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...
Lavandula 'Meerlo' (Sunset Western Garden Collection)

March 3, 2015

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

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

March 2, 2015

Avoid Surprises On The Delivery Dock

A call in advance about problems with a plant shipment to a retailer you supply goes a long way toward customer satisfaction.

Read More
Janeen Wright

March 2, 2015

Deliver Plant Quality That Trumps Price [Opinion]

The industry's goal is to have loyal customers who return to the same plants time and time again, not because of price, but owing to a plant brand that shouts top-notch garden performance and is synonymous with excellence, which gives them the secure knowledge that their investment will be worth every hard-earned cent.

Read More
Latest Stories
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

January 28, 2015

Holiday Plant Trends And New Varieties

Growers had mixed feelings about the 2014 poinsettia season according to Greenhouse Grower's 2014 Poinsettia Survey. Read about their plans for 2015 and stay up to date on 14 of the newest cyclamen and poinsettia varieties on the market.

Read More

January 21, 2015

Pantone Marsala Plants To Grow In 2015 [Slideshow]

Marsala, an earthy wine-red color, is the Pantone Color of the Year for 2015, and it presents a great marketing opportunity to showcase Marsala-colored plants for outdoor and indoor decorating. Enjoy this round-up of plants with Marsala hues.

Read More

January 14, 2015

Liven Up Indoor And Outdoor Living With 24 New Tropical…

Uniquely colored foliage and vivid blooms are just two of the great features new tropicals and foliage plants add to energize indoor and outdoor spaces.

Read More

January 13, 2015

Take Purdue University’s Survey On Vegetatively P…

Do you have problems callusing or rooting vegetatively propagated perennials? The Purdue University Floriculture Lab would like to help you with these problems, but first the research team there needs your help.

Read More
Poinsettia 'Charon Red'

January 6, 2015

Dan Schantz Farm 2014 Poinsettia Trial Recap And 2015 D…

The 2014 Dan Schantz Poinsettia trials featured more than 170 poinsettia varieties. Here's a summary of the event, as well as a 2015 date for your calendar.

Read More

December 31, 2014

Engage Busy Consumers With Modern-Day Tropical And Foli…

Contemporary tropical and foliage plants fit right in with the hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century. Their versatility lends itself to countless uses both inside the house and out on the patio.

Read More

December 30, 2014

2015 California Spring Trials Are Just Around The Corn…

Are the California Spring Trials on your schedule for 2015? Before the busy growing season sidelines your plans, use this handy resource to get a jumpstart on registering for your trip.

Read More

December 29, 2014

Top 5 Slideshows Of 2014

These popular slideshows from 2014 highlight everything from new perennials, to new veggies, to California Spring Trials.

Read More

December 29, 2014

Suntory Makes Spirits Bright With Princettia Displays

Suntory Flowers started to introduce its varieties to sister company Beam Suntory by collaborating on a holiday interiorscape featuring Princettia at Beam Suntory's offices in Deerfield, Ill., near Chicago.

Read More