Flowering Shrub Evolution - Part II

Lo & Behold Dwarf Butterfly Bush

In my last post I wrote about new breakthrough plants that have changed the evolution of flowering shrubs. This post continues the discussion, and I've listed the shrubs that I think have changed the way we think about, and use them in our gardens and landscapes.

Have I left anything off the list? Send me your thoughts and comments.

Plant Name - Significance to the Industry

Abelia mosenensis
A Zone 4 Abelia with better fragrance than Viburnum carlesii

Berberis thun. ‘Concorde’
Dwarf, grape purple foliage, that’s nearly sterile

Buddleia davidii
English Butterfly Series™

A new series with dwarf growth. They actually look good in a one gallon.

Caryopteris incana Sunshine Blue®
A hardy, strong growing Caryopteris with bright yellow foliage and rich blue flowers. Move over Worchester Gold. Move over Gold Mound Spiraea?

Caryopteris Petit Bleu™
A dwarf Caryopteris with dark glossy leaves

Clethra ‘Hummingbird’
Sixteen Candles may be the best, but it was Hummingbird that started it all.

Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’
Andy Brand discovers the first pink Clethra that actually stays pink.

Corylus a. ‘Red Majestic’ pp#16,048
The first contorted filbert with red foliage. Year round excitement.

Deutzia gracilis Chardonnay Pearls®
The first Deutzia with season long color. Bright lemon yellow foliage rivals Spiraea

Diervilla ‘Butterfly’
Landscaper know the Diervilla is as tough as nails but Butterfly is attractive enough for retail

Euonymus alatus ‘Rudy Haag’
Grow this dwarf selection to be environmentally proactive in the fight against invasives.

Forsythia ‘Golden Peep’
Who has room for a 12 foot Forsythia? Not me, nor do many people. This is a great plant for around the deck

Fothergilla major ‘Blue Shadows’
A blue leafed Fothergilla that actually lives. Yes it’s true. Gary Handy discovers a Blue Mount Airy.

Hibiscus syriacus Chiffon™ Series
A vigorous rose of Sharon that will make money for nurseries and flowers like crazy. Unique Lacy flowers

Pink Chiffon

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Hayes Starburst’
A first! Hayes Jackson discovers a double flowered form of arborescens.

Hydrangea Endless Summer
Great news for us in the Midwest with Hydrangea envy. Blooms on new wood. More to come.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
A Pee Gee with bright green flowers, strong stems. Does not flop like Pee Gee and finishes fast.

Hydrangea paniculata Little Lime
The best. A dwarf with strong stems and full flower heads

Little Lime

Hydrangea paniculata Quick Fire
Why wait until August for Blooms. Quick Fire flowers in June and turns pink before Pink Diamond even flowers.

Hydrangea ‘Snowflake’
The best oakleaf with it doubled, hose in hose blooms that turn pink as they age. Very healthy and great fall color.

Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’
Blue Leaves on a Hypericum, yes. Paul Cappiello delivers a hit.

Indigofera ‘Rose Carpet’
Rich pink blooms from Late June until frost. Hugs the ground like a rug. I mean carpet.

Itea Little Henry®
The first dwarf Sweetspire.

Kerria ‘Honshu’
A hard to find Kerria with big flowers and superior stem hardiness. The only selection with fragrant flowers.

Leptodermis oblonga
A neat little known treasure with vivid pink flowers that keep on coming all season long.

Physocarpus Diabolo®
The first ninebark with purple foliage.

Physocarpus Summer Wine®
The first compact ninebark with purple foliage. Who has room for a 15 foot ninebark? Not me. A cross between Diabolo® and ‘Nana’.

Physocarpus Coppertina
The first ninebark with orange red foliage.

Potentilla Pink Beauty
A pink Potentilla that actually comes out pink and lives more than a year.

Rhamnus Fine Line®
An environmentally friendly Rhamnus with cut leaves and narrow columnar growth. Remember how many Tall Hedge you used to sell.

Rosa Knock Out®
It proved that a rose can be grown without having to spray

Rosa Home Run®
The most disease resistant, most attractive rose on the market. Comes in Red and Pink. 

Rosa Morden Sunrise
Yes, a strong growing, healthy yellow rose.

