New plant varieties are created and sold every year, whether they’re roses or petunias. Yet, are these new varieties really what us gardeners want and need, or are they just another way to make money?
Recently I had the opportunity to judge a prestigious rose trial. As I made my way round the rows of plants with my marking sheet, I realised filling in one of the assessment criteria on the form was going to be difficult.
We were asked to assess whether the rose we were looking at was ‘novel’, or whether there was already something similar on the market. With something like 7,000 varieties of roses being sold in the UK, it’s hard to see how they could all be very different. And, of course, many of them weren’t.
It was also pretty clear that not all of them were much of an improvement – many of the roses I saw were badly affected by black spot and quite a few had no fragrance, even though I’m sure that’s a priority for many buyers.
The downside of new plants
This problem isn’t just confined to roses, of course. Hundreds of different heuchera have been introduced recently, many very similar to each other. Hoards of ‘new’ petunias are brought out every year, and the number of clematis being bred could make your head spin, yet a lot of them are hard to tell apart.
New plants sometimes seem to have been rushed through the testing process too quickly, as well. Some simply don’t have a constitution strong enough to last, resist disease and flower well in the garden year after year.
Also, new plants can be bred to fulfil the needs of growers or garden centres who tend to like uniform sizes which are easier to transport and have very predictable flowering times. But are these the things a gardener wants from their plants?
Why so many new plants?
I write regularly about new plants for Which? Gardening magazine and see many lovely new plants. I’m always delighted to write about ones that manage to combine the best features of their type with better disease resistance, a new colour or a more manageable size and shape. But some really aren’t that ‘new’, and I often wonder why so many people spend so much time on the breeding, introducing and marketing of these plants.
One of the reasons they do it, I’m told, is that a ‘new’ plant will always outsell its older rivals. But is this really true?
When you go to the garden centre, do you notice if the plant is ‘new’ or do you make decisions according to whether you like the flowers? When you leaf through a catalogue do you head straight for the section showing the new plants, or do you look for things you know would work in your garden?