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.  



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."

If You Love Hydrangeas

Michael Dirr
If you love hydrangeas, what could be better than a world-class hydrangea conference in of all places, Cap Cod, Massachusetts  So when Mal Condon, noted hydrangea expert and founder of the Hydrangea Farm Nursery on Nantucket Island, asked me to come to Cap Cod and speak on my favorite subject the answer was easy.

How about you? Has anyone invited you yet? Well consider it done. I'd love to see you on Cap Cod July, 14, 15, & 16. Bring your spouse, bring the kids, it's going to be a great place to be. Just look at the speakers.

Dr. Michael Dirr   -  Noted plantsman, author and breeder Mike Dirr will bring his enthusiasm and love for hydrangeas as he delivers the key note address at this years conference. Always educational and always entertaining!   

Mal Condon - A lifelong gardener, Mal has been collecting, propagating, and growing hydrangeas for more than 40 years. He and his wife Mary Kay owned and operated Hydrangea Farm Nursery on Nantucket Island but early in 2014 they relocated to Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod and are busy re-establishing the nursery in their new location.

Tim Wood with Fire Light Hydrangea
Tim Wood - You know who I am, so I'll skip the bio and just say that it will be great to see you on Cap Cod. 

Dr. David Creech - Dr. David Creech, Regent’s Professor Emeritus, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas, is the Director of SFA Gardens. SFA Gardens has grown from an unfunded classroom project on 1/2 acre in 1985 to over 128 acres and seven staff. Dr. Creech received his PhD in Horticulture from Texas A&M University in 1978.

Natalia Hammil - As Brand and Business Development Manager for Bailey Nurseries, Natalia is responsible for managing the well-known Endless Summer® hydrangea brand, First Editions® shrubs and trees, and Easy Elegance® roses.

Dr. Henry D. Schreiber -  Dr. Henry D. Schreiber is an emeritus professor of Chemistry at the Virginia Military Institute, from which he retired in 2014 after 38 years of teaching and research. He received his PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Mark Windham Dr. Mark Windham is a professor and distinguished chair in ornamental pathology at the University of Tennessee. He has active research projects with diseases of hydrangeas, roses, dogwood, black walnut, and ornamental switchgrass.

Vince Dooley - Yes - Coach Vince Dooley. A heck of a coach and a heck of a gardener and the man behind the Dooley Hydrangea. 

Elizabeth Dean
Elizabeth Dean - In 1990, Elizabeth Dean and her husband, Gene Griffith, established Wilkerson Mill Gardens, a specialty plant nursery in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia. Their extensive hydrangea collection is the foundation for selecting and propagating appealing and reliable hydrangeas for the garden

Kristin VanHoose - Kristin and her husband David own and operate mail-order nursery Hydrangeas Plus® and wholesale producer Amethyst Hill Nursery in Aurora, Oregon. In 1999, They purchased this total operation which specializes in hydrangeas and other woody ornamental shrubs. Initially they offered 70 hydrangea varieties but the collection has expanded to 8 species and more than 300 cultivars.

Joan Harrison- Joan's passion for hydrangeas began more than 25 years ago. She is the author of Hydrangeas: Cape Cod and the Islands and Heavenly Hydrangeas: A Practical Guide for the Home Gardener. Her writing and photography have been featured in publications including Cape Cod Magazine, Cape Cod Life, Nantucket Today, and Primetime Cape Cod.

C.L. Fornari - C.L. is the author of six books, including her latest, Coffee for Roses. She
C. L. Fornari 
hosts GardenLine, a live two-hour call-in radio show on Saturday mornings on 95 WXTK and speaks to a variety of audiences ranging from green industry trade shows to garden clubs.

Les Lutz -  Les has worked as Horticulture Director at Heritage since January 2012. His duties include managing all aspects of Heritage’s 100 acres and directing the Heritage Horticulture Internship. Mr. Lutz is responsible for the design, care and maintenance of display gardens, trails and natural woodlands, and is the creative force behind the popular Gardens Aglow holiday event at Heritage.

In addition to a great line up of speakers this conference is going to draw hydrangea experts and nursery leaders from around the world. It is going to be a great time learning and networking with fellow attendees.  

Lectures will be all-day Tuesday and Wednesday morning at Heritage Museums & Gardens. Wednesday afternoon will feature VIP tours of Heritage’s gardens, including the Hydrangea Collection, and exhibits. Wednesday evening will feature the Conference banquet followed by an Ice Cream Social and a Question & Answer Forum. Thursday will feature exclusive tours of three gardens on Cape Cod.

Cape Cod is a historical treasure trove, a place of incomparable natural beauty, with a maritime climate befitting Hydrangea macrophylla – the crown jewel of the genus – at their blooming peak in July.

Please join us for the Best of the Best in Hydrangeas, Horticulture, and Hospitality!

Learn more


Shrub Madness is Back!


