Editors’ Pick of the Pack By Brandi D. Thomas and Bridget White

With new sites and more companies exhibiting in 2002, theCalifornia Pack Trials keep getting bigger and bigger, and GPN has expanded itscoverage to reflect this growth. This month and next, we'll present thePack Trials from several different perspectives, starting right here with someof the varieties our editors thought were really outstanding.

In order to get good coverage, GPN's editors took thedivide and conquer method — Brandi tackled the Northern sites and Bridgettook the South. The following recommendations reflect this division. Thosecompanies in the North were reviewed by Brandi, the south by Bridget. Ourthanks goes out to all the host companies for their hospitality.

Southern California Breeders

Ball FloraPlant.With over 100 new varieties this year, you might think it would be hard to picka couple of plants that stood out, but everyone in my group went crazy over thenew Bacopa introductions, specifically the Jamesbrittenia Bacopa Breeze series.Fuller than Sutera Bacopas, Jamesbrittenia Bacopas make full, attractivestand-alone baskets. They feature good heat tolerance and a nicely moundinghabit that leaves no bare centers. Available in Indigo, Lavender, Pink andUpright White.

The new Bacopa Breeze collection, as well as the Sutera-typeAbundas, is part of Ball's recently introduced Fall Color Program, a newmarketing program that seeks to help growers capitalize on the popularity offall gardening. Ball has gathered together plants that fit our ideas of fall,both in their color options as well as their environmental needs, and areproviding growers the marketing and cultural information to move these plantsat retail.

Benary. Maybeit's the bright colors or the large flowers or the sheer variety, but inmy mind, Benary's annual Rudbeckias are the best available. Offeringsinclude eight Fleuroselect winners and one AAS winner (see GPN May 2002 forfull coverage). From the pale yellow florets of 'Toto Lemon' to thebronze and reds bursts in 'Autumn Colors', it's all here.Benary offers five new Rudbeckias this year and one improvement: 'TotoLemon', 'Toto Rustic', 'Cordoba', 'PrairieSun', 'Autumn Colors' and 'Goldilocks' Improved.

One more quick mention from Benary is a new program they arecalling FastraX. FastraX refers to a line of perennials that are easy toproduce and flower without vernalization the first year from seed. With noextra cost for vernalization and quicker crop times, this program should allowmore growers to make more money with perennials. Not all Benary perennials arein the FastraX program; your sales rep can detail the offerings.

Bodger Botanicals.Consumers go for the new and exciting; produce an odd new plant, andthey're excited. So what makes Bodger's new pentas line sointeresting? Because it's the exact opposite. Amid all of the new formsand colors, pentas are a welcome bit of nostalgia, and Bodger's pentasare outstanding. Available in pink (shown), rose, white (shown) and cerise, theLava series features large plants with sturdy stems so the extra large flowersdo not need staking, making these a perfect landscape plant. These are not yourgrandmother's pentas — they are best in 4- to 6-inch production andshould bring a premium.

EuroAmerican Propagators. Capitalizing on one of the biggestnew gardening trends in years, EuroAmerican has developed a line they call"Black Magic and Purple Passion" — a collection of plantswith dark foliage or flowers. Varieties include Ajuga reptans'Mahogany', Coleus hybrid 'Merlot', Colocasia esculenta'Black Magic', Graptophyllum pictum 'Black Beauty',Ipomoea batatas 'Black Heart' and Trifolium repens 'DarkDancer'. Debuting with six foliage/component plants, the line is expectedto rapidly expand over the next few years, adding different textures and colorsto the palette. With colors ranging from burgundy to purple to nearly black,this line should gain quick acceptance for the contrast it offers to standardgreen component plants, as well as the way it highlights bright colors likeyellow and white.

Fischer. Known fortheir geraniums and New Guineas, Fischer did not disappoint this year. Fourteengeraniums and fifteen New Guineas were introduced, including what many believeis the biggest introduction in New Guineas sinceÉwell, since forever.Though circumstances didn't allow Fischer to have a live specimen oftheir breakthrough yellow New Guinea at the Pack Trials, I was fortunate enoughto see it last month and can tell you that it deserves all the hype.'Vision Yellow's' pale-yellow flowers are contrasted againstdark green leaves for a totally new look.

With all the brightly colored New Guineas and geraniumsaround, it's kind of hard to focus on something like packaging — afterall, it's not very "sexy"Ñbut you need to hear aboutFischer's ener-G propagation system. Designed of heavy, 60-mil strips,the cells feature vertical ribs to direct root growth downward and into theplug and open bottoms for easier pruning. According to Fischer, ener-G plugswill cut 5-7 days off crop time.

GroLink. What couldpossibly be exciting about a mum? Innovation, irreverence, exploration. Thepast couple of years, GroLink has been gaining U.S. marketshare with varietiesthat are redefining the way we ç think about chrysanthemums. Their newleaf types, flower shapes and colors have been a much-needed boost to thesagging pot mum market. This year's introductions show GroLink embracingtraits and forms that don't fall into the "traditional" mumcategory. One of the most interesting shapes at the trial featured clusters offlowers held upright over the foliage to form a tight flower canopy. And foryou old mum growers out there, yes, these plants had been disbudded; this isjust a different look in mums. Offerings include 'Movie Time' and'Babe Time'.

