California Pack Trials - A Pleasant Surprise

I just got back from the California Pack Trials and have the sunburn to prove it. This was my first visit to the Pack Trials and it proved to be a very interesting experience. If you are not familiar with Pack Trials, it is a week long event where some forty different breeders and growers showcase their new plant introductions. Attendees travel the coast of California making stops at greenhouses and display gardens to get the inside scoop on what’s new for the coming year. In the past, the Pack Trials were almost entirely dedicated to seed grown annuals and growers would come out and evaluate how the new annuals presented themselves in trays or cell “packs.” Times have changed and very few if any plants are seed grown and the plants are no longer displayed in trays.

For me Pack Trials was an opportunity to gage people’s reaction to new introductions. What is it that really gets people talking? I have never had much belief in focus groups when it relates to plants. I much prefer to go to a garden center and play detective. What are people putting in their carts? What are the plants that draw the attention of people in the store? The same is true for pack trials. It was interesting to see which plants got people excited.

At the Proven Winners display located at EuroAmerican Propagators, just north of San Diego, I was amazed at the reaction that people had towards the new line of OSO EASY roses – (Oso Easy ‘Peach Cream,’ Oso Easy ‘Fragrant Spreader,’ and Oso Easy ‘Paprika’) Prior to this, I had been repeatedly told that it was the absolutely worst time to introduce roses. Keep in mind that only one week ago, the leading name in roses - Jackson and Perkins was sold. The mighty have fallen, because the rose industry is in a fast, deep downward spiral. No one wants tea roses or grandifloras any more. Gardeners refuse to spray roses. For better or worse, growers and retailers have become fixated on ‘Knockout’ roses, just as they had done twenty years ago with ‘Stella d’Ora’ daylily. The herd mentality of the nursery industry is alive and well, so it was a pleasant surprise to watch the reaction of growers and retailers when presented a new line of roses. There was genuine excitement in eyes of everyone as they first caught a glimpse of the Oso Easy Line - And why not? These are great roses.

I know how good these roses are because I have been evaluating them for the last five years. I get test roses from five different rose breeders and I have tested countless selections - but only these three plants have made the grade. Our nursery grows many roses, and most all of them are a grower’s nightmare. For roses to go through the high heat and humidity of our propagation and production system and to stay clean is nearly impossible. Unlike the All American Rose testing process, we do not spray our test roses; not in the ground and not in production. Undoubtedly these are darn good roses. But to see buyers, growers and retailers get excited was confirmation that these roses have a bright future despite the bleak state of the rose industry. It was a pleasant surprise.