Karl Foord, UMN Extension Educator
To answer this question I traveled to Newport, Minnesota to visit with Debbie Lonnee who is a Planning and Administration Manager at Bailey Nurseries. Don't be fooled by the title, Debbie knows hers plants intimately. Listening to her describe plant cultivars is like watching Monet paint.
Bailey Nurseries celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2005 and is still managed by fourth generation members of the Bailey family. Bailey has production locations in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Oregon, and Washington where it produces and distributes fruit and shade trees, ornamental shrubs and vines, roses, evergreens, fruits, perennials, and annuals. As a wholesale operation they sell to over 4500 retail garden establishments, landscapers, and growers located in 47 U.S. states as well as Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and Japan. Try to imagine the effort involved in getting this wide variety of plants delivered at the right time of year for each of these locations. It boggles the mind.
Breeding efforts and partnerships
The breeding efforts focus on improved habit and ornamental qualities, and disease resistance to name a few among a host of characteristics. The disease resistance objective is particularly noteworthy as its goal is to eliminate chemical treatments and to replace plants which have been shown to be particularly susceptible to diseases. Bailey has a breeding program but they do not restrict their efforts to their own program, as they solicit breeding partners from around the world. This greatly increases their reach and at the same time increases our exposure to newly produced plants. To get a sense of how this brings plant opportunities to you and me, I asked Debbie to trace the development of three new cultivars.
One of the new cultivars is 'Vanilla Strawberry™' which is a Hydrangea paniculata with conical shaped flower. The interesting thing about this cultivar is that the flower starts out stark white and gradually changes from white to pink from the bottom up. This cultivar came from a partnership with SAPHO, an organization formed between French breeders and the Angers branch of the French Research Institute (INRA). Presently there are 20 breeder/stockholders including M. Renault, the breeder of 'VANILLE FRAISE ® 'Renhy'.
Another new cultivar is 'Bella Anna' which is a Hydrangea arborescens from the Endless Summer® series of reblooming Hydrangeas developed by Dr. Michael Dirr who spent most of his career at the University of Georgia. 'Bella Anna™' produces giant pink flowers that can measure up to 10 inches across. It is in essence a pink 'Annabelle' hydrangea.
It should be noted that H. arborescens does not change flower color in response to soil pH. The three other cultivars in the Endless Summer ® collection (Endless Summer™, Blushing Bride™, and Twist-n-Shout™) are all H. macrophylla species which does respond to soil pH. There are products called Color Me Pink™ and Color Me Blue™ which will change the color of your hydrangea flowers. The flowers become Pink in alkaline soil (pH greater than 7), and blue in acidic soil (pH less than 7).
A third cultivar is 'Little Devil™' Ninebark which is a Physocarpus opulifolius. This cultivar was bred by Dr. David Zlesak who was the previous editor of the Yard & Garden News and now a professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF).
One of the advantages of this cultivar is its size. David was able to introduce a dwarfing gene creating a 4 foot tall dark leaved ninebark vs. a 10 foot tall 'Diablo' dark leaved shrub. Much of today's breeding work focuses on creating small stature or dwarf varieties. This permits traditionally larger plants to fit into today's smaller landscapes as well as permitting a greater variety of textures, forms and colors for the landscape palette.
Last spring Twin Cities Live did a short segment on Bailey Nurseries, in which they showed a number of the production systems and facilities. This video is no longer available.
All photos courtesy of Bailey Nurseries.