How Shrubs are Made

The average person has no idea where the plants at their local garden center come from. When I tell people that I work at a nursery they think that I mow lawns or sell flats of marigolds, and that I take long winter vacations in Florida. Recently, the folks at GardenAnswer came out to Spring Meadow and made a video that explains how a shrub is made from beginning to end.  Laura is so authentic and does such a great job of explaining the process. Share this video with your friends on Facebook so that they realize how much goes into producing the plants they see at retail. They should find it fascinating, because it is fascinating!
   


The Trials and Tribulations of Plant Evaluation



Most all of these roses will be thrown out.

Please don't tell this to my rose breeders, but part of my responsibility as a plant hunter is to throw away roses; as many as possible, and as soon as possible.  You see, trialing plants is an expensive business.  It takes a lot of greenhouse space, a lot of land, and a lot of labor.  But if you want to introduce the best rose (or other shrub variety), you have no choice. You have to do it. Just take a look at all the beautiful roses in this picture. Some of you would say, "I'd love to have any of those plants in my garden!" but that's not quite true.  You would be happy if I gave you these roses to you for free, but you would not be happy paying your hard-earned-money for most of these roses. Trust me, that's why we throw them away. 

Roses may be pretty, but they're also a pretty tough business.  Currently, one rose dominates the marketplace. Growers, garden centers, and yes, even consumers are content with one rose, even if there are others just as good (and there are).  Having one dominant rose simplifies life, because you don't have to think and you don't have to choose. Don't argue with me on this, because I know it's true: people vote every spring with their dollars and for the last fifteen years the vote has been for one rose.

The only hope to successfully introduce a new rose is to work with multiple rose breeders, to test and trial a lot of potential new varieties, and after three or four years of trialing, throw the vast majority out. The idea is to sift through the chaff to find the very best plants. We start the process by growing the roses in containers in a greenhouse. We never spray them with fungicides. We over-head water them each day, and keep them in the same container for 2-3 years until they're so stressed that they succumb to disease. Most roses do. In addition, we plant them our in a trial garden following the same protocols and let Darwinism takes over. Survival of the fittest. After twenty years and hundreds upon hundreds of rose selections on the trash heap, we have introduced only sixteen rose varieties under the Proven Winners brand. They have won six prestigious awards.

This is pretty much the same process that we go through for all the Spiraea, Hydrangea, Syringa (lilacs) and every other species of shrub that we trial.  


Someone has to document and analyse the trial data so we can get to the best plant. We have a team of six people that help to evaluate plants and decide what gets introduced.

We evaluate them in greenhouses to make sure they'll perform well for the nurseries that buy and grow our plants. We have to find out how fast  it finishes in a one and three gallon pots, and determine how it looks in the spring when our customers do their shipping to garden centers. How does it present in the container? Does it get mildew? Does it grow too fast or does it grow too slow? How often does it need to be pruned and will it hold up its flowers? 


This Spiraea evaluation is about more than just judging the flowers.

The Double Play® series is noted for beautiful flowers and foliage. Double Play Big Bang has become an industry favorite because of its unique orange foliage and large flower size. 

Will it be in bud or bloom in the spring when people shop for plants? If not, does it have interesting foliage that make it showy enough to grab your attention amongst all the other spirea? I bet you didn't know we were so critical of our plants!


Many of these Spiraea seedlings are beautiful, but nearly all will be discarded.
Our late nursery dog Zoe (RIP) loved evaluating seedling plants. The job now belongs to Rosie.


Breeders have traditionally bred for better flowers; Why not? People love flowers. 

Breeding starts with a question or an idea. What would make for a better spirea? Traditionally plant breeders have been obsessed with flowers and understandably so. New colors and bigger is better have been the drumbeat most often followed. People love flowers and so yes, of course we need to breed for flowers, but there has to be more. A beautiful woman (or man) with nasty disposition is not all that attractive and the same is true for plants. We want our plants to be pleasant, agreeable, and low maintenance. That means we have to test and trial a plant, a process that can take ten years or more. 


