We had a rather eclectic mix of perennials in the trials this year. One of the more unusual plants had to be Spiranthes cerna ‘Chadds Ford’ – the first orchid that we have tested. Orchids are usually thought of as delicate, tropical greenhouse crops, but many species are hardy garden perennials. While it is too soon to tell, the long spikes of small intricate flowers of ‘Chadds Ford’ may be beautiful but not large enough to be worth growing.  

One of the standout cultivars was Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’. This perennial relative of the common annual sunflower produced a great show late in the season when most other cuts were winding down. The strong, uniform, vigorous plants produced 8.8 stems per plant in the first season. We look forward to seeing what this species will produce in the second year. The stems were long and topped with clusters of bright yellow flowers with dark centers. In our postharvest trials (see accompanying article), the vase life was 12 days in water and up to 17 days in floral preservative.

Helenium ‘Helena Red Shades’ and ‘Helena Gold’ scored well in the trials. These tall, vigorous plants are cold hardy, drought tolerant, and productive, producing more than 13 stems/plant in the second year. The stems were more than 40 inches long with some trialers harvesting 48 to 50 inch stems. Helenium ‘Helena Gold’ has dark yellow daisy-shaped flowers and Helenium ‘Helena Red Shades’ has red flowers edged with varying amounts of yellow. The latter cultivar can be rather variable with some plants producing solid red flowers and others solid yellow. The only problem with these plants appears to be that their colors sell better in the fall than the summer when they normally flower. This species may be a good candidate for early season cutting back, when shoots are 6 to 10 inches tall, to delay flowering. One respondent also noted that plants may also reflower if cut back prior to the end of the first harvest, when about 10% of the flowers are still present.

The strikingly variegated leaves of Lysimachia ‘Alexander’ made a great cut foliage. The plants are prolific and vigorous. Cut this plant primarily for the foliage as the yellow flowers do not add much and tend to shatter in the vase. While stems were short for some folks, others cut up to 36 inch stems.

For sheer numbers of cut stems Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ was a top producer with an average of more than 36 stems/plant and at least one respondent cutting 75 stems/plant. Stem length was also good, averaging 34 inches. The prolific plants can be a bit difficult to harvest and as with many grasses, some people love them while others, especially wholesalers, give them a pass.

Phlox are always a favorite cut flower and Phlox paniculata ‘Miss Violet’ did well in the trials.  An average of 6.1 stems per plant were produced with a length of 26.3 inches. Respondents noted the color, fragrance and mildew resistance.

Based on trial results, the top five performers are automatically nominated for the ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year competition. The rankings are based on the combined ratings score:  market appreciation (average of wholesale, florist, and consumer) + repeat again + ease of cultivation for those cultivars where more than three trialers responded. Thus, from the 2003 trials Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’Helenium ‘Helena Red Shades’, Lysimachia ‘Alexander’, Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’, and Phlox paniculata ‘Miss Violet’ are nominated as Cut Flowers of the Year and will join other nominations from ASCFG members.

Interpreting the trial results: The numbers reported are averages of all the respondents and many factors will affect the success of any plant species. Our participants are growing and harvesting the trial plants in a wide variety of ways. For example, with annual asters some people harvest the entire plant as one bunch while others harvest each individual flowering branch, giving very different stem lengths and yield data. After looking at the average, check the range of responses listed below each number to see how the cultivar performed at its best and its worst.  If the range of responses in the ratings is narrow and high, i.e., 3-5 or 4-5, the plant was a winner for most of the respondents and is likely to do well for you. The ‘Repeat Again Rating’ is particularly important because it indicates if the trialer would take the time, money, and space to actually grow the cultivar again. Review the trial results carefully. If a species sounds interesting but did not appear to do well, try it anyway.  The cultivar may work well for you.   

Acknowledgments: All cut flower growers should thank the perennial producers for providing the plant materials and the growers for producing the plants, collecting data and submitting trial reports. The growers paid $100 for shipping expenses and agreed to provide data for at least two years. Plants were donated by four perennial producers and University of Nebraska and shipped as the perennial plugs or dormant roots directly to the trialers. I would especially like to compliment Chas Gill, Betsy Hitt, Carolyn Ramsbotham, Vicki Stamback, and Bob Wollam who participated in both the seed and perennials trials and returned evaluations on all of their trial plants. That’s dedication!! I would also like to thank Betty Coleman for typing in everyone’s comments, Diane Mays and Ingram McCall for taking care of the North Carolina State University portion of the trials, Ingram McCall for date entry, and Lee Davis, Lane Greer, Megan Weddington, and Frankie Fanelli for assisting with the NCSU trials.  In preparing the report I have edited the participants= comments for space and clarity; my apologies if I’ve altered the tone or content of anyone’s comments. Thanks to everyone for making this service of ASCFG possible.

