The Future Of Perennial Breeding

Pulmonaria 'Dark Vader' from Terra Nova Nurseries
Pulmonaria ‘Dark Vader’ from Terra Nova Nurseries

The world of perennial breeders was once associated with small, specialized growers and backyard breeders. While that community still populates the industry, larger commercial players have also entered this breeding arena.

The benefits of an evolving and growing breeder community begin with the ongoing influx of new perennial offerings.

“People have access to a huge variety of plants that never existed before,” says Tony Avent, co-owner and founder of Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. The Raleigh, N.C., retail nursery specializes in rare and unusual plants and serves to support the Juniper Level Botanic Garden and its research facility. “There’s been nothing to parallel what is available and here today. We currently add 2,000 new, unique plants to our trials every year. Those are insane numbers.”

Trialing For More Successful Perennials Breeding

Perennial patenting and licensing took off roughly 15 years ago, Avent says. First done by universities and botanic gardens, the business practice has crossed over into the breeding mainstream, encouraging the growing volume and pace of perennial innovation.

What remains critical to the future of perennial breeding is exhaustive and methodical trialing; yet practices have changed among some participants.

“Anytime you go from a low ebb to a high tide, people begin rushing product to market,” Avent says. “We’re seeing plants hitting the market that are not fully trialed; trialing has not kept up with the amount of breeding.”

When, after a few months, clients inquire about trialing outcomes, Avent tells them to call back in three to five years. Although the trialing pace picks up with breeder familiarity with particular varieties, by necessity it still takes time.

At Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc. of Canby, Ore., trialing has lasted upwards of 10 years, for example, with more than 1,000 pulmonaria hybrid seedlings that are spray-soaked with water bounced off a mildewed plant; seedlings susceptible to the bouncing mildew spores are destroyed. The process is repeated year after year until an absence of mildew predilection is achieved; only then can foliage and flower be considered. A different but equally long trialing process takes place with hosta, this time observing for sun and slug resistance.

 

 

“That’s the beauty of breeding: if something’s a problem, you breed away from it,” says Dan Heims, co-owner and president of Terra Nova Nurseries. To date, Terra Nova has introduced 800 annual and perennial plants.

Trialing is a building block for customer relations: gardeners want a plant to fulfill its claims to grow and thrive not just in one season, but over time. Shortened trialing protocols instill false expectations and ultimately failure when the plant cannot perform as promised.

“Everybody wins when gardeners become successful. They want to spend more time and money doing what made them successful,” Avent says.

The Gardening Generation – Today And Tomorrow

Even with an expectation of a boom in small-space gardening, there comes an expectation to “aggressively” use space, says Josh Schneider, a partner with Cultivaris North America. Based in San Diego, Calif., Cultivaris North America is an idea and project management company with a focus on ornamental product development.

With small-scale gardening come opportunities with ornamental grasses, heuchera and heucherella, the latter two offering beautiful color in the winter. Others are making use of container real estate year round, employing heuchera but also primula, ivy and tiarella.

“Carex generally is one of the ornamental grasses that are very versatile and easy to use in a container,” Schneider says. “Overall, though, container use is just getting started in the United States.”

Emerging and longtime gardeners live fast-paced lives with less time; thus follows their desire for convenient gardening. But, Schneider cautions, they incorrectly believe that perennial gardening takes less time; add to that a misplaced desire that perennials act like annuals.

“For example, Baptisia australis only flowers for two weeks but it is a spectacular two weeks,” he says. Unfortunately that brief but brilliant showing is considered a failure by this impatient population segment.

“Success is completely based on perception for your average uninitiated gardener,” Schneider says.

What Do They Want: Compact Or Tall?

Container gardening is a necessity for people living in small spaces.

“People are living in apartments and condominiums,” Heims says. “They don’t have gardens and they don’t want to invest in their rental properties’ gardens. You’ll never see that trend go down.”

