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No containing container-mania

November 18, 2008  By Melhem Sawaya

It is hard to believe that what started out eight years ago as a
150-variety vegetative trial now encompasses 2,000 varieties. What is
more surprising is that those previously mentioned 150 varieties
covered 95 per cent of the vegetative varieties on the market at that
time. Now, the 2,000 varieties also represent about 95 per cent of the
vegetative varieties on the market, an increase of 1,333 per cent.

Part Two: Sawaya Garden Trials offers plant enthusiasts the chance to compare market leaders and newcomers

It is hard to believe that what started out eight years ago as a 150-variety vegetative trial now encompasses 2,000 varieties. What is more surprising is that those previously mentioned 150 varieties covered 95 per cent of the vegetative varieties on the market at that time. Now, the 2,000 varieties also represent about 95 per cent of the vegetative varieties on the market, an increase of 1,333 per cent. The increase in consumer demand and in varieties fuelled the market, resulting in a major increase in sales.


Large container sales and vegetative potted plant sales increased by 1,000 per cent over the past five years, while at the same time bedding plant flats decreased by more than 60 per cent. With the increase in the large containers that have new vegetative material and good variety performers, the need for greenhouse trials and field trials is an essential ingredient to the continuous increase in sales of this sector.

For a trial to be beneficial for the whole industry (consumers, growers, brokers and breeders), certain procedures have to be followed without deviation.

The whole range of varieties has to be at a trial and not just selected items. What the breeder/broker/grower wants to sell is not necessarily what the consumer wants. So a trial of the whole range gives consumers, buyers, breeders and growers a better idea of cultivars that are more in demand and will translate into increased sales.

Rain didn’t stop some growers from continuing their tour.


■ Display gardens that represent one line are only beneficial for half the equation that will promote the breeder’s line and that of the broker, but it cannot give a true picture for the grower on which varieties to grow, and more importantly, it will never ultimately tell the consumer which cultivars will perform well in their own gardens. Good plant performances at the consumer level will definitely increase sales because they will buy more.

However, plants that don’t perform well at the consumer
level will create less sales in the long term, because no one wants to waste their money on a commodity that gives little to no enjoyment.

Breeders/brokers that are trying to create programs for the chain buyers defeat the purpose when their only interest is to sell their own varieties, whether they are good or not. More importantly, when these varieties are not put through the test of greenhouse production, consumer appeal and garden performance trials, the result is a diminishing of any increase in the horticultural industry.

Programs for the introduction of new varieties should be in place and honoured by the breeder, broker, buyer and grower in greenhouse trials and field trials.

■ This year, an unplanned factor was added. Three days after we put the plants on the stands, a hail storm that lasted 10 minutes shredded most of them. The only species that was hardly damaged were the Calibrachoas due to their flexible growth habit and small leaves.

We learned a great deal from the storm:

  1. If you pinch Osteospermum in the summer, it will flower seven weeks later.
  2. Almost every plant became bushier than normal.
  3. Plants looked fresher later in the summer than usual.If this is to happen again, or we pinch the whole crop, water management is critical. Light waterings are needed; never over-water until the foliage canopy grows again.
  4. We might take this as procedure and, next summer, might pinch most of the crop around June 20th.
  5. Things always work out for a better reason.

We’ll continue in this issue where we left off in November with more varieties that caught our attention during the Trials.

Verbena ‘Aztec Silver Magic’ (1) offers a unique colour. The excellent flowering habit means the blooms last longer than other varieties. Also, the ratio of flowers to foliage is very good. Verbena is a main item in many combinations; it doesn’t overpower the container, but enhances it.

‘Luscious Tropical Fruit’ (2), a vigorous Lantana, is excellent for large containers with variegated foliage; it makes the container look colourful before blooming. Lantana is excellent for high temperatures and is a favourite of birds. ‘Luscious Tropical Fruit’ is great by itself in large containers, as well as in combination with other vigorous varieties in upscale, large containers.

