Greenhouse Canada

Viewing the ‘new’ and ‘improved’ at CAST’17

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

July 13, 2017  By Dave Harrison

Some plants are especially popular with gardeners who want to taste the fruits of their labours. Ball Ingenuity offers both ‘Sweet Kiss’ and ‘Cupido’ ever-bearing varieties.

July 13, 2017, California – “Prepare to be overwhelmed.”

It was that piece of advice I received from a California Spring Trials (CAST) veteran that kept echoing in my head. After six days of touring a good chunk of coastal mid-state California – from approximately just north of Los Angeles to just south of San Jose – and touring numerous breeder displays, I fully appreciated those words of wisdom.

In fact, “overwhelmed” is an understatement. It was sensory overload, with so many new varieties to view, textures to touch and marketing ideas to marvel at.


This is the first of a two-part feature providing a little sampling from each of the sites visited.

There is also a daily diary of my CAST tour posted on our website, so be sure to check those online stories, too.

This is a trip that should be on every grower’s bucket list. In addition to the information of the new plants coming down the pike, the travel is easy on the eyes with the route winding its way through some of the most picturesque regions of the state. There are many changes in elevation, countless twists and curves in many of the road, and you’re never very far from the Pacific Ocean if you have a break in your schedule.

I bumped into a dozen or so Canadian growers, and their message was that in an ultra-competitive market, you have to be well ahead of the curve in introducing new and/or 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, California beckons…

Welcoming me to the Ball Horticultural trial site was John Ondejko (1), the company’s business manager for Canada. This was my first stop…and the first CAST person I meet is a fellow Canuck!

He gave me a quick tour of some of the new varieties, including the new ColorBlitz petunia series, which is an early flowering, medium-vigour series for gallon and larger containers. “It has proven greenhouse performance under low light and low temperature production,” notes the brochure.

Can-Can ‘Bumble Bee Pink’ calibrachoa (2) is another newcomer. On close inspection it does indeed look like a “bee” is in the flower. This vigorous performer is ideal for larger baskets and mixed containers.

Chrysanthemum specialist Ed Higgins (3) says garden mum sales have been especially strong the past four years. New this year for Ball are ‘Bridal White,’ (early flowering, solid white flower contrasted with dark foliage); ‘Copper Coin Bronze,’ (good for later September sales), and ‘Jazzbery Pink,” (extraordinarly high flower count and very uniform).

The new FlameThrower™ ‘Salsa Verde’ (4) coleus is a vivid lime green addition to this series. It’s a vigorous performer that works well in quarts and mixed containers.

What happens When Silicon Valley Meets Big Begonias? That was the theme Benary tackled this year. Silicon Valley is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Benary site and it has produced many of the high-tech gizmos we now take for granted. (My use of the word “gizmos” demonstrates I’m no tech nerd. Beyond the “on/off” switch, there’s little I can master with new technologies.)

Is this the future of pollination? (5) Automated pollinator drones may soon be essential if bee populations fall significantly. The technology is just a tweak or two away from reality.

John Greenwood (6), the Australia sales manager for Benary, poses with Whopper Begonia. This is the ideal landscape plant, or the focal point in large containers in either baskets or mixes. Versatile, it is fine in full sun to full shade, and performs well in all regions. They are 20 to 25 per cent larger than the Big Begonias.

This is the first calocephalus from seed.(7) It is heat and cold tolerant and ideal as a fall crop and accent plant in beds. And my prediction is that it will draw considerable attention from combo designers.

Benary and Volmary are now working together on a joint venture called Benary+. It will sell directly to growers, as well as through its regular broker network.

The Samira verbena series (8) from Volmary works well in pots or hanging baskets. The flowers are large and the plant is well branched with a mounded trailing habit. The series is mildew tolerant and you can expect a strong show of blooms right up to the first frost.

Diane Surette, sales manager for Canada for Dümmen Orange poses with ‘Starship,’ (9) one of three additions to the popular Potunia petunia line. Potunias are “perfectly mounding bubbles of colour,” notes a sales brochure, with “bright and bold flowers that are always ready to sell.” They are truly daylength neutral.

The Wild Romance New Guinea Impatiens series welcomed two new additons – ‘Blush Pink’ and ‘White.’ (10) This is a true New Guinea double flower that has a little rosette of a bloom that opens up to a gardenia type flower. It’s great in the shade and everyone needs something for the shade.

