Travels on Highway 101 Part II

July 2, 2003 - 09:44

This historic highway takes you from one end of the state to the other, with a lot of plants in between.

In this second article on new crops displayed at Pack Trials
2003, I wanted to hit a few seed crops and a few oddball crops, as well as focus
on two new groups of plants that have recently emerged and deserve some
attention. So this article will contain a bit less on production information
and more on crops that struck me as interesting and worthy to note, especially
for growers looking to develop a niche for the unusual.

So, moving north in California, traveling with the GPN
editorial group and listening to vocal stylings of GPN's Editorial Director
Bridget White, in between discussions of crops, marketing and production
issues, we came to Lompoc to visit Bodger Seed and Bodger Botanicals. I really
enjoy this stop, as the folks at Bodger have a great sense of color and mixes,
as well as something unusual to keep jaded academics from going narcoleptic in
the middle of their tour. Besides, Lompoc is also a great town with a lot of
interesting plantings throughout the city.


On this trip, I was struck with the emergence of agastache
hybrids into our market over the past couple of years. For those of you who have
never heard of agastache, it is a mint relative (like salvia) that likes bright
light and has dusky gray-green foliage. The flowers are usually high in oils
and make great insect attractors in the garden. Agastache was originally a seed
produced plant, but newer genetics are moving it into the quasi-perennial
market as well.

First there was the annual Honeybee series from PanAmerican
Seed, and now the emergence of agastache hybrids with a more salvia-like look
from Bodger Botanicals. This new series, bred by Kieft, is called Acapulco, and
it is a really nice step forward in genetics. The plants have a more compact
growth habit than some older hybrids and some really nice colors as well. I was
most impressed with 'Acapulco Salmon & Pink' for a strong bicolor effect
and a good pot habit. The Acapulco Series currently includes 'Acapulco Rose',
Acapulco Salmon & Pink and 'Acapulco Orange'. So if you are looking for
something new to introduce that can be grown in the same way you would grow
bedding salvia, give these new agastache a try.


Kieft had a plant on display that is an old favorite of
mine: stachys. 'Chinook' is a coral/red flowering stachys that looks a bit like
lamium or salvia. Chinook has a sprawling growth habit to 18 inches in height
and great flowers. This one is a bit of a rarity, but a great addition to mint
family offerings and pretty much trouble free. Grow it cool for best results
and use minimal PGRs.


Floranova, another Lompoc company, had a great seed release
that I couldn't help but marvel at. It was nicotiana 'Tinkerbell', and it is a
large hybrid. Yes, you could produce it in a 4-inch pot and growth regulate it
into submission, but it would ruin the plant's natural qualities. Tinkerbell is
covered with rose tinted petals with a green outer covering on 3-4 foot plants
with a widely branched flower habit. This is one for the back of the perennial
bed, but it is really striking. In order to get both size and shape at the
retail level, I'm guessing this is a plant for the 1-gal. to 10-inch specialty
crop market. With good dark green foliage and a strong self-supporting habit,
it ain't your mama's nicotiana, but it is a great unusual form for the bedding


At Ball Floraplant, I was glad to see the introduction of
'Whisper White' to their Whisper diascia series. We just finished our winter
trials of diascia (see article page 94 for complete diascia and nemesia trial
results) and some of the Whisper series were among our top selections. Whisper
Diascia are some of the most vigorous selections on the market and have a big
blowsy habit that makes them perfect for hanging basket production, as well as
landscape use. There haven't been many whites on the market in the past, and I
am really looking forward to seeing how this latest introduction measures up to
the rest of the series.


The Flower Fields put on a tremendous display this year,
both inside the greenhouse and out. There was a phenomenal array of new
material on hand in all areas of perennial and annual color. I wanted to hit on
a couple of high points. First off, as far as I can tell, Flower Fields is the
only producer still supplying pink angelonia (part of their Caritas series).
Pink angelonia has apparently been very difficult to keep good stock for, so I
was glad to see that it hadn't totally disappeared from the market. 'Caritas
Pink' is a bit smaller in stature than some of the other series on the market,
but if you are looking for pink, it may be the only game in town anymore.

The Flower Fields also had their line of Primula obconica
(The Libre Series) out and I think this type of primula is really making a
comeback. A lot of smaller growers have taken it up as a winter crop and are
marketing the large flowered hybrids as premium flowering potted plants.
Primula obconica, and especially the Libre series, has a higher heat tolerance
than many other forms of primula and good cold tolerance for winter plantings
in the Sunbelt. 'Libre Fuchsia' and 'Libre Deep Blue' were both striking. This is
a crop that needs more attention, especially for growers looking into the early
spring and fall extension markets.


One of the best stops this year was at Pacific Plug and
Liner. Pacific Plug and Liner had great displays, some good production trials
and a lot of weird plants to make it more interesting. The crop that I was
really glad to see in their lineup was phygelius. Phygelius hybrids have been
popular in England for a long time but are beginning to leak out into the
American market, and they have tons of potential.

Think of phygelius as a combination between a foxglove and a
fuchsia. They are somewhat rangy (but respond well to PGRs), with deep green
Á foliage and terminal spikes of trumpet shaped flowers with yellow
throats and a variety of colors. These plants are strong perennial performers
in the northwest and southern United States; they also have a good specialty
annual market in the central and northern United States. We are looking into
this crop at the University of Florida as a potential fuchsia replacement for
those of us unlucky enough to live in locations where fuchsia does not thrive.

Pacific Plug and Liner had two cultivars from Carmel on
display 'Yellow Trumpet' and 'Devil's Tears', a deep red hybrid with a more
open flower form. But be on the lookout for other strong phygelius as well.
'Sensation' and 'New Sensation' are both deep rich purple violet tones,
'Trewidden Pink' is a rich pink with yellow throat, and there are numerous
others scattered through the fringe market as well. 


Among the other cool plants at Pacific Plug and Liner was
the Corsage series of double verbena. Yeah...double verbena, pretty neat! From
Cohen Propagation Nurseries, the available colors -- Peach, Red and Patio Dark
Red -- were really a great change in verbena. Each flower head had from
semi-double to fully-double florets, and while the double flowers were not
apparent from a distance, they made for a great novelty once you were close
enough. Production requirements are the same as for any verbena, and this would
make a great addition to a novelty line for any retailer.


Pacific Plug and Liner also had a variegated nemesia, also
from Cohen Propagatin Nurseries, with broad bands of cream throughout the
foliage and white to pale pink flowers. I have seen a couple of new releases of
variegated nemesia on the market, and so far, only pale colored flowers are
available. But should these forms prove to hold up, we should see new colors in
the next few years. Lastly, there were some phenomenal herbs on display at
Pacific Plug and Liner as well, but more on those later. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 


Many thanks to all the great companies who hosted visitors
this year at Pack Trials.

About The Author

Rick Schoellhorn is extension specialist at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. He can be reached by phone at (352) 392-1831 X364 or E-mail at

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