Greenhouse Canada

The long game: Success factors for cultivars

Sawaya Garden Trials 2022.

November 1, 2022  By Greenhouse Canada

27. Confetti-Garden

This was the 22nd year since the trials started. Many cultivars went through our trials. Some cultivars are in production for the 22-plus years and are still going, while others did not make it past one or two seasons. Many of the cultivars even have the same name. Many improvements have gone into these cultivars through the years, but the breeders are working with cultivars that are winners by acquiring the consumer satisfaction with improving minor characteristics.

Through 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 past trends.

Every trial season, I share some cultivars that proved to perform well through the trial period, but the next season some of these cultivars are not mentioned again, while others are mentioned over and over. This is because there are other factors for a successful sustainable variety to stand the test of time. 


For the past 22 years, we at Sawaya Garden Trials concentrated on the garden performance, which is extremely important. Starting next year, we will track the other factors that make a long-time successful cultivar.

Here are the factors:

Source starting material

  • Availability
  • Delivery
  • Quality
  • Germination/propagation %
  • Pest-free

I have a good pulse on these factors through my consulting business, where I deal with 49 different greenhouse operations that include the three major rooting stations, large growers and small growers that propagate vegetative and seed material.

Point of purchase

  • Presentation
  • Shelf life
  • Stores abuse
  • Ease of care
  • Consumer first impression

Now we can monitor firsthand with our garden centre, where I learned amazingly fast that the varieties I love don’t necessarily sell. Also, I work with 13 different grower garden centres, which gives me a good picture – at least in Ontario, Canada. That’s where we can evaluate customer appeal for new products or new presentations.

Trial garden performance

  • True to family performance, not adopted cultivars (similar habit)
  • Plant habit
  • How long the cultivar looks good
  • Plant body (foliage health and habit)
  • Flower power performance (how long and regeneration)
  • Rain recovery time
  • Drought tolerance
  • Deadheading requirement
  • Garden appeal from one metre
  • Garden appeal from 10 metres
  • Disease resistance
  • Insect resistance
  • Fragrant
  • Colour appeal

Taking all these factors into consideration, Sawaya Gardens’ next phase is to:

  • Evaluate all participant varieties with numbers attached to them.
  • Work with breeders on variety selection through trials of potential market introduction through the parameters mentioned before.
  • Establish a production cookbook for every new introduction for the growers.
  • Perform market testing on a small scale.

This will accomplish the following:

  • Breeders do not have to spend huge amounts of capital for varieties that will not make it more than one or two years.
  • Growers do not have to grow a variety that did not go through the before mentioned criteria. This will avoid wasted capital and better use of greenhouse space for tested varieties.
  • Buyers will not be tempted to order an exclusive variety that the grower does not know how to produce efficiently, or not know what the consumer appeal is.
  • The consumer will buy a variety that they will have a better chance of enjoying, rather than getting disappointed with the plant performance and could turn them away from buying plants completely.

In addition, Sawaya Gardens now opens its doors to the public, offering educational tours, so we can equip consumers with practical knowledge of variety choices and knowledge of plant care. Now we can accomplish all this in our new location with the greenhouse structure built to be able to answer as many questions as possible that are needed by the horticulture industry.

Any suggestions for trials set up, information communication, or any suggestion are all welcomed.


So, here are some varieties to share with you. By no means are these the only great performers, but due to limited publishing space, 42 varieties are shared in this issue and another 40 in the next issue.

The weather this year is moderate compared to other seasons, no long stretches of extreme heat or rain, with some cool nights that enhanced the performance of many varieties that will not survive long hot night temperatures like Lobelia, Diascia, and Dahlia; and the flowers lasted longer before burning off due to high average temperatures.

Alstroemeria (1) Princess Fabiana is one colour of the princess series that flowered the whole summer even in hot days. This series is bred for pot plants that can be grown in containers or landscape.

Angelonia (2) Angel Dance Violet Bicolor are great habit, great looking, dense variegated flowers that will make any landscape a great show. Angel Dance, like other Angelonia, is one of the best garden performers the whole summer long until frost.

Basil (3) Everleaf Emerald Towers is an upright habit great performer and downy mildew resistant. As a matter of fact, we did not see any disease symptoms the whole summer, with good tasting.

Begonia (4) Hula Pink is early flowering, vigorous growing, great for large hanging baskets and covers large area in the landscape. The plants have lots of flowers and rain does not affect it negatively. It thrives in the sun and survives the shade.

Begonia (5) Viking Explorer Red on Green is one of my new favourite large begonias because the foliage is dense, and it has strong stems with some cascading habit that makes it great as large pot or large hanging baskets. All fibrous begonias do better in the sun, but they survive the partial shade with less flowers.

Begonia x Hybrida (6) Bright Orange is a boliviensis begonia that has a good garden performance. Leaves look thicker compared to other bouliviansis cultivars, which is critical for the transportation of vegetative cuttings.

Begonia x tuberhybrida (7) Illumination Apricot Shades is a trailing tuberous non-stop begonia that has good garden performance in hanging baskets and thrives in the sun. It is my wife’s favourite. Yes, you guessed it. That is what we have around our house.

Bougainvillea (8) Vera Purple is by far the best bougainvillea variety, and this year Vera showed its potential in our trials due the fact there were many cool nights and warm days. The flowers lasted a long time, and it was a short time between flower cycling. Great for high-end containers.

