Spring Trials 2018

Ten years ago the Flower Trials in June in Holland were still in their infancy. The spotlight of publicity was then very much more on the Spring Trials of the leading companies that met the needs of the European producers of bedding and patio plants. These trials were – and still are – held in late April or very early May, a hectically busy time for most growers from Britain and elsewhere in northern Europe, writes John Sutton.

Accordingly, very few growers – even Dutch growers – are able to make time to visit them. The few that do are warmly welcomed, but the Spring Trials have always been primarily for people in the seed and young plant supply business. They come year after year from across the Continent, and some from much further afield, Japan included this year.

For visitors like Jason Eagle of Newey Young Plants and Stuart Donders of Moles Seeds, both at work in Holland in early May this year, the opportunity to look at trials then is perfect. They see plants performing in the conditions and at the time of year that are most important for their customers. Decisions about new varieties in spring can be put into effect in preparing new season catalogues, traditionally released in very late summer and early autumn. Six weeks later, at the time of the Flower Trials in June, it is usually too late.

Syngenta and PanAmerican Seed, the world’s biggest players in the seed-raised ornamentals business, have consistently staged large and comprehensive spring trials. Both continue to do so. Hem Genetics has made its name in seed-raised bedding plants, with genetic dwarfness a major theme of its breeding work throughout the twenty-year history of the business. Their petunia series Limbo and Mambo, and the salvia series Reddy are all naturally dwarf. Spring trials with open days in late April and early May have offered the company its best annual shop window occasion.

For many years Benary’s trials in their German homeland were a major company event. Eight years ago a breeding centre in North Holland was established, and in due course Benary began to invite visitors to their Spring trials there.

One of Europe’s most specialised breeding companies likewise welcomes visitors in the same week. This is ABZ Seed, this year celebrating its 25th anniversary. The business is entirely dedicated to the breeding of seed-raised strawberry varieties.

All five of these companies hold their trials on their own premises within 10km of the historic town of Enkhuizen. This lies about an hour’s drive or rail journey north of Amsterdam. In the past it was important as a port, located as it is on the Zuider Zee (now the Ijsselmeer). The seed industry has a long and continuing history in the area.

Syngenta

Syngenta’s Spring Trials firmly remain a very serious matter. This year there were almost 800 varieties under glass plus another hundred outdoors, of spring-flowering hardy perennials. And forty experimental outdoor container combinations, too!

Syngenta was not short of trumpets to blow this spring, with the impatiens series Imara and the hybrid begonia Top Hat (see Spring Stars panel).

The brightest spotlight otherwise was on pelargonium. The introductions of the interspecific (zonal x ivyleaved) series Calliope and Caliente have proved to be landmark occasions. The Caliente varieties, with their strongly spreading character, have now been re-named Calliope Landscape and Calliope Cascade. And Moxie! is the new name for the range of compact-habit varieties that were previously called Calliope C.

Although the Calliope varieties are now grouped into sub-series according to habit, breeders still find newcomers of outstanding attractiveness that simply do not fit within existing ranges. The new Calliope Pretty Little Pink Splash is one such, and is listed as a stand-alone.

Another Splash is an attractive addition to its series, but in this case the series is the zonal Tango, with White Splash new.

On the trial benches Syngenta’s dahlia assortment contributed as much colour as its pelargoniums. The plant will have a higher profile still in years to come, as the company announced its acquisition of Verwer Dahlias in late April. This brings 140 varieties into the Syngenta portfolio, among them the Gallery series.

In Sunfinity Syngenta has a new sunflower variety very distinct from the popular seed-raised dwarf varieties. A plant primarily for large containers, it is an interspecific sterile hybrid that flowers over a long period, with a proven potential to produce a 3-figure count of flowerheads per plant. It makes a big, branched plant, and growers need both to apply a pinching schedule and PGR.

Among other newcomers is Snaptini, a new dwarf antirrhinum series that will replace the Montego series, and a new seed-raised, large-flowered penstemon series Partybells. There is a new Orange for the gazania series Big Kiss, and two new colours for the seed-raised verbena series Obsession Cascade.

Hem Genetics

Hem Genetics makes its activity as a breeder more clearly apparent to trials visitors than any of its competitors. The annual display on the trials glasshouse benches is both a showcase of its catalogued varieties and a working area for testing breeding work in progress. In the China Pink series Diana, for example, there was the catalogued White to see, with seventeen experimental breeding lines of the colour alongside. This was just out-matched by the eighteen experimental lines alongside Diana Red-centred White.