Sambucus Black Beauty
The first black leaf elder with pink flowers.

Sambucus Black Lace
The first cut leaf black elder with pink flowers. Incredible texture. As elegant as a Japanese Maple.

Sambucus ‘Sutherland Gold’
The best yellow leafed elder.

Spiraea ‘Gold Mound’ / 'Goldflame'
The plant that started it all. Lime Mound was first but never caught on.

Spiraea Pink Parasols®
The first pink flowered Spiraea fritscheriana. Ground covering habit. Landscapers forget about Rhus ‘Gro-low’ this plant is great for mass planting and it has large pink flowers.

Thuja Spring Grove®
A hardy northern selection that is deer resistant.

Viburnum ‘Cayuga’
An improved fragrant Viburnum with disease resistance.

Viburnum Cardinal Candy
The best plant in the garden in late summer. Loads of tightly packed cardinal red fruit. No pollinator necessary.

Viburnum nudum BRANDYWINE
A new variety that does not need a pollinator to enhance fruit set.

Viburnum plicatum ‘Popcorn’
A hardy, heat tolerant snowball Viburnum.

Viburnum p. tomentosum ‘Summer Snowflake’
What’s better than a Viburnum? A continuous blooming Viburnum

Viburnum ‘Mary Milton’
A Snowball Viburnum with pink flowers.

Weigela Midnight Wine®
The first dwarf purple leafed Weigela.

Weigela My Monet
The first dwarf variegated Weigela. Very hardy, bright pink

Weigela 'White Knight’
The best reblooming Weigela. White flowers with a touch of pink.

Weigela Wine & Roses®
Dark burgundy foliage and vivid pink flowers.

Flowering Shrub Evolution

As the Product Develop Manager at Spring Meadow Nursery my main responsibility is to identify new and superior plants for the Proven Winners ColorChoice flowering shrub line. These are exciting times for me because never before has so much effort been put into the development of shrubs. Breeders, nurseryman and even amateur gardeners have begun to see the potential of shrubs and are actively seeking improvements. In my opinion the results are amazing. These new plants are changing the way we garden, landscape and produce plants. Long thought of as the “bones” of the garden, shrubs are now the ornamentation too. Once the backdrop for perennials and annuals, a new breed of flowering shrubs have proven themselves as colorful and as showy as any herbaceous plant.

Think for a moment about how Endless Summer has changed the way we view Hydrangea or how Wine & Roses has influenced our old perception of Weigela as a one season plant. These are but a few of the better known examples but there are many more subtle, yet significant changes taking place over a wide range of species. Growers and Retailers need to understand these changes if they hope to benefit and meet demand. For example when I googled the plant name Leptodermis oblonga three years ago I got zero responses. Today I got 1,710 references including long discussions about the plant by gardeners communicating in forums. Did you know this great little shrub that blooms all summer long? Obviously the word has gotten out to gardeners.

Not all of the plants causing shifts in the market are new. Some have been around for years but because of changing times have found an audience. Concorde barberry was an obscure little plant developed at Wavecrest Nursery in Fennville, Michigan. Now with the increased interest in invasive species and as the problems encountered on the East Coast mount, ‘Concorde’ turns out to be a winner. Not only does it have great rich purple leaf color and a dwarf mounded habit, it is also environmentally friendly, hardly producing a seed. It turns out there are many environmentally safe alternatives when we start looking at the cultivars we currently grow. This niche will get even larger as researchers begin to introduce new sterile cultivars. They’re coming, but will states ban them before they are introduced? Let’s hope not.

What’s driving this explosion of new and improved shrubs? First, there is intense competition at retail. Savvy independent garden centers know they have to differentiate their stores from the big boxes. New and improved plants are a clear strategy to set a garden center apart from the chains. Big box stores have been more concerned about price than the actual product. They won’t pay extra for superior genetics because they don’t understand plants in general. Heck, many have not yet figured out that plants need water to live. The point is that independents understand what makes a good plant and they are actively looking for new products to compete and win in the marketplace.

The second driving force behind new plants has been the increased use of plant protection. Plant breeders can now make a return on their breeding investment. Canada has a new breeders’ rights law and Europe now has EU wide breeders’ rights system. In the U.S., people who have long opposed the plant patent system now see that patents, if used properly, can benefit everyone. Open licensing and returning a portion of the royalties to marketing the plants have created new value for breeders, growers and the retailers. And gardeners are getting better plants.

