The visor with the oval “G” was on the table at the head of the room, and people working in horticulture should know what that means: Dr. Michael Dirr in the house. The renowned breeder, author and University of Georgia horticulture professor held court this morning at the Farwest Trade Show with his presentation, “The Sun Never Sets on Woody Plant Introductions: Reflections and Observations on the Best of the New.”
Dirr was so rapid-fire with observations, one-liners and asides that moderator Treda McCaw said at the end, “I feel like I need a cigarette after that.”
According to Dirr, right now is one of the best times in history in terms of new plant introductions. The issue is in making these new introductions known. “Does marketing work?” he asked rhetorically. “I think without it, a plant leads a lonely life.”
It’s a competitive world. As an example, one of Dirr’s slides was a table of Hydrangea selections offered by six different prominent plant branding programs. They included 76 different H. macrophylla selections, 32 different H. paniculata selections, 14 different H. paniculata, seven different H. arborescens, and not to forget them, three H. serrata.
This is not to say that marketing alone will make a sale. Plants obviously need to perform. “(Consumers) deserve something that functions as marketed,” Dirr said.
Dirr nonetheless anticipates that branding will take on a more prominent role in the industry over time. He’s just as certain that there will be more introductions made, that they’ll be produced in greater numbers, and that they will offer more colors across all parts of the plant (flowers, fruits, leaves and stems).
“You’re going to see more,” Dirr said. “You’re going to have to ferret out what’s good and what’s bad.”