Oglevee. One sureindication that a plant is making a comeback is several breeders with new colorintroductions, and this year, we saw at least three breeders with new regals.While this certainly isn't a new category, the new introductions willmake you totally forget the gangly, overgrown, sporadic-blooming beasts in yourpast. The most notable of this year's new regal geraniums has to beOglevee's 'Elegance Pink Chiffon'. The soft pink flowers havedarker throats and epitomize the elegance characteristic of this plant type.Elegance Pink Chiffon has very large flowers and will grab attention at retail,especially when presented in larger formats.

Pan American. PanAmerican has put a lot of marketing muscle behind the Wave petunia, andconsumers do recognize the brand. But every grower with Waves on their benchknows what a challenge they are to grow — very prostrate plantsimmediately send out runners, and the bench becomes a tangled mess. Notanymore. The next generation, the Easy Wave, promises ease of flowering and amore controlled habit during production. According to PanAmerican, Easy Wavepetunias mound during production and only start the characteristic Wave spreadat retail or in the landscape. Color options include Pink, Cherry, Shell Pinkand White.

If you still need some control on the Easy Waves,PanAmerican has another new offering this year. They have collected together aseed culture research package that gives specific advice on PGR applications,light exposure and daylength requirements. This is not general cultureinformation; it is quick, specific instructions for producing the best crop Ñ"Apply B9 weekly at 5,000 ppm to Easy Wave to control plant size andpromote branching."

Paul Ecke Ranch. Ifyou're looking for a single genera with a wide color range, differentflower forms and untapped market potential, you need to be looking atEcke's Argyranthemums. Six new additions to the line make for a total ofnine offerings that range from white to hot pink and single to triple, and thedaisy look of these plants is a consumer favorite. Features include an upright,mounding habit and good garden performance, and because Agyranthemums grow wellunder cool conditions, they are a great season extender. New varieties include'Bright Carmine', 'Strawberry Pink','Sunlight', 'Blazer Rose', 'Sugar Cheer'and 'White Crystal'.

Proven Winners. Thirty-six new varieties with four newgenera made for an appealing presentation, and from my perspective, the osteosç stole the show. PW adds two new color offerings to their popularSymphony series, 'Peach Symphony' and 'VanillaSymphony', and even before its introduction, you can tell how successfulthe peach is going to be. The dark purple throat contrasted against the lighterpetals make for a catching display, and as an added bonus, petals darken nicelywith age from a creamy white to almost peach. Peach and Vanilla fit in nicelywith the rest of the series, offering heat tolerance and a mounding habit.

Selecta Klemm. Amongthe great new Calibrachoa, New Guinea and geranium colors Selecta presented,their new direction in potted carnation breeding deserves some of thespotlight. Starting with next year's introductions, this effort, startedseveral years ago, will become more standardized as like colors are introducedin three sizes: compact, medium and vigorous. Pictured are some of thevarieties to be released next year illustrating the different habits. Thisyear's pot carnation introductions include 'Peggy','Hobbit' and 'Sarah'.

Twyford. IfCalibrachoas have been a hot category, then Twyford's new introductionsare going to make the market sizzle. The new colors in the Starlette series,'Starlette Rose Pink' and 'Starlette Deep Yellow' arenice, solid-shaded vivid colors, and next year's introduction'Starlette Terra Cotta' might be the best Calibrachoa color on themarket. The variation from bright pink through peach to yellow will make anirresistible basket. The best of Twyford's Calis, though, is a new lineof minis being introduced this year with 'Milky Way Light Blue'.Plants have a nice, mounding habit and are covered in blooms, and to make itnice for growers, they are very daylength neutral.

Northern California Breeders

American Takii. Fromafar it was apparent that American Takii is proud of its pansy collection, as arainbow-shaped planting design drew the eye toward their multi-coloredselection of these traditional favorites. Your eyes may glaze over at themention of yet another new pansy, but Takii's F1 Nature Series — acollection of mini pansies Ñdeserves recognition.

Though a preexisting series, one of three new colors reallycaught my eye because I had not seen an orange pansy as strong as 'NatureOrange'. The Nature series features the hardiness and free-floweringcharacteristics of a viola, along with earliness, a compact but vigorous habitand constant color. The series is also good for both spring and fall floweringin pots, packs and containers. Available in nine colors and a formula mix.

D¾hnfeldt.When you think of Denmark-based D¾hnfeldt, you naturally think gerberas,a category that continues to ç grow in popularity. If you've seenenough of D¾hnfeldt's marketing materials, you probably also thinkof the Festival series' signature ladybug logo. New to this series arespider-flowered varieties, in Yellow Orange, Salmon Red Shades and a SpiderMix. I was particularly enamored of the playful flowers in the Spider Mix,whose hues vary from a pale pink to yellow to red. These varieties exhibitFestival characteristics, including a 95-percent germination rate, uniformseedlings and a tight flowering window, saving labor in hand-selecting finishedplants. This series also offers point-of-sale materials that present a sellingadvantage to retail customers.