Another driving force behind the development of new shrubs was the rapid growth of the perennial market. Perennials helped to grow a new crop of gardeners, particularly women gardeners. Before perennials, the yard was mostly a man’s domain. As perennials came into vogue women learned that the garden could be more than just annuals and that gardening was not as complicated as the books and magazines make it out to be. As the perennial market matured, shrubs were the next natural step. After all shrubs are perennials, they just happen to have woody stems. The advent of container grown shrubs also helped the cause. Clean and reasonable in size, containerized shrubs met the needs of today’s gardener.

Lastly, success drives success. The success of new shrubs has awakened plant breeders, nurseries, retailers and gardeners to the value of flowering shrubs. Reblooming Viburnum, dwarf Clethra, ground covering Forsythia, yellow Spiraea, purple Sambucus, dwarf Buddleia and reblooming Syringa are just a few of the recent advances. It often starts with one new plant and builds rapidly. When I was in college some 25 years ago people laughed at me for putting Clethra alnifolia in a landscape plan. Then along came Clethra ‘Hummingbird,’ the first dwarf form of Sweetspire. It was an obscure plant that Fred Galle of Callowway Gardenshad discovered and for the most had part forgotten. Then Richard Feist, an Callowway intern at the time, saw the plant and bells went off. With the permission of Galle he registered the plant as Hummingbird and then wrote an article in Field Notes. All of a sudden Clethra clones start coming out of the woodwork; ‘Rosea’, ‘Pink Spires’, ‘Creal’s Callico’, ‘Fern Valley Pink’, ‘Hokey Pink’, ‘Cottondale’, ‘September Beauty’, ‘Ruby Spice’, ‘Sweet Suzanne’, ‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘White Dove’ and ‘Sherry Sue’ just to name a few. And so it goes with most species. Just wait until you see the next generation of reblooming Hydrangea macrophylla. Dr. Michael Dirr and breeders around the world are working like mad to improve upon Endless Summer. And so it goes, we are all winners because plants are improving at an exponential rate.

New and superior plants and the fundamental changes taking place in the market represent opportunities for nurseries and garden centers. There is real unfulfilled demand for superior varieties and consumers are willing to pay extra for them. The most commonly asked question I hear from retailers and from gardeners is “Where can I find them?”

In my next post I will list some plants that have had or will have a significant impact on the shrub market. These plants are changing the way we view shrubs. Check back next time and find out how many of these plants you know.

More Notes From France

Forsythia has a Bright Future

One of my favorite nurseries in France is Pepinieres Minier. Located in Loire Valley, the nursery dates back as far as 1838. Since that time it has grown into one of the leading nurseries in all of Europe. While they grow a wide range of garden plants, they specialize in Hydrangea, Magnolia, Syringa (Lilac) and in Hibiscus (Rose of Sharon). Violet Satin Hibiscus and Rose Satin Hibiscus are two many outstanding plants developed by Minier.

The driving force behind the nursery is Jean-Paul Davasse, a quiet, unassuming man that just happens to be a first rate plantsman. Not only does Jean-Paul oversee 270 employees and some 250 hectares of production he make the time to manage Minier’s breeding program.

Our recent visit to Minier took us back their superb display garden and as always, Jean-Paul beamed with excitement as we zigzagged the garden looking at their newest acquisitions and breeding work. Fortunately spring came early to the Loire this year and we were lucky enough to evaluate his Forsythia collection.

While Forsythia is not their specialty per say, Jean-Paul has a keen interest in the plant and has been actively breeding the plant for some time. The gem of the collection was his own development, Show Off (Forsythia ‘Mindia). This beauty originated as a sport from the compact, variegated cultivar ‘Fiesta’. There are several notable attributes that makes Show Off special; in the spring it is loaded with very bright, very large flowers that emerge from the base of the plant to the very tips of its branches. Most forsythia plants grow indeterminately, and thus flower buds often fail to form on the late season growth. Show Off seems to have no such problem. While outstanding in the garden, Show Off is especially showy in the garden center. It shines in a three gallon pot compared to other selections. This plant is also quite attractive later in the season because of its compact form and its unusual dark green leaves. The leaves are darker than any other cultivar and distinct in shape as well.