Mandevilla ‘Mini Crimson’ (3) was the most sought-after item this past spring and summer. Earlier flowering than other Mandevillas, it also has excellent growth habit. Don’t try to program it for early May sales; it’s better for the end of May and through the summer. ‘Mini Crimson’ flowered the whole summer and it is drought resistant.

Argyranthemum ‘Molimba Mini Double White’ (4) is an excellent plant for 4” to 16” containers. It is one of the best Argyranthemums for covering old blooms naturally, and it could be grown without deadheading. It is good alone and with combinations. Try it in a 6” or 7” upscale container by itself, and on a small scale, to get consumer feedback.

Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ (5) has an excellent garden performance where the first bloom lasts for a long time with its blue spears above the green foliage. It is good alone and in combinations. The best sizes for landscape applications are 6” pots or gallon containers where it would be an instant garden. If it is to be produced in 4” pots, don’t plant too early because it will grow too big for the pot; excessive growth regulators would be needed, making it inferior as a garden item.

‘Butterfly Bush’ [Buddleia] (6) is an old shrub but it still puts on a show from a distance. The Butterfly Bush (7) lives up to its name because it is the first choice of
butterflies and they spend a long time on it.

‘Talinum Limon’ (8) is a distinctive lime green foliage colour with clusters of berries on extended stems that give a unique look that can set any combination apart from run-of-the-mill offerings. It is grown from seed and is easy to produce. If not used in a combination, the preferred sale size would be a 6” or gallon container.

‘Sunbathers’ (9) is a completely different Gazania from the seed varieties, not just in its long-lasting full bloom, which doesn’t close at night, but in how it shines with its impressive performance through the whole summer. Very little deadheading is required because the bloom lasts a long time. It has an excellent show throughout the summer and continues late into the fall. It also tolerates drought conditions.

‘Netja Fringed Deep Rose’ (10) is an excellent garden performer the entire season, blooming for a long time and offering a good ratio of foliage to flowers. It is excellent alone in large containers, in combinations or in landscapes.

■ Every trial needs lots of help and co-ordination every year. For the last eight years, Thomas Sawaya (11) has been a big help, and especially this year when, at the end of May, it started to rain and some drivers needed a little help. Luckily, Thomas and others were there to give a hand! Lara Sawaya and Imrie Reynolds (12) made the Trials go smoothly. The rest of the gang, including Terry Cooper, Betsy Deslippe, Gregory Kekes and Steve Faulkner (13) – and all the others not in the picture – worked hard to ensure the Trials were a success. I am mentioning these people, not just to thank them, but to press home the point that if anyone wants to succeed, he or she has to surround themselves with competent, dependable people, then let go and delegate, as this is the only way any project can grow and have any depth.

Since we’re located near Port Dover, Ontario, – where over 30,000 bikers flood into the area every Friday the 13th – the Trials also are often visited by enthusiasts John and Sasha Jeffries  (14) and John Huisman, Bernie Renkema and Hanni Laviviere  (15), who wouldn’t visit on anything but their bikes!

I have seen growers come to the trials at 7 a.m. and not leave until late afternoon, taking notes and pictures and discussing how to make their programs for the next season unique and practical.

We hope to see you next year at the Sawaya Gardens Trials, which will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Thanks to all the supporters of the Trials, and thanks also to our many visitors. We love to receive any comments, so please forward them to the address below. What were your Trials favourites? What were your best-sellers this year? What were your best garden performers?

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and
research co-ordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this
or any other article are always welcome, please e-mail

1d Nicol repeats with top
Trials container

Nicol Florists of Brantford, Ontario, repeated as winners in the Mixed
Hanging Basket competition at the Sawaya Garden Trials near Simcoe,
Ontario. Accepting the prize, a $200 JVK gift voucher, were Gwen
McDonald and John Huisman (1).

Tying as runners-upwere Alice VanOverbeeke of Heritage Country Gardens
(2) of London, and Marianne Boot of Boot Farms and Greenhouses in
Scotland. Each runner-up received a $100 JVK voucher. 

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