On a plane finally bound for Virginia after a long week on the road – and in between passenger elbows and what passes for airplane refreshments – I’ve got a chance to reflect on the experience Scott Beuerlein and I had at the California Spring Trials last week and marvel on how interesting, and once again, educational, the process was – even in the midst of unpredictable weather.

CAST sign

If you’re only just tuning in, you can find a full description of what CAST is (also known as the PacTrials), and what we hoped to see, in my pre-road trip post here. It’s worth mentioning that many of the new plants we saw are new plants for 2024, which means that they will not be at stores until then.

Where they end up (big box or independent garden centers) has much to do with what buyers and brokers for those entities decide was exciting, impulse-triggering, and sadly perhaps, easily shippable.

It’s also worth mentioning that these plants, for the most part, are being shown at their best. The marketing is off the charts.  They have been through trials, but some are still in trial infancy, and consumers should be aware that there are plants that mysteriously disappear from the market after a few disappointing years in stores or in gardens. Our thoughts were based on what we saw, with full judgement reserved for more experience with the plants later.

Scott will have different thoughts than me – he usually does – but when we recapped each night on our fairly new GardenRant Instagram feed after a tongue-loosening gin and tonic, (you can find those posts here), we were remarkably in sync with the plants we took a second look at, and the ones we passed right by.  To my dismay, I have discovered that Scott is a fan of pink (and worse, an insipid version found mostly in baby departments and My Little Pony marketing materials), but he has redeemed himself somewhat by coming to the realization that orange might be his new pink, encouraged by a definite push in this direction by a California Spring Trials virtually brimming over with it. 

But First, The Weather.

One of the oddest things about the trip was the weather – certainly disappointing for growers that were trying to get warm season plants looking their best, and terrible for reception crews trying to navigate hail and thunder and bitter winds. 

Aloe in rain

This little aloe in Scott’s sister’s garden in San Jose pretty much sums it up.

In all the years I have visited my California family in early spring, reveled in their warmth and then slunk home to the grey brown of a Mid-Atlantic March, it was bizarre to find myself experiencing snow flurries while Virginia lovers were presumably sipping spring cocktails and basking in the sun.   By the time we hit the Central Coast however, the sun was starting to shine and I could pull out my sandals for the last days.

We are both incredibly grateful to all of the companies for making our time with them so enjoyable, despite the hardships of weather.  Between the guided tours, lunch, and often a mid-day tipple, we were absolutely spoiled.

garden writers

Scott and I enjoying the incredible hospitality of Benary.

Nine Stops – Where to Start?

To fit the contents of nine stops (some with numerous companies), and 1235 photos along with far too many “Pull over, what’s that?!” side journeys into a post would be as boring for you as it would be for me to relate (and you can hear the four minute daily wrap ups on Instagram which are much more entertaining – at least for us). I’d rather hit some highlights and let Scott fill in my massive shortcomings later.  

scott beuerlein

We visited with over thirty companies by my count – Proven Winners was noticeably absent from the line up, which is a shame as they have pushed hard on tropical lines in the last two years and I was interested to see if they were cooking up anything for 2024.

Revelation™ Dahlia

Scott and I were in huge agreement over some good news/bad news at the Dummen Orange stop in San Luis Obispo.  There they were debuting a new, bronze foliaged, double flowered series of Dahlia called Revelation™ with four cultivars in the series. It was head-turning, with deep black flower buds, bright colors, and stems that felt exceptionally strong.

revelation dahlia

Now the bad news: this series will replace the popular Mystic™ series – one of which, Mystic™ ‘Illusion’, is perhaps overused by both Scott and me due to its resilience, color, and excellent garden habit.  The stems are strong enough to hold their single yellow flowers without staking, but not so thick that they snap at the base with a light wind.  They also have a delightful tendency to weave through other plantings. Though it is not compact, the Revelation™ series is aimed primarily at containers (where I admit it looked fabulous).

dahlia revelation yellow

So as much as I look forward to growing Revelation™ ‘Yellow’ and ‘Soft Orange’ (which may even improve on the performance of ‘David Howard’, a traditional favorite), I’m disappointed to see Mystic™ ‘Illusion’ taken out of the trade, and will be treating my tubers like gold bars for the rest of their lives. In the birth of a new patent, a new pass-along plant is created.

