Gardening 101

Creating the Plants We Want


I am filled with desire. I see, I smell, I want. A walk through the garden center presents new delights, which leaves me wanting more.

According to the North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association over 1,400 growers in our state produce a wide variety of plants. The USDA Census of Horticulture ranked North Carolina sixth in the country in horticulture production with more than $570 million in sales. Creating plants that eventually make it into my garden is a big business, so I decided to take a closer look.

In simplest terms, new plants are either discovered in the field or arise from breeding efforts. Plant hunters travel widely seeking plants that have evolved to succeed in conditions that may enable them to thrive in our gardens. Alternatively, plant breeders can either set out to develop a new plant that has desirable traits or they may discover novel traits that emerge in one of the thousands of plants they grow as part of their breeding programs.

One plant expressing a desirable trait is not enough to guarantee success in the marketplace. It needs to be grown in huge numbers to ensure it performs reliably. Depending on the plant’s lifecycle this process can take several years. Growers continually evaluate their plants to identify promising candidates. This cycle is repeated in multiple locations and entire breeding projects are abandoned when plants do not meet expectations.

Traits identified during testing impact the final price of a plant. Because easy to propagate and quick to grow plants require fewer resources, they often cost the consumer less. How much buyers are willing to pay can also disqualify otherwise promising plants if they are too costly to produce.

Years of testing hopefully yield a plant that possesses traits buyers want. It then moves to growers who are licensed to grow and distribute the new plant. Responsible for producing large numbers of healthy plants, these growers will deliver them to wholesale and retail markets.

The final step moves the new plants to market. Wholesale markets sell to garden centers that buy the plants for resale and to landscapers who buy the plants to install in commercial or residential properties.

As a home gardener I only participate in the Marketing phase—the colorful displays and luscious scents entice me to make a purchase. It doesn’t matter if I’m at the garden center with a carefully considered shopping list or making an impulse purchase, I am responsible for selecting plants that will thrive in my garden.

Gardening is both art and science. Do your homework in selecting the right plants for your place but don’t be ashamed to follow your heart and select the plants you love. After all what’s gardening without desire.

Featured image: Hydrangea Lavalamp Flare.

Dr. Lise Jenkins is the Triangle Gardener’s podcast producer and a newspaper columnist. She also volunteers her time as a Master Gardener in Durham.

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