During the 2017 California Spring Trials, the editors from Garden Center and Greenhouse Management magazines teamed up to bring you the latest from each of the stops — interviewing breeders, owners and more about their new varieties and inspiring displays. We shared six videos each day for a week during the trials, and more were published after the event. Despite our extensive coverage, it’s impossible to capture it all. Below is a roundup of some of the highlights from each stop and overall themes we noticed, and notable varieties and displays that we could not fit into our week-long video newsletter series. We also browsed social media to see what was buzzing on Twitter and Instagram, and noted a few attendee favorites below.
Social media was abuzz about Green Fuse Botanicals' Staircase lupine series — grown from tissue culture, not seed — which had a successful pre-introduction last year and debuted in six colors this year — three bicolors and three solid colors. Staircase is hardy to Zone 4, making it ideal for early spring sales. It doesn’t require vernalization and blooms under shorter days, providing a wider window of sales opportunities. Several attendees also raved about Green Fuse’s extra-large leafed Dibs begonias, Rothko and Cherry Mint specifically. Rothko is deep red and gray with splotches of color on the border of the foliage, while Cherry Mint is spiral-patterned, and its colors match its name.Attendees gravitated toward PlantHaven’s Hillier Porcelain Blue at the GroLink stop and took time to share it with their friends on Instagram. The eye-catching aqua-blue corydalis has fragrant clusters and good branching, blooms from spring through autumn, and is tolerant of the strong summer sun. The traditionally fashion-forward Hort Couture showed off its foodie side, absolutely wowing passersby with a “farm-to-table” concept at the GroLink stop. Its new varieties were served on plates on a beautifully set dinner table display, including oregano Zest Pink Ombre, which happens to be a non-culinary oregano, and side dishes featured old favorites, like Asclepias ‘Monarch’s Promise.’ Mason jars strung from pallets hung from above, creating a visually stunning, inspirational retail display. A variety generating a lot of excitement both for Syngenta Flowers and for attendees was the sterile Sunfinity sunflower, which features long-lasting blooms both in the garden and as a cut flower. It also has better branching for more flowers and easier shipments. Syngenta recommends two pinches for finished growers to produce more nodes and a fuller plant. Sunfinity grows to about 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide, and will be available at retail this June.
After conducting consumer research, Burpee has refreshed its branding with pots and tags based on findings from the study. Its logo is a bit of a throwback and a nod to its more than 140-year history, but its new tags reflect what consumers need today — simple variety information right up front, a photo of what the mature plant will look like, and plants grouped in collections based on their best uses like “small space” and “foodie.”
The latest introduction to the Suntory Flowers’ Surfinia series — Trailing Red — may have turned heads at the GroLink stop, as the plants surrounded a scarlet Harley Davidson, but another attendee favorite was Million Bells Butter Pop, a bicolor calibrachoa with a yellow center and white flowers. Retailers can pair the plant with popcorn containers and perhaps even make some at your store to appeal to all the senses.
Florist understands that consumers are not necessarily looking for specific varieties, they are looking for solutions. They introduced their Pure Blooms concept, promoting the fact that flowering plants purify air in homes, too, not just indoor foliage plants. They also plugged a NASA study that found that gerberas are one of the most powerful air purifiers.
Terra Nova Nurseries showcased both new and older varieties in three collections based on best use to make it easier for everyone to understand the benefits of these plants: “Easy Care Landscape,” “Pollinator Friendly” and “Water-wise.”
PanAmerican Seed is trying to take the guesswork out of container gardening with its new Plug & Play series. Most mixes feature Wave petunias, but others include vegetables and herbs, too, like “Lunch Date,” which has Patio Baby eggplant, SimplyHerbs ‘Try Basil’ and Bonanza Yellow French marigold.
Dümmen Orange presented four retail concepts to make shopping easier for consumers and display-building easier for retailers, including “Savor the Flavor,” featuring herbs grouped with suggested uses — a tea mix, grilling mix and pizza mix — with options for growers to swap herbs. They also showcased “Effortless Autumn,” catering to the “decorators, not diggers” of fall and a section just for kids, with items strategically placed at youngsters’ eye level. Perhaps the most impressive was the Grab & Gro build-your own-garden-party concept, a guided, step-by-step container creation program with complementary signage that can get customers who need help started when staff are busy. Step 1 is simply selecting a container, Step 2 included a table with “accent” or thriller plants, Step 3 featured “base” or filler plants and Step 4, “cascading” or spiller plants. Step 5 is simply to plant it. It makes it easy for consumers looking to create containers but not sure where to start or how to identify accent, base and cascading plants, i.e., easy as ABC.
Sakata Seed America celebrated its 40th anniversary in North America in part with the introduction of Ruby Star ColorWorks petunia, because rubies are the traditional gift to honor four decades of marriage, and one of two new introductions in the series this year. Both Ruby Star and Pink Star, as their names imply, have star-shaped patterns on their petals and semi-mounding habits, and are bred to keep the pattern and bold color under warm conditions and resist powdery mildew.
The Ball Horticultural stop includes some 10 brands under the company’s umbrella, so selecting just one variety isn’t easy. One of the most impressive was the new SolarTower ipomoea series, which BallFlora Plant is promoting as the first self-climbing ipomoea, offered in Lime and Black. The two colors were displayed wrapped around an arbor and as a thriller in a large container combination.
Floranova introduced a number of new varieties, but the standout series was perhaps the heat- and disease-tolerant Phlox Popstars, which have star-shaped blooms, and as one Instagrammer put it, are #notyourgrandmothersphlox. The series comes in six bold colors and features a dwarf habit.