From previous years’ selection work among Diana experimental lines have come this year’s Diana Pink Improved and Diana Rose Improved. They are two of this year’s crop of twenty improved varieties entering the 2018 catalogue.

The biggest forward pushes have come in the pansy series Cello – eight improved colours – and in viola Corina, with four, including Terracotta. This is not all the Corina news, as there are also four new colours, bringing the total to over twenty.

The company’s Karin de Jong pointed out some of the planned 2019 introductions on the trial benches this year. They included a Red for the recently introduced gazania series Enorma, and a fine new Copper for the antirrhinum series Snappy. An impressive experimental series of tall double flower antirrhinums was placed prominently. This is a taller version of Twinny, the world’s only semi-double F1 hybrid dwarf snapdragon.

Hem Genetics breeds other taller plants too: a three-colour Silene series is a new contribution to choice for larger containers. Another is the cosmos series Cutesy.

Originally working only with seed-raised plants, Hem Genetics has recently diversified into breeding vegetatively-propagated varieties. First triumph has come with the Dahlia Starsister varieties. These are being licensed and marketed in Europe through Beekenkamp Plants.

Benary

Bert is Benary’s new dwarf sunflower. The choice of name is an inspiration – so unlikely a name for a flower variety, it is probably going to prove an easy one for growers and retailers to remember. It is more compact than the popular Sunsation, and needs less PGR. The flowerhead’s central discs are larger, too.

Benary’s other 2018 introductions include two new series of petunia, one of French marigold and one of the much less widely known platycodon. The two petunia series both carry the name of Success! and in this join the recently launched semi-trailing series originally given that name.

Success! HD is quite distinct in habit – a genetically compact multiflora, comparing with Mambo from Hem Genetics and Syngenta’s Duvet. Success! HD Rose Star, one of seven colours, is a 2018 FleuroSelect Gold Medallist. The new Success!360, the third member of the Success! family, is a grandiflora series of standard habit. It is launched in thirteen colours.

Benary’s new French marigold series Super Hero is noticeably more uniform and slightly more compact than the original Hero series, grown alongside for comparison. Super Hero Spry is a 2018 All America Selections winner.

The platycodon series Pop Star is in three colours, blue, pink and white. It will compete with Sakata’s long-established Astra series. A spring pot bedding line, it is perhaps surprising that it has never attracted much interest in the UK, despite the easy appeal of its flowers.

In Benary series already introduced in recent years, new colours and improvement in existing ones continue to come on stream. For example, in the Begonia semperflorens Sprint Plus series there were two new colours and one improvement, and in impatiens Lollipop, three new and five improved.

PanAmerican Seed

The trial benches for PanAmerican Seed’s spring trial featured almost 300 varieties. Nearly 50 were new, and that was not counting the ‘Plug & Play’ combos in medium and large containers. There were sixteen of these, all but five of them new.

Some of the newly introduced individual varieties featured on the trial benches were additions to very well established series. There were six new Sorbet XP varieties, plus the striking new Sorbet Standard variety Yellow Blue Jump Up. And there were three new Cool Waves, including Fire, well worth its place for the colour, though flower size is rather small for this trailing pansy series.

PanAmerican Seed has a big name in seed-raised dianthus. The re-launch of the China Pink series Corona will help maintain it. Corona Salmon Red Eye is a promising experimental. Last year’s dianthus introduction, the interspecific perennial Rockin’ Red, attracted keen visitor interest at the BallColegrave Summer Showcase. Sales manager Joop Kooijman said that breeding as now well under way to add sister varieties of other colours.

Big Blue is an interspecific hybrid, too, but the genus here is salvia. It is similar to Mystic Spires, but is seed-propagated. A big item, making a final height of up to 90cm, its main potential is seen as an extended season line in containers.

The seed-raised calibrachoa series Kabloom has a new, deep colour in Kabloom Denim. There are three new colours for the zinnia series Zahara, and there is a new dwarf sunflower SunBuzz, bred for high density production, and scoring well in garden performance for putting out secondary flowers.

The improved multiflora pansy Halloween II is almost as black as flowers can be. And Double the Sun is a semi-double coreopsis, a first year flowering perennial with flowers as large as Early Sunrise, but produced around two weeks earlier.