Caladium (9) Heart to Heart Radiance is one of the better caladium varieties that can take the wind and hot sun. It has impressive leaf colours that show from afar. It is better to buy the caladium just sprouted if it is meant to grow outside, because it does not like the sudden cold, wind, and sun, if all the leaves are large.

I think Calibrachoa is the larges genus in the hanging baskets spring production. Calibrachoa has excellent garden performance in full sun for potential colour, and the vast selection of cultivars that each has is a great different feature that makes the genus a winner. Here are just a few examples:

Calibrachoa (10) Bloomtastic Yellow is one colour in a series with larger than average colours.

Calibrachoa (11) Bumble Bee Pink Hot has a unique star-shaped flower that jumps out at you and gives a great look.

Calibrachoa (12) Cabaret Yellow performance is improved over last year and has a dense controllable growth foliage that carries masses of flowers.

Calibrachoa (13) Calipetite Yellow Improved (2) is a very compact calibrachoa that performs well in the garden. Calipetite is great for small pots or bowls. No growth regulator is needed.

Calibrachoa (14) Callie Mango shares the habit of most of the callie. The whole series performed well in our trials.

Calibrachoa (15) Cha-Cha Frosty Lemon is one colour of this vigorous series that makes it great for large baskets.

Calibrachoa (16) MiniFamous Neo Double Silver Blue is one colour of the best double calibrachoa with little roses that makes great show to grow a combination of different colours in a large hanging basket.

Calibrachoa (17) Ombre Blush. I love this colour because it looks a different colour every week you look at it.

Calylophus (18) Ladybird Lemonade is a different flower and leaves shape that can add a different look to any garden. Calylophus flowers the whole summer until frost. It can be grown in a container or landscape.

Celosia (19) Kelos Fire Scarlet is one colour of a series that can be grown for indoors as pot plant or landscape. Hardy rain does not hurt it. Great all of the summer.

Celosia (20) Kosmo Cherry is a seed variety of a series of many colours that works for pot plant for indoor production and is great for landscape.

Coleus varieties in the last few years are exploding in the marketplace. Very colourful foliage, different textures that takes the shade and the sun. There are many vigorous varieties that consumers like and can be pruned easily without any negative look. They’re great in large pots and landscape. Here are few examples:

Coleus (21) – ColorBlaze; Coleus (22) – ColorBlaze; Coleus (23)  – Flame Thrower Sriracha; Coleus (24) – Mighty Mosaic; Coleus (25) – Stained Glassworks Pineapple Express.

Colocasia (26) Coffee Cups very vigorous tropical plants that take the sun and performed great in our trials, and makes any garden have that tropical feel.

Confetti Garden (27) Heartland is a combination of the same genus that most of the time works better than different genera. The lantanas perform great in the heat and the combination gives added value and look to each other.

Cuphea (28) Pink Shimmer is an excellent summer performer that hummingbirds love and looks great. Could work well in combinations.

Cyperus Grass (29) Cleopatra looks better and better as it matures to give a nice tropical look with excellent performance. A favourite for combinations centres.

Dahlia (30) Hypnotica Bronze performed well this year in our trials even though it was in a pot. The heat did not negatively affect it compared to other years. The weather could be a factor or, most probably, the gray colour of the pot compared to black in other years.

Dianthus (31) Rockin’ Pink Magic is a perennial from seed that takes the heat very well and looks great the whole summer into hard frost.

Dichondra (32) Silver Falls (2). Building on the foliage crave, the dichondra fits right there with excellent performance. It can be grown alone in baskets or in combinations.

Gaillardia aristate (33) SpinTop Orange Halo Imp is a first-year perennial flowering that flowers through the whole summer with its colourful flowers.

Gaura (34) Sparkle White is an excellent performer and looks better with age. No dead heading. Gets better in the heat and it’s a must plant for any outdoor wedding.

Geranium (35) Cascade Acapulco Compact is one of the balcony-trailing geraniums that is underused. It’s always great in our trials or in any landscape, which I have seen year after year.

Geranium interspecific (36) Caldera Salmon a semi-cascading geranium that does great in hangers. A zonal flower with an ivy foliage.

Gomphrena (37) Truffula Pink a wild looking plant that makes any landscape jump to life. No dead heading and is great in the rain and thrives in the heat.

Gypsophilia (38) Summer Sparkles the most compact Gypsophilia I have seen and looked great until end of August.

Impatiens used to be the No. 1 genus until the downy mildew hit it very hard, but breeders worked on variety resistance to the mildew and many new varieties of the New Guinea impatiens are available to make the genus have a much bigger role in the garden. Here are some examples:

Impatiens Interspecific (39) Spectra Orange is a cross of impatiens with Newer Guinea look-a-like that is supposed to take more sun. In our trials, all impatiens manage the sun with no negative issues.

Impatiens Interspecific (40) Sunpatiens Vigorous Sweetheart White is one colour of a series that is a landscaper favourite.

Impatiens New Guinea (41) Super Sonic Hot Pink is an excellent garden performer in full sun the whole summer with a true new guinea look.

Impatiens walleriana (42) Beacon Coral has no disease issues grown in full sun and performed just as well, or better, than any other impatiens.

This is the first of a two-part series covering the Sawaya Garden Trials. Just remember what we always say, promising new varieties are not for you to make big programs with. If all goes well, then the next season plan on larger programs. Also, it will be the time to cancel the unprofitable or duplicate programs. 

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