Another phlox getting attention was Intensia Red Hot from Proven Winners, while in perennials the ‘Wild Rose’ heuchera caught people’s eye. A favorite among the shrubs was Winecraft Black smokebush, which transitions from a rich purple hue in spring to near-black in summer and red and orange in autumn. It also has a rounded, dwarf habit that does not require pruning to maintain.
Robert Bett, president of PlantHaven, pointed out a tree form of Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ a new introduction to its Icon program, which is a collection of older industry favorites. Usually the perennial is used as a groundcover, but it got a new topiary look for Spring Trials, which Bett referred to as “Dr. Seuss balls.”In its California Spring Trials debut, J. Berry Nursery brought its red-carpet-ready Hollywood Hibiscus collection, which feature bright, bold-colored flowers with high bud and bloom counts and strong plants that are resistant to bacterial leaf spot and strong wind. Bird-themed planters made from recycled tires greeted us at Edna Valley Vineyard, Dümmen Orange’s home for the week. The hanging toucans and free-standing ostrich planters complemented the “Wild Romance” theme inspired by Dümmen Orange’s introduction of Wild Romance New Guinea impatiens in White and Blush Pink that boast big, semi-double blooms that look like roses. American Takii’s greenhouse was full of fragrance with its new release Evening Scentsation, a blue petunia with a scent that has notes of rose and honey. Sweet Valentines from Hem Genetics is the company's first edible plant, a determinate patio tomato with heart-shaped fruits.
Cosmos ‘Brownie’ from Thompson & Morgan has a maroon color and unusual chocolatey fragrance.
The big news out of Benary was its introduction of Benary+, a joint venture that offers growers the opportunity to purchase Benary seed and Volmary unrooted cuttings directly through Benary Plus. The goal is to foster relationships with growers, provide more ordering options, and better understand what both their grower clients and the market want.
Jen Calhoun, marketing specialist, said up to the time of the announcement, they had never invoiced a grower for any product. “We never bypassed our brokers. We wanted to make this transition in the most professional way,” Calhoun says. “We value our relationships with our broker customers and did not want to jeopardize that.” Benary wants to have a closer relationship with growers so they can learn more about their customers, and provide them with information they did not have before. “It’s disruptive, but in the long run, it’s going to be a very positive change because we can work more closely with growers to invest in breeding lines that meet the demands of our ever-changing market,” Calhoun says. “We have to change and examine, how do we do business better, and how do we evolve? We have to keep moving and keep pushing the envelope.”
The new Lucky Star pentas series from PanAmerican Seed is promoted for its fast, secondary blooms and tight, compact habit, attributes retailers appreciate, but Jason Jandrew, director of breeding for PanAmerican Seed, also noted its uniform timing among the five colors, making it easier to program for growers.
Flamingo Holland announced a new partnership that will provide growers flask, liner and pre-spiked orchid options through Floricultura. That way, growers can decide based on their timelines if they want to purchase a plant that takes 2 years to grow (flask), 6 months to grow (liner) or a pre-spiked orchid, which only takes 10 weeks to finish. Each option gives growers a mix, which includes about 35 percent white orchids, the most popular with consumers, and 15 percent pink orchids.
Sakata Seed America staged a demonstration to show the strong all-weather performance of one of their classic series, SuperCal, a petunia/calibrachoa hybrid. To show its ability to withstand rain and not droop or close, Sakata set SuperCals on one side of a bench and competitor plants on the other, and ran water on the plants several times throughout the day.
An employee even drove around with a box of SuperCals and competitor plants in his trunk for several days with no water, light or care, to show how SuperCals can withstand even the most extreme conditions.
Part of Danziger’s overall strategy is to reduce or eliminate PGR use in its program and breed for more compact, controlled habits. One featured plant that has this attribute and stood out to attendees was the new Pazzaz Nano portulaca series, which has unusually vibrant, large blooms and comes in four colors.
Pacific Plug & Liner transformed its facilities and created Camp Perennial, complete with logs, boats, oars and other summer sleepaway-themed items to highlight its various perennial offerings, including grasses, hellebore and echibeckia. “Campers” could collect “merit badges” along the way as they toured the various perennial categories. Each display was more beautiful and intricate than the next. One that caught our eye was HMA Plants, which created “flames” in a fire pit and a grill with its varieties.
HMA Plants also exhibited at American Takii, and they built a volcano of succulents and annuals at the stop. HMA is known for the 100 varieties of succulents they produce through Floraplant, but they also displayed plants they have available through license agreements with breeders like Suntory Flowers and PlantHaven. One plant of note was Black Knight echeveria, which has an even darker plum shade like Black Prince, one of their best-selling succulents.
Benary emphasized how we can marry the modern world and new technology with plants. Using virtual reality eye wear, we took a helicopter ride and viewed new varieties from a bee’s point of view, looking up at towering plants like the company’s BIG Begonias. A drone showcased how pollination of the future would look in a Graffiti Pentas display and attendees could even take a real-life helicopter ride over Watsonville, Calif.
Proven Winners made cinder blocks look absolutely cozy with this living room display. The display gardens at the entrance of their home for the week, Kirigin Cellars, were inviting, beautiful and could provide inspiration for retailers and consumers.
Birds and cyclamen make a beautiful pair in this Morel display at the Ball Horticultural stop.
Greenhouse Management editor Karen E. Varga also contributed to this report.