Great Falls Coleus is a completely new trailing coleus series. The names are from great waterfalls of the world, including Niagara Falls. They have allowed Dümmen Orange to create new Confetti Gardens with different textures using the Great Falls series, including Confetti Garden Great Falls Outback Safari.(11)

I’conia is Dümmen Orange’s new branding name for its interspecific begonia series (12). ‘Miss Malibu’ is the latest addition and was a European winner at FleuroSelect. It is quite glamorous and elegant at retail, and easy to grow and ship.

Landscape-type begonias are probably the fastest growing segment in the bedding class market. The Megawatt Begonias series, noted Jerry Gorchels, an account manager with PanAmerican Seed and Kieft Seed (13), is a great example. It is great in containers and hanging baskets, too. “It’s very versatile,” says Gorchels, “there’s so much you can do with it.”

The new genetics of pentas is also quite impressive. “Lucky Star Pentas (14) has great uniformity as a series, a tight flowering window within the entire series,” said Gorchels. “The flowering is pretty much continuous, and it offers great colour opportunities for the shoulder season when heading into June. Pentas love the heat and can take a little drought. The new genetics of pentas is quite impressive, “Lucky Star Pentas has great uniformity as series, a tight flowering window within the entire series.”

Also drawing considerable consumer attention are ornamental peppers. “It’s a golden opportunity to increase business and sales at a time of year when there are not that many products available,” notes Carsten Leth, global business manager of potted plants with PanAmerican Seed (15). The Acapulco Series has been bred to be quite compact and can be grown without PGRs. It is 100 per cent programmable. Joining him at CAST in discussing the popularithy of ornamental peppers was Ex-Plant A/S Breeder Susanne Villemoes.

‘Intensia Red Hot’ (16) phlox is a heavy bloomer with brilliantly bright red flowers. It is very heat, humidity and drought tolerant. It plays well in combinations with other medium vigour varieties. John Gaydos, director of product development and promotion with Proven Winners, said that if you combine it with Intensia White “you have the Canadian flag.”

‘Coral’ (17) is the newest addition to the popular Toucan cannas series. It is a virus-free, free flowering thriller for containers and landscapes and very pollinator friendly. It is heat tolerant and disease resistant, and works well with other high-vigour varieties.

Superbells Double Orchid (18) is a new line of double-flowered calibrachoa with fully double, richly double pink flowers. It has the same performance as other Superbells and has been screened for thielaviopsis resistance. It grows six to 12” in height with a 12 to 24” spread.

‘Double Take Peach’ (19) flowering quince boasts large, deeply coloured double flowers in early spring. It is drought and heat tolerant and has a mounded habit. It is great for cut flowers and grows 48 to 60” tall, with a spread of 36 to 48”.

Karin Walters of Walters Gardens holds Fruit Punch ‘Cherry Vanilla’ dianthus (20), which has full double, deep red flowers with a contrasting pink picotee edge. It has wonderfully fragrant, carnation-like flowers, and it blooms in early summer and early fall. Butterflies love it, and thankfully deer aren’t as enamoured. It has a compact habit and is hardy to Zones 4-9. It grows to six to eight feet in height with an eight to 12’ spread.

‘At Last’ rose (21) offers great fragrance with disease resistance. It is low maintenance, with no spraying necessary and no need for pruning. It flowers with vivid orange blooms from late spring though to frost and has a rounded habit. It grows 30 to 36” tall and wide.

Candy Tops (22) is a new snapdragon series from Sakata. It has strong stems and great colours, making them easy to ship and easy to sell. There are five colours in the series – orange, red, rose, white and yellow, along with a mix. It also has wonderful fragrance and is ideal in 4” pots.

‘Profusion Red’ (23) is described as the first true-red zinnia in its class. It was named a 2017 All-America Selections Winner for Superior Garden Performance, the most recent in a series of AAS awards for Sakata. ‘Profusion Red.’ The Profusion series has great uniformity and disease resistance, along with extreme heat and drought tolerance. Profusion now includes nine colours and four mixes.

