Making the Best Plants Better
When Proven Winners® was created, the main principle was to introduce innovative plants with great garden performance. We work hard every day to make this vision a reality. The person most responsible for delivering on these principles is our Plant Hunter, Kevin Hurd. Kevin and his team search the world for interesting new plants to trial for Proven Winners. It’s a very cool, unusual and stressful job. His endeavors are the linchpin for our continued success. Here’s a bit of an insider look into how Proven Winners continues to introduce great new plants for gardeners – written in Kevin’s own words.
As an industry, the brand-new plants usually receive the lion’s share of the fanfare and I have to admit, I’m just as guilty. Introducing a brand-new genus or a new hybrid is exciting for a plantsperson. There is a huge amount of joy when an industry colleague asks, “What in the world is that?” Plants like Diamond Frost® or Blue My Mind® are major milestones and should be celebrated, but we shouldn’t forget that a lot of breeding companies are also working to improve the older genetics too. These improvements benefit everyone in the supply chain. Increased disease resistance, better branching, improved performance, along with many other developments make both growers and gardeners more successful. With many new people gardening, these improvements could prove key in keeping the gardening public engaged. A recent example is the new version of Supertunia® Royal Velvet®. The original Royal Velvet® was in the Proven Winners® line for almost 20 years. It is a best-selling variety and beloved by many, but we knew we could enhance a great variety to make it even better. It took countless attempts to find the new variety, but it finally hits garden centers this spring.
STRONG TRENDS IN HERBS AND VEGETABLES
A desire to add an edible line to Proven Winners® goes back even before I joined the team nine years ago. My predecessor, Dr. Rick Schoellhorn, made several attempts, but finding fruits, herbs, and vegetables that are truly distinctive is not an easy task for a company new to that category. From my perspective, I was seeing many of my friends finally getting into gardening, but they weren’t starting with Petunias or Hydrangeas. For the most part, they were planting vegetables and herbs. I was excited that they were finally starting to pick up gardening, but in a category that we hadn’t broken into yet. Things changed when
Adam, who had just completed his Master’s under Dr. Dave Clark at the University of Florida,joined the group. Adam had been working with basil and breeding towards Downy Mildew resistance. When he graduated, there wasn’t a finished product yet, but Dr. Clark continued with the project. After some more breeding, Amazel Basil® was finally ready. It was the product that we had been looking for to help us kick off Proven Harvest®, our vegetable, fruit and herb line. Amazel Basil and its Downy Mildew resistance continues to win awards across the U.S.
To add to the line, we again found truly unique breeding right down the hall at the University of Florida with Dr. Harry Klee. Dr. Klee had been working on tomato breeding and already had two outstanding products – ‘Garden Gem’ and ‘Garden Treasure’. In these products, he had successfully married modern disease resistance with heirloom flavor — a trait that has often been lost in modern tomato breeding. Given that his program was based in Florida, he also had plants that performed well through the summers at all of our trial stations. This whole article could be about those two tomatoes, but instead, I encourage you to read Slate’s article, “This Is the Perfect Tomato”, to learn the full background.
BEATING THE HEAT
Currently one of our top priorities is adding more products to our line that work for our Southern customers. It’s not that we’re ignoring our customers in Iowa or Pennsylvania; any products that can reliably go through the summer in the South make fantastic products for the rest of the country as well. A big step forward was moving our trial station out of California and ramping up our trials in Florida. We’ve been trialing in Florida for almost 20 years now, but over the last five we increased that space to approximately three linear miles. The increased trialing has helped us identify some outstanding new products. Suncredible® Yellow Helianthus, Proven Accents® Sweet Caroline Medusa™ Ipomoea, Luscious® Royale Red Zone™ Lantana, Truffula® Pink Gomphrena, and Double Up™ Begonias are a few of my favorites. To highlight our progress in this area, we’ve also teamed up with Norman Winter, “The Garden Guy” to reach more consumers about our Heat Is On™ collection.
It’s hard to predict what the next eight years will bring, but I’m sure that our industry’s resourceful plant breeders will continue to wow us with their incredible work. And I’m looking forward to every step of the process!