Forty-Five Minutes of Bliss

     January is trade show month and there is no better trade show in the country, in my opinion, than MANTS. The Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show, this year, was January 8-10. Celebrating its 50th year, MANTS was conceived as a “vehicle to stimulate commerce for the region’s nursery industry, and brought together a group of forward-thinking nurserymen to plan the first show” (Vanessa Finney-Garden Center Magazine). Today MANTS is sponsored by the Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia State Nursery and Landscape Associations equally. Widely considered The Masterpiece of Trade Shows™, MANTS means business. Some 300,000 square feet of exhibit space “maxes out” the bottom level of the Baltimore Convention Center. MANTS 2020 welcomed over 12,000 registrants (including exhibitors) from 44 states and 15 countries (including the United States). MANTS is, quite simply, mammoth! Nearly 1,000 exhibiting companies, this is the place to network, educate yourself and prepare for the upcoming spring season.

     Armed with copious notes and always determined to cover the show corner to corner, this year’s MANTS show certainly didn’t disappoint. Conversations with vendors, learning about new and upcoming plants, product research and catching up with friends are all vital to our company and its success. Trolling the trade show floor, for the first two days, had me validating suppliers, solidifying relationships and learning from the industries best. And at the conclusion of day two I was confronted with an unexpected, but certainly welcome surprise.

     Standing in front of the Monrovia Growers booth, finishing great conversation with our salesperson and friend, Pier Hutton Davis, Dr. Michael Dirr was fast approaching. After a quick and heartfelt greeting, Dr. Dirr dropped his bags in the booth and graciously asked me to join him to show me an exciting new plant. As we made our way through the aisles, we talked briefly about plant propagating, patents, vendors and our retail culture, always circling back to quality being paramount. As we approached the Griffith Propagation Nursery, Inc. booth, I said, “are you showing me the new hydrangea Froggie™? Interested that I had heard of the plant, and to have someone like Dr. Dirr explain all the intricacies of the plant, which he coaxed along, was epic. Hydrangea Froggie™, Hydrangea macrophylla Froggie™ (‘COF HM2’ PPAF), is a new mophead hydrangea with unique flower coloration. Green-pink and pure pink sepals in a mophead inflorescence, 4-6” diameter, will occasionally produce a pure pink flower. The progression of opening from green to spotted, and then more pink, has this writer believing this is where the name Froggie™ was contrived from? Producing larger, thicker sepals than other Hydrangea macrophylla types, Froggie™ holds its color in the heat and drought too. Additionally, Bigleaf hydrangea types are not known for great fall color, however Froggie™ seems to break that mold, too, with pronounced shades of red in the autumn. Blue accents, to varying degrees, has also been reported, as well as a somewhat “metallic sheen”. Froggie™, while not a reblooming (remontant) hydrangea, offers better cold tolerance than many of the French legacy cultivars. In fact, it was here that Dr. Dirr began an academic rant, riffling off many of those legacy cultivars with such ease, quick to point out, however that Froggie™ differentiates itself by its high Cercospora resistance (leaf spot disease) in production under overhead watering. Other notable attributes of Froggie™ include lustrous dark green leaves, again turning shades of red in the fall, mildew resistance, a tight compact habit complete with strong stems and an estimated “hardiness” in zones 6-9. Finishing roughly 4 feet by 4 feet, Froggie™ should prove itself useful in mass plantings, in a container on your porch or by the pool, or as a single specimen. And the fact that it’s tolerant of salt spray, should make it a great candidate down the Jersey shore.

     For more than 40 years Dr. Michael Dirr has given himself to the “green industry.” A horticulturist, breeder and author, his teachings, research, books and plant introductions seem endless. Walking the aisles, listening intently to Dr. Dirr, his encyclopedic mind seamlessly wove botanical nomenclature with breeding, patents, history and friendships. Dirr’s energy and passion is so intense and his recall, wit and storytelling comes feverishly at you… the entire experience was simply “sensory overload.” There are those who would love to meet Hines Ward, Fran Tarkenton or Herschel Walker, also from the University of Georgia, but for me I wouldn’t trade my forty-five minutes walking the trade show floor with Dr. Dirr. Introduced to several of his friends and colleagues and being introduced as a friend was a great thrill on many levels. Imagine meeting Mickey Mantle in the Yankee’s dugout, sitting there one on one talking baseball, that’s what my experience was like!