Each row represents a unique selection that is evaluated for form, sunburn resistance, growth rate, foliage color and length of bloom. The new plants are compared against best plants on the market

Believe it or not, just thirty years ago, shrubs were not grown in containers. They were grown in a field, dug while dormant in early spring, and sold as bare-root (without soil) or balled and burlapped.  It never mattered if a plant looked good in a container. It never mattered if a shrub was dwarf or compact; in fact, the faster it grew, the better.  All this has changed and so has plant breeding, plant hunting, and plant introduction.  We have to consider all these things and more. Someone has to document and keep track of all this information.  We might have to evaluate thirty five potential spireas just to find one plant worthy of introduction. And it will have to have beautiful flowers and beautiful foliage, as well as superior hardiness and heat tolerance.  People are no longer content with plants like forsythia and mock orange that flower for two weeks and grow fifteen feet tall. Every inch in a consumer's yard and garden is valuable space and they want their plants to look good in the spring, summer and fall. That means we have evaluate our shrubs in the spring, summer and fall for season-long interest.   


Evaluations take place from spring through fall to document all the seasons of color.




Some things are easy to test for, like powdery mildew on dark-leaved Physocarpus (ninebark). We have been breeding and trialing dark ninebark for over fifteen years and have only introduced five plants out of thousands. Just as black spot has been the question mark on roses, "To mildew or not to mildew, that is the question" with ninebark. I'm often happy to find diseases on plants, so long as it's early in the evaluation process. It is an easy reason to narrow the field and hone in on the best plants.

Greenhouse container trials help us weed out the weaker plants. Ninebark, Spiraea, Syringa, hydrangea
and Rosa are all susceptible to mildew. It's easy to spot on dark leaves. Note the clean selection to the right.  

At Spring Meadow, we begin the process by throwing away plants in our seedling test field. We walk our fields regularly with a can of orange paint, and if a seedling is diseased, weak, floppy, or no better than the best plant we sell, we mark it with neon orange paint. Within days, they're dug up and gone, and after two or three years, you are down to just a few very good plants. If we're lucky, one plant will stand alone and we'll have a potential new introduction. 


The original Fire Light® Hydrangea in our breeding field. Note all the open
 space where lesser plants were removed. Clearly, the best plant remained.


Spring Meadow President Dale Deppe stands next to the original Scent and Sensibility lilac
in our breeding field. Again, note the open space in the field.

You would think this was the happy ending, but it's not. We will then propagate thirty to a hundred plants from the original mother plant for further evaluation. In addition to container trials, we plant some back to the test field and some to our trial garden. The work has only just begun. Once you root cuttings of a plant, there is no guarantee that the new plants will grow and behave like the original seedling; sometimes they grow slower and other times faster. Some plants are too difficult to root and never make it past this stage. More importantly, we have to determine if the plant is actually better than its potential competition. Sometimes that's obvious. The three hydrangeas below are good examples.


Fire Light® hydrangea stood out against all the other plants on the market


Bobo® hydrangea was a clear winner in our field and container trials.

Other times it takes a few years to sort things out, like with the caryopteris below. There used to be two selections in this row, but the one the foreground was killed after two hard winters. In this case, winter made the final decision for us and we now have a very hardy selection.   

Sunshine Blue® II was a dramatic improvement in hardiness over the original. 

Trialing and testing new plants is very crucial if you are selling plants under a brand as we do. Branding is more than just a pot and tag; it is more than advertising and marketing. Branding is the relationship we have with customers. And like most relationships, it all comes down to trust. Our brand relationship is on the line every time someone buys one of our plants. People are either going to have a good experience or a bad experience, either of which they will associate with the brand, so we do everything possible to make sure it's a good experience. It not always easy because we're selling live, perishable products. 

Good brands know that the product testing and improvement does not stop after the product launch.  We have to continue to improve upon what we've introduced, even if it's never even noticed.  A few years ago we introduced a new dwarf Buddleia (butterfly bush) called Lo & Behold® 'Blue Chip Jr.' The goal is to replace 'Blue Chip' with a better plant, because our growers wanted a smaller, less brittle plant that bloomed earlier and longer. Over the years we have added to this line, improving the colors, the habits, and the bloom time. The Caryopteris I wrote about earlier is another example of continual improvement. Sunshine Blue® was a very good plant that sold well, but we replaced it with something better. 


