Bringing the “Trials” back to trials

EuroAmerican Propagators/ Headstart Nursery
Top: Goblet cyclamen, Bottom Left: Aloe Sassy Grass, Bottom Right: Cyclamen
KAREN E. VARGA

For the past few years, the California Spring Trials have continued to move north, consolidating stops north of Los Angeles and south of San Francisco. It makes the trip much more manageable for attendees, but the event does not really showcase plant trials. Instead, varieties are moved to their designated stops in containers or transplanted to the ground. Amanda Flint, new product development manager for EuroAmerican Propagators, helped organize this year’s trials at EuroAmerican’s home base in Bonsall, Calif., and she is hoping to reemphasize the traditions of what was known as the Pack Trials.

The stop, about 100 miles south of Los Angeles, included both container and in-ground varieties from 16 breeders, and, like traditional trials, older varieties were presented with improved versions, and many grew in both containers and in the ground so attendees could easily compare.

“We want to go back to what Spring Trials used to be. We want to show as many products as possible,” she says.

One of the focuses this year was to prove that drought tolerant and resistant plants can still add color to the landscape, like Aloe Sassy Grassy, which boasts bright orange blooms.

Hundreds of miles and a dozen stops north, Hans Gerritsen, ornamental sales representative for Headstart Nursery, shared a similar philosophy to trials.

Headstart showcases five key breeders and displays all cyclamen available in the market, highlighting features and variations in fragrance, pattern, color, texture and size. The goal is to promote cyclamen as a whole and educate attendees on the differences and trends. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t show off new varieties, such as Goblet, which features open blooms that resemble an African Violet.

Novelty petunias & calibrachoas

Suntory/ Selecta/ Westhoff/ Dümmen Orange
Left: Surfina ‘Heartbeat’, Middle Left: Crazytunia ‘Frisky Purple’, Middle Right: ‘Night Sky’, Right: Chameleon ‘Blueberry Scone’
‘NIGHT SKY’ AND ‘FRISKY PURPLE’: MICHELLE SIMAKIS / ALL OTHERS: KAREN E. VARGA

The lastest in Suntory Flowers’ Surfinia line, ‘Heartbeat,’ features five light pink heart shapes on each white petal. In order to maintain and achieve the pattern, Delilah Onofrey of Suntory says, “You have to take good care of it. Give it enough love, care, fertilizer, nice conditions, and then you will have a plant that loves you back.”

Westhoff expanded its Crazytunia line with the introduction of ‘Frisky Purple,’ a grape-colored plant featuring a bold lime star pattern. Depending on temperature and day length, the star pattern will vary and have wide or narrow stripes.

Selecta once again promoted its petunia with a starry evening bloom, ‘Night Sky,’ which first debuted as an experimental in 2015. Read more about the plant in our Spotted section on page 10.

The newest introduction in Dümmen Orange’s Chameleon series, ‘Blueberry Scone,’ like the four other plants in the line, changes color depending on environmental conditions.

Fun and games

PlantHaven, Sakata, American Takii, Syngenta
KAREN E. VARGA

Exhibitors had fun with displays this year. Devon Cottage dianthus was first introduced to the North American market 20 years ago, and the next generation of the plant, Pinball Wizard, was showcased at trials, complete with an actual pinball game modified to highlight the renamed variety in the Pinks by Whetman line.

At PlantHaven, you could play pinball, and over at Sakata Seed America, you could fit in a game of ping pong.

The table was part of its Gomphrena Ping Pong display, a new series featuring three colors — lavender, purple and white. Sakata also celebrated the 10th anniversary of SunPatiens with a giant cake layered with the impatiens, and a MINI Cooper decked out in decals of the sun-loving plant.

Brains were top of mind over at American Takii, which “zombified” its Armor Celosia line with new branding to highlight the plant’s brain-like appearance and to appeal to perhaps a different, younger audience. Everything from the tagline, “Armor yourself!” to the zombie imagery plays into the apocalypse theme well.

Syngenta Flowers incorporated fun and education in its merchandising. For a trio of pentas, their names and key features served as a guide for displays. Falling Star is a breakthrough series of trailing pentas, and the team told this story by suspending stars from the ceiling to mimic the trails from shooting stars. BeeBright and HoneyCluster, magnets for bees and other pollinators, were illustrated with a honeycomb-like backdrop using hexagon-shaped wood pieces. Syngenta’s double-sided, rotating, wood-framed signs featured at trials carried both a marketing message and an educational piece — trialing, research or other scientific information about growing the plant and how it compares to competitors.

The signs served as a “guided tour” for attendees and could be replicated at retail.

