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Garvinia Sweet is a Gerbera with staying power

Don’t treat Gerberas like gerbils. Or Germany. Or the name Gerry.

This flower’s name has a hard G, not a soft one. Many of us mistakenly say “jerbera” — which is hardly surprising, really, because very few words in the English language that begin with the combination “ge” are pronounced the other way. Right now, I can think of only two: “gear” and “geese.” Ha.

But who cares how we say it? This remarkably pretty daisy with the much-mangled moniker is going to be on the lips of a lot of people in Ontario shortly.

The reason? Canada Blooms, our annual garden and flowerfest, which kicks off March 11, has chosen the Gerbera as its 2016 Plant of the Year.

As a result, there’ll be great armloads of luscious cut Gerberas (raised in Niagara greenhouses) on display throughout the show. But we’ll also be able to buy a groundbreaking new kind to put outside once spring comes.

That’s the Garvinia Sweet. Unlike other Gerberas, this one comes with some mighty cool credentials.

Plant breeders around the world are hailing it as a “Three Seasons Plant.” That means it can go on the deck or in the garden the moment the weather warms up and it will cope with any kind of summer. But the biggest plus for Canadians? Garvinia Sweet is likely to last well into October, even surviving a bit of frost.

This is quite a turn-up, because I usually find Gerberas don’t like our cantankerous climate. Originally from South Africa (and named after a German botanist explorer called Traugott Gerber), they are subtropical, demanding heat and sun. In past summers, mine habitually produced such sparse, wizened flowers, I stopped trying to grow them — and now stick to the reliable (and superb) cut kind, sold in bunches at supermarkets.

However, in experiments at the University of Guelph Trial Gardens last summer, these new kids on the block — the Garvinia Sweets — performed amazingly well. So well, they’re getting star treatment at Canada Blooms.

“Everything seems right about these plants,” enthuses Rodger Tschanz, manager of the Trial Gardens. “The flowers are about two inches wide and you get lots. But the biggest thing is, the plants develop strong root systems and last well into the fall. A freak frost won’t hurt them.”

Hurray to that. Several colours of Garvinias — with delicious names such as Sweet Honey and Sweet Glow — will be on sale in eight-inch pots at the show “and that’s pretty substantial for Gerberas” says Tschanz. Spring Gardens Greenhouses in Niagara is raising them and they’re expected to cost $15.99 apiece.

But how do we keep these precious purchases alive until the still-far-off day when they can go outside?

“Make sure the pots stay fairly dry, in a sunny window. Water occasionally, but not too much,” counsels Felicia Vandervelde of Florist Holland. “If flowers get damaged or shrivel up, just nip them off. They’ll develop new ones.”

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