Friday, December 26, 2014

Will flowers be the surprise inside?

Primulina 'Loki' flowering at the West window.
Story # 150,

            Seth Godin likes the idea that marketing your product with something extra will get people talking about it.

"The thing that makes something remarkable isn’t usually directly related to the original purpose of the product or service. It’s the FREE PRIZE INSIDE, the extra stuff, the stylish bonus, the design or the remarkable service or pricing that makes people talk about it and spread the word." 
– Seth Godin

            Will the long term success of Primulinas be the surprise flowers that eventually show up on the decorative foliage plant you bought?

            Maybe the quotes from gardeners will be:

            “My Asian Violet was thriving on neglect when it decided to flower. I never expected that.  I didn’t even know that they flowered”

Monday, December 22, 2014

How to get the Red to come out?

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Paul Susi with Red showing.
Story # 148,

            Primulina ‘Loki’ is a plant collector’s delight and many growers are watching it.

            This reddish/purple coloration is showing up as a mystery.  Where is it coming from and what causes it?   --- Light, fertilizer, age, temperature? 

            Nobody knows.

            If it can be consistently duplicated, we can make 'Loki', the best compact Primulina, even more interesting.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Streptocarpella 'Dancing Doves' --- For the record.

Streptocarpella 'Dancing Doves'
Story # 147,

            Streptocarpella ‘Dancing Doves’ deserves its own story.  This white flowered clone has an uncertain origin and an unstable name, until now.

            The plant was exhibited by Dale Martens at the 2014 Nashville Gesneriad Convention.  I was happy to find this white form to go with Streptocarpella ‘Concord Blue’, a Spring annual, often grown as a hanging basket.

            When I asked Dale for a cutting, she offered me her show plant for stock.

            Now the name.  After getting home from the show, I emailed Dale to get the name settled.  I yielded to her to name it, but she proposed several possibilities and yielded back to me.  From her list I liked ‘Dancing Doves’, since most doves are white and Streptocarpella flowers on wiry stems are always bouncing around.  She agreed that she liked ‘Dancing Doves’ as the best name.

            My production of Streptocarpella ‘Dancing Doves’ will be released though Longwood Gardens Plant Shop and other upscale Garden Centers.  It is the perfect companion to ‘Concord Blue’.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Overheard about Primulina

 Story # 146,

            These are some comments that I've captured from Gesneriphiles, a message board that I follow off and on.  Often the threads are disjointed and fleeting.  I've gathered a few pictures and words from advanced hobbyist about Primulina ---- Asian Violets, like an African Violet, but better!

            “Primulina ‘Loki’ is one of my favorite Peter Shalit hybrids.  I love the foliage shape and markings.  I’m growing this in part soil mix and part hydroponic rocks.”
Karyn Cichocki

Primulina 'Loki' Grown by Karyn Cichocki

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Karyn Cichocki

Primulina 'Rachel' grown by Karyn Cichocki

                                "Another of my favorite Primulina hybrids".

Primulina liboensis White Veined grown by Jim Roberts

       "Agree that Loki is at the peak of the hybrid list. But Primulina liboensis White Veined is at the top of the species list. The peduncle's haven't elongated yet, but the first flower of this cycle is poking out. Foliage is wonderful. "   
                                                                                      Jim Roberts

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Paul Susi

            “It's mine and has striking red/purple markings on the leaves. It is about 12" from two t8 tubes.

                                                                                  Paul Susi

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A comment on Primulina from John Boggan

Primulina 'Chastity' - John Boggan hybrid
Story # 144,

            When I started this blog I considered not allowing comments because it would be time consuming to keep current with replies.  Not to worry.  Most readers are too busy to comment.

            But the comments that I have gotten are thoughtful and valuable.  Since not all comments are noticed, I am copying John Boggan’s observations on Primulinas.  John has released these registered Primulina hybrids:  ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Silver Surfer’, ‘Moonlight’, Dreamtime’, ‘Chastity’ and ‘Blue Moon’.

