Greenhouse Canada

Test of time Old varieties on trial

Insights from the 23rd annual Sawaya Garden Trials

October 30, 2023  By Melhem Sawaya

Photos: Melhem Sawaya

This was the 23rd year for the Sawaya Garden Trials. If we try the same plants year-after-year with all the same conditions that we can control, I guarantee that we will have different performances from the same plants. 

Also taking pictures and reading the plants vary depending on the weather conditions the day before. A rainy day will make many petunias look ready for the compost, while others seem not so bad. Some will bounce back within few hours of sun while some genera are not affected at all by rain but sensitive to continuous high temperatures. 

With that in mind, for this year’s comments on the few varieties selected to mention in this article I will mention the varieties that perform well year-after-year. This is one of the reasons why we encourage trialing the old varieties so we can have a better idea about their performance through different weather conditions.


Throughout my 44 years in the horticulture business, collaborating with breeders, growers, buyers, and consumers, I have learned what makes a successful cultivar that stands the test of time.

The following are some of the varieties trialed this year and they are, by no means, the only great performers, but due to limited publishing space, we selected 31 varieties to feature in this issue and another 30 in an upcoming issue.

It is important to note that the weather this year was rain and more rain and most of the time in the form of thunderstorms, so fertilizing the plants was challenging which reflected on the varieties that are heavy feeders and the plants that are negatively impacted by rain. On the other hand, varieties that like lower fertilization performed much better than other years like dahlias, impatiens, and slow-growing varieties.

Always remember that when trying new varieties, start with small programs, then, if all goes well, plan on larger programs next season.

For the past 23 years, the Sawaya Garden Trials have concentrated on garden performance which is extremely important. Starting next year, we will start to track the other factors that contribute to making a long-time successful cultivar. 

In the meantime, here are some of the observations of some of the top-performing varieties at the trials. 

1. Petunia x Petchoa SuperCal Royal Red 
bounced back fast after all the rain and showed and no sign of Botrytis either on the flowers or the leaves. Very floriferous with medium-sized flowers. Great for hanging baskets and landscape.

2. Petunia hybrida – Dekko Lavender Eye and 3.Petunia hybrida – Dekko Sorbet are two varieties of the Dekko family, which is known to be weather tolerant to rain and low-light in the greenhouse. It features a trailing habit, medium-sized flowers, early flowering with long flower life and no dead-heading is needed. Great for hanging baskets or combinations.

4. Petunia – Surfinia Heartbeat Improved is a medium-size heart-shaped flower. This could be sold with proper messaging targeting Valentine’s Day for warm zones or a Heart Foundation fund raiser. Good garden performer with medium-size flowers. It recovers well after a rain.

5. Begonia x hybrida – Viking Explorer Red on Green is a fibrous and vigorous begonia with a mounding habit that could be favorable for hanging baskets production. Like most fibrous begonias, it is not affected by inclement weather, rain or drought. Expect steady flowering the whole season, and no dead-heading is needed.

6. Begonia – I’CONIA First Kiss Del Sol is a Bouliviansis begonia that takes a special treatment in the greenhouse, but the result is one of the most beautiful plants. Great the whole summer, tolerates rain or drought – two important characteristics for great garden performance.

7. Begonia – Baby wing Red is the more compact size compared to Dragon wing but by no means is it compact. Baby wings begonia flowers early and is easy to control, with excellent garden performance.

8. Begonia – Dragon Wing Red, and 9. Begonia – Dragon Wing White are two colours of the vigorous fibrous begonia that has exceptional garden performance. Dragon wings take a little more time to flower in the greenhouse but in the gardens show their colour all the time no matter what the weather is. Landscapers will love this begonia for its endurance and easy care.

10. Begonia – Hula Bicolor Red White is a vigorous begonia with smaller flowers which could be classified as multiflora for its abundant, continuous flowering habit. Earlier to flower than Dragon wing with more of a mounding habit. Great in large landscapes.

11. Begonia – Megawatt White Green Leaf is one colour of the Megawatt series which fits in between the Dragon wing begonia and the Hula begonia series size wise and as it relates to growth habit. Excellent garden performance just like all fibrous begonias. Megawatt begonias are good to grow in gallons and for instant landscape beauty.