Looking to display your patriotism this year (or next)? Look no further than the ‘Butter Cream’ and ‘Red Crimson’ additions (24) to the Petunia SuperCal. Posing with them is Mark Seguin, Sakata’s global ornamentals marketing manager. This is a hardy petunia series, with great disease resistance. It does well in the humidity and holds up well in the rain. It has long lasting blooms.

Something you’re seeing more and more of are mixed garden tomato combos, reflecting what consumers are seeing in store clamshells. Consumers can now grow them at home. The Little Birdy cherry tomato combo (25) includes ‘Yellow Canary,’ ‘Rosy Finch’ (pink) and ‘Red Robin.’ This patio or balcony combo offers high yields with a great mix of acidity and sweetness.

Selecta had three varieties that really stood out for me.

‘Pink Sky’ is a great addition to the Headliner series, and dazzles with its vibrant pink flowers accented with white dots. “Pink is a very popular colour,” says Stefan Reiner, head of product development with Selecta (26). “There is a lot of interest in this variety.” ‘Pink Sky’ is a little more compact and less vigorous than ‘Night Sky,’ which is also new this year.

‘Daisy Falls’ (27) is a true trailing osteospermum. It is perfect for early spring but also features excellent summer performance. It has a large flower size and comes in white, pink and purple. It’s wonderful in mixed baskets or by itself.

‘Silver Blue’ (28) is one of two new additions to the MiniFamous Double calibrachoa series. It’s representative of the new doubles Selecta is breeding for with a top mounded habit, better centre branching, bigger flowers and solid colours that don’t fade. “Consumers like doubles because they hold up so well in the garden and baskets, much better than most singles,” says Reiner.

The big story out of Syngenta was with the introduction of its Sunfinity Sunflower. It’s going to be a market changer with a strong ability to draw premium prices. It offers non-stop blooming and continuous flowers throughout the season. It can extend the retail season and would work best in 2.5 quart (12”) and larger containers for landscapes or large patio pots. Unlike regular sunflowers, multiblooming plants mean gardeners can cut and enjoy flowers indoors in addition to the garden. There is a complete branding package available to help boost sales. Helping introduce them to visitors was Syngenta’s Terry Talsma (29).

The Dekko petunia series (30) has six colours and fastastic flower power that will be sure to impress consumers. It has exceptional garden performance and its versatility means it works well in everything from small pots to landscape designs.

And there’s something about seeing poinsettias in early April that can set a heart aflutter – perhaps the thought I’m still paying off my Christmas Visa bill. Titan (31) is a perfect family for early season sales and great for northern regions with lower light intensities and cooler temperatures. It offers impressive cold growing performance in six-inch pots and larger. It’s also an award winner – it was singled out by the prestigious Dutch LTO Trial Award program for its superior post-harvest performance.

And what about geraniums in mixed combos? Dr. Harvey Lang poses with one of his many favourites – Cascade Dreams Mix.(32) The Calliope and Caliente series are especially well-suited to mixed containers.

As we noted in this month’s editorial, CAST is only one source of new varieties you can tour.

For those attending Cultivate’17 in Columbus later this month, the Ohio State University trial gardens will host a pair of open house – Saturday, July 15, from 5-7 p.m., and Monday, July 17, from 5-7 p.m.

Ontario is home to a pair of major trial programs.

The Sawaya Garden Trials are held just east of Simcoe, on Hwy 3. This is probably North America’s largest container trials in a single location, with some 2700 varieties this year. An open house will be held July 26 from 8-5.

Also a must-see for Ontario growers is the garden trial hosted by the University of Guelph at the Turfgrass Institute in Guelph and at the Landscape Ontario offices in Milton, Ontario. Visit for more information. Key dates for these trials include:

  • Aug. 10 – Open house for U of Guelph trials at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre from 1-3.
  • Aug. 17 – Industry Open house from 9-3:30, beginning at Landscape Ontario before concluding at the Turfgrass Institute.

Les Exceptionnelles is the result of a partnership that brings together the expertise of four great Québec gardens: the Jardin Daniel A. Séguin, the Jardin botanique de Montreal, the Jardin Roger Van den Hende of Laval University and the Jardins de Métis. It is coordinated by the Fédération interdisciplinaire de l’horticulture ornementale du Québec (FIHOQ).

We’ll be back next month with more highlights of our tour of the California Spring Trials.

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