Greenhouse Canada

Part 2: the new and the improved at CAST’17

California Spring Trials put the spotlight on dozens of new varieties and programs

August 8, 2017
By Dave Harrison
Benary offered helicopter rides to take visitors on a quick flight to the nearby Pacific coast.

August 2017 – Welcome to part 2 of our two-part series on this year’s California Spring Trials. As we noted last month in our introductory piece, touring CAST can be overwhelming. It was sensory overload, with so many new varieties to view, textures to touch and marketing ideas to marvel at, as we noted last month.

Involved are several days of visiting open houses of almost two dozen breeders, stretching from just north of Los Angeles to just south of San Diego. Please visit our website to view Part 1 in this series, along with our daily diary highlights posted during the tour.

I chatted with about a dozen or so Canadian growers touring the trials, and their message was that in an ultra-competitive market, you have to be well ahead of the curve in introducing new and/or improved products. Touring CAST, if even semi-regularly, is a key plank in their business plan.


It may not be in the budget every year, but it is certainly worth the investment of time and money every few years. It’s an incredible learning experience.

There was a lot of talk about “low maintenance” and “pollinator friendly” plants, a broad assortment of combo recipes in both flowers and garden vegetables, and a number of marketing programs were prominently displayed.

And now, we return to California for one final look at what caught our eye.

Ferra is a new yellow orchid variety with a very large flower. Orchid sales are continually increasing, said Joost Hendriks (1), orchid account manager for Anthura. “Our company specializes in producing varieties that have double spikes. They offer better value for money for consumers.”

Michael Huggett, eastern flowers sales manager with American Takii, poses with ‘Evening Scentsation’ (2). This is the first petunia to receive an AAS award for its hyacinth-like fragrance and stunning colour. The scent is similar to hyacinth with hints of rose and honey. It is a medium-sized multiflora type with a low spreading habit.

The company also had an impressive display of pollinator plants (3), reflecting the strong consumer interest in this segment. The program, introduced this year, features plants that are beneficial to bees and hummingbirds, including the Salvia Summer Jewel series, the Achilles and the Arizona series of augustache.

New this year at Burpee is ‘Oh Happy Day,’ a cluster tomato variety (4).

These tomatoes have the beefsteak shape and meatiness, but grow in clusters of smaller fruit. It has both early and late blight resistance, and resistance to verticilium, tobacco mosaic virus and nematodes.

Garden vegetable sales have seen double-digit growth throughout the past 10 years, says Scott Mozingo (5), product manager with Burpee Home Gardens. “The new generation of gardeners are really getting into vegetables.”

Especially popular are the Take 2 combos (6), matching a pair of delicious vegetables that grow well together. It gives consumers more variety when growing their own food in a limited space, such as a patio or balcony. New this year are the Directors Cut Pepper Combo (‘Tangerine Dream’ and ‘Lemon Dream’) amd the new Blockbuster Tomato Combo (‘BushSteak’ beefsteak and ‘Indigo Fireball’ small-fruited tomato).

Florence Vaux of Ch Morel said one trend she expects to see more of in North America is the use of cyclamen in landscapes and containers (7)… if the climate is just right. They are used outdoors in some regions of Europe and with great success. She expects they could grow in Vancouver and Victoria, and perhaps in southwestern Ontario in the warmer months.

Vaux (8) is holding two of the Smartiz Fantasia series – ‘Purple’ (bicolour) and ‘Red.’ Smartiz is the smallest Fantasia yet, and features exceptional contrast and compact growth. It works well in micro pots of 2.5″ to 4″ (6 to 10 cm), and has very low sensitivity to botrytis.

Also new this year is Halios® Funflame Magenta. It features prolific flowering, a great contrasting foliage and a sturdy habit. It’s ideal for 5” to 6.5” (13 to 17 cm) pots.

There are also two new additions to the Tianis series – ‘Deep Rose’ and ‘Rose.’