Stonehedge™ Begonia

Benary was a great stop, saving their new monumental wax begonia Stonehedge™ (my emphasis), for the end of a long greenhouse filled with some top-notch container combinations and exquisite Lubega™ and Lubega Power™ dahlias.  There were many more genera, but those dahlias really stood out.

Stonehedge™ is larger than Benary’s Whopper® landscape begonias (which in turn are larger than the original Big®), standing 40-48 inches tall with bronze foliage and light pink flowers creating a very pleasing and not overpowering contrast.  This has the potential to be a one-and-done in a whiskey barrel on a deck, or create a small colorful hedge, or even dot throughout the landscape.  Very attractive. Just one in the new series so far.

stonehedge begonia

Stonehedge Begonia with a eucalyptus. The misty gray is a smoke machine. I told you the marketing was off the charts.

Season Me™ Herb Fusions

This series from Benary gets the award for painlessly introducing consumer-gardeners to the marriage of garden and kitchen. They are herb combinations planted in faux mini-barrels and meant to sit conveniently on sunny decks and patios to provide a one-stop paired harvest for pastas, pizzas and grill.  So few of the newest cultivar and series names appeal to me, but I smiled at “Grillin N Chillin’, ‘Little Italy’, ‘Dressed N Blessed’, and ‘It’s Saucy’

Season Me Herb Fusions

Bidens ‘Blazing Star’

Scott and I both stopped in front of this one at Danziger and took a lot of photos.  Bidens has come a long way (as evident by many cultivars on the trip), but this one really stood out for vigor, habit, and bright, two-toned red/orange flowers.

Bidens Blazing Star

Tradescantia ‘Pistachio White’

This tradescantia from Green Fuse is in retail now, having debuted in 2022, but I thought it bore remarking on here as it is so impressive.  With so much white in the foliage, one would expect the vigor of this plant to be low, but that’s not the case.  It’s reportedly safe from burn in full sun, but until I grow it myself, I’ll need to reserve judgement.  I’ll be looking out for this one this year. Gorgeous.

Tradescantia Pistachio White

Garvinea® Garden Gerbera

This spring-to-fall bloomer was a standout at Hilverda Florist. Gerberas are traditionally a florist’s pot plant or cut flower and used as a perennial in zones 8-10 with a short blooming period, but with the Garvinea® series of what they call “Garden Gerberas”, Hilverda is boasting of spring to fall blooms with great weather tolerance.  If it’s all true, this is a great advancement.  Who knows, maybe they’ll tack another two zones on them in future breeding efforts and I’ll grow gerbera someday as a perennial. Or, climate change.

Garvinea Sweet Gerberas

Spoiled at Ball

Because Scott and I traveled North to South, and not South to North, as is more often done, our last stop in Santa Paula at Ball Horticulture was less crowded and allowed us a lot of time to speak to representatives at PanAm Seed, Darwin Perennials & Selecta, subsidiaries of Ball.  Scott will have his favorites, but mine were definitely:

‘Emerald Ring’ Begonia – a trailing hybrid which worked so well with their original Jurassic™ series rex begonias in a container.  The new Jurassic™ ‘Snowfall’ was also impressive with its strong, silver leaves.

Emerald Ring Begonia

Emerald Ring Begonia


Jurassic Snowfall Begonia

Jurassic Snowfall Begonia

Coral Candy Premium Sun Coleus – a stunning salmon colored coleus for full sun in climates with high relative humidity. It’s also an All America Selections winner.

‘Emerald Crest’ Caryopteris – with shiny green foliage (not the gray-green of typical Caryopteris) and strong, bright blue flowers.

Emerald Crest Caryopteris

‘Silver Swirl Centaurea – a strong silver bedding or container accent with tough, wavy leaves and evidently strong winter hardiness at Z6b-9b.

