2020 Australian Horticultural Trials Week

By Gabrielle Stannus

Turning adversity into opportunity, the 2020 Australian Horticultural Trials Week looks set to grow new audiences for its exhibitors as it moves into a brave, new digital world.

“The general sentiment was that the 2020 Australian Horticultural Trials Week was a great week. There were some beautiful exhibits, stunning new plant lines, and the weather was fantastic,” says Matthew Ross, Communications and Marketing Officer, Nursery & Garden Industry Victoria (NGIV), “The week started off as it traditionally does with Tuesday’s Trade Day. Then, having come out of lockdown recently, industry members enjoyed the opportunity to relax and socialise at the Wednesday Trials Week celebration dinner, sponsored by Garden City Plastics.”

Whilst overall visitor numbers were down due to COVID-19, there was a new type of attendee at Trials Week: the virtual visitor. Exhibitors used NGIV’s online Trials Week platform and their own digital channels to encourage this new group of visitors, who were able to view nurseries’ offerings without having to leave ‘home’.

Ball Australia
COVID-19 safety was front of mind when Ball Australia decided to proceed with their on-site display. Visitors to Ball Australia’s Trial Week display had to pre-register their attendance. Upon arrival on site, visitors had their temperature tested, completed a Quick Response (QR) code check-in and were then given a yellow sticker to show they had successfully signed in before entering the display areas. “Sometimes out of adversity comes the insight to realize doing something a different way actually improves business,” says Kate Grant, Ball Australia’s Marketing Manager. Ball Australia’s sales team set up virtual appointments with prospective customers, both locally and interstate, using Microsoft Teams, receiving very positive feedback from them regarding the ease with which they were able to view product.

Ball Australia’s display, ‘You Can’t Stop the Flowers – Nobody Can Stop the Colour’’, was a riot of colour, even when viewed online. A new double-flowering Petunia Blueberries and Cream bred out of Japan and the Petunia Famous Circus Sky, a constellation type petunia that looks great on masse in bedding, pots or baskets - currently an experimental line, caught my eye as did Hydrangea ‘Popcorn Candy’ bred by Schroll. “We have not done hydrangeas before, and this is the second in a series for four we are doing,” says Kate, “It starts as a soft blush pink, before darkening to a deeper pink.” Other varieties in this series include Hydrangea ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Red Purple Romance’ and ‘Pink/Blue Sunset’.

Greenhill’s Propagation Nursery
“PlantFest is so important for us because this is when people can come and see what is available and put in their expression of interest as to whether it would suit their business,” explains Leah Opie, Director of Greenhill’s Propagation Nursery. 2020 also marked the 20th anniversary of Greenhill’s Touch of Class Plants brand.

Key highlights from the PlantFest display included experimental lavenders with very silver foliage and the Hebe hybrid ‘Bloomin Hebe’™. “This Hebes never stops flowering” claims Leah, “It has got a really nice deep purple flower. Hebes are usually susceptible to heat and humidity, but not this one.” Greenhill’s Propagation Nursery are also growing a golden variegated golden form of Pittosporum Golf Ball. Keeping with the golfing theme, this new pittosporum variety is called On Par. Leah says that if you are looking for a more retail friendly lomandra, look no further than Lomandra Bananarama.

Haars Nursery
First time Trials Weeks exhibitors Haars Nursery presented some old favourites including pelargoniums and begonias, new varieties with modern habits and diverse colour palettes. “We have not seen new Pelargonium breeding in the Australia market for a couple of generations,” says Brendan Haar, General Manager Haars Nursery, “We are working with the leading breeders in specific genera and their material is of exceptional quality. It is coming through the supply chain as clean tissue culture, virus indexed, and maintained in our elite house in Somerville. The motherstock is replenished frequently, to ensure good growing, true to type, resilient and virus free.” Check out the Solenia Begonia Collection from Beekenkamp (Begonia elatior), with bold colours including Red Orange.

Haars also has new genetics from PAC’s pelargonium breeding programme, including a few new ranges which have not been in the Australian market before; Flower Fairy, Two-in-One and the Pelgardini / Chocolate series. ”The last time this particular breeder sent material to Australia was over twenty years ago.” says Brendan.