We have moved up the bloom time with each introduction in this series of dwarf butterfly bush.
The original 'Blue Chip' (on the far left) is far from blooming in this trial.


Creating a full and vibrant color range for the Lo & Behold® series was important.
These seedless, non-invasive have won numerous awards for innovation.
  



Hydrangea 2.0: Invincibelle® Spirit II being discussed in our test field


Perhaps one of the more dramatic product improvements in our brand has been been with Invincibelle® Spirit hydrangea. Last year we issued an update on this plant that has strong stems, a more compact habit, and richer flower color. There is no such thing as a perfect plant and we have introduced some plants that came short of the mark, and so we have get back to work and make it better. The first iPhone was not perfect and certainly Apple will improve upon the iPhone 6. It's a pain to change, but everyone respects their leadership, innovation, and their relentless quest for improvement.  Their products continue to delight people worldwide. There are people that complain we introduce too many plants, and I sympathize, but we must keep improving if we are to remain relevant. We must continue to come up with a better roses, better hydrangeas, and every other shrub type. If we fail to delight our customers, they will vote with their hard-earned money and spend it on other things that will delight them. 


A new, continuous blooming, carefree, fragrant rose. At Last is available on a limited basis from Better Homes and Gardens). The 2016 National Champion of Shrub Madness 

Rigorously trialing plants is hard work and time consuming, but it is also rewarding. A good example is the At Last™ rose seen above. It was one of the few roses that proved itself in our trials. It rose to the top because of its superb disease resistance and ability to continuously bloom all season long. To make things even better, it has a rich spicy fragrance until now never found in a high-end, disease resistant rose.  To gain even greater confidence in the rose, we have given out over 40,000 plants to our top growers this spring. The roses were given out with only one condition: that that they cannot sell them. They are to be given away to garden writers, bloggers, garden center retailers, landscape designers, and botanical gardens to be trialed and tested across North America. It is the first plant to be tested so rigorously, and we want to have the highest level of confidence before we release it to the general public. If you were included on the list above, contact Spring Meadow Nursery to request a plant. If you were not included on the list but still want to trial this rose, there are a limited number of plants available for purchase from Better Homes and Gardens.    








     







Please delete the last Plant Hunter blog post.

It appears that an unauthorized post was made from the planter hunter blog. Please delete and do not open the link.

Tim Wood

Every Plant Tells a Story

They say that every picture tells a story, but it's also true that every new plant has a story. They have a birthday, one or two parents (depending if the plant is a sport mutation or a seedling). Every plant has a journey to market (or not) that is often filled with trials and tribulations. And some have happy endings and make it to a consumers yard. Here are a few happy stories.

Sunjoy® Mini Salsa Barberry

This barberry was born at Spring Meadow Nursery about 13 years ago. The goal was to create a replacement for 'Crimson Pygmy' barberry, which often reverts to a larger plant. It's common in the nursery business to blame a nursery for mixing up their 'Crimson Pygmy' with a larger form, but it's not a mix-up: it's a whole plant mutation that I have been told may result from a jumping gene. For some reason the switch gets flipped and you get a big 'Crimson Pygmy.'  After a long selection process, propagation, field testing, wheat rust testing and getting the results published in the congressional record as a wheat rust resistant variety, the first Sunjoy® Mini Salsa was sold in spring of 2012 and is now common in the garden trade.


Lo & Behold® Purple Haze butterfly bush

Lo & Behold®  'Purple Haze' is a different duck than all the other Lo & Behold Buddleia. Developed by Denny Werner of NCSU, this hybrid selection is a low, wide-spreading variety that makes it a great selection for use as a ground cover or in a decorative container. Like all of the Lo & Behold® series, we had to test it for sterility. It passed the test and can now be sold in Oregon where other Buddleia are banned. 


Clematis 'Sweet Summer Love'

When the world-renown clematis breeder Szczepan Marczynski told me he had what amounts to a sweet autumn clematis with red flowers that change to purple and that blooms months earlier, I was all in. The fragrance of sweet autumn clematis is as good as any plant in existence, and the same goes this beauty. Most Clematis can be tricky to grow, with brittle stems that break if you so much as look at them, but this plant is super sturdy and grows like a dream. Anyone can be successful growing this variety. It's as close to perfection as a plant can be.    