More compact series of sedum, for example, are available, including ‘Touchdown Teak.’

Same goes for nepeta, which offers dwarf varieties like ‘Blue Lagoon.’ ‘Cat’s Meow’ grows a manageable 20 inches, reflecting a departure from expansive varieties. Additionally, new nepeta varieties are deer resistant and longer flowering.

But wait: enter Tony Avent, a self-proclaimed contrarian. “The trend is not moving away from tall plants,” he says. “People who are passionate gardeners and understand garden design have to have tall plants. Gardening is about creating spaces. It’s about creating spaces for wildlife. We need tall. We need big. We need flowering.”

Tall plant interest is evident in the strong sales of the genus colocasia, the third best-selling genera of plant at Plant Delights Nursery. ‘Thailand Giant Elephant Ear,’ which grows nine feet tall, was the fourth best-selling product in 2013, after a decade of being either being number one or two.

Another customer favorite is hosta ‘Empress Wu,’ growing four feet tall and nine feet wide.

“Its only claim to fame is it’s big. It is such a humongous seller,” Avent says.

Breeder Branding: Not Yet A Household Name

Heims says the gardener of the future will want more hand holding and more information and will have zero tolerance for inflated claims about plant capabilities. Nursery owners need to offer truthful advertising with lots of information and include displays that respond to desired solutions.

“They’re [customers] coming in and saying, ‘I have dry shade and I want a plant. I want a plant that is deer resistant. I want a plant that serves a purpose and is attractive,’” Avent says.

With a few exceptions, Knock Out Roses being one, customers are not overwhelmingly familiar with the breeders behind the plants. Terra Nova Nurseries offers plant tags, featuring its name, packed with needed point-of-purchase information and a scannable QR code offering yet more information. Still, branding efforts are most prominent at the trade level or with specific varieties leaving consumer awareness and loyalties in its infancy, Schneider says.

“It’s still generic — all of it,” he says. “There’s a lot of potential coming.”

Topics:

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
FleuroStar Award Ceremony

June 20, 2016

Begonia Hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’ Takes Home FleuroStar Award

The award from Fleuroselect was announced at the Green Inspiration Event in Amsterdam.

Read More
Caryopteris 'Beyond Midnight Bluebeard'

June 20, 2016

Keep The Sales Coming With 16 New Blooming Varieties For Fall

Plants that put on a show from first frost long into fall and offer the color options consumers want for their gardens go a long way toward extending sales further into the season and can help maintain your sales momentum going strong. Check out these 16 new blooming varieties, both traditional favorites and new alternatives, for your fall crop selection.

Read More
Latest Stories
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
FleuroStar Award Ceremony

June 20, 2016

Begonia Hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’ Takes Home FleuroStar Awar…

The award from Fleuroselect was announced at the Green Inspiration Event in Amsterdam.

Read More
Caryopteris 'Beyond Midnight Bluebeard'

June 20, 2016

Keep The Sales Coming With 16 New Blooming Varieties Fo…

Plants that put on a show from first frost long into fall and offer the color options consumers want for their gardens go a long way toward extending sales further into the season and can help maintain your sales momentum going strong. Check out these 16 new blooming varieties, both traditional favorites and new alternatives, for your fall crop selection.

Read More
'Osaka' Flowering Cabbage (Sakata Ornamentals)

June 18, 2016

Mark Your Calendar For Sakata Seed Trials In August

Sakata has set two dates for its California-based trials: Aug. 15-17 in Salinas, and Aug. 17-19 in Woodland.

Read More
Tomato Congress Logo

June 15, 2016

International Tomato Congress In Mexico Will Focus On G…

The event, which takes place in San Luis Potosi from July 20-22, will feature discussions on production strategies, cost management in protected structures, and optimizing your greenhouse environment.

Read More
Nir Nursery Wax Flower Pot Plant

June 14, 2016

Danziger Reaches Deal To Distribute Nir Nursery Varieti…

With the agreement, Danziger becomes the exclusive distributor of Nir’s product line, which includes cut flowers, foliage, pot, and garden plants.