Other highlights from Haars included the Dahlia LaBella® Maggiore range, and new additions in the FanciFillers range, Lysimachia ‘Karat’ and ‘Outback Sunset’, and an edible Indian mint (Satureja hybrid). These FanciFillers plants are perfect for hanging baskets. “The smell of the Indian Mint is amazing, growing a metre and a half in a season,” says Brendan.

JD Propagation
“We were really excited that we were able to showcase some of our new genetics from breeders around the world such as Syngenta, Volmary and Green Fuse, we were also excited to welcome some last-minute interstate visitors,” says Dan Patience, Managing Director of JD Propagation. For customers unable to make the trip, Dan showed them around the JD Propagation display using Zoom or WhatsApp video calling.

“We have new dianthus series called Constant Beauty® and Constant Cadence® from Green Fuse® Botanicals in the USA. They are the first breeders to produce the first true tri- colour carnation. They change from white to pink and then finish at scarlet,” says Dan.

Other highlights included the Adorable pot carnation series from Snow Brand in Japan, Fuchsita fuchsias from Volmary and bi-coloured Osteospermum Popeye from NuFlora in Sydney. With garden sizes getting smaller, customers may also appreciate JD Propagation’s new series of drought- and frost-tolerant dwarf Buddleia, produced from cuttings and available in six colours including white and blue.

Majestic Young Plants
Unsure whether COVID-19 restrictions would ease in time, Majestic Young Plants decided to exhibit online only this year. “We built a whole new website for Trials Week to enable people to have a look at our new products,” says Joel Crameri, Nursery/Sales Manager from Majestic Young Plants, “All of our products are now listed online.”

“We pride ourselves on being first to the market and innovative, certainly in the indoor category,” adds Joel, saying that his team keep up to date with online trends via Instagram and Facebook. The Monstera karstenianum ‘Peru’ (large, leathery puckered leaves), Piper crocatum (metallic leaves) and Schismatoglottis wallichii (heart-shaped coloration on oblong leaves) coming from Majestic Young Plants will no doubt attract the houseplant enthusiasts.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for new product for your home veggie garden range, check out Tomato Record Breaker. This indeterminate tomato produces round fruit weighing up to 450 grams, maturing at around 75 days. One specimen produced 155 kilograms of fruit on the one plant!

Mansfield’s Propagation Nursery
“This year we predicted smaller visitor numbers due to COVID-19, so we planned a minimal display compared to the larger displays we have had in previous years,” says Julie Graham, Marketing Coordinator at Mansfield’s Propagation Nursery, “For this reason, we participated on the NGIV’s online Trials Week platform to provide those unable to attend an opportunity to explore the event virtually. We had a range of Ozbreed, Austraflora and general lines on display. New lines will be coming through sometime in 2021 and will be promoted at the 2021 Trials Week.”

Visitors to the Mansfield’s Propagation Nursery were given a tour of their facilities which includes an expanded production shed housing all this nursery’s automation which they now use to produce plants in their new Grownet liners.

Allied exhibitors
The Allied exhibitors’ displays during Trials Week were pared back, partly in response to COVID-19, but also because many of the exhibitors have been experiencing an absolute boom in the industry that means they have been especially busy (good news indeed!). Nonetheless, five exhibitors made use of the Trials Week online platform to communicate their new offerings: Evergreen Connect, Norwood, Recycled Colour, Super Starters and Powerplants Australia. Recycled Colour is a new product from Garden City Plastics, which for the first time means they can offer every customer a pot made from recycled PP5. Previously they could offer recycled pots only in black, whilst coloured pots were made from virgin material.

Looking ahead to 2021
“There may be a shift in the coming years as businesses continue to invest in digital content and appointments,” says Matthew from NGIV, “Some exhibitors suggested that it actually created a new normal. There were processes that they will continue to adopt in future Trials Weeks. Virtual tours and appointments will likely increase audiences, allowing more interstate and international visitors to ‘attend’ and experience Trials Week.”

“We had a lot of plants pegged for these trials to reveal for the first time. However due to COVID-19, we have not been able to travel and import has been hard,” says Leah from Greenhill’s, “Next year's trials are looking like they will be a real bumper because a lot of what should have come through for this year will be pushed into next year.”

PS. Click here to view the highlight on display at each of the six Plant Exhibitors.