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Features Crops New Varieties
Sawaya Trials report: Part One

January 17, 2008  By Melhem Sawaya

The quality gap between the top and bottom varieties is much narrower than it has been in previous years.

16When we put an idea into practice, we should have a definite purpose in mind. This goal can evolve, but we should never lose focus of the main objective.

The purpose of the Sawaya Garden Trials has always been to introduce growers to the different varieties available – old and new – and show how they perform under the same environmental conditions in which they will be sold. The program has evolved to include buyers in the process, so that they and their growers can see the best-performing products. At the same time, breeders/brokers are involved to ensure the varieties proving most popular are available in large enough quantities. In addition, the trials are open to consumers, gardening societies and similar groups. We also host youth group visits, such as 4-H, to encourage these future consumers – and some potential growers – to enjoy the beauty of flowers.


The gardens receive substantial media coverage. This helps spread the word about the many dependable performing plants that will increase consumer success.

This year marks our seventh year. Here are some of our observations:

• There were many new introductions, but fewer than in previous years.

• Breeders and brokers are dropping varieties that are slow sellers or of poor quality.

• The quality gap among the top and bottom varieties is much narrower.

• Many of the top variety genetics for the past few years are being reintroduced faster than ever in the new introductions. There are more cross-bred varieties on the market. The result can either be improved or poorer quality. It depends on many factors, including the breeders’ perceptions with respect to good quality, the breeding environment, the parent plants, and how fast the newcomers are introduced to the market.

• Many varieties retain their original name but perform much differently, because after breeding a new variety, the process of selection starts. The resulting product can either be better or worse, depending on what the grower is looking for in the specific zone in which the plant will be grown. For example, the plants could be bred for earlier blooming, or to feature more compactness, vigour or colour intensity, among other traits. This means that some changes that would be welcomed by growers in some regions might not be so popular in other areas.

This is the main reason why comparative and objective trials in your sales area are important. They help growers and buyers select and provide products that will perform better.

And now a sampling of this year’s trials. Please note we can’t possibly mention all the varieties and species, but those not mentioned are not inferior or less important. Pictures of all the plants will be available online in the near future.

A species that is getting more attention as a potted plant is the tropical hibiscus, a plant that is under-used in the garden. Hibiscus Reggae Breeze (1) is only one of many varieties on the market. Hibiscus is excellent as a patio planter or in a garden bed. The warmer the weather, the better it performs. It can also be used in upgraded mixed containers.

There are many consumers that simply have to have a Regal geranium every spring, though I’m definitely not one of them. Regal geraniums have a unique flower, but they don’t last long, especially when it gets hot. Elegance Lilac Sachet (2) is one of the better Regal geraniums we had in the trials, but it still did not put on a colourful show in my opinion.

If you travel to Europe, and especially Germany and Switzerland, you can’t help but be impressed by the use of ivy geraniums in window boxes or planters of any kind. Ivy Geranium Acapulco Compact (3) is only one of the many ivy geranium balcony types that make excellent window boxes (4). Perhaps some day we will wake up and move totally to balcony-type ivy geraniums that perform so well for consumers. Selling plants with superior garden performance encourages consumers to buy more plants, and prompts their friends to make similar purchases.

We had more than 200 geranium cultivars, and if you look at the plants that perform well without fail, they are the varieties that were bred to be large in size and sturdy. Why, then, are we still selling geraniums that are compactly grown for density and not for garden performance? Geranium Allure Tangerine (5) is a good example of the vigorous-type geraniums that give an excellent show, especially when compared to some of the compact varieties.

Petunias come in many shapes and flower sizes. In general, the plants with smaller, single flowers are more floriferous than those with large or double flowers, but any combination will give an amazing show in the garden. When touring any trial and viewing it from any angle, petunias will catch your eye before any other species.

Supertunia Mini Blue Veined (6) is a good example of a very vigorous plant with loads of smaller flowers. It is ideal for large hanging baskets, balcony boxes or mixed containers.

Many visitors (potential customers!) greatly admired Surfinia Victorian Cream (7) for its creamy colour flower. You can match the colour in combinations with other plant material, and it also works well on its own.

Potunia Pink (8) is one member of this unique and very compact series. Early flowering, it maintains its ball shape throughout the summer, only the ball gets larger. It is good for small landscapes or hanging baskets, and is ideal in mixed containers where the petunia look is desired, but not the vigour.

Calibrachoa is the fastest growing crop over the past three to four years, and it continues to draw attention. There are many fine examples on the market from a number of breeders.

Callie Dark blue (9), Superbell Pink (10), Noa Amber Star (11) and Cabaret Light Pink (12) are just a few examples of the broad range of available colours. They all feature excellent garden performance through to the first frost. Calibrachoa could easily represent 30 per cent of your hanging basket production. It is excellent alone or in mixed presentations, but make sure the varieties you choose have the same growing habit – either trailing or bushy.

Angelonia is another successful series that performs well all summer long in every garden trial. Angelonia should not be sold early in the season and it shows much better in larger containers.

Angelonia Alonia Pink (13), Angelonia Angelina Pink (14) and Angelonia Serena Lavender Pink (15) are samples of what would work well in every garden. Alonia and Angelina are propagated vegetatively, but Serena is from seed. They all excel in containers for June sales and are perfect to mix with other heat-loving plants, such as lantana and pentas, among others.

Osteospermum is not a crop primarily for late April any more, as it can now be sold any time during the season. There is more selection available, and most varieties flower throughout the summer and provide colourful garden performance. Growth habits can range from the upright, such as Side Show White (16), which can grow into very large pots, to the trailing types, such as Symphony Orange (17), which can be grown in large hanging baskets or mixed containers. There are also two-tone plants, such as Zion Pink Sand (18), that are usually more compact. Pinwheel Rose (19) offers a different flower shape.

Argyranthemum is another species that can be produced with low energy and features excellent garden performance. It can be grown at lower temperatures and will weather a minor frost. A good argyranthemum variety is one with which the new buds are above the maturing ones, ensuring there is no need for deadheading.

Argyranthemum Molimba Mini Double White (20), Madeira Cherry Red (21) and Madeira Crested Pink (22) are good examples of breeding improvements that have resulted in an expanded range of colours and plant shapes.

This is the first of two instalments. The series concludes next month.

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