Just a Thought
“Anheuser-Busch spent $534 million dollars for advertising in 1997 and in September of 1996, Anheuser-Busch debuted its Freshness Dating, or “Born On,” system. In an effort to provide fresh beer to the marketplace, Anheuser-Busch improved its distribution practices and reduced wholesale inventories. The lower inventory levels resulted in approximately $12 million in annual savings for Anheuser-Busch’s network of beer wholesalers through improved scheduling, lower transportation costs and reduced working capital requirements. The company also communicated its freshness advantage to consumers through a comprehensive marketing campaign, which included the “Born On” freshness dates.” What does all this have to do with gardening… not a lot, but it inspired me to come up with a concept that I offered, as a suggestion, to Monrovia Growers some years back during my stint on their retail council.
What if the horticulture industry, specifically the growers of nursery product, adopted the slogan “Born On” not to refer to freshness, but to identify when a plant was originally conceived. That is when a specific plant was grafted, started from seed, made from tissue culture or grown from a cutting. At times I feel there is a lack of appreciation for what it takes to grow and market a plant. Considerable efforts are undergone to grow premium plants successfully. The challenge of mass-producing a plant at an affordable price is a priority on every growers mind. Air layering, a method developed by the Chinese to produce roots on a stem, for more difficult plants to root, is an arduous task to say the least. Grafting is the process of connecting two different plants (scion wood to rootstock) so they grow as one. Anyone who has ever taken a grafting class knows the trials and tribulations of wrapping a rubber band around the graft only to find out months later the poor success rate you have as a novice. Most of the beautiful Japanese maples you see in a garden center for sale have been grafted. Did you know that it takes roughly 6-10 years to develop a Japanese maple substantial enough to have an immediate presence in the average residential landscape? Shade trees and flowering deciduous trees have a similar time frame. A 2-2.5” caliper tree has taken some 10-15 years to make itself available for purchase. Making the transition from cutting to harvested liner, waiting for the tree to build its roots, training the form of the tree, not to mention harvesting the finished product out of the field and getting it to its final destination is an impressive feat. Even the woody ornamentals i.e. Clethra (Summersweet), Itea (Virginia Sweetspire) and Buddleia (Butterfly bush) take 3-5 years to bring to market. Your perennials can take 1-2 years to develop, depending on the finished size and perhaps the most pedestrian plant of them all; Picea glauca ‘Conica’ (dwarf Alberta spruce) takes some 7 years to develop a 3-4 foot plant.
With all the effort it takes to develop our green friends, why are some so quick to neglect the attentions that these plants have had previously? You do not have to be an expert on fertilizing, pruning and plant health care to have continued success. Rather a simple education on watering, routine pruning and occasional fertilizing is usually more than enough. When you think about it, we take care of our children making sure we tend to all aspects of their development. We feed them, house them clothe them and every moment contribute to their cognitive development. Why do some buy a living plant and expect that they are immediately self-supportive? The expectation that any plant can survive on its own, immediately after purchase, without our help is just ignorant. Too much water is just as bad as too little water! When you purchase a plant today at your local garden center many have planting instructions and cultural information on them. Not to mention a picture of what the plant should become.
The time has come for there to be an appreciation for life. Plants help clean the air we breathe, reduce the compaction of soils, beautify our surroundings and help with our emotional stability. Perhaps if we too adopted a “Born on Dating” system, people would take notice of a plants age, respect the efforts it took to develop the plant acknowledging the need for food and water and be less likely to blame the plant for any shortcomings. After all, if the average foundation plant takes 5-10 years to develop that would put them in about the fifth or sixth grade.