Read More

June 14, 2016

Dümmen Orange Expands Its Succulent Offerings Through N…

According to Dümmen Operations Director Kate Santos, succulents are an attractive growth category because of their ease of use, shelf life in stores, drought tolerance, and versatility in application.

Read More
'Osaka' Flowering Cabbage (Sakata Ornamentals)

June 14, 2016

New Cool Season, Vegetable, And Foliage Crops For Fall …

Whether you’re providing pansies and violas to the garden center for fall color or decorative edibles to grace patio containers, consider these 16 varieties for fall crop sales, newly introduced for 2016 and hitting retail in 2017.

Read More
Calibrachoa Chameleon Sunshine Berry (Westflowers) - Feature

June 9, 2016

Fall Crop Alternatives That Can Increase Your Sales

There’s a lot of competition for grabbing your share of fall mum sales. Give your program a boost with new varieties that complement traditional fall crops.

Read More

June 7, 2016

It’s Time To Rethink The Value And Timing Of Cali…

Fourteen years ago, Greenhouse Grower saw an opportunity to bring next-day coverage of California Pack Trials (now California Spring Trials or CAST) to your inbox. The objective was to be your eyes and ears on location, to report the debut of the newest varieties and marketing programs, and report major breeder announcements, especially for those not attending. We continued to develop new story-telling tools with video capabilities, slideshows, and more. And once social media took hold, everyone attending CAST became reporters of their favorite varieties and displays at trials. So we’re left with the question — how should we continue to evolve our coverage, to bring the most value for you? It’s easy to fall into a certain pattern, to stick with what works — or seems to work. And just because you’re working really hard at something that you’ve had success with in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s […]

Read More
Carex 'Eversheen' (Hoffman Nursery)

June 7, 2016

Hoffman Nursery Has A New 30-Year Anniversary Look!

The new redesign of the Hoffman Nursery website packs in more content than ever with updated resources and 30 years of experience growing grasses.

Read More
GG June Cover image

June 6, 2016

The State Of Plant Breeding In 2016

Breeding companies look to strengthen their competitive advantage, easing the way for growers to procure new plant varieties and for consumers to grow with confidence.

Read More
Petunia Queen of Hearts

June 1, 2016

Danziger Introducing New Petunia Amore Series, And More…

Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm is planning to introduce 60 new varieties from its 2016-17 collection at the annual event, including petunias, bidens, and calibrachoa.

Read More
Nathan Lamkey Chuck Pavlich Allan Armitage talk about muckgenia

May 31, 2016

Allan Armitage: Three Trends (Good And Bad) That Caught…

We need to put the same energies we invest into California Spring Trials to get plants into consumers’ hands and encourage young people in the industry to attend.

Read More
National Garden Bureau California Vegetable Summer Trials

May 26, 2016

California Summer Vegetable Trials In August Will Cover…

The National Garden Bureau is once again organizing summer vegetables trials this August in California, giving attendees the opportunity to visit with several breeding companies.

Read More
Eason 2017 Perennials Guide

May 25, 2016

Eason Horticultural Resources Releases New Perennials G…

The two guides are available in digital and print versions and offer information from several breeders.

Read More
Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’

May 25, 2016

15 New Perennials For Bees, Butterflies, And Other Poll…

These 15 new perennials, available for retail in 2016 and 2017, will produce colorful flowers and foliage year after year, providing habitat and food for bees, butterflies, birds, moths, and other pollinators.

Read More
P.Allen Smith Cut Flowers

May 25, 2016

Sakata Seed America And P. Allen Smith Extend Partnersh…

Sakata is taking its partnership with plantsman P. Allen Smith a step further to create the P. Allen Smith Home Grown Cut Flowers Collection, a selection of premium cut flower seed hand-picked by Smith and bred exclusively by Sakata.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]