There seems no end to the number of new introductions in the world of summer bedding. I always make a point of visiting the trial grounds of one or two big breeders and young plant producers each year, to look at trends and review the most exciting new varieties.
Ball Colegrave, a well- known breeder and plug producer, are introducing 300 new varieties this year. It’s fair to say that many of them are improved strains of what’s already available, so the gardener might not even notice the difference, but the commercial grower will.
The first one that I noticed on arrival at the trial grounds really is different: Osteospermum 3D, an interesting double flowered variety of this daisy classic. When I say double, it’s more like an anemone-flowered dahlia, with a ring of petals surrounding a tight centre of small silky petals.
It almost looks embroidered. There are about five colours, however the two outstanding ones are the purple and lilac. The big news about this variety is that the flowers stay open, sunshine or not.
That’s the trouble with single osteos and gazanias for those of us that live in a part of the world where the sun doesn’t shine every day, the blooms close when the sun goes in! Osteospermum 3D promised great continuity of flowering, plenty of blooms and compact plants.
For many of us impatiens, apart from the New Guinea varieties, have disappeared from our gardens in the past few years because of problems with downy mildew. A variety, Impatiens Big Bounce, is resistant to downy mildew.
I have to say it looks like a New Guinea Impatiens on first glance, but it is compact, rounded and free flowering. The name refers to its power of recovery after drought, more likely when you’ve forgotten to water it.
Anyone who has grown impatiens in the past will know about their power to collapse into a wilted mess when they dry out. If they do recover it takes time for them to regain any flower power.
With the demise of impatiens for pots and containers, especially in shady conditions, begonias have come to the fore. Breeders have focussed on producing easy-to-grow varieties for pots and hanging baskets that keep blooming. I grew Non-Stop begonias last season and the flowered right through fall; I’ll miss them this year.
Begonia F1 San Francisco is a new introduction, similar to its sister Begonia F1 Santa Cruz. It is naturally branching and cascading in habit with small pointed leaves and pretty single flowers with pointed petals. A low maintenance plant it is exceptionally resistant to sun and drought: ideal for hanging baskets.
Derived from Begonia boliviensis, San Francisco is seed raised, unlike its ancestor which is propagated by cuttings. It is therefore cheaper to produce and should be readily available.
Begonia Sweet Spice is double, with some single flowers. Soft colours with the bonus of a sweet fragrance that is almost tropical with a hint of sherbet. I loved both the soft salmon pink Sweet Spice English Rose and Sweet Spice Citrus; both are gentle shades that will sit easily in the garden and the scent makes them a winner for pots on the patio or doorstep.
Interestingly the scent of these begonias reflects the taste sensation of the petals. If you take a begonia petal and place it on your tongue, gently chew it and you will find it fizzes a little and has the sharp, scented tang of sherbet.
I don’t recommend you make feast of your begonias but do try it. Everyone at the trial was fascinated as I got them all munching on the begonia petals.
Petunias never seem to decline in popularity, even after wet, soggy summers when they are not at their best. Petunia Surfinia is the best known training variety that revolutionised the world of hanging baskets when it was introduced more years ago than I care to remember.
The original surfinias were very vigorous and trailing and became straggly after smothering everything else. Breeding has produced more compact plants with enduring flower power.
A new introduction Petunia Surfinia ‘Heavenly Blue’ is bound to be one of the most popular; a shade you cannot fail to fall in love with.
I also fell for Petunia Easy Wave Berry Velour. Easy Wave is a new generation of petunias good for baskets and containers but also great for ground cover, banks, borders and beds. This one has the most dreamy, velvet flowers in a summer-pudding sort of colour; delicious. This would be a winner with silver foliage or anything lime.
I was less excited about Petunia Night Sky, a variety the breeders are crazy about. The branding is clever and it is certainly a break-through with its velvety royal blue flowers spotted and speckled with white.
It is clearly not that stable and will be variable. Growth has to be controlled with growth regulators to keep it compact and stimulate flower production. Time will tell if it’s a real hit.
Still on the cosmic theme Calibrachoa Starlight Pink is a pretty thing with neon-pink blooms with a striking gold star in the heart of every trumpet. It’s not one for lovers of the subtle and understated, but it does have a charm and would be great with purple foliage.
Despite the popularity of summer seasonal bedding plants, many gardeners avoid them. However the lines between bedding plants and perennials are becoming more blurred. We all crave colour and most of us want that instant injection of colour from time to time, right through the season.
So bedding growers are using a wider variety of quick-performing perennials in their range, and hardy perennial growers are supplementing their ranges with seasonal bedding. A topic for another blog post still to come.