 He has these important observations about Primulina’s durability and potential as a houseplant: 

Where I think the primulinas have a huge advantage, certainly over african violets, is that most of them are very attractive foliage plants (especially many of Peter Shalit's recent creations). The flowers are a bonus on top of what is already a nice plant. Moreover, they are generally easy to grow and fairly tolerant of neglect, especially dry soil. That's a huge advantage over many houseplants. The primary obstacle may be the somewhat brittle leaves and petioles that may make sleeving and shipping tricky, but if you can get these plants onto retail shelves, I think they will sell.
(underlining added)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Asian Tray Garden --- A new type of Miniature Garden.

Asian Tray Garden 
Story # 144,

            Miniature Gardens with several plants and accessories have been difficult to standardize for wholesale customers because of the high input costs.

            With Asian Tray Gardens, an interesting new design is evolving by planting a low bonsai ceramic pot with three plants and one accessory.  We need a tree-form, a low shrub and a ground cover.  With a small Buddha replica the scene is set.

            One combination that looks nice is to use variegated Ming Aralia, variegated Peperomia ‘Pixie’ and Peperomia prostrata.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

10 Things I learned about Primulinas at MAAVS

Primulina 'Loki' (Shalit)
Story # 143,

            The Mid-Atlantic African Violet Society (MAAVS) convention and sale brought together many advanced hobbyists devoted to African Violets and other Gesneriads and several specialized plant vendors.

            Primulinas were exhibited in the judged show and many varieties were sold by the vendors.  The experts were there.  I asked these knowledgeable growers what they think about the prospect of Primulinas becoming more popular.

1.  Primulinas are a very minor category with mail order sales either steady or going down.

2.   Flowering takes a long time and then the individual flowers are short-lived.

3.  For a young plant to set buds, the plantlet should be kept in a small pot (2” - 2 ½”).  Repotting too soon may prevent buds and delay the buds from progressing to come up and flower.

4.  Propagation by leaves is variable in the number of plantlets that you get.  Multiple ways to cut the leaves are possible and trials are needed to discover which way works best.

5.  The descriptive term: ‘Patterned leaves’ may be more accurate than ‘Variegated leaves’.  ‘Patterned’ is stable and ‘variegated’ is variable.

6.  There are many species in cultivation and many named hybrids that are interesting enough to test the commercial market as foliage plants.

7.  Primulinas are very durable and tolerant of drought and neglect, making them acceptable houseplants

8.  Very few hybridizers are working with Primulinas.  Tremendous patience is needed to tolerate the long flowering delays.

9.  It is unlikely the Primulina will be sold in flower as a commercial plant.  Small foliage plants are its only chance.  The yellow flowered--- P. ‘Aiko’ may be an exception.

 10.   Whether Primulina can grow into the common name ---‘Asian Violet’ is uncertain.  The purists among hobbyists want the common name to be ‘Primulina’.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I'm World Famous.... Again!

Sinningia 'Li'l Georgie' - The Breakthrough 'Mini'
I’m World famous….. Again!

My story about Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’, originally published in the Gesneriads journal and then shown in Gleanings is picked up by New Plantsand Flowers.  This plant news collector in the Netherlands has international circulation with stories about progress in the floricultural industry.

My previous story about Codonanthe was  reprinted as well.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

MAAVS Flower Show & Convention

Mid-Atlantic African Violet Show & Convention
Coming to Claymont, DE,
Crowne Plaza Hotel, Rt. 92 & I-95 (across from Home Depot)

November 13-15, 2014

Diamonds are Forever is the show theme.
Unusual African violets and other gesneriads for sale
Don't miss this opportunity to visit the Show Room
of winning
   African violet plants and designs
using America's favorite houseplant.etc.

Call  610-485-0211 for further information

Sunday, November 9, 2014

How to Become the Leading Regional Supplier for 'Mini' Plants?