A new D¾hnfeldt gerbera feature this year is theFestival Pro Coat seed coating, which helps avoid "double sows" andincreases sowing efficiency by making seed separation easier by hand orautomatic seeders. Pro Coat also decreases dusty conditions for the seeder andprovides good visibility — bright yellow — in the plug tray.

Golden State Bulb Growers. Comprehensive would be the best word to describe Golden State'scalla trial. Though they only featured four new varieties, the way they hadeach variety organized — existing and new — made this trialrigorous. Each variety was represented in three tiers to indicate the targetcustomer — florist, garden center and big box — so you could seedifferences in the tubers used.

My favorite was 'Fire Glow', with red-burgundyalong the outer spathe that fades into a yellow-cream toward the center. Theblooms, measuring 1 3/4-2 3/4 inches in diameter by 2 1/2-3 1/2 inches deep,are smoothly wrapped and well rounded. Foliage is full and somewhat upright,with arrow-shaped leaves that have variable spotting.

Fire Glow was one of four varieties that showcased GoldenState's new High Input Potted Product (HIPP) program. HIPP offers themost vigorous and cleanest-possible stock and allows the product to be tailoredto the pot producer's needs. Plants are more compact; require less Bonzi;produce an exceptionally high number of breaks with more, yet smaller, flowers;and allow the grower to get more plant using a smaller tuber.

Goldsmith. Goldsmithalways puts on a good show, and the number of new varieties they had to offerthis year — both vegetative and seed — was nothing short ofamazing. The editor's pick from Goldsmith was a difficult one, but Icouldn't help returning to visit the new line of vegetative, trailingsnapdragons, the 'Dragon' series. The favorite color: 'DragonBronze', with dainty, salmon-orange flowers with bronzy centers. Thesevarieties were bred to be earlier, offer uniformity in flowering time andfeature a mounding habit covered with blooms. They're ideal for 4-inchpots, larger containers and hanging baskets. All colors — Bronze, LightPink, Pink, Rose, Ivory, Crimson, Yellow, Magenta and White — appeareduniform in flower coverage at the trial, although habits range from compact tovigorous.

Kieft Seeds. KieftSeeds had 33 new varieties at the trials this year, including a new series ofgerbera called 'Revolution' and many additions to their PrimePerennial Collection. My preference, however, was for an annual — the newCelosia 'Kosmo Purple Red'. A genetically dwarf, spicata-typecelosia, this long-flowering variety is perfect for 4-inch pots and packs. Ithas a central spike surrounded by many smaller spikes that creates bursts ofcolor above deep green foliage. Purple Red does not require growth regulator orpinching and has good shelf life, color stability and excellent transportquality.

S&G Flowers.Bedding plants don't have to be an old, tired category when the color isas vibrant as the Florever series we saw at S&G. Bred to be pollen-free,these geraniums don't set seed so they flower continuously, from summerinto fall. Early flowering gets plants off the bench early, and uniformflowering time makes shipping easy. Four colors are offered, including DeepRose, Red, Salmon and Violet — the color that had the greatest"wow" factor. Violet is so bright it's practically neon andhas deep green foliage with a dark zone.

S&G also has a new Web site for placing and checkingorders at GreenDemon.net. It emails your order confirmation in approximately 10minutes, allows you to change orders and automatically filters out items thatare no longer available.

Sakata. Who canresist ranunculus? Sakata added a new color to their F1 Hybrid BloomingdaleSeries, Purple Shades, the 12th member of this group. This series was bred forshort, sturdy flower stems with large, full, double flowers and small foliage.The plants are genetically dwarf and suitable for pots, patios and landscaping.Ranunculus love cool weather and will flower before most bedding plants, whichwill help save on heating costs.

Suntory. Newcalibrachoa appear to be popping up everywhere, but Suntory's new'Cosmos Pink' was particularly enrapturing with its mauvy, 1-inchflowers. With a perky, upright habit, Cosmos Pink's form is identical tothat of the golden yellow 'Terra Cotta'. Also new to this seriesare 'Red', whose flowers are slightly smaller than Cosmos Pink, and'Trailing Red Purple', whose trailing habit makes it perfect forcontainers and hanging baskets. All varieties in the Million Bells series bloomprofusely into fall, have self-cleaning flowers and are hardy to 15¡ F.

Yoder Brothers.While Yoder is known for its pot and garden chrysanthemums, this company hasmany other great varieties that are gaining exposure through the Flower Fieldsbrand, include angelonia, bacopa, calibrachoa and nemesia, as well as my pickÑ their dwarf dahlias, Dahlietta and Dahlinova. The most striking of the10 new cultivars in this group was 'Dahlietta Patricia', which hasa light orange flower with red variable stripes and spots, and medium-greenfoliage. The extra-large, double blooms on this plant grow up to three inches,will continue throughout the summer and are ideal for 4- to 5-inch pots orcombination planters.

Brandi D. Thomas and Bridget White

Brandi D. Thomas is associate editor and Bridget White is editor of GPN

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