“We discard varieties too soon.” Such were the sentiments of one of industry’s leaders concerning the introduction of new plants. He had been introducing new varieties for many years, and could explain in detail the good things and the not so good things about the patent system, licensing, and the status of plant breeders’ rights America and Europe. In other words, he knew the mechanics of new crop introduction as well as anyone in this business, and I considered his comment quite telling.
I write a monthly column for a national industry magazine, Greenhouse Grower, and on more than one occasion, I have stated that there were too many crops in our business. Too many cultivars of petunia and hydrangea and heuchera - and too few consumers to sustain the rush towards more, more and more.
I understand why the plant industry feels the need for new. After all, nobody walks into a garden center and asks, “What’s old?” Perhaps I am just frustrated knowing that another 10 cone flowers and 30 cultivars of calibrachoa will be introduced again this season, just like there were last season. There is just something not right; the industry is feeling like a Tokyo subway car at rush hour - more and more being squeezed in.
Too much “new” makes the buying experience more confusing and difficult. Essentially logic suggests that “too much new equals to little old”.
In a horticultural business now predicated on promotion and advertising dollars, it makes sense that those dollars will not be spent on something old. However, in the rush to cram in new cultivars, older ones have to go. This would be fine, except that the definition of “old” means something very different to a breeding company compared to 99% of consumers, from retailer to gardener.
While the industry thinks anything over two years is old, it usually takes twice that long for information about that new cultivar to get down to the user level, (even longer for my daughters) and by that time it is on the chopping block. A new double Digiplexis may be really neat to those who bred it but, good grief, people, gardeners and retailers are now just hearing about any Digiplexis, and it is 4 years old.
Have you tried to find an old-fashioned purple coneflower lately? Those are the ones that everyone’s daughters are successful with. Today, yellow, orange and strawberry coneflowers are everywhere and the purple are considered boring and don’t get the shelf space anymore.
I am by no means upset with new cultivars; I revel in it – heck, I introduced a bunch of them myself. New crops will always be the lifeblood of the landscape and gardening industry. However, I caution my colleagues that we must be careful about throwing out the wine before its time. Let’s give gardeners and plant lovers a chance to learn about them before something else is stuck in their faces.