Clematis 'Sweet Summer Love'

The plant in this picture is a three year old plant in our test garden. The first year you plant it, it does not do much besides grow roots. The next year it takes off, however, it is much more restrained than sweet autumn clematis and does not litter the garden with unwanted seedlings. This plant has what it takes to be the best-selling clematis of all time, you can mark my words. It won a DGA Green Thumb award for the best new plant of 2014 and I expect it to earn many more awards and accolades as people get to know it.  


Dr. Roderick Woods

If you read my blog, then you already know Dr. Roderick Woods. The plant he is holding is Blue Chiffon™. This plant just blows me away. All his plants in the Chiffon™ series blow me away. Just look at the picture below, which I took at the nursery this summer: 


Blue Chiffon™ rose of Sharon

The Chiffon™ Hibiscus are the heaviest blooming rose of Sharon you will find, and Blue Chiffon is the clearest blue color ever. I was never a big rose of Sharon fan until I started growing the Chiffon series and now I'm a believer. This series comes in blue, white, lavender and pink. If you want to read the full story behind these plants and the fascinating man that created them follow this link.


Paraplu® Hydrangea macrophylla

I'm a bit biased when it comes to Paraplu® Hydrangea because it is a plant that I developed. It was a total accident that came out of a breeding project to develop variegated flowered hydrangeas. All of the plants in this particular cross had doubled florets and thick plastic-like leaves, but none of the seedlings had variegated flowers. This plant was the best of the lot so we introduced it. Paraplu is typically a bright pink but can be easily turned to a rich purple by treating it with aluminum sulfate. Sometimes, mistakes can make for great plants.


Tiny Tuff Stuff™ Hydrangea serrata

Tiny Tuff Stuff™ is another plant out of our breeding program here at Spring Meadow. I love Hydrangea serrata because they are so bud hardy and bloom reliably. Again, I got lucky when I discovered that this plant is a rebloomer. It has smaller, narrower leaves and an abundance of dainty flowers that cover the plant every summer. It has never failed to bloom here in our Michigan trial gardens. 


Bobo® Hydrangea paniculata

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes, and that's how I feel about Bobo hydrangea. I had no idea how good this plant was until it spent a few years in our trialing program. I knew it was a good container plant, but I soon discovered it was an even more remarkable garden plant that simply glows in the landscape. It is compact and dwarf in habit, and the flowers cover every inch of the plant right down to the ground. I have no doubt this will be a very popular landscape plant. This plant comes from Johan Van Huylenbroeck, the same breeder that developed Pinky Winky® hydrangea


Invincibelle® Spirit Hydrangea arborescens

I have already told the story of Invincibelle® Spirit Hydrangea, but the longer you grow a plant, the more you learn. What I've learned is that this plant is simply incredible once it has reached full maturity. This takes about 3 years, so be patient and you will be well rewarded. I've also learned that it needs to be grown in full sun to look its best. People think that hydrangeas are shade plants, and some are, but Hydrangea arborescens develops stronger stems and bigger, brighter flowers when grown in full sun.

Last year we introduced Invincibelle® Spirit II (Two) which will replace the original. This new improved "2.0" version has stronger stems, richer flower color and healthier foliage. We are all used to cell phones and computer software getting updates, but plants can get updated as well.  

Oso Easy® Double Red Rose

We work with about six different roses breeders, and we put all their roses through the gauntlet to find the very best varieties. In our trials, we spray no fungicides at all, and we overhead irrigate to actually encourage black spot and mildew. We test these roses in the greenhouse and in the garden and after three or four years, most of our test plants end up on the trash heap. Oso Easy® Double Red rose was one of the few varieties that passed the test and it came through with flying colors. Developed by noted rose breeder Alain Meilland of France, this rose is not only highly disease resistant, it is also prized for its perpetual blooming. Visitors to our test garden confirmed our opinions of this rose by picking it as one of their favorites. It has only been on the market for less than a year so be patient, it will be coming to a garden center near you very soon.    


Oso Easy® Double red is the perfect flowering shrub for landscapes. Here a mass planting is providing a big splash of color in a park in Switzerland. 


