If We Stopped Breeding Plants Tomorrow, Would Anyone Really Care? (Opinion)

Webinar: Top Performing Annuals With Allan Armitage

My colleague Bob is a brilliant guy, and very much involved in the business of horticulture. He knows all the breeding companies, he assiduously studies trends and marketing, and best of all, he is a gardener. I love the fellow because every now and then he will utter an outrageous statement that makes people think. That he asked the above question during the California Spring Trials — the raison d’etre for new breeding — may have been a wee bit misguided, because it was at an intimate dinner hosted by the breeders of one of the largest horticulture companies. Upon asking, the dinner went quiet.

However, Bob was not one to let silence and a little jaw-dropping slow him down, and he added, “No, really — my friends and I have not come close to catching up to the introductions of five years ago, all of which, if I recall, were the greatest plants ever — so why do we need more?” The quiet was shattered!

However, Bob certainly had a point — my daughters, friends and neighbors really do not care about the name of the plant, let alone the cultivar, so what is new to them has no meaning. Everything is new! Even as were discussing, writing about, videotaping and photographing hundreds of new introductions for 2014, we constantly heard the age-old complaint, “Do we really need another new geranium?” Bob’s question simply expanded on that by asking “Do we really need another new anything?”

I lost myself in thought for a few minutes, as my dinner got cold. The question really goes to the belly of the beast, that is, “Why are we in business in the first place?” Supposedly our most important customer is, well, the customer. It used to be the gardener and landscaper but no more. If gardeners ask for anything by name, even with all the new tomatoes and pansies available, they still ask for ‘Better Boy’ tomatoes and ‘Super Majestic’ pansies. There is no way my neighbor is ever going to ask for Matrix pansies or Calliope geraniums, and they are many years old.  The truth is that the customer today is the grower and retailer. They must embrace what is new, and our friends and neighbors must rely on them when decorating their deck and home.

I came back to reality amongst comments flying over the table like arrows at Little Big Horn. I heard, “Do we need a new model of Ford, or tomato, or perfume or paint?”  “What would we have to market?”

Fortunately, it was a lively discussion, no food was thrown, and we realized we had no answer. One very smart breeder stated, “It is time everyone realized that we are not making new plants for the sake of the gardener, but our advances in breeding indirectly benefit the consumer and keep their interest.”  Another hit the nail on the head by saying, “We are not breeding for the sake of new, but hopefully for the sake of better.”

I thought about the fact that cars today routinely get 30 mpg, a result of all the intermediates (new introductions) from years past, and I am sure people complained about “one more new Ford.” “New” may never be understood to my neighbor’s satisfaction, but I can cite plant after plant, from alyssum to lobelia and certainly from geranium to petunia, that come off the bench earlier, hold their form tighter and tolerate outdoor abuse much better today that even five years ago. These new traits result in better production, better sales and better performance — and in the end a better plant for the consumer. To be sure, there have been plants that served no useful function and quickly disappeared into the dust of time, but the same can be said of the Edsel.

To suggest we need a breather is anathema to breeders — after all, that is their livelihood. And it simply will not happen. I have said it many times before and this discussion pointed out that I need to state it again: “New plants are the lifeblood of our industry.” We simply have to tell a better story – that all this breeding of a new red geranium or new yellow marigold is part of the journey, not the destination.

My neighbor and my daughters would be perfectly fine if a new geranium or petunia or echinacea was never introduced. There is no doubt a backlog of “new” for box stores and independents as it is. However, without the new, we would be out of business in five years, and of course, we would be bored to death. So, yes Bob, there will be new petunias next year and the year after, and we will all be the better for it.  

Topics:

Leave a Reply

One comment on “If We Stopped Breeding Plants Tomorrow, Would Anyone Really Care? (Opinion)

  1. And maybe someday one of the results of all these amazing efforts will be a deer-proof pansy! Hope springs eternal!

More From Varieties...
Combo-at-Youngs-Plant-Farm

December 12, 2017

How to Produce Stunning Combination Containers

It’s easy to produce your own attention-grabbing combos, if you follow this advice from a master combination designer.