Peperomia prostrata - 'Mini' Plant
Story # 141,

            How does any business become the dominate player in their field?

            An amazing book, Zero to One, by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal has insight into this question.  He advises how to escape competition. You should have some combination of several characteristics:  proprietary technology, network effects, economies of scale and branding.

            Proprietary technology applies to hardware and software, usually protected by patents.  The technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension.

            Can this happen with plants?

            The clearest way to make a 1000 % improvement is to invent something completely new.  Or you can radically improve an existing solution.  Once you’re 10X better, you can escape competition.

            Having the best plant product is the price of admission.  A lot of growers can grow good plants.  How to be 10X better?
            By having New plants that no one has like Primulina, Hemizygia ‘Candy Kisses’ and upright Selaginella should help, but is it 10X better?

            With truck delivery, orders can arrive in good condition without the problems of unpacking scrambled plants with cold damage.  Is this 10X better?

            I have custom plant tags with common name, botanical name, brief description and ‘Grown by Gary’s Specialty Plants’.  Established customers will have their business name as well.

            A recent order for 300 ‘Mini’ plants had an assortment of 50 different foliage and succulent plants.

            Are all of these features enough to be 10X better and be the leading regional supplier for ‘Mini’ Plants’?

            The true test is if Garden Centers try them and they sell.  Most of my customers never leave.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fill 'er up and buy a plant!

Buy a plant!
Story # 140, O. T.

              Fill ‘er up and buy a plant.

              Macroeconomics is hard to understand when you are the main one that you care about. 

The $0.62 drop in gas price over the last 6 months will save consumers $85 million over the next year collectively.  What’s that do for me?

Fill up your 10 gal tank and you will have $6.20 left in your pocket.

Go buy a plant.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Primulina progress --- Where will it come from?

Primulina 'Aiko'
Story # 140,

            Maybe a few thousand people in the World know what a Primulina is.  Hobbyists who may be growing this obscure Genus from Asia have their own opinions about the worth of this African Violet relative.  Even the Gesneriad flower shows have had to compensate for the long delay in flowering by having judged classes both for in flower and not in flower.

            Because they can be grown as attractive foliage plants gives hope that Primulinas could be a commercial crop

            But where will the new varieties come from?  Who will champion the plants to develop the market, improve the variegation, shorten the flowering time, add new flower colors or develop faster production techniques?

            In the computer tech business, venture capital bets on the next Big Thing.  No such thing in horticulture.  The rewards are too small.  No horticulture company can be cashed in with an IPO.

            Progress will have to come from curious hobbyists who like to create something new.   That’s where the existing hybrids have come from.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Primulina --- So what's the common name going to be?

Primulina 'Nimbus' grown by Beverly Williams
Story  # 139,

            Plants have common names and botanical names.  Common names evolve over time and have infinitely different origins.

            The common names help the casual observer identify plants and make life simpler, e.g., the burn plant got associated with Aloe vera because its sap can be used on minor kitchen burns.

            Confusion arises when there are several common names like ‘String of peas’. ‘String of pearls’, ‘Pea vine’ for Senecio rowleyanus.

            Botanical names follow strict nomenclature rules, such that a particular species can only have one Latin name, described as Genus and species.  Some plants settled on the botanical name being the common name, e.g., Poinsettia and Chrysanthemum.

            The question is what are we going to call Primulina?

             I'm proposing that Primulina is like an African Violet, but better!

            Primulina species are native to China and North Vietnam.

            Will they become known as Chinese Violets, Vietnamese Violets or just Primulina?

            I would have voted for Chiritas, the previous and much cooler Genus name for Primulina.  Primulina will get confused with Primrose (Genus: Primula)

            My second choice would be Vietnamese Violets.  Vietnam should be known for something besides a futile war.

            The ultimate choice to match up with African Violets is Asian Violets.

