Doug Cole, the owner and founder of D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon, New Hampshire, strives to have a detailed understanding of what he offers to his customers. Each year, D.S. Cole Growers, which grows finished plants and young plants for its customers in the northeastern region of the U.S., uses its trials to obtain a granular understanding of the different species and varieties it sells. So, when customers visit D.S. Cole at its Louden, New Hampshire, home for an open house or a trial garden visit, they get a clear indication of which plants D.S. Cole thinks are its best at a given point in time.
Below, Cole talks about how he approaches plant trials, why less emphasis is placed on early season crops and what plants he’s interested in moving forward.
Greenhouse Management: How has your approach to plant trials changed over time?
Doug Cole: We’ve probably done them for over 15 years now, and they aren’t like going to Ohio State’s trial garden or something like that. We are trying to focus on the new varieties we are going to offer and make comparisons with current varieties that we think are important to look at. We’re also trying to pick different species to focus on each year. We might pick all of the calibrachoas one year instead of just saying, ‘Here’s everything’ because there [are] close to 1,000 items we offer and that’s too much to do. We also try and do more than true trialing and show how things can be used, too. So, we might take succulents and make a lot of different planter shapes and sizes.
GM: Are there any plant trends you are keeping your eye on?
DC: I think there’s much less emphasis paid on the early season crops. I don’t think that’s new news. But, for example, plants like bacopa or nemesia, there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re still popular, but customers are still looking for products that are going to make it through the summer and not get hurt by the heat. With colors — red, blue, orange, yellow — I don’t see a trend there. But I do see a trend with the type of plant.
GM: When you look at what might be popular in the next year or few years, are their certain plants you are especially focused on?
DC: Foliage — what’s old is new. I can’t tell you if I’m crazy or not, but we’ve been growing soft foliage like Swedish Ivy, Wandering Jew and spider plants. We’ve been test marketing it for the last year in hanging baskets for the local finished market and it’s amazing. We just keep planting more and planting more. It seems like we are going way back into the 1980s when that was the last big boom of soft foliage. I don’t know if it’s going to take over or anything, but there’s a niche there. There’s a market there, so we have soft foliage not only in finished plants, but those items are back in our young plant program. And we’re going to see what happens.