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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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When Plant Breeders Get it Right, There's No Such Thing As Too Much Pleasure.

When the names of the annual titles and awards for plants were released a while ago, some of my blogging colleagues wondered about the role that these plants play in gardening. Each year, there are many disappointments among the new introductions, but there are also a few successes. It is this paltry collection of new garden heroes that keeps us coming back for more, every season. That’s because we have an agenda:-

Let us first tackle the subject of breeding for the joy of owning a new color of flower. Every few years a new shade will appear on the scene so that gardeners can add something unusual or different to their flowerbeds. In order to argue on behalf of those that celebrate newness, we need to acknowledge that gardening is not always about establishing a permanent installation. Some consider a garden to be a dynamic composition, subject to annual change when new varieties become available. Others like change simply for the fun of it.

Secondly, we should recognize that breeders play an important role in their ongoing attempt to develop hardier species that can survive colder climates. Gardeners who pine for certain plants, but cannot grow them due to climatic conditions, are delighted when winter - hardy strains are introduced. I am one of those gardeners. Breeders do me a great service when they discover a new variety that will survive a USDA 4b winter.

Lastly, breeders contribute to our enjoyment of gardening when they try to eliminate the messiness of flowers. Many landscape architects and garden designers are mandated to plant only those species that grow neatly because few clients have a desire to care for their plants. Its not always about the cost of maintenance, it’s usually about the continuity and reliability of a garden’s clean image. Breeders working on developing  neater plants are invaluable because these new introductions will extend the boundaries of our design palette, giving us more raw materials to work with.

Unfortunately, in the process of meeting market needs and pleasing almost everybody, nature and scientists make compromises; often, new introductions will disappoint. Some plants lose their fragrance when they are bred for hardiness or shrink in height and volume when tweaked for neatness. Invariably, a new variety bred for unique petal coloration might lose its hardiness, or its longevity, or both.

However, if a plant delivers what I need to make my gardens look better, without compromising hardiness or longevity, I don’t allow myself to become sentimental about what it has lost in the transformation. Instead, I focus on what I have gained in creative materials and how my clients have benefited from me having a wider selection to work with. Each new season, along with other gardeners, I experience the excitement of new plants bred for our unique enjoyment. In flower gardening, there can be no such thing as too much pleasure.

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Reader Comments (3)

I like your philosophy! People garden for different reasons, and the pure joy of seeing something beautiful is a legitimate one. The newest hybrids may not suit the tastes or native instincts of many gardeners, but the garden world is wide enough to welcome all kinds. I drool over catalogues featuring new varieties. Most will never see my garden, but I do love to indulge in the eye candy!

April 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdebsgarden


Nice post. You give some compelling reasons for the role of breeders. I personally have a love/hate relationship with breeders.

Right now, I think the nursery trade is overly dependent upon tissue-culture cultivars. This severely limits the gene pool of our already narrow cultivated landscapes, making all plants less disease resistant. I recently read that a researcheer at Mt. Cuba also discovered that native pollinators would not pollinate a cultivar of Aster as much as the straight species. His hypothesis was that the insects could not find the more compact cultivar because it was not the height it was used to finding it. Plus, I think the marketing claims of some cultivars fall short in real life. We all should be using more straight species, particularly open pollinated plants.

Of course, the garden designer in me goes crazy for new cultivars and, like you, loves having more options. A great new color can make or break a perennial border, right? They are so seductive and hard to resist.

I appreciate your philosophy. I take a slightly more measured stance to bred cultivars, but your practical approach makes a whole lot of sense.


April 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

Yes, a very special color can make the difference between a great flower bed and a spectacular one. In my zeal to elevate the heartbeat of my clients, I give in to my passions and buy whatever new plant attracts my eye. As a result, I cannot take a measured stance, even though there are occasions when I should.

April 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllan

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