Perennials and Plenty of Them at California Spring Trials

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News and commentary for the perennial market GrowerTalks MagazineGreen Profit Magazine

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Paul Pilon Subscribe
Perennial Pulse

2017 Spring Trials
Best Perennial Display
Kieft Seed/Darwin
Dümmen Orange
Syngenta Flowers
Proven Winners
Terra Nova Nurseries

2017 Spring Trials

I know what you’re thinking: “Here’s another newsletter covering California Spring Trials.” Before you decide you’ve seen enough coverage of Spring Trials and move this newsletter to the place many newsletters ultimately end up, I’d like to ask you to stick with me because Perennial Pulse is the only newsletter that focuses entirely on perennials. Unlike the other editors who must cover all annuals, perennials and a handful of shrubs, I get to remain focused and seek out the absolutely best plants Spring Trials has to offer – I’m speaking of perennials, of course.

Terra Nova Nurseries at the 2017 Spring Trials

My 2017 perennial trial experience entailed two jam-packed days full of intense travel and visiting 10 of the 16 trial sites. I arrived into Los Angeles on Monday evening and began my Spring Trails journey in Oxnard Tuesday morning, logged over 500 miles on the rental car and attempted to fly out of San Jose Wednesday night. Due to severe weather in the Southeast, my flight was cancelled, but I was one of the lucky ones who did manage to make it home the following day. Without further ado, here's a sampling of some of the 2017-18 introductions.

Award for Best Perennial Display

Before I dive into the new introductions, I wanted to give the 2017 Perennial Pulse Spring Trials Best Perennial Display Award to a company which had, in my opinion, the best overall perennial displays. There’s no ribbon, plaque or cash award for this honor, just bragging rights from now until the next Spring Trials. The first recipient is …

Pacific Plug & Liner


Pacific Plug & Liner (PP&L) is not a breeding or marketing company; they're a propagator who produces plugs and liners from several different company’s genetics (Ball, Darwin, Dümmen Orange, Intrinsic Perennials, PanAmerican/Kieft Seed, Plants Noveau and Syngenta Flowers) for the industry. “Camp Perennials” was the overall theme of PP&L’s perennial displays. There were eight separate display areas (campsites), each with its own focal plant, such as dianthus, echibeckia, lavender, grasses and even a perennial talent show (above). 

I’d like to not only acknowledge PP&L for putting together such a great Spring Trials venue, but give loads of credit to the creative director April Herring-Murray and camp counselor Brandi for transitioning their vision into a wonderful reality. Previously, I only thought about s’mores and campfire songs when thinking of camping -- now thanks to PP&L, perennials will always come to mind. Great job!!!

Now let’s look at some of the new perennial introductions.

Kieft Seed/Darwin Perennials

Dianthus Rockin’ Red

Dianthus x barbatus interspecific hybrid Rockin’ Red is a new first-year flowering perennial from Kieft Seed. Like its name suggests, Rockin’ Red simply rocks with its vivid red flowers -- probably the richest red I’ve seen on any dianthus. This thriller performs in containers and landscapes alike. In the landscape, it grows 18- to 24-in. tall and flowers atop strong stems. No worries for perennial growers, as it can easily be kept at a reasonable size with paclobutrazol spray applications. This great dianthus will be rockin’ in landscapes throughout USDA Hardiness Zones 5a to 8b (possibly even to Zone 4).

Lavender Bandera Pink

Lavenders continue to be incredibly popular perennials. Bandera Pink joins Bandera Purple as the only seed-propagated, professional-quality L. stoechas cultivars on the market. Both are considered breeding breakthroughs in this category (congrats Kieft Seed for this awesome accomplishment). Bandera Pink has a compact to medium growth habit (7- to 9-in. tall) with excellent branching and uniformity. This first-year flowering lavender features large, soft pink flags ("banderas" in Spanish) on spikes with deep rose flowers. Great variety for bench run programs. Although, it’s only hardy to Zone 7a, Bandera Pink would make a great annual in containers.

Salvia nemorosa Rose Marvel 

Colored salvia are in high demand (besides shades of blue) and this new rose-colored cultivar from Darwin Perennials might be just what you’ve been looking for. Rose Marvel (sister to Blue Marvel) has the largest flowers of any of the rose-colored cultivars on the market. The flowers have a rich, deep rose coloration; did I mention, Rose Marvel has a long flowering window and reblooms without being cut back? Hardy in Zones 4a to 9b.

Armeria Dreamaria Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams from Darwin Perennials is one of the most talked about new perennials at Spring Trials. With its long blooming season, this new armeria hybrid is considered a breeding breakthrough. Just how long does it bloom? From early spring to fall; that’s right -- four full months of flower power. Sweet Dreams develops loads of lavender-colored, ball-shaped flowers held nicely above the foliage on compact stems. It gets even better: Sweet Dreams is heat, drought and salt (coastal landscapes) tolerant and continues to flower under these conditions. If you like the looks of allium, give this long-blooming look-alike a try. Hardy to Zone 6.

