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. Aphrodite is also much longer blooming than Hartlage wine and all other Calycanthus. It is pretty blooms all summer long, the blooms just keeping coming. 

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'.  

The Times They Are a-Changin’

“Come gather 'round people wherever you roam
and admit that the waters around you have grown
and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth savin'.

Then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone
for the times they are a-changin'.”  -Bob Dylan

I’m sure that Bob Dylan wasn't writing about the nursery business when he wrote these iconic lyrics, but nothing better sums up what’s going on in the world of plants and in particular the world of shrubs. Surely, the times they’re a changin'!  To illustrate this change, just get in your car and drive around some neighborhoods, both new and old, and note how the landscapes have evolved in relation to the age of the homes.  With each new generation there has been a dramatic shift in the landscape, the way plants are used and the type of plants being used.

Homeowners want more color. The yews and junipers are gone.

Color has increased; perennials and flowering shrubs have replaced yews and junipers that were once so common.  There’s been an overall increase in plant diversity; the ubiquitous crab apple and blue spruce have been replaced with a myriad of plant species. And as homes have become larger and lots smaller, people no longer have the space for big, old-fashioned shrubs.  At first glace one might jump to the conclusion that shrubs have seen their day, but in light of societal changes and new breeding efforts I believe that shrubs are actually the beginning of a renaissance.

As the Product Development Manager at Spring Meadow Nursery, my search for new plants takes me around the world, and I get to meet a wide array of professional and amateur plant breeders.  I have the rare opportunity to see what will be new four or five years before the rest of the industry. As a plant geek and horticulturist, I get excited when I see that one-of-a-kind new plant.  It’s like searching for buried treasure, but my task requires that I exercise restraint and show good judgment.  I search for plants that meet the needs homeowners.  To sort through all these new plants and to help me make sound introduction decisions, I've developed an internal plant selection criteria that helps me focus on those plants the non-horticulturists would want to buy.  We have a clear vision for shrubs, and our goal is to reinvent the way people view and use them.  Here is a sampling of what I look for when searching for new shrubs.            

Shrubs as Perennials

Shrubs are no longer just the bones of the garden
Botanically speaking, shrubs are perennials - they just happen to have woody stems, but in laymen’s terms people view perennials as herbaceous plants with colorful flowers.  Shrubs, on the other hand, have been viewed as the backbone of the garden: something green to plant in the background. This is not my view.  Plant breeders are developing new shrubs that are blurring our traditional lines of plant classification. MY MONET (Weigela f. ‘Verweig’), LO & BEHOLD® butterfly bushes, and OSO HAPPY® PETIT PINK rose are all examples of miniature shrubs that look more like perennials.  

OSO EASY® PETIT PINK rose is an award winning, hardy rose that stays very small.

Gardeners and landscapers use them like perennials in borders, decorative containers and mass plantings. While these shrubs fill the same niche as perennials, they don’t require the same level of maintenance. There is no need for deadheading, dividing, or staking.  You don’t have to cut them back in autumn or spring.  I recently read an article that described shrubs as the lazy man’s perennial, and there’s truth to that.  People complain about a lack of time in this day and age, so the future for small and miniature shrubs is very promising.

Colorful Foliage

Colorful, and interesting foliage, like you get with LEMON LACE Sambucus adds garden interest.

Some years back, I was responsible for producing over a million perennials.  The goal of the program was to provide retailers with bud and bloom perennials.  Everyone knows that perennials sell a whole lot better when they’re in bloom, but unfortunately, most only bloom for four to six weeks.  It was a very difficult task shipping all these perennials before the blooms had expired while building weekly assortments with sufficient amounts of color.  The lesson I learned was that plants with colorful foliage could be sold every week, all season long.  I could always count on Hosta, Heuchera, Artemisia, and Pulmonaria to ship every week.  These same benefits were passed on to retailers and gardeners – colorful foliage looks good all season long in the garden center and the garden. The same lesson can be applied to shrubs: shrubs with colorful foliage have a longer selling season, and when they do flower, it’s icing on the cake.  

Over the last ten years, we have seen a wide array of new shrub introductions with attractive, colorful foliage. CRÈME FRAICHE (Deutzia gracilis ‘Mincream’), TINY WINE®  (Physocarpus o. ‘SMPOTW'’), BLACK LACE (Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’) and WINE & ROSES® (Weigela f. ‘Alexandra’) are just a few.  Again, everyone benefits from the season-long color provided by these shrubs.

Shrubs with Unique Architecture

The narrow architecture of SUNJOY® GOLD PILLAR Berberis opens up new uses in the landscape.

Some years back, I received a call from Gary Koller, a well-respected garden designer in the Boston area. Gary urged me to find and offer more shrubs with narrow, columnar growth habits. In his opinion, we needed plants with a smaller footprint that took up less space in the landscape.  He also felt these shrubs added interesting architecture to gardens.  The trend toward smaller home lots dictates the need for smaller and/or narrower shrubs.  After all, who has the space for a Spiraea x ‘Vanhouttei’ in their garden anymore?  