            Will the name ‘Asian Violets’ become common?

Monday, October 20, 2014

10+ Reasons people buy 'Mini' plants

Pincushion spikemoss - Selaginella kraussiana 'Brownii'
Story # 138,

            There is demand for ‘Mini’ plants for Miniature Gardens.  Garden Centers that have Terrarium and Miniature Garden departments need and use a steady supply of small plants.

            What are gardeners doing with these plants?

            In spite of us wanting everybody to have a Miniature Garden in their house, the reality is that very few do.

            Here are some ideas of where this volume of ‘Mini’ plants is going:

1.   I want plants appropriate for a Miniature Garden --- the base group who need a tree, shrub, vine, flower and ground cover.

2.   I want plants appropriate for a terrarium --- smaller plants that like humidity.

3.  I need a small plant that will go into this nice pot I just bought.  People will carry the pot around to match the plant.

 4.   I need to replace a plant in my Terrarium/Miniature Garden.

 5.  I collect plants and I see a new one I like.

 6.  I need plants for a flower show display that I’m making.

 7.  I want to try a small plant of a new variety before I buy a big one.

  8. I can buy a lot of little plants because they cost less and I want to try them.

  9. I need a souvenir plant and this little one will do it.

 10.  I’m traveling and only have room for a small plant.

           11.  It’s cute!  Never underestimate the marketing value of cute.

We are never sure why people do what they do, but the more plant varieties you have, the more they buy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hemizygia 'Candy Kisses' - The New Flowering Plant for Winter

Hemizygia 'Candy Kisses', Budded, 15 October 2014
Story # 137,

            The Great Stagnation is revised.  There have been books written and arguments made that there is nothing new and nobody is working on anything.

            The crop of Hemizygia ‘Candy Kisses’ is budded and will be in flower by Christmas.  Although ‘Candy Kisses’ is sold in the Spring as a contrasting variegated plant for mixed planters, it has never been seen as a Winter flowering houseplant.

            Will gardeners find it interesting with bright variegated leaves and pink flowers or just complain that there is nothing new?

            I’ve decided --- the theory of stagnation in ideas and new products is just stupid.  So I won’t be writing a book about it.

            It has taken 2 years to get to this new crop grown as a flowering plant.  First seen at the Philadelphia Flower show in March 2013, it was not in flower.  Since short days initiate the flowers, that specimen plant in the show must have been growing under lights with extended day length for more growth. 

            Once I found some stock from a propagator in Israel, I’ve been selling small branched tip cuttings in the ‘Mini’ plant mix.

            Since no one is producing 4” pots of ‘Candy Kisses’, I’ve had to make it up as I go along.  Following a similar schedule as Mums and Poinsettias (other short day crops), seems to be working.

            Watch for the finished flowering version at Longwood Gardens and other progressive Garden Centers.

Hemizygia 'Candy Kisses' in 4" pot, branched

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It didn't start out as a brand.

Primulina 'Loki'  with custom blue tag
Story # 136,

            At least 80 % of B2B inquiries have come from owners or department heads of Garden Centers looking for small plants after seeing my plants at Longwood Gardens Plant Shop.

            How or Why?

            My 2 ½” ‘Mini’ plants all have a custom blue tag with common name, botanical name, brief culture and ‘Grown by Gary’s Specialty Plants’.

            It evolved.

            My buddy, Dave, a Master Tag rep wants me to get picture tags printed.  Because I have so many unusual varieties, often in small quantities, that would prove to be logistically impossible.

            The answer is to have my own tag printer and print tags as needed.  This has its own problems --- costly and time-consuming.

            But these blue tags (my favorite color) have become a recognizable benefit to the consumer.

            It’s amazing to me that Garden Centers will demand name tags to help with self-service and then accept tags that are so general and non-specific that they are almost worthless.

            As more and more Garden Centers are adding my ‘Mini’ plants to their mix, the blue tag plants stand out as the ones to buy.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Primulina could become a common houseplant!

