Cruising for new plants

Features - New Varieties

The California Spring Trials offer up energizing new varieties to boost sales

May 23, 2012
Kelli Rodda
New Varieties

The GIE Media Horticulture Group cruised the California Spring Trials this year to see what breeders and growers will introduce in 2012 and 2013. We traveled from San Francisco to San Diego and saw some dazzling colors, interesting habits and all-around exciting plants. Here's a sampling of some of the superb varieties displayed this year. And be sure to visit the Garden Center website's multimedia section ( for videos from the entire seven-day adventure.

The angelonia Serenita Series from PanAmerican Seed is shorter and more manageable than Serena on the bench and in the garden. This new series is ideal for hot and humid night temperatures like in Florida and other southern areas. It’s good for mixed combos where a shorter structure plant is desired. Colors include lavender pink, purple, raspberry and white.

Argyranthemum frutescens Sassy Red from Syngenta features red daisy flowers with yellow centers. It’s bred for excellent branching and a mounding habit. Flowers are self-cleaning. Earliness to flower makes Sassy well suited to early spring sales, but Sassy Red is also good for fall sales.

Go-Go Rose Bicolor begonia
from Goldsmith Seeds features large white flowers with petals edged in shades of rose. Flowers are fully double. It’s ideal for finishing 4-inch crops, yet vigorous enough for larger pots and baskets.

Begonia Million Kisses Series from Ball Ingenuity is the most vigorous trailing begonia series on the market, and offers excellent branching and free flowering habit. Earlier, larger blooms make a timely and brilliant display in containers at retail with great flower power. The new Honeymoon selection adds a yellow color for the shade. Ball Ingenuity’s begonia Bon Bon Series is very showy in a basket and free-flowering all summer. The new Cherry Bon Bon has more flowers on a more rounded/mounded plant than Sherbet, with similar timing.

Benary’s new begonia Nonstop Red provides non-stop color and an improved flower response. It features intense bright red flower color, smaller leaves and improved plant habit for premium containers and hanging baskets. It replaces Deep Red in the series.

Begonia Santa Cruz Sunset from Benary is the first Begonia boliviensis from seed. It’s a great choice for landscapes, hanging baskets or containers, and it tolerates extreme heat and weather conditions. Santa Cruz Sunset doesn’t need pinching, saving growers time and money. It features larger flowers that are 5 inches wide and beefier, dark green foliage.

Sparks Will Fly begonia
from Burpee Home Gardens has orange blooms that burst off rich bronze foliage. It blooms from early spring to late summer. It brings a sparkle to the shade.

Colocasia ‘Hawaiian Punch’
from PlantHaven is a tantalizing treat from the tropics. Green foliage is complemented by the red margin and red veins on the underside of the foliage. ‘Hawaiian Punch’ will work well in pots or in the ground. The stems are really sturdy to boot, which hold up those big, glossy leaves. It’s hardy to Zone 7b.

The flowers of the Coreopsis Big Bang ‘Mercury Rising’ from Skagit Gardens are a velvety deep red – like a curtain on the window in the French Quarter. And the flowers really do look like velvet. The flower color doesn’t fade in the summer heat. Grow in full sun. ‘Mercury Rising’ is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. It grows up to 18 inches tall and wide.

Fleur en Vogue Series of cyclamen from Goldsmith Seeds is a new series that offers breeding breakthrough in flower form for the cyclamen pot and floral market. Distinctive, large, unique flowers are held centrally upon a standard-sized plant habit. Downward-facing petals with contrasting sepals create a totally fresh and stylish look for a premium pot plant.

The EverLast Dianthus series from Darwin Perennials solves the No. 1 complaint from perennial gardeners: short bloom time. EverLast flowers continuously bloom throughout the seasons. The double flowers bloom early and stay in bloom, and then reblooms as night temperatures drop in late summer. It’s hardy to Zone 4a. Colors include: Burgundy Blush, Lavender+Eye, Lilac+Eye and Orchid.

