Horticultural trials show positive ways forward post-COVID19

By John Fitzsimmons

At the end of one of the most challenging and chequered years in memory, NGIV (Nursery & Garden Industry Victoria) and top breeders and growers proudly presented the 2020 Australian Horticultural Trials. The event provided industry with an ‘umbrella-brand’ to showcase innovations in container and bedding plants plus indoor and outdoor plants, complemented by opportunities for promotional and networking opportunities for the trade.

Activities kicked off at NGIV’s December Trade Day at Caribbean Gardens, Scoresby, with a special Trials dinner the following day.

Showcasing the industry’s best plants and products needed a united effort. In 2001, in combination with Andrew Eason and Fran Coyle from Norwood, John Grafdyk and Ball Australia’s Kate Grant, the Australian Horticultural Trials’ predecessor, Hortivations, was born. The desire was to present the broader industry with innovations coming out of Victoria, in a format similar to the Pack Trials held in the United States.

Hortivations was held at Ball Australia’s former site in Keysborough, and originally designed for multiple businesses to present to the wholesale industry the variety of plants and products available. Hortivations demonstrated the strength and unity of the industry and its participants’ shared goals underpinned its success for many years.

Agrostis ‘Green Twist’ (Image: PAC Elsner Westhoff)

In 2016 the Australian Horticultural Trials were conceived. With a new format, each business showcased products on their own site. A rich web of growers, producing innovative and quality products, needed a solid platform from which to showcase to the industry. Fundamentally, both events were designed to promote and drive the new varieties that have been sourced locally and internationally, but also to educate and attract, the industry from across the country, on the extensive network of breeders, both locally and internationally.

NGIV said the relaxed yet professional environment created at each site* is perfect not only for viewing and learning about the quality plants and products and doing business, but also for networking with old and new friends from across the country. Everyone is welcome at the trials – from wholesale growers looking for the next product to add to their schedule, to retailers and the horticultural media getting a chance to see the next big thing to hit retail shelves and landscapes.

NGIV proudly partnered with breeders and growers for the Australian Horticultural Trials 2020.

*While this was the plan, COVID-19 in 2020 caused several participants to opt for virtual inspections, or time limited appointments to reduce infection risks.


Creative use of Agrostis ‘Green Twist’ (Image: PAC Elsner Westhoff)

Haars Nursery

Haars Nursery invited visitors to a showcase of new and innovative plant genetics managed in the Australian market on behalf of leading international breeders. Over the past year, Haars have completed an approved quarantine facility and a high health elite plant facility at its Somerville (Vic.) site. This facility houses imported genetic material and underpins a commitment to provide both the best breeding varieties as well as clean, virus indexed plant material. This is aimed at ensuring all gardeners have the best possible plants to grow and enjoy. The Trials provided the opportunity to formally launch the new business venture on site, at the Van Wyk Flowers site in Lyndhurst.

Haar’s Nursery’s current core ranges are outdoor flowering plants, indoor flowering plants, herbs and ‘superfoods’. There is a commitment to innovation and an ability to produce products closely aligned with consumer trends.

Coming into the 2020 Trials, Haars were “fairly confident that we would see a lot of interest and excitement about the extensive Pelargonium range we are growing from Elsner-PAC of Germany, that has been breeding and innovating with this genus for more than 100 years,” Kylie Balmain of Haars marketing reported.




Petunia Constellation ‘Pyxis’ (Image: PAC Elsner Westhoff)

“Australian growers or gardeners have not seen new breeding from PAC for more than 20 years, but now, given the relationship between PAC and Haars, this has changed. The pelargonium material showcased is diverse in habit, form and colourings, including ivy types, upright growth habits, large flower heads, zonale and variegated foliage, dark chocolate foliage, bright bi-colours, strong solid colours, scented varieties and also petite flower heads. Specific ranges which both growers and retailers gravitated to, included ‘Two-in-One’, ‘Flower Fairy’, ‘Pelgardini’ and ‘Angeleyes’.”

“In addition, other key focuses for our visitors included the Labella Dahlia ranges, in particular the large flowering series ‘Labella Maggiore’, from Beekenkamp of the Netherlands. The ‘Labella Maggiore’ series is ‘major’, presenting amazing size flowers with robust stems, a strong upright habit and the plants are well proportioned. The colours are fun, some are loud and some are very intricate.”

“From Westhoff of Germany, the new Petunia Constellation™ series, the Calibrachoa Chameleon collection, and a variety of plants in the FanciFiller™ range, all attracted interest.”

Petunia Constellation Sputnik – Photo courtesy PAC ElsnerWesthoff

“The new Petunia Constellation series is dreamy, star gazing, and ‘Pyxis’ offers a very cool break in colour. The Calibrachoa Chameleon collection is floriferous and mounding in habit, providing a brilliant pot or basket display with flower colour that transitions as each flower emerges, blooms and ages. The FanciFiller™ range has some great varieties including Alternanthera ‘Choco Chili’ with deep rich dark purple foliage. The range also includes spectacular basket varieties including Lysimachia ‘Outback Sunset’, Lysimachia ‘Karat’ and a Satureja hybid (Indian Mint).

Haars reported their most common request received was the opportunity to trial different genetics and the timing of availability for retail.

Ball Australia

National wholesale supplier Ball Australia aimed to address the high demand for its grower customers, landscapers and retailers to view the breadth of plant lines offered. It stayed focused on that main purpose, and that was to offer their customers the opportunity to see their products. The company reported “a great week with a strong number of customers attending on site at the nursery, and a lot of interstate customers attending via virtual tours”.