Read More
SunStanding-New-Guinea-Impatiens-Dummen-Orange-feature

December 7, 2017

Growing Tips From a Pro for SunStanding New Guinea Impatiens

SunStanding New Guinea impatiens hybrids spruce up the landscape with vibrant blooms that explode with color in both sun and shade areas, and they hold up well in heat and humidity.

Read More
Japan-Airlines-princettia

December 7, 2017

Suntory Pairs Princettia with Several Breast Cancer Awareness Promotions

Suntory Flowers is partnering with several major brands to support breast cancer awareness and fundraising, using its bright-pink Princettia euphorbias as the ideal plant for Pink Ribbon promotions.

Read More
Latest Stories
Combo-at-Youngs-Plant-Farm

December 12, 2017

How to Produce Stunning Combination Containers

It’s easy to produce your own attention-grabbing combos, if you follow this advice from a master combination designer.

Read More
SunStanding-New-Guinea-Impatiens-Dummen-Orange-feature

December 7, 2017

Growing Tips From a Pro for SunStanding New Guinea Impa…

SunStanding New Guinea impatiens hybrids spruce up the landscape with vibrant blooms that explode with color in both sun and shade areas, and they hold up well in heat and humidity.

Read More
Japan-Airlines-princettia

December 7, 2017

Suntory Pairs Princettia with Several Breast Cancer Awa…

Suntory Flowers is partnering with several major brands to support breast cancer awareness and fundraising, using its bright-pink Princettia euphorbias as the ideal plant for Pink Ribbon promotions.

Read More
Brandon-Coker-and-John-Ruter-University-of-Georgia

December 3, 2017

Great Plants for 2018 That Stand Up to Heat and Humidit…

In his latest column, Allan Armitage credits trial managers at the University of Georgia, who have come up with an extensive list of plants that continually outperform others throughout the season.

Read More
Veronicastrum

December 1, 2017

Kelly Norris On How You Can Sell a New Landscape, With …

In his latest column, Kelly Norris says programs like Plant Select deliberately set out to change the market demand for a different palette of plants. Their success should serve as an example for how to authentically connect the gardening experience of a particular region with the supply chain.

Read More
MSU-Annual-Trial-Garden

November 29, 2017

2017 Michigan State University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI.

Read More
MOBOT-Trial-Gardens

November 27, 2017

2017 Missouri Botanical Garden Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO.

Read More
ISU-Trial-Beds

November 26, 2017

2017 Iowa State University/Reiman Gardens Field Trials …

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Iowa State University/Reiman Gardens in Ames, IA.

Read More
Lucas Greenhouses 2017 Container Trials

November 25, 2017

2017 Lucas Greenhouses Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results from Lucas Greenhouses in Monroeville, NJ.

Read More
Upper-garden_Mast-Young

November 24, 2017

2017 Mast Young Plants Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results from Mast Young Plants in Grand Rapids, MI.

Read More
Pentas-Graffitti-Lipstick

November 23, 2017

2017 Dallas Arboretum Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Dallas Arboretum in Dallas, TX.

Read More
Pentas-Lucky-Star-Red

November 22, 2017

2017 Louisiana State University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results Louisiana State University in Hammond, LA.

Read More
Echeveria-First-Lady

November 21, 2017

2017 D.S. Cole Growers Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon, NH.

Read More
Millet-Copper-Prince

November 20, 2017

2017 Colorado State University Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

Read More
Achillea-Ritzy-Ruby

November 19, 2017

2017 Green Leaf Plants Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Green Leaf Plants in Lancaster, PA.

Read More
Ball-Bed-with-Midnight-Snack-tomato_Cornell

November 18, 2017

2017 Cornell University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Read More
Pepper Cayenne ‘Red Ember’ (Johnny’s Selected Seeds)

November 17, 2017

Presenting All-America Selections’ Latest Round of Awar…

All-America Selections has announced the latest round of its award-winning varieties, each of which was trialed throughout North America by professional, independent, volunteer judges.

Read More
Eason-New-Calibrachoa-Hi-Graft

November 14, 2017

Eason Horticultural Resources Introduces New Decorative…

Created by Hishtil Nursery in Israel, the new decorative forms of calibrachoa feature an 8- to 12-inch stem and come in four colors of calibrachoa blooms on top.

Read More