Darwin Perennials added two new echinacea. The Sombrero series of echinacea from Darwin Perennials debuted last year with bright, rich colors on well-branched and floriferous plants. New for 2013 is Lemon Yellow, a sunny color for gardens in Zones 4-9. Darwin also introduces no-fade new Cranberry to its Double Scoop double echinacea series. It’s hardy in Zones 4-9. Both series are filled with eye-catching color for great retail appeal. Growers will appreciate their programmability and uniformity. Produce them as first year flowering or overwintered perennials. Both selections flower from June until August.

Gazania Kiss Frosty Red from Goldsmith Seeds has large, round, deep red flowers atop frosty, silver foliage. It’s the ultimate contrast for excellent visual appeal in the landscape. It provides super flower-power for great retail displays and bench appearance, while the silvery foliage provides added contrast on the retail bench. Extends the retail selling period — great choice for hot summer bench-fillers.

The gerbera Cartwheel Series from Goldsmith Seeds features large, semi-double blooms held above tidy, rich green foliage. Cartwheel’s distinctive flower form fits premium programs. Because it’s a seed item, it provides an economical production solution. Well suited for 5-inch or larger premium pot programs.

The gerbera Elephant Series from Goldsmith Seeds offers huge, scarlet flowers held above robust, beefy plants. For the super-premium garden planter, use in 6-inch and larger pots. Thick stems hold up well at retail — no snapping during handling and merchandising. It also flowers throughout the season.

The Helleborus Gold Collection from Skagit Gardens brings new life to winter and early spring-blooming Hellebores. Flowering the first year, they are long blooming, with lots of buds and blossoms. The large flowers are upward and outward facing, making it easy to appreciate their natural beauty. All varieties are evergreen, deer resistant, no-fuss, reliable additions to modern gardens. By following Skagit’s guidelines for the Welcome Spring! and Perfect Perennial! growing programs, growers and retailers can create new sales opportunities and improved cash flow in the off-season with the Helleborus Gold Collection.

Impatiens walleriana
Patchwork Series from Ball Seed were bred to brighten up the shade. The new tricolor Cosmic varieties include Cosmic Burgundy and Cosmic Orange. This low-maintenance, grower-friendly series needs no special culture and works well in direct-stick programs. Delivering non-stop color all season, Patchwork is ideal for premium basket and planter programs.

Syngenta’s Lobelia Techno Heat Upright Light Blue Improved provides strong upright habit ideal for shipping and retail appeal. The improved heat tolerance allows it to flower longer during the heat of the summer. Earliness to flower makes this a great choice for early cool-season sales. Full flowering plants generate high retail appeal.

Magic Carpet Yellow Mecardonia has bright yellow blooms that shoot up straight from the foliage. This new variety from Sakata is extremely early to bloom and is durable enough for high traffic areas, along garden paths or between pavers. Expect color all season long on plants that will reach 2-4 inches in height with a width of 14-18 inches. A native to Argentina, this is one variety that can really take the heat.

Monarda ‘Pardon My Purple’ from Proven Winners is a petite variety that only grows to about a foot tall or less, but the purple flowers are quite large. The dark purple flowers will grace the garden from mid- to late-summer. It’s a hummingbird, butterfly and bee magnet. And one of bee balm’s coolest features is its leaves – they smell like mint when crushed. Plant this where you can observe all the amazing wildlife it attracts. It’s hardy in Zones 4-9.

The Cool Wave spreading pansy from PanAmerican Seed offers the most vigor of any spreading pansy and uses fewer plants per pot. Superior overwintering hardiness makes Cool Wave the earliest pansy to come back in spring. It’s hardy to Zone 5. Cool Wave varieties have been tested during multiple years at U.S. and European trials. Colors include Frost, Violet Wing, white and yellow.

