Beckie Fox and Rodger Tschanz

This month, up to 250,000 people will view the horticultural handiwork of a University of Guelph grower at Canada Blooms in Toronto, part of what’s being billed as North America’s largest home and garden event March 16 to 25.

Among numerous blooms enlivening the exhibition floor during the 10-day event will be flowers grown in a U of G greenhouse. Since January, Rodger Tschanz, manager of the University trial gardens, has tended some 2,000 plants on campus destined for the exhibition.

By early March, he was counting down the days to his first of two shipments this month while keeping a close eye on pots of annuals and perennials growing in the Bovey greenhouse. Along with blooms from other growers, his flowers – about 60 varieties in all – will adorn the general exhibition space at Canada Blooms.

Besides growing plants for the event organizer, he’s also tending potted specimens that will adorn booths for two exhibitors at Canada’s largest flower and garden festival.

“They want to have everything looking like summertime in March,” says Tschanz, a two-time Guelph horticulture grad.

As in past years, he will speak at the event about new cultivars grown at U of G’s trial gardens at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute.

He says his involvement at Canada Blooms helps to increase U of G’s profile and helps connect plant breeders to gardeners. “The University’s name is attached to everything I grow.”

Having grown plants for last year’s show, Tschanz has an idea of what organizers expect, notably healthy blooms providing colour and foliage accents to attract visitors’ eyes.

At the same time, this year’s event poses new challenges for Tschanz and other growers. Now in its 16th year, Canada Blooms will occur for the first time along with the National Home Show, Toronto’s largest home show.

Last year a total of about 230,000 people toured both events. Organizers expect about a quarter-million people to visit the combined event this month.

Besides being bigger, Canada Blooms will last longer – 10 days rather than the normal five. So Tschanz expects to deliver not just one shipment of picture-perfect plants on opening day, but a second installment midway through.

Those plants will exchange their ideal greenhouse home with its carefully controlled light and climate for more variable conditions in the exhibition hall. Says Tschanz: “Plants never do quite as well on the tradeshow floor. Imagine bringing annuals growing in a bright greenhouse into the Direct Energy Centre, when the light quality is much poorer.”

Still, that’s not his primary concern. Bugs are the display grower’s worst enemy. Tschanz is armed with various biocontrols against such potential invaders as mites and aphids. So far, he’s clear. “If I got hit with an insect pest, that would totally ruin everything.”

Currently, his growing trays in two greenhouse sections are packed with vigorous blooms, including shasta and marguerite daisies, bell peppers, geraniums, petunias, salvia, coleus, even tri-coloured corn.

Among them are about 15 new annual varieties that will adorn a show booth for Garden Making magazine based in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. During a visit to the Guelph greenhouses this month, editor Beckie Fox quips, “It’s all on Rodger’s shoulders.”

She had known of Tschanz’s work in U of G’s trial gardens, part of a North America-wide test bed for new plant varieties.

“I knew his expertise in new plants,” says Fox. “These would be great plants for home gardeners. There’s a good mix of foliage and blooming plants.”