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Growing in the Green: Testing garden performance (Part Two)

November 23, 2011  By Melhem Sawaya

This feature is a continuation of our review of some of the highlights
of this year’s 11th annual Sawaya Garden Trials, located near Simcoe,
Ontario, in southwestern Ontario.

This feature is a continuation of our review of some of the highlights of this year’s 11th annual Sawaya Garden Trials, located near Simcoe, Ontario, in southwestern Ontario.

Part One, published last month, includes a trials overview, which is available on our website at Also included were the first 24 varieties highlighted in this two-part review.


This edition features more highlights from our trials that were held during an especially hot summer. It is not very practical to share with you the performance of all 2,300 cultivars, so this year I decided to pick a few cultivars that were excellent performers while being drastically underproduced.

This story concludes with a rundown of the top-10 varieties as determined by visitor feedback.

Remember, if you have never grown any of these varieties before and would like to, just grow a low percentage of your production to evaluate its success of production and gauge consumer appeal. Then you can decide to increase production or drop this variety.

Our trials review continues here.



Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’ (25) is a plant that looks good early in the season and gets better as the summer goes along. It does not need deadheading or cleaning. It is great in gallon containers for landscape use, or grown as a large container, and especially in mixed containers.



Echinacea purpurea ‘Pow Wow Wild Berry’ (26) is a first-season flowering perennial that flowers without vernalization, though cooling will enhance flower numbers and size. It is excellent in any landscape. It can take cool temperatures and still look great.

27-Sedum 28-Gaillardia


Sedum ‘Lemon Ball’ (27) is another perennial that looks great the whole summer in large pots or landscapes. It is not known for its flower, but the foliage is outstanding year after year.
Gaillardia ‘Sunrita Scarlet Halo’ (28) is a very flowery and colourful perennial that takes cool weather and the hottest temperatures of the summer. Grow for June sales in gallon
containers, or in large pots for fall sales.



Salvia argentea ‘Artemis’ (29) is a large, soft leaf variety that will give landscapes a different look. It will make anything in flowerbeds stand out because it provides a nice, silvery background.



Sagina ‘Green Moss’ (30) is flowery green moss that is great for rock gardens or large containers. It creates a great background that makes anything – especially an engagement ring – stand out. This is a high-density variety that is fairly easy to grow.



Cora ‘Cascade Lilac’ (31) is one colour of a the trailing Cora series that loves hot, dry weather, so this past summer was a true “vinca summer.” It looked great all summer without any fallout. This is mainly due to the new breeding of vinca varieties as well as the weather. Try cascading Cora in hanging baskets.



Zinnia elegans ‘Magellan Salmon’ (32) is one colour of the best landscape series on the market, in my opinion. Magellan is a sturdy stem series with large flowers that last a long time. They do require deadheading, but this is not labour intensive; it only requires enough work to permit the continual emergence of new flowers. Magellan is great in large pots and landscapes.



Achillea ‘Gypsy White’ (33) is a trailing plant loaded with white flowers. It thrives in hot or cool weather. This is an excellent substitute for bacopa, if you’re worried that bacopa flowers may burn out before they open in extremely hot weather. Gypsy is great in large containers and combinations. Try it – your customers will thank you in the hot, summer months!

34-Verbena 35-Verbena 36-Verbena 37-Verbena




I never thought I would be including verbena among varieties I feel are good garden performers. Many new verbena varieties this summer showed unexpectedly great garden performance. ‘Donalena Pink Heart’ (34), ‘Lanai Twister Pink’ (35), ‘Tuscany Orchid’ (36), and ‘Estrella Voodoo Star’ (37) are only few of the great varieties that, surprisingly, thrilled every visitor to the gardens. The colours are totally different – not only different compared to regular colours, but also different compared to any other variety in any other genera. No powdery mildew and excellent foliage to enhance the flower looks and health.

38-Calibrachoa 39-Calibrachoa


No coverage of any garden trials is complete without including calibrachoa. I can mention over 100 varieties that have great garden performance, but due to lack of space, I will  mention only two of them in this article. ‘Million Bells Crackling Fire’ (38) and ‘Superbells Trailing White’ (39) are representative of the many great varieties in our trials.  Calibrachoa now competes with top-selling varieties. It is excellent in all sizes of hanging baskets. Proper spacing of cuttings is key. If you know plants grow better when properly spaced, why would you clump cuttings in one spot?



