This year’s trial plants are a blast from the past

Erin Schanen

One of the interesting parts about being a person who talks about gardening on social media is that during the month of May, plants seem to appear out of nowhere. Trial plants, sent by companies who want to build excitement for their new varieties, arrive by the boxful often without warning. Delivery people are so familiar with the plant deliveries that they know to leave them in the garage instead of baking on the front porch.

Opening a box of trial plants is a little like Christmas morning for a gardener because you never know exactly what’s coming. And it’s not just a peek at new introductions for 2024, it’s also a look into what plant companies think will be in demand, something they would have had to forecast many years ago.

Plant companies work for years to introduce new or improved varieties of plants, so trends move slowly in the gardening world. There’s no ability for growers to quickly adjust to the changing tastes of gardening consumers.

And what I’m gleaning from this year’s selection of trial plants from a variety of companies is that they think the classics are back in fashion.

Among the various calibrachoas and petunias (so many petunias, it is a wonder to me that every petunia that could be bred hasn’t already been created) are a few plants that my grandmother would have never been without and seem to exist in garden centers primarily for nostalgic purposes. A pair of geraniums (the annual Pelargonium, not to be confused with perennial geraniums) and two varieties of fuchsia stood out among the plants currently more in fashion.

It is strange that gardening has trends when it comes to what plants are popular, but it certainly does. Just look at dahlias as the current poster child for the popular-plant trend. So does the reappearance of two “old-fashioned” annuals signal a return to some of the classics? Is this a nod to the “Coastal Grandma” aesthetic?

The good news is that while we may associate these plants with the planters and hanging baskets of decades ago, the plants themselves are much better. Pelargoniums are bred for better performance in heat, although to my knowledge they still need deadheading. The Ballerina series of fuchsia by Dummen Orange is bred to be more compact and full of flowers compared to old varieties that showed more foliage than flowers.

The last time I grew a fuchsia was two decades ago when I couldn’t resist a hanging basket overflowing with the bell-like flowers. In a short time they bloomed themselves out, made a mess on the ground and generally looked shabby.

I’m ready to have my mind changed about what a fuchsia can be. Who knows, I might be at the forefront of the next hot plant trend.


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