by Steve Wagner
“The beds are labeled alphabetically, A through X, East to West,” Sinclair Adam tells Trial Garden attendees. Greenhouse growers and horticulturists who have an interest could be seen carrying a 100-page booklet which is the cultivar list featuring plant bed maps, varieties of plants, their donors and their location in what may rightfully be called the grand scheme of these above ground trials. Prior to Adam’s conducted Tour de Botanicals, plant professionals walked around studying these genera, ordinary and exotic, making notes and considering what might be on the minds of their potential consumers.
Stepping into one of the netted tunnels, Adam told those following inside, and those strolling parallel outside, that the “A and B bed contain the factory combination plants, where you see blue flags that indicates the plant received a Superior rating on the first rating. We do four ratings a year here, and we rate plants for uniformity, flowering, foliar quality and overall growth. Those four numbers are then averaged, and we put those numbers into the National Trial Data Base as we get to the end of the season.” Adam noted after stopping at a three combination Angelonia that when three plants of the same genus are in a container, usually they play fair throughout the year. When there are different species in the container, sometimes one plant overwhelms the other two. It’s something they evaluate and are put into the comments for rating.
Moving to a Dummen’s Confetti Garden where three Coleus were in a container, Adam commented, “I think this was a really good idea; it is performing well both in the hanging basket and standing pot. The coleus has evolved significantly since I first got acquainted with them. These are not your grandmother’s coleus that we’re looking at today.” As they go through the season, Adam footnotes that he tries to get one rating in at the beginning part of September so that when you look at the database or their website you can actually see how the plants did at varying intervals along the way.
Out in the field, Adam explains that wind activity sometimes causes a diminishing of coleus growth depending on where they are situated in relation to the wind. “We have tremendous winds out here,” Adam says, which defines the plant plane on which these trial plants are situated, “and we had 20-30 mph winds for several days after we got everything planted. It was very stressful for the trial director.”
Walking over to another coleus, the cultivar 13-13-9 Chartres Street, Adam said “This is the case here; you can obviously see the one on the western flank is smaller than the other two, the result of wind stress creating a little bit of growth diminishment on this plant. We don’t pinch the flowers, we don’t prune and pinch the coleus. We just leave them alone.” This way they can track the natural growth habit.
Arriving at geraniums, “You see we did have a battle with the beetles,” Adam said. “There’s so much turf here that we really can’t afford to treat all the turf areas to keep the beetles in check. I tried to get some folks to enter single peonies, which are nectar support for the wasps that feed upon the Japanese beetles when it’s in the ground. Nobody entered any.” Adam then called attention to the Angelonias, saying they were really improved. “I’ve seen some lovely things come through this group. If you go back on our web and look at pictures from 2002 and 2003, Angelonia colors were bland. Flowers per unit of stem were diminished compared to what we are seeing today. These have evolved significantly; there are really strong colors. Folks who operate retail outlets are telling me that these strong colors just walk out of the garden center, as opposed to some of the more pastel hues.” He added that the Archangel Cherry Red from Ball FloraPlant was the richest color he had seen in the program. It did well last year and is probably noteworthy for its uniformity. Late last year at the Poinsettia Trials, that was also the case, where rich colors outsold pastel shades every time.
“This was here last year,” said Adam as he pointed to Lemon Coral Sedum from Proven Winners. “It received a high award on the first rating, straight 5’s. That’s what we do… one to five. One means inferior, not likely to be chosen for much; and five is best of the best. The more you feed this, the greener it gets.”
Adam then stepped over to ornamental peppers. “For the past three years, I’ve put Black Pearl Peppers out, randomly in the program. This year they were actually entered by PanAmerican Seed. It’s a gorgeous plant; these peppers just glisten,” he said. “We’re letting these go to fruit. You’ll see some purple peppers placed throughout the beds. They are being de-peppered. We keep the peppers off so that the pirate bugs have a nectar source. It has been proven at North Carolina State University and Hoffman Nursery; they did a research project around 2003 or 2004, and those plants were shown to be excellent pirate bug support plants. Pirate bugs are one of the wonderful things we have to control thrips, aphids, and they’ll even attack spotted spider mites. They’re really an asset in a program like this.”
Another PanAmerican Seed offering this year is the new Dracula variety of Celosia. Last year, Dragon’s Breath was offered. Adam says he can’t give these guys enough credit for coming up with catchy names. “You could sell this in the garden center, and say ‘Fangs for the Celosia.’” The Atomic Light Pink has “a real nice subtle color if folks are into pastel,” Adam noted. “But this Kelos Atomic Neon and the Atomic Purple are much stronger colors and have a much richer texture to them, and they will brighten up in a planting. Our friends at Beekenkamp do an excellent job with celosias, dahlias, begonias, and we love to see their material.”
Not your grandmother’s Coleus
by Steve Wagner