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.  


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...

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environments

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Horticulture Priorities

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadlines Approaching

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More
Latest Stories

March 25, 2015

13 New Shrubs You’ll Find At The 2015 California …

Woody ornamentals serve as the foundation of many great landscapes, but beyond their traditional uses, shrubs also add color, structure, texture and interest to small gardens and even containers. Check out this slideshow to see some of the newest introductions you’ll get to see at this year’s California Spring Trials.

Read More

March 23, 2015

Update To Armitage’s Greatest Perennials & Annuals …

A new update to the Greatest Perennials & Annuals app narrows the gap between consumers and grower-retailers, while providing more of Armitage’s top picks and growing advice for success with plants.

Read More
2014 Poinsettia Season Report

March 18, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Poinsettia Seas…

Poinsettia growers report a strong year in 2014, thanks to a few conditions. Seasonal cold at just the right time put consumers in a festive mood to buy early and often, and with no big snowstorms to hold up shipments and a reduction of supply available in the market, the season was strong from start to finish. Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Poinsettia Survey received 143 responses from growers around the country. Here, you can download the complete results of the survey, by filling out the form.

Read More
Hydrangea 'Endless Summer BloomStruck' from Bailey Nurseries

March 17, 2015

Michael Dirr Slated To Address Attendees At Hydrangeas …

Dr. Michael Dirr to deliver the keynote address at Hydrangeas 2015 conference, hosted by the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society in partnership with Endless Summer Hydrangeas. The conference will take place at the historic Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, Mass.

Read More

March 17, 2015

16 New Blooming Potted Plants You’ll See At The 2…

Blooming potted plants are perfect gift items, and they put the finishing touch on any style of home decor. So when new varieties come on the market, growers and retailers alike take note of plants they know are going to make consumers happy. Check out the slideshow to see some of the new blooming potted plants making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Salvia 'Ember's Wish'

March 11, 2015

Annual Salvias – Not Just Red Bedding Plants Anym…

Salvias are popular — and they need not all be the same. Here are a few you know well, and perhaps a few you do not. All are easy to grow and may be found through a broker or grower.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

March 11, 2015

Memoirs Of A Plantsman: Q & A With Allan Armitage

In light of the upcoming release of Dr. Allan Armitage's memoir, "It’s Not Just About the Hat — The Unlikely Journey of a Plantsman," Greenhouse Grower caught up with him for an in-depth Q & A about his newest work and what he’s planning next.

Read More

March 10, 2015

How To Determine When To Buy Herbaceous Perennials In V…

Exposing herbaceous perennials to cold temperatures, also known as vernalization, can yield a range of effects, especially on flowering. Beth Engle of SHS Griffin covers whether vernalized liners or unvernalized plants make the best sense for your sales windows.

Read More

March 4, 2015

California Spring Trials Preview: 32 New Perennials For…

Perennials are hot and if this preview of the 2015 California Spring Trials is any indication, there are going to be some great new perennial introductions for 2016. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out the slideshow to see some of the new perennials making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Lavandula 'Meerlo' (Sunset Western Garden Collection)

March 3, 2015

Why You Will Still Grow Today’s Big Perennial 10 Years …

What will be the next big perennial? Breeders say it takes more than a splashy plant to distinguish itself in the market. Therefore, the question is not what will be the next big perennial, but rather what perennial performs well enough in the garden to have staying power in the market for years to come.

Read More
Heuch Pink Fizz_featured

March 2, 2015

Intergeneric Crosses Are A New Perennial Trend

Intergeneric crosses, oddities some botanists say are an impossibility, have made serious inroads in the perennial world.

Read More
Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Arizona Apricot'

February 25, 2015

National Garden Bureau Designates 2015 As Year Of The G…

Gaillardia, also known as the blanket flower, is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and a long-blooming pollinator plant. It is fitting that the National Garden Bureau has specified 2015 as The Year of the Gaillardia.

Read More

February 18, 2015

California Spring Trials Sneak Peek: New Annuals For 20…

If you're like us and you can't wait until the 2015 California Spring Trials to see some of the new genetics that will be hitting the market in 2016, never fear. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out our slideshow to see some of the new annuals making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Athena Brazil Salvia 'Brazilian Purple'

February 18, 2015

ForemostCo And Athena Brazil Unite To Supply Unrooted P…

ForemostCo, Inc. and Athena Brazil have forged a working relationship to support each other in the unrooted perennial cuttings market for North America. The partnership, geared toward accommodating increasing demand for unrooted perennial cuttings in North America, adds diversity to a recently consolidated market.

Read More

February 17, 2015

Poinsettias Had Their Best Year In Many In 2014

Poinsettia growers report a strong year in 2014, thanks to a few conditions. Growers were encouraged by high plant quality, enthusiastic shoppers and a stronger, less saturated market for poinsettias throughout the selling season. Seasonal cold at just the right time put consumers in a festive mood to buy early and often, and with no big snowstorms to hold up shipments and a reduction of supply available in the market, the season was strong from start to finish.

Read More
Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'

February 17, 2015

Geranium Hybrid ‘Biokovo’ Dubbed 2015 Peren…

Geranium xcantabrigiense ‘Biokovo,' a naturally occurring hybrid of G. dalmaticum and G. macrorrhizum, is the Perennial Plant Association's top pick for 2015 Perennial of the Year. Learn why this tough, landscape geranium took home the prize.

Read More
Costa Farms' Season Premier 2015

February 4, 2015

Costa Farms’ 2015 Season Premier Reveals Newest V…

The annual Season Premier at Costa Farms in Miami, Fla., is the industry's very first peek at new varieties for debut the following year, even before the California Spring Trials, heralded widely as the jumping off point for new varieties. This year's event revealed breeders' best and brightest new varieties for 2016, shown in field trials, landscape trials and containers at Costa Farms tropical trial gardens. Plant breeders presented their new varieties to buyers and members of Lowe’s grower panel. Growers, brokers and other allied industry members, including Home Depot growers and buyers, were also able to peruse the grounds to see how the new varieties fared in the winter trials. Later this season, the hot and humid conditions at Costa’s summer trials will help identify the true performers.

Read More

January 28, 2015

All-America Selections Introduces Additional 2015 Winne…

All-America Selections has announced more 2015 AAS Winners, bringing the grand total of introductions for the 2015 gardening year to 25. The seven winners join the 12 announced last November and six announced last July. This year, AAS has had the most winners in one year since 1939.

Read More