CAST22: That's a Wrap!
Things are beginning to feel more normal these days. We can travel, attend events without masking up, there are fewer Zoom meetings, and California Spring Trials has moved back to its regular time on the calendar.
I actually really enjoyed CAST in June last year. It was much easier to get perennials into flower, plus we got to try something new at the PanAmerican Seed facility in Santa Paula — perennial landscape beds! These turned out fantastic. So good that we thought we’d give it a try again this year. Unfortunately, it was unusually cool (like much of the country is experiencing this Spring) and many items did not size up well. Some even had to be pulled because they got frostbite.
Not to worry, though! We had plenty of plant material in containers that sized up just fine and it all made for a great display.
Below are some of my personal highlights from CAST this year. But before I even get into varieties, the overall highlight would be the Team at PanAmerican Seed in Santa Paula. They did an outstanding job before and during this event. From the growing crew to the grounds crew; from management to logistics; and especially the day-to-day crews that kept everything clean and refreshed. Thank you all for your dedication to this event!
As far as perennials go, here are my highlights from the show.
Delphinium Red Lark
This was certainly the show-stopper and the centerpiece of the Darwin Perennials New Variety buffet. This amazing variety was developed by crossing D. elatum with other species of Delphinium giving it this unique salmon-coral color. Though not a true red, the color does darken up in full sun in the landscape. Several other great attributes this unique breeding brings to this variety:
• A longer-lived, sterile Delphinium. Solidly hardy in zone 5.
• Thick and super strong flower spikes that won’t break during handling
• Very tight flower spikes with no gaps when grown in full sun.
• 10 or more weeks of color with the primary spike and then the secondary flowers.
I’m not sure how this ended up in a 2.5 quart pot at the show. It is intended for 1.5 to 2 gallon containers. Or, try 3 in a larger container like a whiskey barrel for a HUGE retail impact.
Echinacea Sombrero Poco and Echinacea Artisan Collection from Kieft Seed
Echinacea are my favorite perennial by far. I have grown and have nearly all of the Sombreros and Artisans in my gardens. Now, I have to make room for more!
The Sombrero Poco series began in 2021 with the introduction of Poco Yellow and the import of Hot Coral from the Sombrero series. Poco, as the name implies, are compact at 14 in. / 36 cm total height and have the same branching and first-year-flower power that the Sombreros have become known for. New for 2023 are Poco Red, White and Hot Pink. All five colors in the Poco series are very well matched in height and timing, lending themselves well to a large trio container. We also had a nice mixed container display using Poco as a filler (as well as another showing Sombrero being used as a thriller).
Echinacea Artisan are the first F1 hybrid Echinacea on the market. What does this mean? It’s a win all around! It means stronger branching and flower power, better vigor, and greater uniformity in size and color than open pollinated Echinacea. Once referred to as "straight colors from 'Cheyenne Spirit’", Artisan is actually new breeding by Ping Ren (who, by the way, breeds the Sombreros and also bred one of those annual things called Wave Petunia). 2023 sees the introduction of Artisan Yellow Ombre to complement Red Ombre and Soft Orange. Look for more colors of Artisan in the years to come!
Perovskia Bluesette from Kieft Seed
This one brings a whole new market to Perovskia!
• Compact at just 18 in. /45 cm tall, Bluesette brings Perovskia from the back of the garden to the front border.
• Bluesette is long day facultative, meaning it does not have to have long day photoperiod to flower. What does this mean? It means growers can easily have it in flower in the spring, instead of your traditional summer blooming Perovskia.
• How about using Perovskia in a mixed combo? We had some great examples on display showing Bluesette paired with annual Vinca and with Leucanthemum White Lion.
• A vegetative-quality Perovskia from seed!
This was one of those that did not size up well with the very cool nights in Santa Paula. However, we had laminated pictures of Skyward Pink and Skyward Blue from the Costa trials week 10. Skyward is a medium size series at about 18-20 in./46-50 cm, compared to our Moody Blues that size up to 12-14 in. / 30-35 cm (which were selected as a Colorado State University top performer).
Veronica is a crowded class when it comes to breeding, which can make it challenging to identify opportunities for improvements. To do this, Darwin grows out as many comparable varieties as possible to find out what is missing. Where are the market leaders in Veronica lacking? Well, we found several opportunities which we have selected for in the new Skyward Series.
• Full-size plants and flower power the first year from a cutting. This makes it easy for growers to schedule, and for us to add to the First Year Flowering Tool.
• Extreme powdery mildew resistance. After a high pressure season last year in our trials, Skyward were nearly completely clean.
• More continuous color than we see in the primary market comparisons.
• Not as brittle as some Veronica on the market allowing it to arrive at retail in better shape.
I could go on and on. There were many great introductions on display at CAST from both Darwin Perennials and Kieft Seed. But, as I said at the beginning, "That’s a wrap!"
Stay tuned for more new-product content from our team in the coming weeks.