NORTH POLE® Thuja is a very narrow, fast growing evergreen. 

Narrower shrubs have another great benefit: they require less care and maintenance. Growers spend less time spacing and pruning them which saves them money. Homeowners also benefit from these shrubs as they save them both time and effort.  SKY POINTER® (Ilex crenata ‘Farrowone’), CASTLE WALL (Ilex x meserveae ‘Hechenstar’), FINE LINE® (Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’) and NORTH POLE® arborvitae (Thuja) are a few narrow plants that have seen increased popularity over the last few years.  I suspect this trend will continue.  

Multiple Seasons of Interest

For most people, the yard and garden space has become much too valuable for plants that only shine a few weeks of the year.  People want and expect more than three to four weeks of flowers.  Colorful foliage addresses this need quite well, but shrubs with interesting fruit and fall color fit the bill. BRANDYWINE (Viburnum nudum ‘Bulk’) is a good example of a shrub that earns its keep.  It has extremely glossy green foliage, attractive white flowers, rich burgundy red autumn foliage, and an outstanding fruit display that starts out green, changes to pink, then transforms to blue. And while the species typically requires a second cultivar to cross pollinate in order to fruit, this cultivar does not.  Its flowers are self-compatible, and thus it fruits abundantly without a pollinator.  It’s a work-horse of a shrub that gives season long pizzazz.

Flowers, fruit, form and fall color make BRANDYWINE Viburnum a plant with seasons of interest. 

Shrubs that rebloom, by their very nature, offer multiple seasons of interest.  With the success of plants like ‘Stella d’Oro’ daylily and Endless Summer® hydrangea, we have continued to look for shrubs that rebloom.  BLOOMERANG® Lilac (Syringa x. ' Penda’) starts blooming in May, rests in June, starts flowering again in July, and continues non-stop until frost. SONIC BLOOM weigela blooms and reblooms continuously without dead-heading. It just keeps on flowering! 

Superior Performance and Ease of Care

It should be noted that no matter how colorful, how sexy, or how big the flowers, everyone expects that a plant will perform.  Long gone are the days when people were willing to spray their plants to keep them healthy.  Just look at the rose market - Knock Out®, Oso Easy®, and Home Run® roses do not have the big, showy flowers of a ‘Queen Elizabeth’ rose, yet they’re in high demand because they’re easy to grow.  People want plants that are going to live – and that they can count on.  Sure there will always be die-hard gardening enthusiasts who enjoy the challenge of growing Himalayan blue poppies, but according to the National Gardening Association, 81% of the population is comprised of casual, reluctant, and non-gardeners.  It’s unfortunate, but most of these people do not know how to prune a shrub or amend soil pH, and they have no desire to learn.  If we want to sell plants to the majority of the population, we have to give them plants that are easy to grow. New shrub breeding is providing just that.

PINK HOME RUN® roses add lots of color with little effort.

The Future looks Very Bright

As you can see, plant breeders are reinventing shrubs to meet the needs of today’s growers, retailers, landscapers, and gardeners.  European breeder rights laws, as well as U.S. plant patents, have given breeders greater incentive to develop new shrubs, and the pace is quickening, but new is not necessarily better. The patent books are full of plants that no one wants.  It takes a lot more than larger flowers to be successful in today’s market.  People are demanding more.  And like Bob says, “The times they are a-changin,” and so are shrubs. In my view, they’re no longer just the bones of the garden – new shrubs are changing the way we grow, sell, garden, and landscape. The future looks very bright indeed!

Marvelous Mutant Maples

One of the first lessons I learned in horticulture was that leaves are one of the most unreliable features to identify a plant. For any particular species, cultivars can vary greatly when it comes to leaf shape. Another lesson learned was that the longer and more often a plant is cultivated, the greater the number of mutations and cultivars. The perfect example for each of these lessons is the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum. Japanese maple has been cultivated for centuries, and there are hundreds of cultivars. The leaf variation is simply marvelous. Most often these new plants originate as stem mutations that have been discovered, propagated and named, while others are discovered from chance seedlings and intentional breeding efforts. 

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'
One of the more commonly grown Acer palmatum cultivars in the nursery business is a hardy selection called 'Bloodgood'. Its leaves are similar to your typical Japanese maple found in nature with the exception of reddish-purple coloration instead of green. But Japanese gardeners, nurserymen and collectors have found numerous other leaf mutations, and it appears that this plant has no limits when it comes to sporting new cultivars. Here is just a small sampling of cultivars I've seen in my travels over the last year.

Acer palmatum 'Crimson Queen'

Acer palmatum 'Felice'

Acer palmatum 'Fior d'Arancio'

Acer palmatum 'Shinedeshojo'

Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

Acer palmatum 'Pung Kil'

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Ryu Sei'

Acer palmatum 'Seiryu'

Acer palmatum 'Shaina'

Acer palmatum 'Taylor'

Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo'