Cultivar Conservation ?

Submitted by externmed on Fri, 04/05/2013 - 17:23

As rock gardening undergoes a bit of contraction and nurseries here and there close, I wonder about the preservation of commercially unimportant cultivars. Here I'm thinking about Daphne, Phlox, Penstemon and many others. Would it be useful to make a list of such cultivars, we wouldn't want to loose; and to try to find 2 people willing to maintain them? How many people out there might be willing to sign on as a cultivar foster parent? Wonder what the membership would put on such a list?
Charles Swanson. Massachusetts USA


Submitted by Mark McD on Fri, 04/05/2013 - 18:21

Hi Charles, this is a good question but often a difficult goal to achieve, particularly in the long term.  Back in the 1980s, I was frustrated after reading about a number of desirable woody Penstemon cultivars, they seemed no where to be found in cultivation.  Of course this was well before the digital era where it's possible to find so much information and track down plants one is looking for.  So I had an idea of instituting a "cutting exchange" for the American Penstemon Society. The idea was, I would request people to send me cutting material from known pedigree Penstemon cultivars (and lessen known or hardly available species), I would attempt rooting them, then later in the season, would put out a rooted cuttings plant list only asking for nominal reimbursement for shipping the plants to the participants. It was a lot of work, but produced great results. 

LeRoy Davidson lived only 1 mile from me, although his garden had become a 6' (2 m) high jungle of horsetail in his elder years.  He agreed to help find some of his original named hybrids, so we tromped around his expansive gardens overgrown former gardens, but we found a number of his original plants (such as the true Penstemon 'BreitenbushBllue' and P. rupicola 'Myrtle Hebert'. Cuttings came in from a variety of sources, I was totally impressed how these plant varieties "came out of the woodwork" so to speak, one plant here, another one there, cumulatively making the program a success. A couple years later when I returned in New England, I gave away most my plants (including penstemons) to Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, where these choice Penstemons showed up for a number of years in their catalogs.

But these things take dedication and resources. Thinking about Epimedium, it took Darrell Probst many years of work and distant travels, and tremendous dedication, to cull together the definitive genus resource he built in Central Massachusetts, sorting out for once and for all most of the confusion the genus was mired in for decades.  Creating such definitive repositories in a long-term scenario, I suspect is extremely difficult.

Submitted by externmed on Sat, 04/06/2013 - 10:50

I understand it would be difficult.  I don't fully understand the concept of the national collections  in the UK, but from a distance, it sounds as if they are making an effort in that direction.
The Garden Conservancy lists a fellow in New York State who has 450 +/- varieties of Galanthus.  Guessing that with CITES, that's going to never happen again. 
I was not thinking about anyone taking a major burden but maybe some interested people might be willing to babysit 5 cultivars of plants appropriate to their conditions.  If this were going to work, someone would have to contact these people perhaps yearly and make sure they are still with the program.  I would also think that there should be some redundancy in case one foster parent looses his plant.
(I'm guessing that there are 100s of thousands of varieties of Hosta, Hemerocallis, Tulips, Narcissus, Sempervivum etc., that someone grew and now are not available--not that most should be)
(My point is that survival may be pretty much by chance or luck -- one nurserymen chooses a variety to add to his offerings. Then when the nursery closes or changes management, it's luck or chance again.)
The attention to the forum is quite light, I wonder if this subject is worth bringing up to the membership.
Charles Swanson Massachusetts USA