Participating Perennial Suppliers

Here & Now Gardens (HN)
P.O. Box 6
Gales Creek, OR  97117
(503) 357-5774
fax (503) 357-3858

Green Leaf Enterprises/Benary (GL)
2369 Old Philadelphia Pike
Lancaster, PA 17602
(717) 2990300
fax (717) 299 7162

Gro >N= Sell/Benary (GS)
320 Lower State Rd.
Chalfont, PA 18914
(215) 822-1276
fax (214) 997-1770

Sunshine Farm & Garden (SF)
HC 67 Box 539 B
Renick, WV 24966
(304) 497-2208
fax 304-497-2698

University of Nebraska (UN)
Horticulture Department
377 Plant Sciences
Lincoln, NE 68583-0724
(402) 472-1639
fax (402) 472-8650

Walters Gardens (WG)
P.O. Box 137
Zeeland, MI 49464
(888) 925-8377
fax (800) 752-1879

Participating Growers

Chas Gill (2002 and 2003)
Kennebec Flower Farm
Bowdoinham, ME

Carolyn Ramsbotham (2003)
Riverview Farm
Madbury, NH

Bob Wollam (2002 and 2003)
Wollam Gardens
Jeffersonton, VA

Betsy Hitt (2002 and 2003)
Peregrine Farms
Graham NC

Vicki Stamback (2002 and 2003)
Bear Creek Farm
Stillwater, OK

Sam Barkley (2002 and 2003)
Barkley’s Woodstock Floral
Portland, OR

Paul Sansone (2002 and 2003)
Here and Now Garden
Gales Creek, OR

Diane Mays/Ingram McCall/
John Dole (2002 and 2003)
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC

Trial Results for Year 1 of Cultivars Planted in 2003. First row of data for each cultivar is the average and the second row is the range of responses. Note that when only one response is listed in the range line, either only one person responded for that category or several responded and all gave the same rating.

1. Data shown are from those respondents who harvested stems. Some respondents may not have harvested stems because they were too short. Flowering stems may be longer next year after plants are established. See comments section for more details.  
2. 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the best. Market ratings are based on sales to wholesaler (W), retailers (R), or final consumers (C) direct.
3. Ratings for this species should be viewed with caution as only one to three participants had enough information to provide ratings.

Trial Results for Year 2 of Cultivars Planted in 2002. First row of data for each cultivar is the average and the second row is the range of responses. Note when only one response is listed in the range line, either only one person responded for that category or several responded and all gave the same rating.

1. Data shown are from those respondents who harvested stems. Some respondents may not have harvested stems because stems were too short. Flowering stems may be longer next year after plants are established. See comments section for more details.  
2. 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the best. Market ratings are based on sales to wholesaler (Whole.), retailers, or final consumers (Cons.) direct. Ratings for some species should be viewed with caution as only one or two participants had enough information to provide ratings.

2003 Perennial Cut Flower Trial Cultivar List – Year 1

Adenophora ‘Amethyst’
Good Qualities: Strong plant; Nice lilac purple flowers on long strong straight stem; Late flowering time; Plants were in good shape on arrival; Great stem length, good plant vigor, nice flower color, good vase life.
Problems: Needs to be netted.
Additional Comments: Similar to Campanula persicifolia (2); Flower blooms out too fast; Looks like a weedy campanula that pops up in cultivated gardens in this area; These plants were placed in bed in spring and are still very small but looking good, will see next year; This will be a great cut flower if it survives the winter and increases stem count in the second year.
Andropogon ‘Silver Sunrise’ (Andropogon gerardii x A. gerardii var. paucipilus)
Good Qualities: It grows like a weed; The color was really nice; Plants were in good shape on arrival, large flower heads.
Problems: What are we suppose to cut, flower or foliage? flower was not impressive, too weedy looking.
Additional Comments: Next year this should take off!; We have native grasses that are more desirable for cuts; I think this will be a very nice grass when there are numbers to pick, the fall color is almost better than the summer color; These were grown in one-gallon pots and planted out in September, no data as yet.

