Nothing makes gardeners happier than discovering a splendid red geranium with big globular heads that last and last and a perfect, compact mounding form. Or a ruffled petunia in a pretty new color combination. A dianthus that blooms in the heat. An impatiens plant that is immune to mildew.
Things like that arrive at garden centers all over the country at the same time. How? The same way that department stores fill up with the same-looking fashion trends. Buyers go to fashion shows; magazines write reviews; orders are made.
Same with plants: there are behind-the-scene tastemakers.
Chris Beytes, the man behind “GrowerTalks,” is Johnny on the Spot to tell growers and buyers what he thinks. Growers have to start long before any garden center can stock its shelves. They all have to guess what consumers are going to want a year or two down the road, what colors, what heights, what new varieties, and most important of all — how many.
Beytes is there to help them sort through it all. Take his visit to the N. G. Heimos trials in Illinois for poinsettias, recorded in one of his YouTube videos.
A backyard gardener would pass out from boredom while Beytes walks through a warehouse the size of Kansas and compares hundreds, yes hundreds, of experimental poinsettias, little guys about a foot tall. Except for the white and pink ones, they all look like, well, poinsettias.
But Beytes walks through, picks each one of a type up, eyes it, gives it a shake and points out minor differences. Then he rattles off grower names and plant numbers. This is the inside scoop for growers. A year later big box stores will put in their orders. Two years later millions of poinsettias will sit on their store shelves. Someone had to describe the minute differences between one poinsettia and another, didn’t they?
When Beytes goes to the Ball Flora Plant Customer Day, he is so excited by the Firehouse Verbenas he can barely contain himself.
It is a well-behaved verbena, he says. Perfect for a hanging basket. Firehouse is an improvement on Ball’s previous verbena, with new colors: a vibrant red, and burgundy, purple, violet, white, and among others, our favorite, light pink. The Firehouse verbenas don’t spread out too much. They mound nicely, about eight inches tall, and keep blooming all summer. Think that sounds perfect? Hold on. They resist powdery mildew!
Crape myrtle that grows as a perennial in zone 5? They have it.
He saw a salvia from a sister company to Ball, PanAmerican Seed, Big Blue, that hummingbirds love!
He was shown PanAmerican’s vinca called Tattoo, which comes in four colors including one called tangerine.
In another video, Beytes spots a cutie from another company, Suntory Flowers, Technically, the plant is a catharanthus, and has already been popular in the South. But now it is becoming popular in northern states. It grows six-to-ten inches tall, and this year there are three new colors: red, light purple and one called white-peppermint, white with a red eye.
Cheerful Ka wa i i blooms all summer and is destined for a window ledge, a pot on the steps, the edge of a porch near you.
Beytes’s January newsletter announced that the Perennial Plant Association has picked the 2019 plant of the year: Stachys Hummelo, which grows about two feet tall with showy red-lavender flower spikes.
The citation says it is “stunning in massed plantings and popular with designers … as trouble-free and dependable as it is eye-catching.” Stachys, a native of Europe and Asia, blooms in June-August and is loved by bees. “Hummel” means “bee” in German. The master plantsman Piet Oudolf used it in some of his signature designs, certainly in his High Line and Battery projects in New York. Oudolf lives in Hummelo, the Netherlands. Isn’t that a coincidence?
Once planted Stachys takes care of itself. Isn’t that what we all want out of a plant?
Chris Beytes, while his endless enthusiasm is aimed at growers, and “GrowerTalks” gets into lots of technical talk about growing time and greenhouse location, is inspiring for us regular gardeners too, as long as he is not going to look at another thousand poinsettias. – Linda Lee