Silver Swirl Centarea

Sweet Talk™ Series Cuphea – a Cuphea procumbens which doesn’t look anything like the ‘cigar plant’ C. ignea we see in nurseries.  Though the heat-loving long tubes are still there, they’re edged with frilly skirts in pink, lavender and red.  The hummingbirds knew what to look for – even as we stood there. Great for containers.

Sweet Talk Red Cuphea

Shamrock™ Red Lantana – which might give one of my mounding favorites ‘Hot Blooded Red’ a run for it’s money.  You never know what you’ll get at a nursery when labeling is not good and your mounding lantana turns out to be a trailing cultivar, so I’m happy to have another name to look out for. Great color, good habit.

Shamrock Red Lantana

Kalama™ Series Tecoma – A new series that keeps the huge rangy habit of sub-tropical Tecoma under control for containers and window boxes, this is a fun, very tropical looking accent in foliage and trumpet-like flowers in three colors: ‘Pomegranate’, ‘Blood Orange’, and ‘Papaya’.

Kalama Tecoma Blood Orange

Tecoma ‘Kalama Blood Orange’

Cut Flowers

The first two days with companies like Danziger, American Takii, Sakata, NIR and Benary really got me thinking about the cut flower choices I want to make as I renovate the kitchen garden.  Last time I thought about cut flowers was 2018 at the Trials, when I went home, excitedly planted, and had them all eaten by deer. 

Now that a fence protects that garden (for now) I’m free to work with the yellow globes of Golf™ ‘Beauty’ Craspedia, or the unique accents and long stems of ‘Crane Ruffle White’ flowering kale, or play with some smaller, striking helianthus such as Vincent® ‘Fresh’ or Sunrich™ ‘Gold’. I also found myself interested in the large flowered (but long stemmed) Coco Marigold™ at Sakata.

golf beauty craspedia

Golf Beauty Craspedia against a mural backdrop

Sunrich Gold Sunflower

Not new for this year at all, but a fantastic cut flower, Sunrich Gold from Takii Seed.

Cut flowers at Sakata

Cut flowers at Sakata

Wax Flowers

At Suncrest Nurseries, NIR had a stunning display of wax flowers from Israel (Chamelaucium uncinatum), which got the cut flower wheels turning in my brain.

Confession: the soft, draping foliage textures of (tender) willow leaf eucalyptus at American Takii Seed made me hunt for a hardier cultivar later that night in the hotel. I may have found it in E. nicholii ‘Angus’ (Z6b).

Willow Leaf eucalyptus

A New Way of Propagating Canna

Lastly, an interesting take on making virus-free canna propagation easier. At the Suncrest Nurseries stop in Watsonville (that also held a bounty of Israeli herb and cut flower companies), another Israeli company Saad-Assaf was showing off their Canny™ rooted Canna shoots (cut and rooted from tissue culture mother stock) which may promise growers a more reliable and faster way of raising virus-free cannas. Cannas can be slow in tissue culture and their variety is limited in seed-reared cultivars. 

canny canna cuttings

What does this mean for the home gardener?  Possibly more availability and options at nurseries of the varieties you love and which can be hard to get hold of, such as ‘Cleopatra’.  

The California Spring Trials Ranter Road Trip Exceeds Expectations

And not just for us, for our referee/companion, Andrea Gasper of Digging In (the professional network of container designers). Despite jet lag from a Budapest travel convention and an ear infection, she had a blast and kept us in line.

scott beuerlein, andrea gasper, marianne willburn

That is, right up to the point where she was forced to accompany Scott and me on our horticultural death march through Descanso Gardens and The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens on Saturday and Sunday. 

Huntington Garden at CAST

Andrea waiting for Scott and me just outside the Chinese Garden at The Huntington. My husband knows the position.

A bridge too far, as we found out later over that tongue-loosening end-of-day G&T.  Scott and I have been suitably chastened and have promised that on our next trip to a garden together, we will not mention even a single plant name.

Or did we? – MW