Bailey Nurseries’ David Roberts Says New, Novel Varieties Help Generate A Passion For Plants

David Roberts Bailey Nuseries Feature Image
David Roberts

Bailey Nurseries has hired David Roberts to be the General Manager and Breeder for Plant Introductions, Inc. (PII). Roberts will manage day-to-­day operations, lead breeding direction, and coordinate breeding objectives for the Watkinsville, GA-based company, which was acquired by Bailey Nurseries in 2015. Roberts will work alongside Bailey management and PII consultants Dr. Michael Dirr, Mark Griffith, and Jeff Beasley.

“David is bringing great knowledge and energy to PII,” says Bailey Nurseries President Terri McEnaney. “That strong combination of experience and enthusiasm expands the opportunity for PII to continue bringing top-quality, groundbreaking genetics to market.”

Roberts has a master’s degree from North Carolina State University in Horticultural Science with a concentration in Ornamental Plant Breeding. Over the last several years, he has worked as a graduate student with Dr. Dennis Werner and Dr. Tom Ranney, where he developed a passion for ornamental plant breeding and propagation.

Roberts’ work at PII will be focused on producing cultivars through research, genetic improvement, and innovative hybridization in accordance with the plant breeding strategies set forth by the Bailey Nurseries/PII ownership and the Plant Development team.

Greenhouse Grower magazine (GG) recently talked with Roberts about his new role and how he plans to work with growers in the industry.

GG: How did your previous experience prepare you for this new role?

Roberts: My work with Dr. Dennis Werner and Dr. Tom Ranney exposed me to breeding practices for a wide range of woody taxa. The ornamental breeding programs run by these two distinguished professors are some of the best in the nation, and their tutelage has provided me with a variety of skills and techniques that can be utilized for advanced hybridization projects.

GG: What are some of the biggest issues or concerns you’ve heard from the growers you work with, and how do you plan to help them deal with these issues?

Roberts: The potential for eliminating invasiveness among certain species is always a hot topic. By generating sterile cultivars, we can access a wider consumer base and deliver high-quality garden specimens while maintaining the integrity of our natural environment.

GG: What are the biggest challenges this industry is currently facing? Conversely, what are some of the biggest opportunities on the horizon?

Roberts: I believe that getting the general public excited about horticulture is something the entire industry should be working towards. Nowadays, there are more options than ever for the weekend gardener, so it’s up to us to spread awareness of unique cultivars and the attributes that set them apart in an otherwise crowded field. By generating a passion for plants, we can create a greater demand for the products we produce.

At the same time, the organic and farm-to-table movements have brought plants to the forefront of many people’s consciousness. I believe growers and plant breeders can capitalize on this awareness and use it to expand upon the edible ornamentals category of plants and promote the many benefits they provide.

GG: Looking ahead, what role can you play in moving this industry forward?

Roberts: I believe I can provide a creative outlook on ornamental trait combination and use that creativity to produce novel cultivars that do not currently exist in the trade. By creating exciting new cultivars, I hope to inspire a new generation of plant nerds to get out there and start gardening.

GG: If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be doing?

Roberts: If I were not a plant breeder, I’d still be working in the field of horticulture. I love plants and I love spreading knowledge that pertains to them, so perhaps something in academia. However, I’d still be breeding plants in my spare time, so whatever I did would have to be able to support my horticultural pastimes/obsessions.

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