Oso Happy® Candy Oh! Rose

Year after year Oso Happy® Candy Oh! continues to amaze me. No diseases, an abundance of blooms and it always looks happy. No, it does not have massive, highly doubled flowers, but that should not matter. It is a great shrub that offers lots of color with little to no effort. You can read the back story on this rose here.


Blue Diddley® dwarf Vitex

Commonly known as the chastetree, Vitex agnus-castus was in ancient times thought to be an anaphrodisiac. According to Wikipedia, the leaves and stems were once used in ladies' bedding to "cool the heat of lust" when the men were off to war, thus the name chastetree. I'm not so sure if this works or not, but I do know that it makes a wonderful landscape plant that is highly deer and drought resistant. Blue Diddley® Vitex makes the plant even better with its dwarf stature that is about half the size of typical vitex. In the north, zones 5-6, this plant acts like a perennial and dies back to the ground, but regrows and flowers much like a butterfly bush. It is slow to break bud in the spring, so do not panic if the plant looks dead, it will sprout new shoots and make a fine specimen in due time.   





Edible Honeysuckle

When we think of honeysuckle, we tend to think about richly colored, fragrant flowers on beautiful vines like 'Scentsation' (Lonicera periclymenum), which blooms all summer long and perfumes the air with a fragrance better than anything found in a bottle.  



If you live in the Eastern United States, you most likely think of Lonicera japonica, the weedy, tenacious Japanese honeysuckle vine that can be found in just about every fence row. 

But who would have ever thought of honeysuckle as an edible fruit crop? Not me, that is, until I discovered sweetberry honeysuckle, Lonicera caerulea, when visiting nurseries in Eastern Europe. Also known as the blue or edible honeysuckle, this little-known deciduous shrub is native to the colder, northern regions of Europe, Asia and even North America. Finding cultivated varieties in the former Eastern Bloc was not a total surprise: these countries had limited access to citrus and vitamin C during the Cold War, and as a result, they selected, bred, and developed a range of hardy fruit with high vitamin content. Mostly unfamiliar to Westerners, they grew and consumed berries such as Aronia (choke berry), Hippophae, (sea berry) and our newest discovery Lonicera caerulea, all of which are "superfruits" because of their extremely high vitamin and antioxidant content.


Lonicera caerulea produces edible fruit that looks like an elongated blueberry. 

After leaning about Lonicera caerulea and its potential, we set out to acquire as many cultivars as possible. We discovered One Green World, a small mail order nursery that offered an array of unusual fruit plants including Lonicera, which they marketed under the name "honey berries." I also met Dr. Bob Bors from the University of Saskatchewan who had an edible Lonicera breeding program, and we acquired his selections too. We purchased dried fruit, juice and jam, all of which were incredibly delicious, with a flavor best described as a tangy combination of raspberry, blueberry and raisins. Still later on a trip to Hokkaido, Japan, we were served ice cream with a haskap sauce (a type of Lonicera caerulea) that was pretty much the best food that has ever hit my taste buds. 


Haskap sauce on ice cream
It was clear that this little known honeysuckle shrub had incredible potential. First off, honeysuckles are very easy to grow. Anyone can grow this shrub. Unlike blueberry plants, it does not require any special soil or pH to grow successfully. Unlike grapes, the fruit skin dissolves in your mouth unnoticed. The fruit ripens in early summer, about the same time as strawberries, but is easy to pick without bending over. Unlike blackberries and raspberries, the plants have no thorns, and the seeds are so small you don't even notice them. On the downside, honeysuckle fruit is typically too soft to ship fresh to supermarkets, and the yields are not as high as you get with commercial blueberry crops. Until recently, the fruit also had a high degree of tartness, making it best reserved for sauces, jams, juices and drying, as opposed to eating fresh. The tartness can be largely eliminated if you understand how to identify ripe fruit: just because the fruit turns blue does not mean it's time to pick it. The fruit is ripe if you can easily remove it from the stem without tugging. If there is resistance, wait until it falls easily into your hand, otherwise you will be very disappointed with the taste.  