Dümmen Orange

Leucanthemum Sweet Daisy Cher

Sweet Daisy Cher is a new spider type shasta daisy from Dümmen Orange. She’s a first-year flowering leucanthemum -- that’s right, no vernalization requirement. Sweet Daisy Cher has a compact growing habit (10-in. tall) and blooms profusely. This is a great item for nearly all container sizes 1-qt. up to 2-gal. sized pots. Sweet Daisy Cher produces attractive containers when grown by itself or used in combinations. Hardy to at least Zone 5, possibly even to Zone 4.

Phlox Early Purple Pink Eye

Talk about flower power: check out the blooms on Phlox Purple Pink Eye from Dümmen Orange. It’s both ridiculous and awesome at the same time, right? Early Purple Pink Eye is a new addition to the Early series of garden phlox. Like the name suggests, Early Purple Pink Eye blooms two to three weeks earlier than most other Phlox paniculata cultivars. Early flowering and loads of blooms -- sure to be a crowd pleaser. Hardy to Zone 4.

Syngenta Flowers

Delphinium Delphina Dark Blue White Eye

This may very well be a game changer for the delphinium market. Delphina Dark Blue White Eye from Syngenta Flowers is the first naturally compact cultivar on the market. It reaches just 20 in. when blooming and unlike most Delphinium elatum cultivars, Delphina Dark Blue White Eye doesn't require growth regulator applications to produce nice-looking plants. From what I’m told, they’re very uniform and don't flower erratically. Delphina Dark Blue White Eye delivers exactly what its name promises; very dark blue flowers with white eyes. If you’re looking for a new compact, reliable delphinium, give this one a try. Hardy to Zone 3.

Leucanthemum Western Star Taurus

At first glance, Western Star Taurus (introduced last year) looks like a typical shasta daisy, however, like you’ve been raised, never judge a book by its cover. What does Western Star Taurus have that the others don't? Early flowering -- it's currently the earliest blooming cultivar available. It’s considered to be cold beneficial, as vernalization decreases the time to flower and increases the uniformity of bloom. If you’re looking for a compact (14-in. tall), early flowering shasta daisy that allows for bench-run shipping, look no further. Hardy to Zone 4.

Proven Winners

Proven Winners had 21 new perennial introductions for 2018 at Spring Trials. I shared four of them with you at the beginning of the year (click here to check them out). Here’s a couple more Proven Winners perennials with potential.

Dianthus Fruit Punch Cherry Vanilla

I know there are tons of dianthus on the market, but few get and hold my attention as well as Proven Winner’s Fruit Punch Cherry Vanilla does. It has 1.5-in., fully double carnation-like flowers. The blooms are deep red and have sharply contrasting light pink picotee edges. They’re sweetly scented and held proportionately above the narrow, blue-green foliage. Cherry Vanilla grows just 8-in. tall and is hardy all the way to Zone 4a.

Heuchera Primo Wild Rose

Looking for an easily distinguishable heuchera. Look no further than Proven Winner’s Primo Wild Rose. Don’t let the name fool you -- there’s nothing wild about this one. It actually has a rather tame, dense growth habit (10 in. high and 20 in. across). Primo Wild Rose is quite attractive with its bright rosy purple leaves and dark charcoal gray veining. Don’t just look at the foliage, though; the burgundy rose flower scapes with rosy pink flowers are quite attractive as well. This Zone 4 coral bells is definitely worth trying.

Plant Haven

Corydalis Porcelain Blue

Out of all the new introductions I saw at Spring Trials, Porcelain Blue is the one I was the most drawn to and would definitely want in my landscape (hint, hint). This new Corydalis flexousa cultivar from PlantHaven develops lots of vivid blue flowers above its fern-like blue green foliage. Porcelain Blue produces its main flush of flowers in the early spring, but will profusely bloom again in the late summer/early fall. This easy-to-grow perennial can be grown in full sun or full shade and can tolerate a great deal of heat and humidity, too (no summer dormancy). Hardy to Zone 5.

Terra Nova Nurseries

Scabiosa Vivid Imagination

Who doesn’t love a great variegated perennial? Well, I definitely do and Terra Nova’s new Scabiosa Vivid Imagination sure hit the spot. Vivid Imagination has lemon-edged leaves and very colorful lavender flowers. This scabiosa is attractive with or without blooms, but, thankfully, you can have the best of both worlds since it flowers throughout the year. Unlike other scabiosa cultivars, Vivid Imagination stays in nice tight mounds all season long. This variegated pincushion flower has tons of potential. Hardy to Zone 5.

Lewisia Constant Coral

Good things come in small packages. That’s exactly what I think when I see this petite wonder. The "Constant" in its name refers to its continuous bloom (spring to fall) and also refers to its excellent survivability in most greenhouse and nursery conditions. Although it’s small, just 4-in. high, Constant Coral produces tons of coral pink flowers atop its vigorous deep green leaves. Easy to grow, but still likes to have good drainage (I don’t like wet feet, either). Its ease of production, diminutive size, long bloom time and Zone 4 hardiness would make Constant Coral a valuable addition to most perennial programs.

Oh, there’s so much more I’d like to share with you that space just didn’t allow in this issue. How about I finish my Spring Trials coverage in the next newsletter? Look for the next Perennial Pulse in a couple of weeks.

Take care,

Paul Pilon
Perennial Pulse

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