Delta Premium Pure Orange pansy
from Goldsmith Seeds is an upgraded orange with deeper color and larger flowers that now belongs in the elite class of Delta Premium. This core color further extends the range of Premium varieties in the Delta series that all offer uniform, early flowering and well-branched plants that require fewer PGRs. It’s an early bloomer — it reliably hits earliest fall and spring season windows to drive sales. Its non-stretching habit holds longer on the retail bench for increased sales and reduced shrink.

Pansy Inspire Lemon with Blotch from Benary offers a clean, bright yellow — a key color for both spring and fall landscapes. This series was bred to tolerate extreme weather conditions. Inspire Lemon with Blotch fills the pot quickly with excellent presentation at retail. Its timing matches the rest of the Inspire series for a narrow flowering window.

Goldsmith Seeds added two colors to the Karma series of pansy: Karma Rising Sun and Karma Strawberry Cream. Novelty colors with surefire retail appeal are good for both spring and fall sales. Solids, blotched-types and designer bicolors in all shades. Well-branched plants and free-flowering nature offer superior performance on the retail bench.

Spring Matrix pansy from PanAmerican Seed has the tightest bloom window of any spring-flowering pansy, and its design is engineered for shorter days and cooler growing. New Spring Matrix has a more uniform habit and the least stretch of any spring pansy. Its superior plant architecture and exceptional holdability ensure a better-looking retail product. Spring Matrix is available in more than a dozen core pansy colors and five mixes.

Goldsmith Seeds presents its WonderFall Series of trailing pansy. Large pansy flowers are extremely trailing and floriferous, making this a unique “spiller” choice in containers. Its vigorous, well-branching habit requires fewer plants per container and provides continuous flowering in any season. This premium seed item is great for quarts, gallons, hanging baskets and large premium containers.

Blue A Fuse petunia from Burpee Home Gardens features striking three-color blooms that combine shades of violet, yellow and white with a deep purple throat. It’s a stunner in beds and containers. This low-energy input crop is early flowering and has a compact, mounded habit.

Surprise Midnight Cowboy petunia
from Dummen is a vigorous trailing variety. The color is an extremely deep purple which shows as black when there is low light. The color comes out best in full sun when it shows its elegant purple tone.

Petunia F1 Trilog
y is a new series from American Takii that has been bred to help the grower, the retailer and the consumer. Available in seven colors, this series requires fewer growth regulators, lasts longer on the retail shelf and performs in the garden with minimal care. The Trilogy series features uniformity across all colors, a controlled habit resulting in less tangling and breakage, and it has less daylength sensitivity. It has a dome shape, with a height of 12 to 15 inches and a spread of 30 to 36 inches.

Goldsmith Seeds offers the Picobella Cascade Series of trailing petunia. Densely branched and spreading habit combined with dainty flowers all over the plant make Picobella Cascade petunias well suited for the premium basket and jumbo pack segments. Extra-early, uniform flowering extends the season for growing and selling this garden classic.

Ball Ingenuity introduced two new controlled-growth petunia series: Pretty Grand (grandiflora) and Pretty Flora (floribunda). Fewer to no PGRs are needed and both series are suitable for cold-growing. A tight bloom window allows growers to ship everything at the same time. The selections offer better branching with improved airflow versus other compact petunias, so there’s less chance of disease, especially Botrytis. Pretty Grand colors: coral, deep pink, Midnight, red, rose and white. Pretty Flora colors: coral, Midnight, pink, purple, red and white.

Primula Kennedy Irish Drumcliff
from Skagit Gardens features large white flowers that are brushed with a hint of lavender, and the leaves are a dark bronze-purple. These flower from March until May and are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 5.

Primula elatior
Piano Rose Bicolor is a vibrant color addition to this primula series from Benary. The Piano series does not need vernalization. Retailers will love the long lasting show of large flowers and compact plants, even under high heat. Extreme uniformity and a tight flowering window across a wide range of colors makes scheduling easy.

