Not All Plants That Glitter Are Gold

Lilium 'Roselily Samantha'

In horticultural circles, new varieties are released with a fanfare of publicity. But we all make mistakes, even plant breeders.

Lilies are often grown for cutting but their ample pollen has an unfortunate way (from a human-centric viewpoint) of staining paintwork and wedding dresses. In double lilies, the pollen-bearing parts (anthers) have mutated to extra petals, removing the problem. So in the last few years, several companies have been marketing double forms of Lilium orientalis as Roselilies, Lotus lilies or Double Orientals.

When I photographed Lilium ‘Roselily Samantha’ a couple of years ago, I noticed that some of the blooms had a curious blunt look before they were fully open, caused by incurved petals at the centre. I liked the effect, although it reminded me more of a bromeliad than a rose. The upper petals had a tendency to open over the tops of the previous layer rather than to overlap as a double rose would.

Fully open, the flowers were a deep reddish pink, nicely freckled and with white bands around the edges of the petals.

Lilium ‘Roselily Samantha’ was in a prime position on a stand arrayed in several thousands of stems of different varieties of lilies, both singles and doubles. Together, their scent was powerfully sweet and haunting.

Lilium 'Roselily Samantha'

When researching this post I couldn’t find Lilium ‘Roselily Samantha’ bulbs listed for sale anywhere.  One website mentioned it had been superseded, so it’s likely that my pictures are an elegy to an unusual flower.

It made me think back to Rosa ‘Rose of Picardy’ which was withdrawn not long after its launch. The rose and the lily no doubt survive in some places where the gardener snapped them up soon after their release, but you’ll be hard pressed to find either of them offered for sale in 2021.

Lilium 'Roselily Samantha'

No matter how long and how thoroughly new plants are tested before their release, some steps of the journey can only be surmounted (or ignominiously tumbled down) in the real world. Some varieties do not look attractive for long enough as a young plant in a pot in a garden centre: some succumb to disease when watered with overhead sprinklers and crammed up against other plants on a sales bench; some quickly get leggy and topple over; others fade away if allowed to dry out in hot spells.

Most importantly of all, the relative neglect of the average garden is a whole different ball game from the controlled, scientific conditions of a breeder’s trial field. When planted out with the different techniques and degrees of attention we gardeners apply, and in a higgledy-piggledy of soils and aspects, some new varieties do not thrive

Often the investment in each new variety has been considerable. Withdrawing a plant from sale disappoints wholesale and retail customers, but if a new plant fails to perform, it’s the only honourable way to go. In any case, our collective demand for novelty means that professional breeders have many more plants under development waiting to fill that hole in their product offer.

From the consumer’s perspective, although glittery new releases receive a disproportionate amount of attention in the gardening press, especially if you’re a less experienced gardener, it’s worth considering whether you want to pay to be the crucial last testing ground for a breeder’s latest new variety.

Older, tried and tested varieties have proved they can survive in ordinary gardens. The only thing to worry about is whether they can adapt to your climate and conditions. Visiting private or public gardens in your area is a great way to see what plants are doing well.

If you can’t get out at the moment, and are researching online, avert your eyes from the alluring, but often contrived pictures of new releases, pick a more established variety and do an image search for it. If you see lots of pictures of the plant looking great, it’s clear that everyday gardeners are having success with it. If all you see is the breeder’s picture, as the Romans would say, let the buyer beware.

Shared for Cee’s Flower of The Day.

39 Replies to “Not All Plants That Glitter Are Gold”

  1. They really do have a different-world look about them, as though living in an ordinary garden would never work. How sad. Your elegy is beautiful, though, as are they.

    1. You’re right, of course, it’s likely this variety has been designed for a different world. The cut flower industry places demands on a plant that would never occur in the wild: resilience to being handled and transported, vase life, even the need to produce an average of a stem per month, which sounds bizarre.

  2. I have reached the conclusion that tried and trusted plants are best. Even native plants. Less fuss, more hardy and equally beautiful. I’m not keen on the scent of lilies and the S&S attacked my Orientals so I gave up with them. Sometimes breeders go too far – it’s the same with dogs.

    1. It would be interesting (and perhaps eye-opening) to know the ratio of new plant varieties that work out in the long term, compared to ones that don’t. You know I have a weakness for blowsy doubles. My view is that those who grow them probably have pollinator-friendly plants too, and that anything that gets us interested is good.

  3. Have come to realise that plants popular for their hardiness often are so for a good reason. Healthy plants suited for the given environment and in their prime are more likely to appear attractive, even against those that are pretty yet prone to issues 😉

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