Published November 13, 2011 | By Robert LaHoff
This article really is unlike most of my other articles. Loaded more with opinion than fact I want to tackle the controversial subject of “Branded Plants”. Recently I watched a short video from Greenhouse Management Magazine, online, that talked with industry professionals and their experiences with “Branded Plants”. Without exception growers from across the country talked about their successes growing and marketing these types of plants. “Branded Plants remain a driver in the horticultural market in 2011” was the opening line.
Gardeners, for years, have seen the marketing craze going on with “Branded Plants”. Monrovia, Proven Winners, Encore Azaleas, Simply Beautiful, Knock Out Roses, Endless Summer Hydrangeas, even Martha Stewart’s Everyday Garden Collection are examples of this phenomenon. Gardening business is big business, $40 billion gardening dollars annually to be exact (U.S. News & World Report). “Branded Plants” are marketed as better plants, resistant to disease, pests, and heat, capable of flowering longer and brighter. In a term, they are no muss, no fuss plants! They give black-thumb types the courage to feel they’ll finally succeed in the garden” (horticulturist Ron Wilson host of the syndicated radio show In The Garden).
As a retailer I have always been torn by this argument. I acknowledge the success and impact “Branded Plants” have on our industry. Clearly the marketing efforts have reached consumers and the nifty packaging that goes along with the product doesn’t hurt any. And while there are many worthwhile plants today being marketed in branded pots with branded tags not all of them are “Proven Winners”. In fact the marketing prowess that goes along with the plant has in many cases surpassed the merits of the plant. There have been many times that a customer has come into our garden center and asked us for a Monrovia, not knowing Monrovia was the company and not the plant. And what about that company? I think it’s important to note that not all plants are created equal. An Endless Summer Hydrangea grown by one company can be very different than that grown by another. Same plant, same royalties were paid to grow said plant, but the outcome can be very different based on business practices i.e. soils used, crop rotations, time management, pruning, fertilizing etc. These fundamental practices can and will affect the final product!
Going forward, gardening is a hobby, a way of life and a passion with really no exact science. Just because someone tells you a plant is deer resistant, performs well in part sun or part shade, is wet site tolerant or has extended positive qualities, doesn’t mean that it will be true in your garden. Your soil, your sun/shade equation and your efforts will affect a plants outcome. If we are fed false hopes that these new “Branded Plants” are the Holy Grail, the answers to our horticultural prayers then we as gardeners should expect disappointment rather than success. If we truly believe that the brand eliminates effort and we neglect the biology of what will make a plant grow, food, light and water then we are all in trouble.
The mass implementation of these plants, in my opinion, is leading to the road of mediocrity or vanilla landscapes. There is no denying the impact that Endless Summer hydrangea has had on the gardening world. Clearly a repeat bloomer with good characteristics, many horticulturists, myself included, feel that there are better ones out there for the taking. Take for instance ‘Penny Mac’ and ‘Forever & Ever’. Here are two other great varieties that bloom just as well if not better, but they don’t say ‘Endless Summer’. Given the depth of plant material afforded to gardeners today, it is disheartening to see the same handful of plants purchased day in and day out. Sometimes we can go too far with the branding issue.
I combed the Internet garden forums and found as much support for brands as I did for non-brands. Some referred to advertising as being “sneaky and subliminal” while others trusted their confidences to a company’s efforts; believing that they have embellished on what was existing and have some how made it better. One thing is constant though throughout the forums; quality and service still rein supreme regardless of how the plant is wrapped. The bottom line is this, what starts with the promise of advertising really finishes in your garden. Plant health, vigor, aesthetics and performance in your garden should dictate your plant purchase decisions. Remember, it’s what’s in the pot that matters. Sometimes the branded plant is the way to go. Sometimes a non-branded plant is the way to go. Regardless of the hype, there are certain truths you cannot avoid. Gardening is trial and error and plants are living, breathing things that need your attention and nurturing. Simply dropping a plant into the ground and thinking that the genetic breakthroughs can in any way eliminate your efforts to support your new green friend will only lead to despair. Informed gardeners relying on the advice of local horticultural experts equals better gardening. Ragu is good jarred tomato sauce, but then again so is your mother’s Sunday gravy. You decide what’s in the package you like best!