The most buyer interest was with indoor lines and flowering colour – “people really do want to get back to colour in their gardens”. This was reflected by interest in:

Petunias: a series of doubles in three colours, all bred out of Japan, including a new pink petunia called Famous ‘Circus Sky’ due for release in Spring 2021.

Indoors: “No matter what we bring in, customers want it – there is huge demand” including:

A new tissue culture maidenhair fern that is very upright with strong stems and a full compact habit.

A new rose for spring 2021, ‘Zepeti’, to be released in Spring 2021, drew a lot of interest during trials week.

Ball told visitors they would ‘colour your world’. Highlights included:

Osteospermum ‘Serenity’ Series: Described as “the whole package”

Salvia ‘Mirage’ Series: Heat-tolerant featuring intense flower colours

Dahlia ‘Dalina’ Series: Large double pom-pom shaped flowers in bold, bright colours

Verbena ‘Cadet’ Series: Flowering a week earlier than other upright verbenas

Philodendron ‘Shangri-La’: A new form of “split leaf philodendron”, more elegant and uniformly denseBegonia rex ‘Bewitched’ Series: An all-new series featuring four colours and stunning foliage colours that thrive in medium light indoors or out.

JD Propagation 

Family-owned JD Propagation of Pearcedale (Vic.) specialises in contract growing, and commercial propagation solutions for vegetative and tissue culture-raised young plants. The following are among new lines introduced in the 2020 Trials:

Dianthus: ‘Constant Promise’, ‘Constant Cadence’, ‘Cadence’ and ‘Constant Beauty’. Breeder: Green Fuse.

Dahlia x hortensis ‘Lubega’ Series: Sturdyand uniform series, flowering spring-autumn. Breeder: Volmary.

Osteospermum ecklonii ‘Pop Eyes’: Compact habit, exciting new colour range. Breeder: Nuflora.

Lavandula pedunculata ‘Javelin Forte’ Series: Breeder: Syngenta.

Argyranthemum frutescens ‘Aramis’ Series: Breeder: Volmary

Calibrachoa x hybrida ‘Cruze Control’ Series: Breeder: Green Fuse.

Majestic Young Plants

2020 resulted in the ‘virtual’ Majestic Young Plant trials showcasing Majestic’s indoor, succulent, landscape, vegetables, herbs, perennials and annual ranges featuring:

Monstera adansonii ‘Monkey Mask’

Piper crocatum

Alocasia ‘Portodora’

Alocasia cuprea ‘Red Secret’

Mansfields

“We did not have any expectations going into this year’s Trials Week because, as you know, 2020 has been a roller coaster ride. There were points close to the start date where we still thought we would not be allowed to have patrons through. Thankfully this changed and we were able to get some groups through,” Sales Manager Will McIntosh reported.

“Our display was primarily focussed on key performing lines that we do volumes of, to focus more on what is readily available in high volumes, rather than pushing the latest and greatest varieties in the nursery. However, in saying that, we did showcase two magnificent Mandevillas ,that were bred by Ozbreed to last through winter.


Pink flowering Mandevilla puts on a show (Image: Mansfields)

“We got very solid interest in a number of plants in our showcase, in particular Nandina ‘Summer Sunset’ that screens like a typical Nandina domestica does, although the foliage gets a beautiful dark red colour to it rather than the green/yellow of domestica.

“The Mandevillas also caught the eye … there will now be growers in key areas of the industry trialling them for commercial sales in 2021.They were sought after because they are incredibly vivid in flower and absolutely covered in them.

“The industry has been booming off the back of people not being able to travel, and instead, getting into their gardens and rediscovering/creating new interest in gardening. So, nurseries are just trying to keep up with demand, and this flows down the chain to the propagators (like us) to scale up and keep people stocked with plants.”

Red flowering Mandevilla puts on a show (Image: Mansfields)

During these Trials, Mansfields highlighted new investments in mechanisation to boost productivity, quality and consistency. Their star performers that remain “just brilliant and worthy of a shining star display moment again” included:

Pelargonium striatellum ‘Edna Walling Pop Up’ 

Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff’

Lomandra ‘Frosty Top’ PBR 

Rhaphiolepis ‘Snow Maiden’ 

Grevillea lanigera ‘Mt Tamboritha’ 

Allied industry

Several allied industry participants were represented in the 2020 Australian Horticultural Trials. They included Super Starters and Garden City Plastics’ (GCP) Recycled Colour.

Super Starters: A degradable, fibrous ‘starter pot’ which encases propagation substrate and sits within a cell tray. This self-contained product is designed to be a turn-key solution for propagation requirements and promotes healthier root systems resulting in high-quality ‘starter plants’. Super Starters works with you to tailor a starter pot solution that will work within your propagation program. They also supply empty cell trays, starter pot paper and custom blend bulker bags of substrate.

Recycled ColourTM: “Let the past colour the future with products that won’t ‘cost’ the earth!” Recycled Colour is a product initiative developed by GCP to make closed loop recycling of polypropylene more exciting and meaningful to everyday Australians than ever before. Yogurt pots, ice cream tubs and takeaway containers from home recycling today can now become a colourful washing basket, plant pot, kitty litter tray or brush-and-pan tomorrow. And those items could be recycled and made again into some other household product in your future. During NGIV 2020 Australian Horticulture Trials week, GCP connected with customers on-line and opened its B2B (business-to-business) on-line shopping store to manage orders, view products, save to favourites, and chat with customer service for direct telephone sales support.

Alternanthera-Choco-Chili – Photo courtesy PAC ElsnerWesthoff
Calibrachoa_Chameleon_Double_Inferno – Photo courtesy PAC ElsnerWesthoff
Centaurea FenciFillers Chrome Fountain – Photo courtesy PAC ElsnerWesthoff

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