There is also a wide range of bitterness and sweetness depending upon the cultivar you grow. The vast majority of the Eastern European cultivars we have tasted tend to be on bitter side and are best suited for processing. Most of these cultivars are derived from Lonicera caerulea var. edulis, Lonicera caerulea var. villosa,  Lonicera caerulea var. pallasii, and Lonicera caerulea var. kamschatica. People in Eastern Europe typically call all these plants and their fruit kamschatica, zhimolost or zimolez. The vast majority of plants we initially acquired were of Eastern European origin.
                

Framtosel Krekci standing next to his new edible honeysuckle plant.  

What got us really excited about edible honeysuckle was a trip we made to the Czech Republic where we met Framtosel Krekci, a nurseryman and plant breeder who developed a new selection called Sugar Mountain® Blue. Skeptical, yet eager try a new selection, we sampled his fruit and discovered it was the sweetest we had ever tasted. We were so delighted, we worked over his hedge until every single berry was gone. Not only was the fruit sweet, it was also very large. While the typical fruit size ranges from 12 to 15mm in length, his variety had fruit in the 18 to 20mm range.    
   

Sugar Mountain Blue

My excitement and appreciation for edible honeysuckle reached new levels when I got a phone call from Dr. Maxine Thompson, a retired fruit breeder from Oregon State University. Maxine had been breeding edible honeysuckle for years, but had been working strictly with Japanese haskap, Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx, which is native to 
Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. The advantage of pure Japanese haskap is that the fruit is larger and the plants bloom later. The flowers appear as much as four to six weeks later than Eastern European varieties, making them less susceptible to frost damage, more attractive to pollinators, and better suited to warmer climates. Maxine's extensive fruit breeding experience had paid dividends when it came to haskap: her breeding lines boasted substantial improvements in both fruit size and yields. She takes detailed data, such as brix counts, so that she can maximize sweetness and other desirable attributes. Her haskap breeding program was clearly light years ahead of all others.    
         
Dr. Maxine Thompson 

Yezberry™ Maxie haskaps are nearly the size and shape of olives

After multiple visits to Maxine's breeding plot and sampling dozens of selections, we chose four of the sweetest and largest fruited plants and named them Yezberry™ haskaps. Yezberry refers to the island of Hokkaido, which was once called Yez or Yezo Island. It was very important to Maxine that we distinguish her breeding lines as pure haskap (Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx) originating from Hokkaido because of their unique qualities, and because, according to Maxine, growers were misleadingly selling Eastern European varieties as haskaps, which they are not.  

Thus far we have introduced two of her haskaps, Yezberry™ Solo™ and Maxie.  Yezberry Maxie has the largest fruit yet: its berries are olive shaped, with very good sweetness and flavor. Yezberry Solo has large, plump fruit with very good sweetness and flavor, superior yields, and it is apomictic, meaning it will make fruit without cross pollination from another variety. Though Yezberry Solo does not require a pollinator to get fruit, you will get larger fruit and higher yields if you grow another Yezberry haskap in close proximity.        


Yezberry™ Maxie and Yezberry Solo Japanese haskaps

The future for edible honeysuckle is bright. It is very cold hardy and easy to grow. The fruit has higher levels of vitamins C, A, and E than an orange, and three times the antioxidant level of blackberries. New breeding and the introduction of new haskap cultivars have brought us better tasting, sweeter and larger berries and plants with wider adaptability and higher yields. It is the perfect berry plant for growers selling u-pick or at local farmers markets. Best of all, it's just good fun to grow fresh, tasty fruit at home that does not require special care, soil amendments or pesticides. So hopefully, in the near future, when you think about honeysuckle, you'll think about how great it would be to mix some in your yogurt or put them on top of your vanilla ice cream. That's what I'm thinking. Yum.   




  

De Boomkwekerij

It has been a busy year of plant hunting. So busy, I've hardly had the time to write any blog posts. This year I have traveled to Russia, Germany, the Netherlands (twice), Iowa, Cape Cod & Martha's Vinyard, Maryland (DC), Kentucky, Tennessee, Oregon, North Carolina and I'm off to Japan in less than a week. I hope that things will slow down a bit so that I can share some of the new plants I've encountered. Until then, I am going to share with you copy of an interview that appeared in the lastest edition of De Boomkwekerij, the Dutch equivalent of American Nurseryman or Nursery Management. The interview was done by Arno Engels while I was attending the Plantarium nursery show in Boskoop last August. If you can't read Dutch, Arno's translation can be found at the bottom of the page.  