Campanula ‘Kent Belle’
Good Qualities: Bright purple flower; Spectacular in bud, can’t wait till next year, nice blue color; Plants were in good shape on arrival, survived summer remarkably well, surprisingly well; Exceptional large flowers on long stems with very good vase life.
Problems: Deer love it; Few stems per plant in the first season, great plant if more stems in 2nd year.
Additional Comments: Similar to Campanula ‘Cup & Saucer’ type; This plant is of moderate degree of quality, looking for better results next year; The plants may not be dead, just died back with the heat, will know in spring; Campanula plants did not survive continuous rains, in general campanula as a perennial has been very short lived and unsuccessful for me; Hope this plant is hardy and increases stem count next year, possibly great plant if it does.

Caryopteris ‘First Choice’
Good Qualities: Great blue color (2); Might be a good late bloomer; Late summer bloomer and it’s blue; Nice flower, ok vase life.
Problems: Too short to sell (2); If this plant survives the winter and gets more stem length it will be a good cut.
Additional Comments: Similar to Caryopteris Hclandonensis ‘Longwood Blue’; Retail florist were asking for more; All the plants I have listed from the perennial trials are 100% dead, may still be alive under mulch, I will know in the spring (Zone 6b); These plants are growing but still small B excessive rain hurt development and killed some; I lost a lot of these, I think they just stayed too wet this summer; Second season will tell all for this plant.

Digitalis ‘Pam’s Choice’
Good Qualities: Beautiful foxglove – dark maroon throat markings and speckles, balance of flower outside is white; Still growing, did not flower.
Problems: None listed by participants.
Additional Comments: All vegetative growth, 12 inches high; Grown from seed to flower for 2 years, this info is based on this fact, why would one want to buy plants, easy to grow from seed and are biennials; Nice color, maybe will have longer stems next year.

Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’
Good Qualities: The color was wonderful, I’ll see what lived through the summer and would purchase more of this one; Very nice white flower (ageratum-like) against white leaves.
Problems: Difficult to know when to harvest, Plant does not seem long-lived as perennial.
Additional Comments: I grew this plant for a few years but it died out easily, was difficult to know when to pick, and appreciated by only a few sophisticated florists; Shipping problems.

Helianthus salicifolia ‘First Light’
Good Qualities: This plant is flourishing; This is blooming at a great time: Sept/Oct, the color is brilliant, I hope the plants that lived will spread; Plants were in good shape on arrival, late summer bloomer, pretty good vase life; Small sunflower type flowers with very good vase life, a very usable size in bouquets, many side branches and a continuous bloom once it starts, most side branches over 24 inches and very useable, better vase life than other perennial sunflowers we have tried.
Problems:  Postharvest questionable; Will need to be staked to prevent wind and rain damage once picking starts.
Additional Comments: Similar to other perennial sunflowers; As of 9/25/03, no color, only spikes no flower – bloomed 10/04/03; Believed plant died during winter shipping, we are Zone 5 while plants are Zone 6 minimum, never put out shoots from the dormant roots; Did not seem to be special/different than other Helianthus; It looks similar to a wild variety we have only this one is better; These plants disappeared in very wet spring; Could be great if it is hardy, and slightly more stems next season. (See article in this issue for postharvest testing of this cultivar.)

Heliopsis sanguinea ‘Summer Sun’
Good Qualities: None listed.
Problems: Shipping problems; Drought, excessive weeds
Additional Comments: I think the retail florist will like this plant; Common as a weed, not very marketable, self sowing.

Helleborus xHhybridus
Good Qualities: Plants were in good shape on arrival but small and late.
Problems: Plants were shipped in August.
Additional Comments: Planted out to field on 10/13/03 with only 4 inches of growth; Very small fragile plants, arrived too late to plant outside, growing in pots will winter over in cold frame; 2 very small plants are in 1-gallon pots waiting to be transplanted.

Kniphofia thompsonii snowdenii
Good Qualities:
Problems: Plants shipped late August; Very small plants.
Additional Comments: Planted out to field 10/13/03, all vegetative growth, 15 inches; Very small fragile plants, too hot to plant outside because plants arrived in July, growing in pots; 2 plants were placed in 1 gallon pots in spring and planted out in Sept. 3.

Lupinus ‘Morello Cherry’
Good Qualities: Great color (3); If it would live here, I would love this plant and color (Zone 6B); Plants were in good shape on arrival, flowered quickly and then died; Good stem length, easy to grow.
Problems: Lupine is not a great cut as far as longevity; Bloomed too short to use; Not a good perennial here, it would be nice if it perennialized and grew taller; Poor vase life without treatment postharvest with silver, Russell hybrid lupines tended to be short lived, time will tell on this cultivar, it needs to throw more stems to be profitable to grow.
Additional Comments: Similar to Russell hybrid lupines; All vegetative growth, plant grew to 10 inches; Grown lot of Lupinus for cuts, this one looks like a Russell ‘My Castle Red’ which we grow easily from seed; I think we are just too hot for this one, if any lived, I may transplant them to a shade area and see how they do; I couldn’t make up my mind about the color, sometimes I liked it because it is different and other times I didn’t like it because it is kind of muddy; Second season will tell, it needs to be hardy and throw more stems.

