As a breeder of some of the most recognizable perennial varieties on the market, Walters Gardens often runs up against the challenge of meeting the needs of its client growers as well as the needs of the gardeners who end up with their plants.
In recent years, demand by growers has increased for lower-profile perennials that can be shipped easily, while gardeners still wanted to bring distinguishing height and presence to their outdoor spaces. Christa Steenwyk, creative director at Walters Gardens, says this change in the market inspired her team to re-think its breeding practices.
"We have found that when breeding perennials, [growers] keep wanting them shorter and shorter, because they want to be able to ship them out on racks - they don't want to have to deal with tall perennials, so it's easier for them to do it,” Steenwyk says. “But we started getting feedback from consumers and independent garden centers that gardeners were looking for layers in their gardens."
The team at Walters Gardens began developing varieties that would work for growers while also giving gardeners the different heights and sizes they’re looking for.
"A great example would be Veronica ‘Blue Skywalker,’ which gets 28 to 30 inches tall, compared to the 12 to 20 inches that you'll see a lot of other veronicas on the market. But it's not very wide, it's narrow and taller, so it'll work in a small garden space," Steenwyk says.
Another trend driving new efforts at Walters Gardens is the rising demand for attention-grabbing plants that don’t require a substantial amount of garden space. With more and more gardeners gravitating toward container plantings, window boxes and compact landscapes, a “noticeable but manageable” approach is gaining traction. People want performance and presence in their gardens, Steenwyk says, but they don’t necessarily want massive standing perennials that overshadow their other plantings.
“They're interested in a native grass, for example, that stays compact so it doesn't fall over, but it's three feet and fits their house instead of the six-feet ones that are too tall and they don't know what to do with,” she says. “But they don't want the one-foot grass. People can walk right up to the house and not see that."
With new homeowners constantly exploring their gardening and landscaping options, it’s becoming increasingly common for gardeners to adapt the “thriller, filler, spiller” formula for container planting and apply it to the landscape. As a result, mounding groundcovers and tall, stand-out perennials are commonly paired in residential landscapes.
Steenwyk says growers and retailers can teach novice gardeners this approach to help them fill their first landscapes.
"People do want to use containers, but a lot of my friends have now invested in an upgrade on their house and they want to do everything right,” she says. “They want to install a landscape and they want it to look beautiful, they want the latest plants, but they also want to know how to do it themselves."
For more perennial solutions and inspiration for your business, visit www.waltersgardens.com.