Primulina 'Loki' growing at the West window
Story # 135,

            This picture of Primulina ‘Loki’ is why I’ve changed my mind about Primulina as a potential houseplant.

            I’ve grown hundreds of thousands of houseplants in the greenhouse but have seldom been able to keep a plant alive in the house.

            These two plants have been growing at the West kitchen window for months.  One went to Nashville and was entered in the national Gesneriad Society flower show and came back.  The leaf damage is from the wind knocking them off the shelf, not a plant fault.

            They can be dry without harm and are now budded.

            What’s not to like?

Primulina ---- Like an African Violet, but better!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Plant Matters!

Blue Job's Tears - Pilea glauca - Groundcover
Story # 134,

            In the internet world, the advice/warning is ‘Content Matters!”  There is an industry of advisors preaching that ‘Content Matters!”

            What does this mean?

            I’ve come to believe that in advertising with words, that it matters what you say and how you say it.  Most advertising is ignored unless it’s something that you actually want to know about.

            The equivalent in horticulture is ‘The Plant Matters!’  The industry thrives on improving varieties and introducing new plants to gardeners.

            With my focus on ‘Mini’ plants for Miniature Gardens, the plants have been selected for use in that category.  They are houseplants that are proportional to small scenes in Miniature Gardens and Terrariums.  We are continually looking for plants that are small and have a purpose as a tree, shrub, vine, flowering or groundcover.

            All of the specialist propagators of small plants, who are trying to catch up with the demand, have their assortment.  Surprisingly there is not much overlap in varieties --- Everybody has their opinion.  I, of course, believe that my selected ‘mini’ plants are the best!

            Each plant matters.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How to create a new commercial crop.

Primulina 'Loki' hybridized and grown by Peter Shalit
Story # 133,

            Walmart has a deceptively simple system for sales.  They continually monitor what sells and then get more of that.

            To create a new commercial crop we need supply to be introduced into the market.  Every Garden Center is looking for the “What’s new?” plant.  “New” keeps gardeners interested.

            Commercial plant production has evolved into three phases --- the specialist propagator, the grower/finisher and the retail garden center.  The last two in the chain may try a new plant but will only continue if it can be finished in 3 months or less and be durable enough to survive shipping and hold up in the store for weeks.

            Can Primulina ‘Loki’ be entered in this race for acceptance as a commercial crop?

            Nothing can happen until a specialist propagator decides to take a chance on producing Primulina.  At the moment, there are limited stock plants.

            A parallel crop to study is Cyclamen.  It is a long crop from seed to flower, so an extra step evolved --- pre-finished.  A finisher may decide to pot twice as many as he needs and then sell off budded plants in order to have room to space out his own.  This gives the final finisher the illusion that it is a short crop.

In any case, for Primulina to be grown as a flowering houseplant, multiple production segments may be needed to get it to flowering within a year.

Do Primulinas have the same potential as African Violets?  Violets started with only blue flowers, leaves that were brittle and detaching flowers.  Holtkamp Greenhouse solved these problems and now produces millions, worldwide.

There are Primulinas with blue, yellow and white flowers but flowering time is prohibitive. That leaves it to be grown as a small foliage plant and P. ‘Loki’ is the best one.

            If they sell, we’ll get/grow more.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Will Primulina 'Loki' break the commercial barrier?

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Gary's Specialty Plants

Story # 132,

            Primulinas, formerly named Chiritas, have never been a commercial crop.  Growers who may be familiar with these Gesneriads, native to China and North Vietnam, soon eliminate them as a flowering houseplant when it’s learned that it may take a year or more to flower.

            My friend, Quentin Schlieder, has been trying to get me to see the value in Primulina.  I’m starting to come around.  The variegated forms are interesting as foliage plants.  I’ve propagated P. vericunda, P. ‘Betty’ and P. ‘Loki’ and easily sold the few that I’ve had in 2 ½” ‘Mini’ pots.  They are young variegated plantlets that are attractive as little rosettes---- no flowers required.