Ranunculus Maché Yellow Improved from Goldsmith Seeds provides the ultimate in consumer appeal, and offers the opportunity for premium prices at a time when consumers are hungry for garden color. It provides show-stopping color in pots or mixed spring containers. It’s a no-brainer for impulse sales.

Rose Eyeconic Pomegranate Lemonade is a beauty with some amazing color. This rose from Conard-Pyle has a splotch, or darker ring of color in the middle. Pomegranate Lemonade’s splotch starts out dark pink and changes to a dark purple. The rose bush is somewhat small and spreading. This new rose will be in garden centers in 2013. It grows up to 18 inches tall and wide.

The Kolorscape rose collection from Kordes (available from Greenheart Farms) will help inspire confidence in the inexperienced gardener. These compact, mounded shrubs have stunning flower power and a generous bloom cycle that will continue until the first hard frost. They are self-cleaning and very heat tolerant throughout the U.S. There are four varieties in the collection. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

An All-America Selections winner, Salvia Summer Jewel Pink offers gardeners an early-blooming, compact Salvia coccinea. Summer Jewel Pink from Takii is a heavily branching variety that produces an abundance of flower spikes loaded with densely packed flowers. The flowers are long lasting, and the plants are full, compact, long blooming and heat tolerant.

ABZ Seeds introduced ‘Toscana’ strawberry, which doubles as an edible and an ornamental plant. It features tasty fruit and copious pink flowers that are dazzling in containers. Flowers are a deep rose color and appear from April through frost. Use it alone in containers or pair it with herbs or other ornamentals.

Sakata has extended its heat-loving line of SunPatiens to include new colors and habits. Compact SunPatiens are bred for smaller container production and offer a strong retail appeal. These plants thrive in high temperatures and high humidity, in the sun or afternoon shade. SunPatiens Compact Orange boasts large, vibrant blooms while SunPatiens Compact White Improved has larger flowers that are a cleaner, clearer white than before. Dense well-branched plants can grow 24-36 inches in height and width and growers will like the cost savings realized since PGR’s are not required. Best of all, SunPatiens are unaffected by powdery mildew. SunPatiens Spreading Carmine Red has striking red blooms that contrast nicely with dark green foliage. The Spreading Series of SunPatiens has a mounding habit—and is ideal in hanging baskets and landscape applications where coverage is key. This variety can grow 30-40 inches in height, and up to 36 inches in width in the garden. The Vigorous Series of SunPatiens provides outstanding performance where fast growing, massive color is essential in the landscape. The strong, V-shaped habit offers sturdy stems that will stay upright for long lasting displays of three-season color. SunPatiens Vigorous Pink brings a pastel color that will work well with the other colors in the series, and will be popular with gardeners too.

The verbena Lanai series from Syngenta has three new colors: Candy Cane, Lime Green and Vintage Rose. Candy Cane is a novelty color that will sell itself. The novelty flower pattern is very stable, even through high heat. Lime Green works well in mix containers with solid flower colors such as red, purple, pink and blue. It has a semi-mounding growth habit, and the ruffled flower edge adds a soft textural element. Vintage Rose also works well in mixed containers with solid flower colors. The contrast of flower color draws consumers’ eyes to combinations. The flower pattern stays stable and doesn’t fade under high night temperatures.

SunStorm Orchid Halo vinca from Goldsmith Seeds are fully-branched plants that resist stretching. Long shelf life maximizes profitability. High-quality flowers give a premium appearance, even when sold in packs and small pots. Heat-loving plants extend the retail sales season into the summer months.

Suntory introduced several varieties at this year’s spring trials. Mandevilla ‘Sun Parasol Garden Crimson’ is the first bedding plant mandevilla. Plants are compact but produce large 3- to 4-inch flowers. Sell as a premium 4-inch item or plant up premium baskets. This dark red mandevilla mixes nicely with ‘Sun Parasol Original White.’ Princettia euphorbias have been wildly successful in Japan and Europe as a premium blooming potted plant. It is positioned for sales in October, November and winter, and spring holidays like Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day. For maximum value, don’t mix them in with typical poinsettias during Christmas.