Pink is the newest colour in Danziger’s bidens series. ‘Pretty in Pink’ (9) is an upright, compact variety decorated with an abundance of pink flowers with purple stripes. Fast-growing and early-blooming, it excels as a single plant in a pot and can also be used as a tall element in mixed plantings with low and cascading plants.

Petunia Cascadias ‘Red Lips’ (10) grows into a spectacular basket, overflowing with large glowing red flowers. It is early to flower and has a branched and semi-trailing habit. ‘Red Lips’ looks beautiful even in cold and rainy weather.

The Portulaca Nano Series (11) from Danziger has a compact and moderate habit with big, beautiful flowers. This easy-growing, low-maintenance series includes four intense, vibrant colours for the summer garden.

After considerable attention to breeding container dianthus varieties in recent years, there is now renewed attention on landscape performers. The Mountain Frost Collection of Darwin Perennials is a landscape plant with great longevity. It has Zone 4 hardiness with excellent rain and wet tolerance, notes Karl Batschke, global product development manager (12). It can take the wet and the cold and then will bloom all summer long.

Another newcomer to add to your product list is the Dreameria series (13), a breakthrough in armeria breeding. It’s very heat tolerant and starts flowering in the spring and doesn’t stop until they freeze.

Another strong introduction is ‘Rose Marvel’ salvia (14). It has very large flowers for the class (about double the size of a typical Salvia nemorosa). It has a long flowering window and re-blooms without being cut back.

The perennial market is hot. Many consumers look at perennials as annuals, not expecting them to overwinter. And because many of them are in apartments or have small yards, they’re being grown in containers and not in the ground.

The Pansy Freefall series (15) is very compact, with a neat habit early on that growers like. There are currently four colours, but expect 12-15 colours in a few years time. It is very cold tolerant. Ideal in baskets and containers, its great mounding and spread habit makes it well-suited for landscapes as well.

Peter Bradford, pictured, is the product development manager for Floranova.

Popstars Flox (16) has a unique star-shaped flower, a flower type not seen before in hybrids. There are six colours in the series, with great seed quality and availability. The habit is compact and densely branching. It can be grown cold, but also takes the heat very well. It’s great in combos or mono containers. As the name suggests, the flowers kind of pop up, like fireworks.

Bright Sparks (17) is a new-look celosia. It was bred in India which means it has incredible heat tolerance. The flower spike is incredibly dense and the secondary flowers come right after the first spike, so in landscape applications will get a real carpet of colour. It also works well in containers.

Florist Holland showcased two additions to the Patio Gerbera series – Capitol Reef (a bicolour pink) and Sedona (black with a red centre) (18). Only one liner is used in a 10″ pot and it fills the container in 12-14 weeks. This series has massive flowers and is a great impulse buy.

In the Garvinea Sweets collection, a new red with a green centre called ‘Sweet Love’ (19) made its debut. This series has big flowers and features superior garden performance. They can take high heat and cold weather, and can handle the rain. They also a have strong root system, high disease and pest resistance, and few deer and rabbit issues because they have a harder leaf. They are great in the ground or in a mixed planter.

With the seed varieties, Florist Holland has a new series called Floraline Giants (20) that has especially large flowers and foliage. It is ideal for 6-7″ production. This series is great because many growers struggle getting their 6″ seed items up to size; the Giants are so vigorous that growers will have no issue getting them up to size.

Steve Jones, president of Green Fuse Botanicals (21), says the Fuchsia Windchimes series has really taken off in Canada. It’s a short-day blooming fuchsia that comes into flower earlier than standard fuchsias. They’re great for spring and early summer sales. New this year is ‘Pink Lilac.’

There are several upgrades in the Good and Plenty lineup (22). This series is  known for its great mounded habit and bright colours, including ‘Pink Flamingo,’ which was a big hit by those growing it this year. It was sold as ‘Bublicious’ last year but the name was changed because ‘Pink Flamingo’ is more descriptive. It features a shimmering centre and a soft pink flower.