            Primulina ‘Loki’ is a hybrid by Peter Shalit, past President of the Gesneriad Society and a hybridizer famous for not releasing selections too soon before testing them.

            All of my ‘Loki’s have been grown from a single leaf of Peter’s  show plant that he handed me during break-down at the Mid-Atlantic Gesneriad Show at the University of Delaware in 2012.

            Since I had not been following Primulina, I didn’t have the story until later.  P. ‘Loki’ is a cross between P. brassicoides and P. dryas ‘Latifolia Dwarf’.  Peter tells me that it has hybrid vigor and was the most compact seedling he selected.

            So what commercial plants are sold as small foliage plants and if they eventually flower you get a surprising bonus?  Succulents or cactus, maybe?

            I’ve seen ‘Loki’ used in Terrariums and Miniature Gardens with great success.  It is a better long term choice with its variegation than Mini Violets which look nice while flowering but need replacing.

            Primulina ‘Loki’ is propagated by rooting leaves, similar to African Violets.  I finally have enough stock plants to stick several hundred leaves.  Once a steady supply of 2 ½’ plants can be produced, we will find out if there is demand.

            Primulina ‘Loki’ with its distinctive variegation and faster growth may be the one that gains commercial acceptance.  But it will take time.

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Jay Sespico

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Do you bid on 'A hope and a promise'?

Streptocarpus 'Fred's Moon Lines' (Bellairs) grown by Dale Martens

Parents of 'Fred's Yellow Ice' and 'Fred's Moon Lines'
Story # 131,

            I went to the Gesneriad Society National Convention in Nashville to show Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’ and came home with a new Streptocarpus.

            Thankful to be judged with the Best Commercial Display, it was worth the effort to show multiple ways S. ‘Li’l Georgie’ can be used in Terrariums and Miniature Gardens.

            The hobbyists who show at Convention are true experts in the culture and hybridization of these infinitely diverse plants.  There was a new Streptocarpus in the silent auction grown and donated by Dale Martens, the genius leader of the Gesneriad Hybridizers Association.

            The hybrid, S. ‘Fred’s Yellow Ice’ was in the judged flower show and the entry card showed the hybridizer as Fred Bellairs in Michigan.  The parents of S.  ’Fred’s Yellow Ice’ are S. ‘Keigetsu’ (K. Hirose) and S. ‘Fashion Statement’ (D. Thompson).

            The plant for sale was muti-flowered with large crisp flowers and distinctive line markings.  I’ve grown S. ‘Keigetsu’ and know it to be a strong plant, while the pollen parent was an unknown.  Maybe it’s worth taking a chance.

            The silent auction is a way to donate money and get something that you want.  I was successful in the bidding but had to pay $130 to get it.

            Will my prize be a good one?  One strategy in hybridizing is simply cross the best with the best and hope for the best.

             Streptocarpus ‘Fred’s Yellow Ice’ has flowered all summer.  Some leaves have rooted and may be salable by Christmas.

            ‘Fred’s Yellow Ice’ is a very nice selection by Fred Bellairs and has a nice story to go with it.  Thank you to Dale Martens for introducing it.

Streptocarpus ''Fred's Yellow Ice' (Bellairs) grown by Dale Martens - Nashville 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The IGC Trade Show Report- 2014

Gary's Specialty Plants  IGC Display 2014

Story # 130,

            We survived a major undertaking last week by setting up as an exhibitor at the Independent Garden Center – East Trade Show in Washington, D. C.

            The goal was to introduce my 5 plant products to the garden center plant buyers who came to look for the new, the different.

            We were fortunate to have John Boggan, Garden Blogger, stop by.  I want to thank John for including a picture of Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie in his IGC report.  I encourage you to go over to John's story.