Thursday, March 3, 2011

Scooby Dooby Newby

Garden people all over the world are reading catalogs which include the new and improved plants for 2011. We tend to utter fireworks kinds of sounds at a beautiful new introduction. (That’s “oo” and “aw” for those non verbal expressive friends.)

Which one of us would want to give up such wonderful improvements as spreading “Wave” petunias, mildew resistant bee balm, asters that no longer flop, and dwarf varieties for small garden space?

I am happy with a flower that “self cleans” by neatly dropping wilting flower heads without my help.

On the other hand, I like for many of my plants to stay traditional looking. For instance:

I want single petal hollyhocks not the new flowers that look like peonies on a stem.

I like my daylilies to be the single cup variety and not doubled like a rose.

Columbine is such a fragile looking flower with its little cup and the spurs nodding downward. Someone has bred a new variety without the spurs and the cups are ruffled and upright. Why, I wonder?

Breeders have gone crazy with pompon everything, trying to get a black flower, and often changing entire structures. If I wanted a shocking pink pompon coneflower, I’d simple plant a zinnia. I do not need my Rose of Sharon bush to have red, white and blue flowers all at once. I have a perfectly good flag for my patriotic purposes.

We now have sunflowers that are almost ground huggers and daylilies pushing six foot. I want to look up to my sunflowers and down to my daylilies.

Am I old fashioned and incapable of embracing change? I choose to think not!

I don’t want to lose the essence of what made a plant popular in the first place and has continued to keep it popular through the ages. Strengthen it and help it to be more disease and insect resistant. Experiment with flower and foliage color. Improve stem strength, improve upon the hardiness, and provide a means to increase yield.

But, please let the plant have some of the dignity and recognizable appearance of its own. Don’t try to make every plant into an over-the-top variation of something else. We already have something else!

The plant breeding industry does wonders for our food and farm production crops. They have improved many wonderful old plants to withstand and enhance the future. They also get a little carried away every quarter of a century and the outcome of some labs is a little like a plant Frankenstein.

The scary part is during these periods of exuberant change, we tend to lose heirloom plants – some forever. I’m thankful for seed collectors and the seed savers. Thankful for those nurseries and seed producers who refuse to let them quietly fade away.

Sure, grab that wild gold and blue striped marigold to match the Cats basketball uniforms if you desire – but also collect the seeds from that old fashioned Amish Gold marigold when you can.

As Scooby would say when looking at a twelve foot glowing lime green poppy, “Ruh-roh, Raggy!”

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