Fashion forward

PlantHaven, Benary, Hort Couture, Golden State Bulb Growers
Top Left: Culinary Couture, Top Middle: ‘Lip Gloss’, Top Right: Benary fashion show, Middle: Benary “museum”, Bottom Left: Culinary Couture container, Bottom Middle: Pinks by Whetman, Bottom Right: Benary “Art in the Park”
KAREN E. VARGA

Benary incorporated art and fashion into its displays at this year’s Spring Trials, with a special focus on the new ‘Funky’ begonia, which features both double and single pink flowers. The plant and other standout varieties “walked” to attendees during a very realistic plant fashion show, complete with video footage of real runways and models strutting their stuff down the catwalk while holding the flora. After the fashion show, attendees could either visit the museum — new Benary varieties displayed on pedestals of varying heights — or “Art in the Park,” with flower-inspired versions of well-known paintings by artists like Andy Warhol and Monet.

Taking inspiration from the fashion industry, PlantHaven has redesigned and rebranded its Pinks by Whetman logo with pastel lettering against a black background to give the brand a more sophisticated look. PlantHaven hopes its dianthus lineup appeals to homeowners looking to brighten up their homes with foliage. The fashion influence was also clear at Golden State Bulb Growers, specifically with its new calla lily, ‘Lip Gloss.’ Available during week 42, Lip Gloss’ timing is nine to 10 weeks, and the hope is that the plant, which features blooms with heart-shaped openings, will be a popular alternative to the Valentine’s Day rose.

Hort Couture has always mixed flora with fashion, and the company has recently given its Culinary Couture line a “makeover,” as sales and marketing manager Jennifer Hatalski explained. There are more than 30 new varieties in the program, which focuses on plants that are edible, attractive and can be part of a container combination. Many of the kales and lettuces in the series featured dark purple or silvery green foliage.

Consumer-friendly edibles

Top Left: 3 Pak Veggie combos, Bottom Left: Delizz strawberry, Bottom Right: Bubble Berry
KAREN E. VARGA

Retail-ready produce dotted the stops at spring trials. Delizz strawberry, a 2016 All-America Selections winner from ABZ Seeds, was created with the consumer in mind. Plants include plastic pots with sleeves that have colorful cartoon strawberries. Most importantly, the plant is easy to grow and maintain, and it produces super sweet berries. In speaking of retail-ready strawberries, the folks at Pacific Plug & Liner are at it again. A few years ago, they introduced Hula Berry, a white, pineapple-flavored strawberry, to the world. This year, they unveiled Bubble Berry, which has a bubble gum flavor achieved by bringing back an old, forgotten variety and improving upon it. This berry comes in appealing packaging as well, and does not need a pollinator to produce fruit like the Hula Berry. Bubble Berry also has a pleasing fragrance, which was another theme we saw throughout trials — to bring back scent and other attributes lost in the breeding process aimed to achieve a certain look.

HGTV HOME Plant Collection also showcased its three-pack quart veggies, which offer several different combinations of container-friendly tomatoes, basil, pepper and eggplant, to make it easier for gardeners, especially those new to raising edibles.

A familiar plant for those who attended trials and other trade shows the past few years, the dwarf Pixie Grape was featured again at Plug Connection, merchandised with wooden crates, wine bottles and wine glasses.

Succulents

Succulent container at Dümmen
KAREN E. VARGA

A pick-up truck overflowing with kalanchoe greeted attendees at Dümmen Orange’s BarrelHouse Brewery stop. The plant served as a flowery thriller for the many succulent combinations displayed there. Designer Robyn Foreman was on site giving growers and retailers ideas on how to make their own stylish plant combinations and mimic her gorgeous creations.

Succulents were also the primary focus at HMA Plants at the American Takii stop. The company started offering succulents about six years ago, and the category has exploded. Popular varieties for HMA include echeveria, which now accounts for 30 percent of all succulent sales.

Perennials

Invincibelle ‘Ruby’
MICHELLE SIMAKIS

The emphasis we saw on perennials, especially easy-to-maintain, water-wise plants, was strong again at the 2016 California Spring Trials. Red plants seemed to be popular. Janet Sluis of Sunset Western Garden Collection honed in on two new scarlet salvias, including ‘Little Kiss,’ a pliable plant that stays about 18 to 24 inches in the garden. A red hydrangea, Invincibelle ‘Ruby,’ was also a crowd favorite at the Proven Winners stop.

Fun thrillers

Mingle Mix
KAREN E. VARGA

Unusual thrillers like kalanchoe rounded out the succulent containers at the BarrelHouse Brewery Dümmen Orange stop, Armor celosia from American Takii added texture to mixes and Garvinea from Florist Holland stood bright and tall in pretty Mingle mixes at the Grolink stop.