HMA Plants has a full line of annual vegetative products, with succulents its signature line, representing between 20 and 30 per cent of sales any given year. They have over 100 varieties at present. “Consumers love succulents because they’re so easy to take care of, so easy to grow,” says Jacqueline Azbill, director of business development. “They’re incredibly forgiving, very low maintenance.”

But, of course, HMA is more than just succulents, as they also have vegetative annuals and perennials in its catalogue. It’s completely independent and has relationships with more than 25 different breeders.

HMA sells to Canadian growers through a number of brokers. “Canada is a growing market for us,” says Azbill, shown here holding a Suntory Scaevola Surdiva® ‘Blue Violet’ (23). In the background is HMA’s volcano of plants.

A personal favourite of mine at any trade show is the Coleus Under The Sea Collection of Hort Couture. Quality manager Jarvis Green described the program and its growing success (24). “The leaves all have a very unique crustacean look to them. They do well in the sun and shade, and will flower all summer long.”

While they can be used in landscapes, you’re more apt to find them in containers. “They mix very well and have controlled vigour.”

Consumers love their uniqueness and how there are slight changes in colour in different light intensities. “Coleus is well known for being colourful,” says Green, “but these add form and texture with contrasts to take it up a level.”

The series is bred by students at the University of Saskatchewan.

Colorita is a new garden alstroemeria series in Canada. There are six colours and the series works well in patio pots or in the garden. It will flower continuously until frost, says sales manager Nico Laan (25), and it has a nice habit.

Royal Van Zanten is active in celosia breeding as potted plants for indoor and outdoor usage. It is not winter hardy, so outdoor use is limited through to the frost. British Columbia and Ontario will be part of North American trials this year to test some new varieties under local conditions. Royal Van Zanten will then select a few of the most promising varieties for commercial sales.

There’s been a lot of attention on the new Surfinia ‘Trailing Red’ from Suntory, a breeder well known for its impressive reds, notes company spokesperson Delilah Onofrey (26). ‘Trailing Red’ has non-fading colour, great performance and an attractive habit. It works great alone or in combos. And its red colour will be great for patriotic combos and landscapes in Canada this year, our sesquicentennial.

Also new in the Million Bells series is ‘Buttercup,’(27) aptly named because it looks like popcorn – a pale, whitish yellow with a bright yellow centre. It works well with blue varieties.

‘Yellow’ (28) is one of the new additions to the Grandessa Series of argyranthemum. This series has impressive flower size and vibrant colours and is ideal for premium containers, along with landscape uses. Growers will get a big return with only one cutting per container. It pairs well with osteospermum, diascia, nemesia and the Senetti series, among others.

If you can’t visit CAST, you can always visit local trial and show gardens.

Here are a couple of suggestions for future years.

The Sawaya Garden Trials are held each summer just east of Simcoe, Ont. There were more than 3300 cultivars included in this year’s trials – probably the largest container trials in the world. Check the website ( for details each spring and plan to attend the annual open house

At the end of the trials, the plants are sold by volunteers to raise funds for local charities.

The University of Guelph hosts major garden trials each year, with sites at the Turfgrass Institute of U of G, at the Landscape Ontario offices just off Hwy. 401 in Milton, and at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Visit for more information.

Les Exceptionnelles is the result of a partnership that brings together the expertise of four renowned Québec landmarks: the Jardin Daniel A. Séguin; the Jardin botanique de Montreal; the Jardin Roger Van den Hende of Laval University; and the Jardins de Métis. The top performers are selected by consumers and industry specialists and are widely publicized to gardeners in the province. The program is coordinated by the Fédération interdisciplinaire de l’horticulture ornementale du Québec (FIHOQ).

And for those attending the Cultivate trade show/conference in mid-July in Columbus, the trial gardens of Ohio State University host a pair of open houses for attendees. In addition to the garden and container trials, visitors can view a large green roof installation.

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