Perennials and grasses remain popular

Milton: fields and greenhouses

Pioneering propagator, Emerald Coast Growers, continues to captivate the North American market with its grasses and perennials.

Emerald Coast Growers (ECG), founded in 1991, specialises in raising young grasses and perennials – two horticultural favourites continuing to captivate the North American market.

ECG marketing manager, John Friel, asserts: “The appeal is beauty, hardiness, and ease of culture. Garden plants that don’t need to be replaced every year. What’s not to like?”

The resurgence of grasses

Friel explains that the resurgence of ornamental grasses began in the early 1980s and was fuelled by influential designers like Oehme, Van Sweden and the late Kurt Bluemel. And in 1983, the Perennial Plant Association was founded. Hundreds of hardy plant specialists joined the group within just a few years. Since then, grasses and perennials have sustained their popularity.

He observes: “Gardeners and landscapers are driving an increasing demand for native American plants, especially those that benefit pollinators and wildlife. That’s been a big factor during the last few years.”

A new twist

Friel also notes that growers “are always looking for a new twist, so there’s always interest in plants with a neat, compact form, interesting variegation, and new flower colours in a familiar category.”

Plants that come in a series – groups of plants in the same species, like Achillea millefolium Sassy Summer series or Coreopsis Uptick – are also a significant draw, observes Friel. “A proper series can be ‘cropped’ – predictably grown to similar finished size, looking their best for a certain sales window,” says Friel.

He adds: “Grasses bring grace, movement and structure to the border almost year-round.” The plant raiser, founded in 1991, is working with breeders to enhance its range of grasses.

Friel says: “We’ve partnered with breeders at North Carolina State and the University of Georgia by helping with the selection and trialling of infertile varieties. The focus is on two commercially important species, Miscanthus sinensis, ‘maiden grass,’ and Pennisetum alopecuroides, ‘fountain grass’.”

Breeding efforts

These breeding efforts were spurred on by the fact that a few types of each group of grasses, in some areas, had shown an unfortunate tendency to self-sow and spread beyond where they’re wanted.

“New hybrids that stay where they’re planted help take away that concern. Also, sterile plants often tend to flower longer and more heavily.”
These sterile grasses include Miscanthus sinensis Bandwidth, My Fair Maiden, and Scout. And soon to be introduced are High Frequency, Pennisetum alopecuroides Cayenne, Etouffee, Hush Puppy, Jambalaya and Praline. “All are patented or in the patent application process,” explains Friel.

Ongoing business expansion

To keep up with its growth and to improve logistics and growing quality, the Florida-based company, which sells starter plants to growers and landscapers throughout the United States and Canada, has been adding more growing space to its facilities every year. It now boasts more than 150,000m² (500,000 sqft) of heated greenhouse space and more than 12ha (30 acres) of outdoor growing space.

“We grow in southern and northern locations [Pennsylvania] to take advantage of the climate, and growing conditions each has to offer,” says Friel.
Such investment is undoubtedly helping satisfy North America’s appetite for grasses and perennials – a trend that looks to continue for many years.

An amazingly uniform Geranium ‘Rozanne’ crop.

Heuchera trays.

Shipping racks.

Pennisetum advena Rubrum’ is a hybrid between P. macrostachyum and P. setaceum.

Milton: newly built greenhouses.

Festuca Eilers Beauty.

This article was first published in FloraCulture International in October 2022.

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