Suntory has entered a new crop category – roses. Sunrosa landscape roses are more compact and floriferous than others on the market. They are highly disease resistant, low maintenance and flower for a long period of time. Versatile Sunrosa can be planted in small, medium or large planting areas, around patios, as a border and even along roads and on banks. Summer Double Surfinia petunia is the latest introduction in the series. While typical double petunias don’t fare well in the weather, Summer Doubles have extraordinary heat and rain tolerance. They also flower earlier than other doubles and start blooming even in small pots. They have a tight, mounding shape with many branches and are uniform across the colors. Flowers remain stable, even in 90-degree heat. Brachyscome ‘Surdaisy Strawberry Pink’ displays showy pink flowers that are larger and more numerous than a typical brachyscome. Plants are weather resistant, withstanding cold, rain and sun, even mild frosts. These low-maintenance, self-cleaning plants can be enjoyed March through October.

SuperCal is an example of Sakata’s breakthrough breeding—with this variety delivering the best traits of Calibrachoa and petunia. Extra-large flowers in vibrant and unique colors offer a better heat tolerance than either parent, and retailers and gardeners love how the non-sticky foliage allows for an easy, self-cleaning variety. This series is now extended to 11 colors with the addition of SuperCal Artist Rose, SuperCal Blushing Pink and SuperCal Violet. SuperCal is early to flower with low temperature requirements that save money for the grower. The strong roots minimalize disease and pH problems. Ideal for mixed baskets, containers or in the landscape.

Syngenta’s Kwik Kombos, its three-in-one mixed combinations are unrooted cuttings with a seasonality of mixes for all sales windows. Kwik Kombos take the guesswork out of producing eye-catching premium planters and baskets. The plant-and-go process eliminates design and planting errors and simplifies transplanting. Each mix is tested for uniform propagation, finishing ease and similar PGR usage.

Plug Connection is expanding its Tessera Succulents program. Named for the embellishments found in classic mosaic artwork, the Tessera collection offers premium plants in a diverse array of colors, textures and shapes. Retail growers can design a succulent program to suit the needs of their production system and local or regional markets. The collection includes more than 125 varieties of high-demand succulents in 72 or 102 trays.

Hort Couture debuted some snazzy plants at spring trials, including Glamouflage Grape petunia and Blue Zebra primula. Glamouflage Grape features variegated foliage highlighted by brightly colored grape-purple flowers. Blue Zebra wows with blue and white striped flowers with bright yellow-orange centers. It’s part of an early spring program.

The Burpee Home Gardens brand of vegetables and flowers brings six grafted tomatoes to its line for 2013. Using a new twist on a natural, centuries-old technique, the new Bumper Crop promises significantly higher yields, tough disease resistance and delicious fruit bursting with home-grown flavor. Included in Bumper Crop are ‘Big Rainbow,’ ‘Black Krim,’ Brandywine Pink,’ Brandywine Red,’ ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘San Marzano.’ Special POP at retail and packaging will further accentuate the uniqueness of this program. It will be supported through dedicated marketing and consumer promotion.

The new HGTV Home Plant Collection debuted at the California Spring Trials. This soft launch includes select annuals, annual mixed containers and hanging baskets designed to perform well in consumer gardens and outdoor living spaces.

HGTV and Agricola Management Group are managing the collection. Initially, the collection will be available to a select group of the nation’s top retailers and independent garden centers located in key geographic areas, including the West Coast, the Midwest, New England, New York and the Mid-Atlantic. New markets will be added to the collections’ distribution through 2013.

Golden State Bulb revealed some great merchandising ideas for calla lilies throughout the year. Callas can be used for Valentine’s Day sales, Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas.


Kelli Rodda is editor of Nursery Management magazine, a GIE Media publication.