract more visitors. However, it is just a rumour; such a decision will require co-operation and a change from the way we’ve been doing things all these years. Heaven forbid… there’s nothing wrong with change!

Quite often when a new cultivar is introduced, a chain will take that cultivar exclusively. In my experience, this is often the number one factor for profit shrinkage for the grower and the chain, and a recipe to frustrate gardeners because:

  • It didn’t go through a thorough garden performance trial.
  • No customer appeal study has been done.
  • The know-how to produce a top-quality product for a specific date has not been established.

■ Normally, these exclusive products result in more costs to the grower. Next, the chain puts the product front and centre in its promotional material. Finally, the stores have to place it in the 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 if it doesn’t have good garden performance. The chain’s credibility is diminished in the eyes of the consumer and, worst of all, the grower is left with product that cost a great deal to produce and must now incur even more cost to dump it… but don’t worry, it’s a recyclable green product.

The consumer can be disappointed only once and we might lose him or her for a long time. Garden performance is very important in keeping them coming back for more! Let’s not set them up to fail.

■ This is the reason I share these varieties with you. They are meant to be trialled at your facility so you know how to grow them, can track consumer appeal and, last but not least, have the opportunity to monitor their garden performance.

This is just a sampling of the hundreds of varieties showcased earlier this year in California. The pictures and input into variety selection is courtesy of Ann Marie Klass, of Seacliff Farms.

Most of the varieties are new introductions for 2012, others are improved older varieties, and others have been around for many years but new trends have again made them an important variety to share with you.