 

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Tim Wood, American expert in new varieties: 'Thanks to breeding the assortment can always be better' 

Text and Translation by Arno Engels

In recent years many new shrubs from Spring Meadow Nursery showed up at Plantarium [nursery show in the Netherlands]. Almost every introduction wins at the show. For example Buddleja Blue Chip won gold in 2009, and Buddleja Lilac Chip was the best novelty of 2011. In future more winners are to be expected. Tim Wood, product development manager at Spring Meadow and Proven Winners: "In America breeding is done more than ever."

ARNO: What is your main goal with new varieties?

TIM: "To make breeding successfull for everyone in the market. Because everyone needs to be successful on new varieties: the breeder, grower, retailer and consumer. When a new variety has proven in the market with higher sales, this helps the breeder to continue breeding and to come up with another variety."

ARNO: Is breeding endlessly?

TIM: "Yes, because there is no such thing as a perfect plant. You can always improve. Sometimes you hear people complain that there are so many varieties; they wonder whether we still need another Hydrangea, Buddleja or Weigela. Yes, we need it, if it is better. There is no shortage of new plants, but a shortage of great new plants."

ARNO: How starts breeding in your opinion?

TIM: "With the finding of an idea. One of the advantages of traveling over the world is, as you get ideas. For example, you see a plant at a trade show, in a nursery or in an arboretum, and you think about possible improvements and several chances. For example, the idea for our Lo & Behold Buddleja is originated from the dwarf Buddleja 'White Ball' [a plant that originaites] from Boskoop. We wanted to have some [dwarf] Buddleja also in several other colors. About fifteen years ago, Dr. Werner started breeding them."

ARNO: How do you know if something new is all right?

TIM: "At Spring Meadow, we use a list of criteria that a new variety must meet, according to us. The basis of that list is set up by JC Raulston, a botanist at North Carolina State University. He traveled the world to find new plants and bring them to nurseries. A new plant is only good when you can grow it well, he thought. But you need also to sell it well.

First criterion for us is: a new variety should be good for making cuttings. If we have to graft, we don't grow the plant, because it takes too much time. And people think that you can multiply rapidly in tissue culture, but that is not [always] so. For each variety you first need to figure out a separate tissue culture formula. This can take time.
It is also important if we can make a good container product. Most plants are now being sold in container, and for a successful sale the plant also has to look good. There are now different criteria for new plants, than they used to be for plants with [when plants were sold as] bare-root."

ARNO:Do you take effects of climate change in a judgement of new plants?

TIM: "I do not think you can anticipate through breeding on climate change. That just happens and plants [and our mix] will adapt. In California, for example, it will be drier, so the demand for more drought tolerant plants certainly will increase. We all want to grow what we cannot grow. At Spring Meadow everything we grow in greenhouses, because we ship our young plants to every state of America, which can be warm and cold conditions. For example, we also grow Lagerstroemia and Loropetalum. Here in Michigan, it would be too cold outside for these shrubs, but they grow out very well in a state like Florida."

ARNO: Are phytosanitary issues making developing of new varieties difficult?

TIM: "Of course. You can breed for disease resistance, but there is always the risk of organisms that can damage the plant. But I do think: people lining up phytosanitary rules, do not always understand our business. For example, I can not import Hibiscus syriacus as a result of the Asian longhorn beetle, not even small cuttings, while that beetle can enter our country with wood packaging. And a disease such as Xylella has never be found in Michigan, because it is much too cold for it. What is an issue in America that we can respond effectively, are invasive plants. In Oregon, it is illegal to plant Buddleja davidii, since this species is invasive. But our Buddleja is allowed to plant, because it has sterile flowers, so it cannot spread. We needed an independent party to validate that.

So breeders can solve problems with invasive plants. But also problems with diseases. Cornus florida is for instance prone to mildew, but not if it is crossed with Cornus kousa."

ARNO: Many companies hold novelties exclusive, by limit the licenses. And Spring Meadow?