Shrub Madness is the most exciting competition in horticulture and the 2015 bracket is bigger and better than ever. 
The Plant Selection Committee has hand-picked and seeded 64 outstanding varieties from the line of Proven Winners ColorChoice flowering shrubs and pitted them against each other in a tournament-style bracket. Your votes decide which shrubs advance through each round of voting. At the end of the competition, only one shrub will be named Shrub Madness National Champion. 

Who will be in the Floral Four?  Can you pick the 2015 Champion?

This year brings more prizes, a new website, and new competitors in the mix. It's a great opportunity for you (and your cohorts & customers) to celebrate the start of spring while learning about plants. 

Here's what you need to know:

Watch the trailer.

The contest will be held on the brand new, and this allows you to fill out a bracket online to compete for the grand prize: the Floral Four plants and a Plant Geek swag bag. You must fill out the bracket before March 2nd, so go do it now!

Visit Shrub often from March 2-30 to vote in each round of the competition. Popular vote determines the winner in each match. Every time you vote, you're entered to win a selection of competing plants. The more you vote, the better your chances.

So get your friends together and start your own pool. It's crazy fun. It's Shrub Madness.  

A Peak Into the Future

One of the fun things about working at a wholesale, liner (starter plant) nursery is that you get to see into the future. That's because the new plant varieties we sell today don't hit retail stores until after our customer's grow them a year or two into larger retail-sized plants. So when I analyse our current orders, I get a glimpse of what will be in garden centers in a year or two. 

Would you like to see into the future? Here is a top ten countdown of our top selling new plants. Click on the picture if you want to learn more about the plant.

Kodiak Orange Diervilla

Infinitini Brite Pink Crape Myrtle

Double Play® Red Spirea

Let's Dance® Rave Hydrangea 

Brass Buckle Japanese Holly

Invincibelle® Spirit II

Zinfin Doll™ Hydrangea paniculata

Lo & Behold® 'Blue Chip Jr' Buddleia

Little Quick Fire® Hydrangea paniculata

Bloomerang® Dark Purple Lilac

Register Today: Independent Plant Breeders Conference

There is still time to register for the 2014 Independent Plant Breeders Conference in Grand Rapids October 30th - November 2nd. The Independent Plant Breeders Conference is a great opportunity to learn and network with other plant breeders, horticulture industry professionals involved in new product development and marketing, and intellectual property experts.

Plant Breeder Megan Mathey will talk about the role of embryo rescue in plant breeding 

The conference starts with a reception at Founders Brewery on the evening of October 30. The next two days will be filled with educational sessions aimed at helping independent breeders be successful, from technical aspects of breeding through product development and marketing. 

Joseph Rotherleutner of the Morton Arboretum will speak on "Breeding Plants for Sterility"


Friday Oct. 31

8:00 a.m.         Registration open

8:15 a.m.         Welcome and introductory remarks

8:30 a.m.         'Frank Advice for Amateur Breeders'
                        -Tim Wood, Spring Meadow Nursery

9:15 a.m.         ‘T.B.D’
                        - Lloyd Traven,Peace Tree Farm

10:00 a.m.       Morning break & poster session

10:30 a.m.       'Understanding AAS and How it Can Work for You'
                        -Diane Blazek, All-America Selections

11:15 a.m.       ‘Conversations with Your Future Customer'
                         -Bridget Behe, Michigan State University"
Noon    Lunch on your own

1:30 p.m.        'Sourcing Germplasm Through GRIN and OPGC'
-Pablo Jourdan, Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center, Ohio State University

2:15 p.m.        'Embryo rescue'
                        -Megan Mathey, Spring Meadow Nursery

3:00 p.m.        Afternoon Break

3:30 p.m.        'Practical Virus Management for Small Scale Operations'
                        -Speaker(s) T.B.D.

4:15 p.m.        'Breeder's Rights - A Global Perspective' (presentations and discussion)
                        -Geoff Needham, CIOPORA; Brenda Cola, Bioflora

5:15 p.m.        Day concludes

Tim Wood's talk is entitled "Frank Advice for Amateur Plant Breeders"

Saturday, Nov. 1

8:15 a.m.         ‘T.B.D.'
                         -Dan Heims, Terra Nova Nurseries

9:00 a.m.         'Selecting a Proper Cultivar Name and Getting it Registered with the ICRA'
                        -Clarence Falstad, Walters Gardens

9:45 a.m.         Morning break & poster session

10:15 a.m.       'Breeding Plants for Sterility'
                        -Joseph Rothleutner, Morton Arboretum

11:00 a.m.       'Developing an IP Strategy'
                        -Barb Campbell,Cochran Freund & Young LLC

Noon    Lunch on your own

1:30 p.m.        'Latest Trends from the European Shows'
                        -Angela Treadwell-Palmer, Plants Nouveau

2:15 p.m.        'A Primer on Biotech Tools, Resources and Services Available to Breeders'
                        -Ryan Warner, Michigan State University

3:00 p.m.        Afternoon Break

3:15 p.m.        'Plant Trialing: Staying Objective with Your Own Material'
                        -Richard Hawke,Chicago Botanic Garden

4:00 p.m.        'What do Different Brands Look for in New Plant Introductions, etc.'
                        -Open forum w/brand representatives

5:00 p.m.        Day concludes

One of the tour stops will be Spring Meadow Nursery

Sunday, Nov. 2

On the final day, we will tour nurseries, gardens and other horticultural landmarks in western Michigan including Walters Gardens and Spring Meadow Nursery.