01-Calibrachoa3836 ‘Mini Famous Double Rose Chai’ calibrachoa (1) (Selecta) is the new
addition to this series. It has a unique colour of double flowers, which
will make excellent 12” decorative hanging baskets to be sold at a
higher price. Double calibrachoa in general could be sold at a higher
price when grown and packaged properly. They enhance many combinations.
02-Ball-flora-3857  ‘Lime Light’ (2) (Ball FloraPlant) is more of an upright petunia with a
lime edge on a pink flower. It is excellent for 4” or gallons for
instant show in landscapes. It could be used with combinations, but
excels in mass plantings.
03--Darwin3891  ‘Carnival Sugar Plum’ (3) (Darwin Perennials) is a heuchera series with
many different leaf colours. These can be grown in gallon containers for
landscapes or in mixed containers with other perennial plants or
annuals. Like other heuchera, it has a wide window of shipping without
any loss of quality.
04-Dummen4111  ‘Pink Volcano’ (4) (Dummen) is one of the latest additions to the Aloha
calibrachoa series. It is very eye-catching from three feet or 300 feet.
Calibrachoa can be grown in every pot size for container displays and
landscapes. Calibrachoa works well in every combination, even with
05-Dummen-4137 ‘Star Dust White Flash’ (5) (Dummen) is the new addition to this
euphorbia series. It is an especially floriferous plant to the point
that you cannot see the foliage! If it is like their other euphorbias,
it will have excellent garden performance in pots, landscapes and in the
right combination.
06-Floranova-P4060  ‘Freefall Moonlight’ (6) (Floranova) is a great addition to the new
influx of trailing pansies. They’re great for hanging baskets and are
gaining popularity for early sales. ‘Free Fall Moonlight’ and other
trailing pansies are refreshing changes from upright varieties that
trail only when you let them wilt.
07-Floranova4066  ‘Cayennetta Hot Peppers’ (7) (Floranova) is a trailing – and not too hot
– pepper that works well in hanging baskets. It’s a great companion to
‘Tumbling Tom’ trailing tomatoes. Container vegetables can only survive
at the consumer level if they are grown in large containers. If you use
smaller containers, advise consumers to put them in large containers.
 08-Sakata-coleuscolour4196  ‘Superfine Rainbow Multicolor’ (8)(Sakata) is a seed variety. Like all
other seed coleus, it thrives in sun or shade. It is very colourful and
will do well in large containers, landscapes and mixed containers.
09-Sakata-4192  ‘Astra Platycodon Semi-Double Lavender’ (9) (Sakata) is a very
attractive plant that, unfortunately, is ignored by many growers. It is
easy to produce and can be grown with high-density production. Try some!
It is good in 4”or 6” pots.
10-Salviaink4221  ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ (10) (Takii) is a hummingbird magnet. This salvia is
free-branching and features loads of flowers. It is day-neutral and
pinching offers definite improvement. Grow in large bowls with multiple
plants or in 4” pots for landscapes and watch your garden come alive
with hummingbirds.
11--Takii-4217  ‘Tropical Bronze Scarlet’ (11) (Ball Seed) is quite popular as a
centrepiece for mixed containers. It is part of the Tropical canna
series that is produced from seed, eliminating much of the virus
problem. It features much improved germination and is easy to grow as
long you avoid salts on the leaves and keep it fairly moist.
12--Benary-3826 ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ (12) (Benary) is a Boliviensis type begonia that can
take the sun just as well as it can flourish in the shade. It has a
trailing habit that looks great in hanging baskets and in combinations,
and it branches well. It is grown from seed, which is more economical.
13-Ecke-3716 ‘Arcada Yellow’ (13) (Ecke) is one in a series of different colours.
This is a tuberous begonia that branches well. It has dark-green leaves
and large flowers. Arcada’s best show is in hanging baskets.
14-Ecke-3721  ‘Stained Glassworks Luminesce’ (14)(Ecke) is a new addition to the
Glassworks coleus series. It is very colourful and puts on a good show
on its own. However, it really shines in mixed containers without
overpowering its neighbours.
15--Jaldety4268  ‘Candy Kisses’ hemizygia (15) (Jaldety) has an upright habit. It has
mosaic leaves and is excellent in combinations where upright fillers are
desirable. It is easy to propagate and grow.
16--Cohen258 ‘Viva Glow Double Pink Vein’ (16 ) has nice double flowers on a compact
plant. This petunia is good for all size containers, especially placed
with other varieties with different pink flowers.
17-Suntory808  ‘Crackling Fire Pink’ (17) (Suntory) is one of eight colours in this
series of well-branching begonias. It has an excellent show in large
hanging baskets and in combinations. Crackling Fire is great in wall
bags because its controlled trailing habit and many flowers will make
any patio post look much better.
 18--Westhoff-Cake4039  ‘Crazytunia Cherry Cheesecake’ petunia (18) (Westhoff) has white flowers
with cherry colour veining. It will look good in a container that will
accentuate the cherry veining on the white flowers.
‘Estrella Pink Star’ verbena (19)(Westhoff) has white veining on a pink
flower, which makes a great combination with Crazytunia. ‘Estrella Pink
Star’ offers more of an upright to mounding habit. Estrella is great in
‘Alonia Big Snow’ (20) (Danziger) is a compact angelonia that is great
for 4” pots and high-density production. It is perfect for multiple
plants in large bowls alone or mixed with blue angelonia. All angelonias
are great for hot summers in pots or landscapes.
‘Sally Fun Blue’ salvia (21) (Danziger) is an excellent centrepiece
alternative in combinations or large landscapes. It can be grown in 4”
pots but will be much better in gallon containers – it has much better
garden performance when growth regulators are not used.
 22--Fides396623--Fides3967  ‘Lavender Stream (22) and ‘Summer Stream’ lobularia (23) (Fides Oro) are
more compact than ‘Blushing Princess.’ These are good for early sales
in large containers and mixed. The only problem with lobularia is
“dandruff” – the flowers shed badly. However, they have great garden
performance from early spring to fall.
 24--Proven-Princess  ‘Blushing Princess’ lobularia (24)(Proven Winners) is great in hanging
baskets for early, regular season and fall sales. It is a proven winner
but don’t put anything under it.
25--ProvenPink  ‘Supertunia Picasso In Pink’ petunia (25) (Proven Winners) is a vigorous
variety and similar to ‘Pretty Much Picasso.’ Both have great garden
performance and are very resistant to botrytis even after a heavy rain.
Picassos are great for large hanging baskets and gallon containers for
large landscapes. These are not for 4” production unless you are
planning to contain it with growth regulators.
 26--Syngenta-439527-Syngenta4343  ‘Candy Cane’ (26) and ‘Vintage Rose’ verbena (27) (Syngenta) are two
additions to the Lanai series. These are excellent colours that are
great in hanging baskets or in mixed containers. Both have a nice ratio
of flowers to leaves and are fairly resistant to powdery mildew.
‘Bandana Lemon Squeeze’ lantana (28) (Syngenta) is a very showy mix that
is great for late spring sales. Bandanas are excellent in hanging
baskets or containers.

Remember that with anything new, try it on a small scale the first year to evaluate its performance. In subsequent years you can either increase production or delete it.

Just about all of the varieties mentioned in this article are in the Sawaya Garden Trials along with 2,200 others. As well, there is a full trial of garden mums with four different culture productions of 150 cultivars.

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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