‘Intensia Blueberry’ (40) is a vigorous grower that puts on a great show the whole summer, much better than compact varieties. It is especially effective in large pots or large landscapes. Don’t plan to sell phlox until early June because that is when the plants start to show their potential. Phlox should only be grown in larger containers. It is hard to grow them small and still provide a good show.



‘Bombay Pink’ (41) is an excellent variety and nice change from the many blue varieties. Scaevola in general is a great garden performer genus but needs to be mixed with some other variety to have better market appeal. Its exceptional garden performance will convince consumers to buy it again next season.

42-Petunia 43-Petunia 44-Petunia



‘Black Velvet’ (42), ‘Tidal Wave Hot Pink’ (43), and ‘Supertunia Vista Silver Berry’ (44) are petunias that represent different traits for different consumers, but in the end the superior garden performer is the one the consumer is going to ask for again.

The trial pictures will be posted on my website at Questions or comments are welcome at

Trial’s top 10 list of star performers

Every year, we collect feedback from growers, retailers and other visitors, and also take note of the first (and therefore most popular!) containers purchased by gardeners during the post-trials charity plant sales. (Proceeds are donated to the Norfolk General Hospital.)

I am going to start with Number 10, and make my way to the 2011 trials champion (Number One).



Number 10: ‘Stained Glassworks Burgundy Wedding Train’ is one of the few coleuses that trail and remains compact compared to other coleuses. It should be in every mixed basket in which a grower is looking for contrast and colourful foliage, while at the same making every other cultivar in the combination look better. I call this type of variety a “team player cultivar!”



Number Nine: ‘Cascade White’ is an ivy geranium that takes the heat and full sun and never stops flowering. It is more like a balcony-type ivy that takes full sun and flowers the whole summer. ‘Cascade White’ is excellent in large hanging baskets, window boxes and combinations.



Number Eight: ‘Mystic Spirit’ is a dark-bronze leaf dahlia that takes the heat much better than green leaf varieties. ‘Mystic Spirit’ is a vigorous variety, making it a good choice for growers and an even better selection for consumers. It is quite resistant to powdery mildew. Grow it in gallon containers for landscapes, or in larger pots on its own or mixed.



Number Seven: ‘Acetosella Mahogany Splendor’ is a fast growing hibiscus. It is mainly a foliage plant, with impressive bronze leaves. It is excellent in large containers or gallon pots for landscapes, and would also work as a centre plant in mixed containers.



Number Six: ‘Serena Purple’ is one variety in the Serena angelonia series that has excellent garden performance the whole season. It requires no deadheading, is easy to grow in the greenhouse, and is especially low maintenance in the garden. Serena is another breakthrough seed variety that surpasses most of the vegetative angelonia varieties. It is great in gallon pots for landscapes and in large containers, either alone or in mixed combinations.



Number Five: ‘Sparkler Scarlet’ is a trailing begonia with exceptional garden performance. It features long-lasting flowers and green foliage. It puts on an exceptional show in 16” or larger hanging baskets, and is also great in mixed containers. This series grows much better in full sun, similar to other begonias.



Number Four: ‘Stratosphere White’ gaura is the ultimate in garden performance. It looks good early in the season and gets better until just after a mild frost. It is maintenance-free, with no deadheading. It blooms all season long, in hot, cool, sunny or wet weather. Gaura looks great in large landscape containers or in combinations.



Number Three: Mecardonia ‘Gold Dust’ is a trailing green foliage plant with lots of small yellow flowers that you can see vividly from far away. It is a day-neutral flowering plant. Self-cleaning, it has great garden performance early in the season that only gets better. It is easy to grow, flower and love.



Number Two: ‘BullsEye Red’ and ‘BullsEye Salmon’ (pictured) stole the show from the over 400 geranium cultivars in our trials. These geraniums are easy to grow, especially in gallon pots where they have the space to show what they can do. Try some in large pots for a new way to display a variety traditionally grown in 4” pots requiring growth regulators to keep it short and super compact. Density growing suppresses bloom sizes and plant potential.



Number One: Our champion is Calibrachoa Cabaret mix. We have known for some time that calibrachoa is an excellent genus, but what makes the Cabaret series even better is its even growth habit. Pick the colours you like, plant them together, and you will have excellent mixed baskets. Remember for that 10” hanging baskets, what you need are three plants, well spaced and planted in a triangle shape; do not clump them together in the middle. For 12” hanging baskets, four equally spaced cuttings are required.


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