Phlox ‘Jeana’
Good Qualities: Great color and fragrance, mildew resistant.
Problems: Plants shipped in August; Deer love it.
Additional Comments: Plants were in pots in greenhouse, did not plant to field until 10/13/03; Plants received during hot summer, growing in pots, received very small fragile plants; I have 2 1-gallon pots growing well, not yet planted.

Rudbeckia triloba
Good Qualities: Easy to grow; Last/late flower in production, perhaps too late in an early year; This is a great plant, I will grow this one again and more of it, it holds up great, produces a lot of stems per plant and everyone loves it; Great plant, very useful in bouquets and loved by florist customers; Plants were in good shape on arrival; Excellent filler flower, lots of 1-inch blooms per stem, lots of very usable side stems for bouquet use, very good vase life with standard postharvest treatments.
Problems: Acts like biennial (3); It dies out after 2 seasons, sometimes only makes it one season; Did not perform as well as previous year; Plants received in spring will be good next year, difficult to germinate seed, powdery mildew.
Additional Comments: Weak plant; Easy to grow from seed, why would one want to buy biennial plants; I grew as annual previous year/may not overwinter, perhaps better as an annual; I have grown this for 4 years, it is not really a perennial, but reseeds well and seems perennial because of that; I treat this as a biennial; Excellent cut if grown from seed or plugs and kept only two seasons.

Spiranthes cerna f. odorata ‘Chadds Ford’
Good Qualities: Plants were in good shape on arrival but small and late.
Problems: Too small flower for commercial value; Aphids; Plants were not shipped until Aug.
Additional Comments: Arrived too late plant outside (too hot) growing in pots, also very small fragile plants; I have 2 plants which were recently planted from 1 gallon pots, we’ll see next year; Planted out to field on 10/13/03.

2002 Perennial Cut Flower Trial Cultivar List

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’
Good Qualities: Nice plant, the color is nice and the fact it is an upright head, my customers liked it and used it; Nice grass.
Problems: We had problems getting it picked at the right stage, especially in the heat; I have a difficult time marketing this type of grass.
Additional Comments: This plant grew and flowered last year, it was nice, although stems were short, this year none of the plants returned, expect it was too cold even though they were mulched, they were grown at the end of a bed of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ which survived the winter and thrived this year.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’
Good Qualities: Nice color (2); Good size flowers; Vigorous grower.
Problems: Not as vigorous as other cultivars; This plant throws too many corms and crowds itself out, leading to a lot of foliage and fewer flowers, it must be lifted every 2 seasons, and small corms separated out and planted separately.
Additional Comments: Similar to Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’; Did not dig bulbs, we had a moderate winter, going to leave in ground for one more year; This plant just doesn’t seem to survive here as a perennial; We had an unusually cool wet spring and my other crocosmia were really spectacular (45-inch stems), this one was really just ok, bulbs were very small on arrival and suspect that larger bulbs would have performed better this year; Nice yellow orange color.

Gentiana makinoi ‘Royal Blue’
Good Qualities: Beautiful color (2); Spectacular in bud and flower; Nice stems; Stiff straight stems with brilliant deep blue flowers, long vase life.
Problems: Lost plant, don=t know the reason why; Deer love it, slow growth; Not tall enough to cut; Just suffered in our climate (Zone 7a); Needs acidic soil, rich in humus, well-drained mandatory, takes 4+ years to reach peak production of 20 stems per plant, must be lifted and transplanted after 7 years, can only be lifted in late winter before shoots get over 1 inch tall; Aphids, white flies.
Additional Comments: Did not sell any, cut some to trial for myself; I may need to move this out of the full sun for it to do better and get taller, it is alive, which is surprising; Excellent cut flower in cool climates, Zone 7 or cooler, needs good drainage and heavy watering during flowers stage, wilts easily because of the mass of vegetation on older plants, needs winter vernalization to bloom.

