My last post was a link to Annie of Annie’s Annuals and her most excellent rant, "Dwarf Madness". It concerns some breeders, and their mad science. It seems they are breeding plants to flower sooner for quicker sales at the box store garden center. It’s not only for a quick sale, but they are also breeding plants to grow shorter so they fit into the racks used to deliver plants. It use to be that plants we’re loaded onto trucks individually, and unloaded that way. Not very efficient since plants are all different sizes and shapes when shipped. To speed loading and unloading many suppliers now load plants onto racks that are wheeled off their trucks, and into the nursery. You can fit more plants on the truck this way, cutting costs, and making for easier unloading. They collect the empty racks, and take them back to be filled again. It’s all very neat and organized.
Now the box stores are demanding plants be bred for easier shipping. A friend in the breeding/growers world, Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farms had an interesting conversation with a box store representative. Lloyd relates this conversation. “Conversation at Lilytopia yesterday, among 10,000 STEMS of incredible Oriental lilies, many with 12 flowers each a FOOT across and 4+ feet tall: ‘What growth regulator can I use to get these less than 18" tall, including pot?’ Response from bulb breeder---"WHY would you want to do that? The flowers will shrink to 5", they won't last, and the customer will think they are short varieties.’ Blank stare from box store grower—‘I need to fit these on a shipping rack, 3 layers minimum, all the same height and size and bloom stage.’ ‘Maybe you should look for another product to force into a mold. We worked hard to make these magnificent, and you will make them ordinary.’"
It’s worse than I thought. Not being a breeder this kind of stuff was off my radar before. Since I have been hanging with other nursery folks at our Indie garden center group I am getting an earful on a subject that is now on my radar. It seems this is an area where the independent garden center can make some headway against the standardization, and homogenization of our trade. What if the decline in interest in gardening was being helped along by these practices? They are breeding plants for better shipping? That’s what has happened to our vegetables, and look what that did. Now people are growing their own, and finding they taste a whole lot better.
This is just ridiculous. Remember when you buy plants from the box stores you are helping promote this type of thing. Individually smaller plant nurseries and garden centers don’t have the pull necessary to get stuff like this done. It’s the chains and box stores that are breeding the “Shazam” out of gardening. The only people fighting this are places like Annie’s, smaller locally owned operations, and their fans. Next time you think all the plants are the same no matter where you buy them, think again. It does matter where you buy your horticultural supplies.