When Bailey Nurseries purchased its long-time breeding partner, Plant Introductions, Inc. (PII), in early January 2015, it freed the PII team of Michael Dirr, Jeff Beasley and Mark Griffith to concentrate on what they do best: develop new plants.
“How do you know what to breed?” Dirr asks. “You have to have the heart and soul of a gardener to know.”
Bailey Nurseries President Terri McEnaney says Bailey Nurseries will take on the business management side of the partnership, but otherwise the relationship it has enjoyed with PII for years will be largely unchanged.
The two companies have worked together on the Endless Summer program since Dirr first spied a blooming hydrangea late in the season on September 11, 1998, during a walk through Bailey Nurseries. Since then, many of the plants Bailey Nurseries has introduced have been through PII, including all four Endless Summer hydrangea varieties and a number of introductions in Bailey Nurseries’ First Editions line.
The purchase represents a new phase of breeding for Bailey Nurseries. Up until now, most introductions have been the result of happy accidents. One such happy accident was when McEnaney’s father, Rod Bailey, noticed a lilac tree on his normal route to play golf that was in bloom well beyond the normal lilac season. And so ‘Snow Dance’ was discovered and introduced to the industry. Another example is the popular ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac, which was a sport of ‘Dissecta.’ Otherwise, Bailey Nurseries has brought new plants in from outside breeders like PII.
Now Dirr and his partners will concentrate on developing more new varieties for Bailey Nurseries, most of which are destined for the First Editions brand.
Don’t expect an explosion of new varieties, however, McEnaney says.
“We’ve been in business 110 years, and we want to stay in for the long term,” she says.
The Endless Summer line, the best known result of PII and Bailey Nurseries partnership until now, has only four varieties in the lineup, even though it debuted more than 10 years ago. Few companies would have been able to resist the financial lure of capitalizing on such a successful brand, but Bailey Nurseries has done its best to keep the standard high.
Other changes to expect are plants with a wider range in performance. PII will continue to be based in Georgia, and Bailey Nurseries has added several southern growers to its grower network in the past few years. The grower is also in the process of building up its trialing program.