Pacific Plant Promotions: Plants for the New Millennium

By: Kathy Musial

Kathy Musial is curator of living collections at the Huntington Botanical Gardens where she has worked for more than twenty-five…

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At the June 1998 Annual Conference of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, I attended a panel discussion entitled “Commercialization of Native Plants: Debating the Issues,” in which Bart O’Brien, director of horticulture for the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, was a participant. Bart mentioned the International Succulent Introductions (ISI) program run by the Huntington Botanical Gardens, and suggested that such a program for non-succulent plants might be a good idea. A seed began to germinate in my mind. Botanical gardens are a repository of many unusual garden-worthy plants that have never made, or will never make, it into the horticultural trade for one reason or another. How can we get these plants “out there?” A many-hours-long drive on a post-conference tour was a good opportunity for Bart and I to plan how we might accomplish a non-succulent plant distribution program like that of ISI. Thus was born what we have named Pacific Plant Promotions.

  

The International Succulent Introductions is a non-profit mail-order program that aims to distribute rare or unusual succulents via a once-yearly offering of over fifty kinds of plants. Offerings include many first time introductions as well as taxa not otherwise in general circulation. A key aspect of the program is publication of the offerings in the Cactus and Succulent Journal, with descriptive text and color photos. Bart and I thought this was a good model to base our new program on, with the main difference that we only wished to offer a single kind of plant once or twice a year. We wanted a program in which many botanical gardens could participate rather than having just a single garden running it. We initially thought it could be an outgrowth of our local Council on Botanical Gardens and Arboreta of Southern California, a loose association that meets a few times a year.

The next idea was linking our program with a publication that would serve as the venue by which plants were offered. Pacific Horticulture was a logical choice, it being the only color publication solely dedicated to our region. An idea that would make our program unique was to make the plant offerings exclusively available to those who either subscribe to or otherwise purchase Pacific Horticulture. We saw this as a good promotional opportunity for the magazine. At this point it made sense to expand the program to include any public garden in the western US that wished to participate. The Huntington Botanical Gardens and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, as founders of the program, would serve as the “guinea pigs” for the first few years while we get the program off the ground. We also decided to expand the offerings to four plants per year, one per issue of the quarterly Pacific Horticulture, although for the initial trial period there will only be two offerings per year.

Then came discussion of the kinds of plants to be offered. What criteria should they fit? We wanted to make it clear that this would not be an “introduction” program, but a “distribution” program, although new introductions would be eligible. One of the major criteria was that the plants chosen would not be considered commercially viable: too difficult to grow or to propagate, too slow growing, not enough propagating stock available, endangered taxa, or poor container appearance. Exceptions would be plants too new to have made it into the nursery trade, or new introductions of a participating institution.

Upon our return to southern California we initiated a series of meetings between ourselves and the directors of our two gardens, Jim Folsom and Roy Taylor, plus John Trager, who runs the ISI program at the Huntington. Richard Turner, editor of Pacific Horticulture, was enthusiastic, and encouraged us to formalize our proposal. By June 1999, we had agreed upon a set of operating procedures and a mission statement that was presented to the board of the Pacific Horticultural Foundation, publisher of the magazine. The mission statement of Pacific Plant Promotions is:

Pacific Plant Promotions is a program designed to distribute new, unusual or little-known plants that are not readily available through the nursery industry due to their novelty or lack of commercial potential. These plants are suitable horticultural subjects for Pacific Coast and Southwest gardens and are appropriate for plant connoisseurs and gardeners who have a special interest in growing unusual horticultural material.

How the Program Will Work

Each plant offered will be described and promoted through a two-page article (text plus photos) in Pacific Horticulture magazine. The magazine will contain a tear-out card for reservation and pre-payment (to the offering garden) for purchase and shipment of one plant by mail, to be shipped during a designated period. Plants will be priced to cover the costs of production, shipping, and handling; the participating gardens will not profit from this distribution program. The tear-out card will be pre-addressed to the garden providing the plant, and will clearly state a deadline by which the cards must be postmarked. All plants will be propagated and shipped and money collected by the offering garden. Orders will be filled in the sequence received; any orders and checks received after the available quantity of plants has been reserved will be returned. Only the original tear-out card will be acceptable for orders; the intent is to limit this to one plant per person. Anyone desiring more than one plant would have to purchase additional copies of Pacific Horticulture. However, multiple orders will only be filled after all single-plant orders have been filled. A minimum crop of 500 plants will be made available per offering, up to 1000 or more depending on the plant and the garden offering it. Plants will typically be liner size for ease of shipping, but may be up to 1 gallon size depending on the plant. In the early stages of the program, plants will be shipped only to addresses in the continental U.S., but eventually may be expanded to all of North America and Hawaii. Pacific Horticulture will only serve as the venue for publicizing and offering the plants, and will not in any way be responsible for program logistics or the condition or viability of the plants.

Like any new program, there will be teething pains while we get things off the ground. We see Pacific Plant Promotions as a great way to promote both Pacific Horticulture and our public gardens, and to get many exciting and, until now, unavailable plants into the hands of garden enthusiasts. The first plant will be offered in the Spring 2000 issue, so stay tuned!