After the garden, we had the great pleasure of evaluating his latest crop of unnamed, unreleased forsythia seedlings. He had narrowed the breeding work down from 3,000 seedlings to about thirty selections. These selections were now in three gallon pots, as well as, in field plots. The evaluation process is the most exciting part of the breeing process. It is also the most difficult part – so many beautiful plants to choose from and you have to narrow the field down to one or two plants that are significant and worthy of introduction. In other words, you have the fortitude to throw plants away! During our evaluation we looked at flower size, flower color, plant density, dwarfness, the flower bud density and overall presentation. So many superb plants, but clearly one or two unique and superior selections rose to the top. Plants destined to have a bright future.

Some say that Forsythia is old fashioned and over used. Some would even say it’s boring - but I strongly disagree. And if you were in my shoes this day, evaluating Jean-Paul’s plants, you would feel as I do - forsythia has a bright future.

The “Apocalypse” at the Chateau d' Angers

In many ways I am fortunate that I have a job that takes me around the world looking for new plants, but many people including my wife think my travels are vacations. Contrary to popular belief, I do work very hard on these trips. It is not uncommon to visit nurseries and breeders from sun up to sundown for seven days straight. And in all my travels, I have yet to see the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, or the Red Light district in Amsterdam.

That being said, once in a while we do find ourselves without any appointments, and if we can’t find any garden centers in the area; we do take in the local sites. We had such a day while in Angers, France. We took a day off to visit the Chateau d’Angers, a fortress that dates back to the 13th century.

While castles in France are as abundant as wine, it was highly recommended that we visit the Chateau d’Angers; - not so much for the building itself, but rather to see the tapestry. Housed within this fortress is the “Apocalypse,” the oldest tapestry of its size in the world. Commissioned in 1373, this fantastic work of art measures a massive 10,764 square feet in size. It is made up of 70 individual panels that, when viewed as a whole, tell the pictorial story of Revelation, the last book of the bible.

As you can see from the images below, this is an exceptional work of art. And in my option much more remarkable than the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, or the Red Light district.

The Apocalypse tapestry - Angers, France

The Apocalypse tapestry - Angers, France

Hunting for plants has its rewards

Hunting for plants has its rewards. Dale and I just returned from a week long excursion to Northern France that took us from Angers, located in the center of the Loire Valley, north to the shores of Normandy. This begins the first of a series of short entries designed to make you all envious and jealous. Ah ... but that is the point – if I can convince you to leave the crowds and tourist traps of Paris for the magical French countryside - my job is done. Here you will come to know and love France. Skip Paris, are you mad? Yes I’m serious - think about it – do Europeans come to know America by visiting Los Angeles? I think not, so why not apply the same logic in our own travels abroad.

Guided by a beautiful French speaking woman that repeatedly shouted out “Tournez a gauche,” the handy GPS guidance system delivered us to the small village of Juvardeil located just north of the city of Angers. Here we set our base camp at the Chateau de la Buronniere, a quiet B&B with wonderful off-season rates. It is hard to say what was better, the majesty of the chateau or our sparkling innkeeper Willemien Van der Nat Verhage. Hard bread, dark coffee, and strong cheese greeted us each morning, while cold beer, red wine and assorted appetizers welcomed us home at night.

The Chateau de la Buronniere was, for the most part, built in the late sixteen hundreds, in the era of the Palais de Versailles. Parts of the home date back as far as 1450, and today it has no telephones, television and during our visit no other guests. We felt as if we had stepped back in time. What must it have been like to be the Sybille de la Buronniere, the original family of the chateau, living in such a grand house? Willemien told us that it was common then to entertain and to have numerous friends and guests for the summer months. There were no highways, cars, motels, televisions or x-box - but rather family, friends, food and good wine. Simple conversation, garden walks and fancy balls were the entertainment of the day.

For us, it was the perfect place to begin our plant hunting sorties into the rich Loire valley, home to numerous vineyards, pépinières (nurseries) and le Salon du Vegetal one of the most interesting horticultural exhibitions in Europe.