ANLA New Plant Pavilion

I just got back from the ANLA Management Clinic in Louisville. Each year at the clinic, NMpro Magazine hosts their New Plant Pavilion where growers and breeders showcase their newest offerings. This year the pavilion featured 42 new plants. That's right - 42 new plants! There seems to be no shortage of new varieties.

While at the conference I heard someone say that we have way too many new plants. In some respects I agree - there are too many new plants. The problem is that there is no way that people, let alone nursery professionals, can digest so many new introductions, let alone grow them.

I see the same thing when I travel overseas. New plants are a dime-a-dozen. As I've said before the difficulty is not finding new plants, it's finding new plants that are better and superior, and that people will want to put in their yard.

To make matters worse, in one of the clinic lectures, one retail expert said that garden centers need to cut back on the number of plant varieties they offer. His point was that by offering so many choices, we are overwhelming the consumer. Again, In some respects I agree. Unless a garden center has a customer base of avid gardeners and plant collectors, too many plants can make it overwhelming for casual shoppers.

So what’s the Answer? In my opinion the free market will solve the problem. The best plants will rise to the top as growers, retailers and consumers vote with their pocket books. With this in mind, it’s very important for growers to be careful in introducing new plants or they’ll soon discover that they’ve wasted a lot of time and money.

To help me avoid making these kinds of costly mistakes, I’ve developed a check list that reflects the plants attributes I feel are needed to be successful. Here’s my simplified check list that I use when considering a new plant:

More Color. The trend in gardening or more correctly - yard decorating is color. Plants with a longer bloom season, multiples seasons of color (flowers, fruit, fall color), colorful foliage that lasts beyond the flowers, etc. are all high on my list.

Easy to grow. The majority of people do not know much about gardening. They want to plant it and enjoy it, so I look for shrubs that are dwarf or compact that requires little or no pruning. I look for plants (particularly roses) that do not have to be sprayed. And I look for plants that do not require special fuss.

Lastly, I look for plants that connect with our emotions. In other words, plants that make us feel good. Everyone likes to feel good. Who can resist the sweet fragrance of a Lilac or the joy evoked by a flock of brightly colored butterflies darting about a Butterfly Bush? Not me, and I suspect most people feel the say way. Certainly a rose connects with our emotions, but the need to spray it can negate those feelings - so even plants that connect with out emotions must be easy to grow.

The days of breeding plants strictly for bigger flowers are long gone. Sure big flowers are great. A Dahlia has a remarkable flower, but only the rare enthusiast is willing to overlook its ugly habit and excessive need for care. Times have changed, and so must the nursery industry.

What do you think?


  1. Anonymous4:57 PM


    Enjoy your *column*.

    I am a gardener in 6b in western Virginia. Andre and son, Mark, Viette and family are good friends to drop a name or two...grin.

    While I agree with most of what you stated the flip side of the coin is monoculture with fewer and in my experience boring and weedy plants easily propagated in the least amount of time seem to take over. I love those garden centers which are rather like the big antique malls where one has to search for the treasures--NOT rows of the same old boring plant varieties.

    We certainly need to put a halt to 2,000 new varieties of Hosta/Daylillies each year!!!...GAG!

    From someone with a collectors slant on gardening bits...since you requested comments...

    Jim Hanger

  2. Anonymous7:50 AM

    Hi Tim:

    I'm really enjoying your Modern Day Plant Hunter messages. While I agree that there may appear to be too many choices and I also agree with your criteria, I suggest you add a couple. Namely drought tolerance and field trials. Water shortages are a concern here in Canada and I've read it will be a great concern throughout much of the US. Field trials don't seem to be done anymore. We both know hybridizers with dollar signs in their eyes who rush plants to market without care for important issues like virus indexing.

    My customers want to know HOW to grow a plant and WHAT to combine it with. They want to know about soil preference, light, and watering requirements.

    I confess that Gardenimport is more guilty than most for offering NEW plants, bulbs, seeds, etc. (we have 150 new introductions in total this Spring), but it IS our 25th anniversary.

    The overabundance of NEW is more of an issue in the retail environment than catalogue. We have the luxury of space to inform and photos to illustrate NEW to our customers in the comfort of their own homes.


  3. Anonymous11:31 AM

    I've been thinking of the very same topic. How can an ordinary gardener pick and choose among the overwhelming number of plants on the market. It's enough to make anyone dizzy! I'm thinking of writing a column about this. May I quote you in my column, and offer your check list?

    I especially like your last point, plants that connect with your emotions. I think that's really at the heart of gardening. A plant has to speak to me for me to choose it, and some plants, no matter how trendy they are, just don't do anything for me. Another point I would add to the check list is to talk to other gardeners in one's own climate to find out which plants do well for them. There are many plants that perform well in other regions, but not in the rainy Pacific Northwest, and I find it helpful to find which roses, for example, like our wet winters.

    If I may quote you, what is your title in the plant world?

    Thanks very much.

    Barbara Blossom Ashmun

  4. Anonymous5:56 PM

    Hey Tim - I'm lucky enough to have had 4 sides of the equation - wholesale, retail, writer, and most importantly gardener.

    From the wholesaler side - you need the "new" stuff to help your create an important differentiation - you're the nursery that has the "good" stuff. Retailers use the new plants to make themselves different than the box stores.

    We poor writers need copy. It's pretty boring to cover "old" plants over and over. :-) What? You want me to cover your marketing plans for all those "old" plants? C'mon. :-) New is sexy.

    My garden-readers tell me they want it to bloom for a long time. Want it to have season-long interest. Want it fragrant. Cast-iron hardy to USDA zone 2 and heat and salt tolerant for the South. No insects will eat it so we don't need pesticides and the leaves shrub off disease. Want a short version as well as a climbing and taller shrub form.

    Oh yeah. They don't want their neighbors to have it.

    Any other questions - call me. :-)

  5. Interesting post. But I do wince at the term "yard decorating." I'm sticking with gardening.

  6. Anonymous9:48 AM


    I do agree with you. I wish there were more heavy flowering ground covers such as Allysum and Bacopa because they are easy to care for, fill in between any plant and deliver a long season of color without much maintenance.
    That's my two cents.



Thank you for your comments.

Please know that I delete spam and SEO back-links and will call you out as a spammer if you attempt to use this blog to promote your website, business or whatever else you are selling. Please respect this blog.