When Plant Breeders Get it Right, There's No Such Thing As Too Much Pleasure.
April 9, 2011
Allan in Garden Design, Gardening, Musings on Gardening, Perennial Plants, award winning plants, flower colors, flowering plants, new varieties, perennials, plant breeders, plant hardiness, plant longevity

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.

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/).
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