TIM: "We are holding new plants not exclusive, there are only in the United States and Canada eighty licensed growers of our plants. I hunt for new plants, but I hunt also people who those plants breed and who are able to grow them under license. In Europe it goes through our agent Valkplant from Boskoop. They do a great job. Spring Meadow is not interested in selling plants in Europe; that's what our licensed growers do.
Several licensed growers, especially in North America, are also our competitors. That's okay, because to us it's important that we create demand for our plants, through marketing. And then, the supply should not be limited. Many people think they can negotiate a higher price for a novelty, by keeping supply limited. We do the exact opposite. So everyone will [have access to new plants and can benefit financially]."

ARNO:America has more consumer brands of garden plants than Europe. Is marketing in America easier?

TIM: "The advantage of America is that we have [essentially] one language, English. That makes communication easier. In Europe there are many languages, but despite that succesfully branding of garden plants is possible. You have to do more work for it. In that respect, David Austin Roses for example did a good job; everyone knows this brand."

ARNO: Spring Meadow partners for the marketing with Proven Winners. Why?

TIM: "Because Proven Winners is a wonderful brand that many Americans recognize. A few years ago Monrovia and Jackson & Perkins were the best known plant brands in America, but now Proven Winners has a very large consumer following. The brand was created for bedding plants. Each year about 120 million annuals from Proven Winners are being sold, that means also 120 million impressions of the brand on the market!

Annuals are sold in the spring, our shrubs all year round. We have therefore entered into a partnership with Proven Winners [annual growers], so that we can benefit from each other. Spring Meadow sold plants at first under our brand ColorChoice, now it is under Proven Winners ColorChoice. Three years ago, Walters Gardens, one of the largest growers of perennials in America also joined us [Proven Winners], so that we can further expand Proven Winners. Everyone with its own expertise."

ARNO: Are Proven Winners 'proven winners' in the market, or have they been proven previously in independent research?

TIM: "Proven Winners are plants that must be successful for the customer. This value for the US market has already been extensively tested in many locations: at Spring Meadow, other nurseries and universities in different climates - because everywhere the plants should perform well in a garden. Via Valkplant our plants are also being tested in Europe, in the Netherlands, and also for example in England and France.

Independent research in America it is slower than in Europe. If American trials are completed, the tested varieties are already old, whilst new improved plants are already available. It takes on average ten years before a new shrub is bred, selected, tested and marketed. But in America breeding is more than ever going on. On woody shrubs breeding is almost looking like breeding Petunia. So much is going on in the assortment.

How long research takes, it depends on what you are testing. For example if you test for disease free, the research can be long. But when you test on leaf color, then it does not last long. You see, for example, quickly if you get leaf burn by the sun."

ARNO: You are looking for new plants and winners, but is it true that you also breed yourself?

TIM: "Yes, at Spring Meadow we began to realize that we can also breed some ourselves. For example, we saw what Terra Nova Nurseries did with Heuchera: thru breeding add many new varieties in the range. We have built up collections of almost all species that are commercially, mainly deciduous shrubs. We have all the plants already. That is including some 100 Hibiscus syriacus.  If we breed with a plant that was brought to us by an outside breeder and introduce it, we make a point to pay that breeder royalties on the new plant, eventhough we did the breeding. That is the case with Little Lime Hydrangea. We used ‘Limelight’ as a parent to breed it so we feel the breeder should share in the royalty. Legally we don’t have to do this, but it is the right thing to do. 

ARNO: Will there be more new varieties of Buddleja?

TIM: "I do not know yet. This year we had [introduced], for example, Blue Chip Jr. new at Plantarium, a smaller version of Blue Chip. Growers told us sometimes branches from Blue Chip break during shipment. Blue Chip Jr. is better for shipping, and this Buddleia also blooms earlier in the season, so that's good for sales."

ARNO: Why do you launch new varieties at Plantarium, and not elsewhere in Europe?

TIM: "I think Plantarium is the best show in the world to introduce woody species. IPM [Essen, Germany]? That show is in the winter when deciduous shrubs do not look good. We visit Plantarium since fifteen years. Our first contact with Europe was also in Boskoop: Herman Geers had bred Weigela 'Alexandra', we first marketed this one in America, and about the same time we [introduced] Hydrangea 'Limelight' by Pieter Zwijnenburg jr. Therefore we say in America: Boskoop [Netherlands] is the center of the nursery world."