12. Begonia x benariensis – BIG Rose Green Leaf is one colour of the BIG begonia series and it does live up to its name. Big is big but one of the earliest flowers in the greenhouse compared to other vigorous varieties. Exceptional performance in our trials and great in landscapes.

13. Begonia x benariensis – Groovy Rose is a trailing vigorous begonia that is great for hanging baskets. Groovy begonias perform well in our trials and are very resistant to flower shatter after rain or wind, and like fibrous begonias no dead-heading is needed.

14. Begonia x interspecific – Stonehedge Rose Bronze Leaf is one colour of the new Stonehedge series which is very vigorous in our trials, and I cannot wait to see its performance in the greenhouse. Excellent garden performance and it is a very rewarding series. It is is vigorous and floriferous and it does not take many plants to make 14-to-16-inch containers with Stonehedge begonia.

15. Zinnia hybrida – Profusion Orange is one colour of the profusion zinnia family that performed great every year in our trials. Easy greenhouse production and great landscape performance.

16. Zinnia – Double Zahara Salmon Rose has the great performance habit of the Profusion series with a double flower that puts on a great show the whole season. All zinnias need to be grown in long days in the plug stage so they can have the vigour and not flower too early in the greenhouse which leads to inferior performance in the garden.

17. Calibrachoa – Cabrio Sweet Peach performed well in our trials this year despite the extreme rainy weather. Cabrio series has a medium mounding growth habit that can make great hanging baskets without much, if any, growth regulators.

18. Coleus  Talavera Burgandy Lime 

19. Coleus – Down Town Columbus

20. Coleus – Main Street Bourbon Street

21. Coleus – Stained Glassworks Pineapple Express

22. Fantastic Foliage – Coleus Mighty Mosaic Premium Sun These are few examples of the vast varieties of coleus. All are propagated vegetatively except the Mighty Mosaic premium Sun which is propagated from seed. Coleus perform great in the sun or shade, but the new varieties excel in bright sun conditions. All coleus varieties should be treated against downy mildew at early stages in the production cycle, because by the time you see it, it is very hard to stop it.

23. Impatiens walleriana – Imara XDR Rose and 24. Impatiens walleriana – Beacon Lipstick are two colours of the Imara and the Beacon impatiens series showed no signs of downy mildew even late in the summer and, like always, the walleriana impatiens performed great in full sun. Is it luck? Or have we really got over the downy mildew on impatiens? Maybe the number one bedding plant is on its way to making a comeback.

25. New Guinea Impatiens – Wild Romance Peach has double flowers that give it a classy look. Planting it in a higher-end container and marketing it different from other impatiens could generate a higher margin profit. Wild Romance Peach performed very well in our trials and spent the whole summer in full sun. Next year we are going to trial as many impatiens as possible in our beds to compare all the different series. That will include Walleriana impatiens even the old varieties, New guinea impatiens and any other hybrids.

26. Angelonia – Angleface Cascade Pink is great for late hanging baskets to sell for late May since Angelonia does not like cool temperatures.

27. Angelonia – Alonia Pink Flirt is an upright plant with the same requirement of warmer temperatures. Angelonias are great for containers, hanging baskets, landscapes or combinations.

28. Lantana – Shamrock Orange Flame Improved is a medium-size plant and like most lantanas it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. The warmer it is the better this plant shines. Drought tolerant and rain does not affect it.

29. Cuphea – Cubano Fuente is a great performer in the garden and does not need dead-heading. It attracts hummingbirds and flowers for the whole season. We are going to add it to our hummingbird beds next year.

30. Angelonia – Serena Blue is one colour of the Serena series, a seed-variety Angelonia that performs as good or better than any vegetative Angelonia variety. It is loaded with flowers the whole season, no deadheading needed and thrives at high temperatures.

31. Cuphea – Pink Shimmer is another form of cupheas that is loaded with tiny flowers that are beautiful in a container. Excellent for landscape and could be great in combinations because it does not overpower other cultivars but enhances them.

The second part of the trials will be covered in an upcoming issue of Greenhouse Canada. 

Print this page


Stories continue below