Helenium ‘Helena Gold’
Good Qualities: Great color (2); Branches well (3); Healthy plant; Not much; Very nice plant, customers liked it a lot; Strong growing plants; Vigorous plant, blooms late in the summer; Great vase life like Helenium kanaria, but with different colors, very popular for fall design work, and back to school, if cut back when last 10% of flowers are still blooming, we have enough time to get a second flush of about 20-inch tall stems.
Problems: Postharvest not great; It bloomed in early August but would be better in September B if I grow it as an annual, I can get it to bloom later; This plant just blooms at the wrong time B in mid August the gold colors are just [email protected] fall like, the flower is difficult for florists to use; Staking or netting necessary to prevent wind and rain damage.
Additional Comments: Similar to Helenium kanaria and Helenium magnificum; Color is not very popular for the time of year of flowering; Growing this as an annual-planting early and blooming in September might make it more salable, it grows very well and makes many long stems.

Helenium ‘Helena Red Shades’
Good Qualities: Great fall color (3): Easy to grow, bunches and picks fast; A tough plant, did very well here; Strong growing plants, many stems; Vigorous plant, blooms late in the summer; Great vase life like Helenium kanaria, but with different colors, very popular for fall design work and back to school, if cut back when last 10% of flowers are still blooming, we have enough time to get a second flush of about 20 inch tall stems.
Problems: Stripping foliage is more difficult than other flower; Like the yellow one, it started blooming in early August, would be much more marketable in September; This plant just blooms at the wrong time. In mid Aug. the red and gold colors are just [email protected] fall like, the flower is difficult for florists to use; There is a lot of variation in the color and markings on these, could be a problem in some market channels; Staking or netting necessary to prevent wind and rain damage, best if cut to 10 inches when plants reach 2 feet to reduce size of flower heads
Additional Comments: Similar to Helenium kanaria and Helenium magnificum: Florists asked for this; Growing this as an annual-planting early and blooming in Sept. might make it more salable, it grows very well and makes many long stems.

Lysimachia ‘Alexander’
Good Qualities: Striking variegated foliage (3); Very prolific, outcompeted weeds; My customers bought it for the foliage, not the flower, it did very well and grew more this summer, it took the heat of summer very well; Vigorous, large flower size.
Problems: Brown spots on leaves (2); Yellow flowers get lost with foliage; I didn’t cut it, plants grew well but flowers seemed insignificant, maybe good foliage stems; We used it as foliage because the blooms shed pretty quickly for us, the foliage held up well even in oasis; Needs to be staked, needs to be grown under 50% shade, leaf margins easily burned by direct sunlight, should be lifted and divided after two years to keep stem caliper size strong.
Additional Comments: Similar to Lysimachia punctata; Poor customer appreciation; I am going to move some of it into some part shade to see if it will stretch out and maybe do even better; Best grown for foliage and cut before flowers, flowers do not add much, with the yellow blooms easily shattering in vase.

Nepeta subsessilis
Good Qualities: Great blue (2); Early blue flower, very prolific; Tall flowers, very green foliage, very long vase life; Large flower heads, pretty tall, vigorous; Nice herby fragrance, clean bright green foliage.
Problems: What stage to harvest? some florets brown up before most flowers open; It would be really great if the stems were a little straighter; Way too short to be a commercial cut flower, some powdery mildew.
Additional Comments: Weak stems and kind of a washed-out blue color; This is such a good plant I have put in a 100 ft bed of it, hope I’m right about it – this is clear winner from 2002 trials; Too short.

Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’
Good Qualities: Healthy strong clumps; It did very well and I think it will continue to get bigger and better, the plume is a nice color and it=s a tough plant; Nice beargrass-like foliage, nice flower plumes 8 inches long and feather like.
Problems: Limited market.
Additional Comments: Florist like this, I don=t think the wholesalers appreciate the plant because of small bunches, very slow to pick; Very similar to wild pennisetum growing on the dry side of the island of Hawaii, near sea level in lava fields, seems to be very tough and cold hardy in
Zone 6.

Phlox paniculata ‘Miss Violet’
Good Qualities: Nice color (5); Fragrance, mildew resistant; It did very well this year, the blooms were beautiful and I was wishing I had 100 plants, the customers loved the color and phlox is always popular B once it is established, it did very well here; Strong grower; Good size flowers; Very high demand for wedding work, good plant vigor in second season.
Problems: Deer love it; Still suffering from the extremely poor condition the plants arrived in; Slower growth than Phlox ‘Ice Cap’, can not tolerate shade, plants growing in shade are too susceptible to powdery mildew.
Additional Comments: This did very well since it was mulched, planting it out in the field in the fall and mulching it made a huge difference; This is a nice phlox and makes a good cut flower, if it is available from other than Here and Now I=ll plant more; Similar to other Phlox paniculata; Appears to be mildew resistant if not grown in shade, individual flower petals are larger than most Phlox paniculata cultivars.