Travels on Highway 101, Part I
Pack trials this year seemed a lot like our nationaloutlook: cautious and playing to its strengths. There was a lot of wonderfulmaterial, but it was toned down a bit from last year. There seemed to be moreimprovements on existing series, and fewer off-the-wall new plantintroductions. Guess that is to be expected given the economic climate of 2003.
I feel very fortunate to be able to work in the new cropsarea of our industry; however, by three days into pack trials, I found myselfmore interested in the display containers than in the plants that fill thepots. This year was a tough one for the marginals I like so much.
Regardless of my preferences, I’ll be the first to admit wewouldn’t have an industry if it weren’t for the generic bedding material; itjust gets a little hard to compare very similar plants at different locationsand then remember why this red (insert generic crop) is so vastly differentfrom the other 15 red (insert generic crop) series you saw yesterday. PackTrials attendees are treated to a mind-numbing array of improved geraniums, NewGuinea impatiens, bedding impatiens, begonias, vincas, petunias, etc. — all ofwhich are very good.
Sorting out differences between plants became even moreimportant this year, as I was touring with the editors from GPN, some of whichwere getting their first exposure to the diversity of our industry. By the endof day two, everyone was overloaded with cultivar names and struggling to getthrough to the real issues involved with all these crops.
Almost everyone we saw had a good representation of plantmaterials, but color and name aside, the real issues come down to cropscheduling, time to flower, patented or unpatented materials, and specificproduction requirements. By the end of Pack Trials, both Pooh and June (nameschanged to protect the innocent) were asking the right questions. It is reallya matter of cutting to the chase or drowning in information that, in the end,isn’t critical. It was a real education to travel with the GPN crew, and Iearned a new name “Richard Cranium,” I think because I was theresident “know-it-all.”
This series of nemesia from Proven Winners reports combiningthe colors of the old Nemesia strumosa with the hardiness of the Nemesiafruticans group. In summary, while the N. fruticans group is tougher and easierto produce, it is limited to shades of blue and pink. While the N. strumosagroup has a broader color range that includes reds and oranges, it requiressuch cool conditions that its uses are limited.
The Sunsatia series has a brilliant crimson, as well asyellow and white tones. Plants are a bit finer textured than N. strumosa, butwith large flowers and strong growth. I think this series will definitely openup this crop to growers who might not have tried it before. For Southerngrowers, this entire genus has huge potential as a winter flowering plant. Weare currently trialing some of the Sunsatia in our spring trials. While theyare doing well, our heat has already begun to kick in, and it will beinteresting to see how much they can handle. Northern growers would have a muchlonger spring season to work with, and these plants are easy to produce!
The Sunsatia series currently includes: ‘Sunsatia Banana’, amedium yellow; ‘Sunsatia Coconut’, a cream; ‘Sunsatia Cranberry’, a cranberryred; ‘Sunsatia Lemon’, a bright yellow; ‘Sunsatia Peach’, a light yellow andsoft violet bicolor; and ‘Sunsatia Pineapple’, a pale yellow.
OK, we use Phlox drummondii for a highway wildflower here inFlorida, and I was a little skeptical of what this series might do. So far,they are one of the stars of our spring trials and have been in constant flowersince planted March 31. Intensia from Proven Winners is basically a largerflowered hybrid with a slightly grayer leaf color and a prostrate growth habit.All varieties in the series are compact, low growing and spreading. The entirecanopy is covered in blooms and has been for six weeks. Intensia has sailedthrough our 90º F heat wave and continue to show no signs of losing steam.
This is another easy and very rewarding crop to grow, as itbegan flowering quickly and would have a very short crop time. Again, primarilya spring crop, but it will be interesting to see how much heat it’ll take whenthe summer rains kick in, and I hope they will have enough frost tolerance toenter the winter season market as well.
Verbascum, common name Wooly Mullein (Verbascum thapsus),has species native to almost every state in the union. These are greatdrought-tolerant, upright-flowering plants that deserve the attention we givefoxgloves and delphinium, whose growth habit they share. Verbascum have littleto no chilling requirement, prefer poor soils in the landscape and can be grownby anyone enterprising enough to try them out. An advantage over their morepopular cousins is that they have a strong foliage interest, as well asbeautiful flowers. The more unimproved species have small flowers on uprightspikes over silvery Á foliage. In most flowering cultivars, you’ll findthe silver hairs reduced and the flower colors from red, purple and pink intoyellow and white.
I found two verbascum at this year’s Pack Trials. The firstis Verbascum bombicyferum from Benary. With silver foliage and a strong rosetteshape, this plant makes a beautiful foliage accent. The second is the ‘SouthernCharm’ series (hybrids of Verbascum phoeniceum) from PanAmerican Seed. The seriesis actually sold as a cut flower mix but can be produced in 1-gal. containers.Colors in the series range from white through purple reds and are veryattractive. A side note, backpackers use Verbascum thapsus as toilet paper, soeven if your crop doesn’t sell, it always has a backup use! Just kidding, butas with any new crop, start small and grow the crop once you have the marketfor it.
Recommending new crops can always be a little tough,especially for a marginal crops guy like me. Hope you find these few varietiesuseful. They really are winners. I’ll be highlighting additional varieties nextmonth.