Discounted registration applies until October 1st. Hope to see you there! 

Award Winning New Plants at Plantarium

Every year plant breeders from around the world bring their best new plants to the Plantarium in the Netherlands. The best of the best win either bronze, silver or gold medals. With over 150 new plants being introduced, winning an award is very difficult so even those plants that receive a bronze medal are very fortunate. Here are a few of the best new plants of 2014-2015. What's your favorite?

The yellow flowered Sunny Anniversary wins a silver medal

Denny Werner's Buddleia Lo & Behold Pink Micro Chip wins a silver

Caluna 'Silvia' wins a bronze

Campsus Orangeade wins a bronze

Campsus Summer Jazz Fire wins gold

Echinacea lMooodz Shiny wins a bronze

Helenium Fuego wins a bronze

Hydrangea Miss Saori wins a bronze

Nepeta Purssian Blue wins a bronze

Tiny Wine dwarf Physocarpus wins a silver medal

Lemony Lace Sambucus wins a bronze medal to go along with it's two Far-West awards 

Bert Verhoef's All Summer Red Weigela wins a silver

A Red, Dwarf, Reblooming, Fragrant Magnolia

At one time, Carolina allspice or sweetshrub (Calycanthus floriduswas a popular garden plant. This native shrub, which occurs naturally from Ohio to Florida, was prized for it dark, maroon-red, fragrant flowers that smell of banana bubblegum. It's an adaptable, easy to grow shrub with glossy, aromatic leaves that smell like camphor when crushed. You can still find it growing in old city neighborhoods, in alleyways and around old farm houses that date back the late mid to late eighteen hundreds. 

Calycanthus floridus
You can get some idea about its historic popularity based on how often it is mentioned in books using Google's Ngram viewer. Pretty cool isn't it? I borrowed the idea from Joseph Tychonievich who used this device to chart the popularity of other garden plants. As you can see, the popularity of this shrub has been in decline for some time. 

There is nothing sweet about Calycanthus chinensisthe Chinese wax shrub. It has never been a popular garden plant. 

Calycanthus chinensis
It's not fragrant and it's too large for most suburban gardens. There are not enough book citations for it to even register on Ngram. It was only recently described by a Chinese botanist in 1963 and did not make it west until after the Cultural Revolution when seed was distributed by the Shanghai Botanical Garden. Even today this plant is rare. You'd have to visit a botanical garden to see one or go to a specialty mail order nursery to buy one.  

Calycanthus 'Hartlage Wine' is a cross between Calycanthus chinensis and our native Eastern sweetshrub - Calycanthus floridus. It was developed by Richard Hartlage while he was a student at North Carolina State University. Hartlage Wine was the first Calycanthus  hybrid to be introduced.

Calycanthus 'Aphrodite is a new hybrid with incredible, magnolia-like flowers that are as large as my hand. Aphrodite is a cross between the Asian sweetshrub (C. chinensis) and our Western native sweetshrub  Calycanthus occidentalishis is an outstanding garden and landscape plant. Its magnificent flowers appear in early summer and continue on until frost. 

Calycanthus Aphrodite

A lot of people ask about the difference between Aphrodite and Hartlage Wine.  The photograph below pretty much tells the story. The flowers of Aphrodite have a richer color, have wider petals (actually tepals: sepal-like petals) and have more yellow coloring in the center of the bloom. Aphrodite is also noted for having a nice fruity fragrance while Hartlage Wine not so much.

The most fragrant of these hybrids is Calycanthus 'Venus'. She has a wonderful sweet melon fragrance that is simply delicious. Her large, pure white flowers are adorned with a touch of red and yellow. This hybrid contains all three of the aforementioned species. 


Most people have never heard of Calycanthus and thus, like other uncommon plant species, no one asks for them at the garden center and as a result they hard to sell. 

With the advent of these new hybrids, Calycanthus certainly deserves a second look. Or perhaps, we new to look at these plants through a whole new lens. So if I told you I had a dwarf Magnolia, with fragrant, red flowers, that never got frosted in the spring, and that bloom all summer long would you be interested? If the answer is yes, I have one, but it's called Calycanthus 'Aphrodite'.