Steve Hutton, President of Conard-Pyle, Inc., is a grower with a vision. He spoke recently at a regional meeting of the Garden Writers Association and gave an astonishing presentation about his company's efforts to promote sustainability and protect the environment. You've all heard the bad raps about growers -- that they're not concerned about invasives or pesticides or trucking plants for thousands of miles -- they're just in it for the money.
Hutton has thought hard about of lot of these issues, and Conard Pyle is making every effort to be eco-friendly. Consumers are one of the company's biggest problems.
Here's a photo of a pink "Knockout' shrub rose growing next to a 'Mr Lincoln' hybrid tea. No pesticides or fungal sprays were used on these plants, and while 'Knockout' is doing fine, 'Mr. Lincoln' is definitely struggling. Despite the plant's problems, Conard sells thousands of Mr. Lincolns every year. Hutton told us if he were in the toy business, the government would probably shut him down.
Hutton advises planting more natives, but he says they are usually the last thing consumers want. When they show up in the nursery, he says, they look at a plant and ask "Does it do anything?" Hutton is high on the native Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur,' but in the plant's home neighborhood of the Delaware Valley (PA), Conard Pyle sells 10 Mr. Lincoln roses for every V. 'Winterthur.'
(click on image to enlarge - image: Conard Pyle Inc.)
Garden writers are also at fault, says Hutton, especially when writing about new introductions. He suggests that everyone ask in what locations the plant was tested, when and where it was bred.
Some of Hutton's favorite sustainable, native plants that do not require pesticides:
This Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red' is "unassuming for six months," he says, but it's a great addition to the winter landscape because of its stunning red berries, which also feed the birds when there's not much else around.
Another of his recommendations is Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' (Virginia Sweetspire), which contributes, says Hutton, to "a richer landscape." Itea in summer is covered with white racemes that will scent the entire garden, and in fall its leaves turn a fiery orange-red.
Hutton said there are many other issues that environmentally responsible growers must confront, including their carbon footprint. Plants are most often grown in polypropylene pots under miles of polyethylene tunnels, and are often trucked across the entire country from west coast to east. While Hutton considers that a minus, a plus is that Conard grows plants in peat brought in from Canada amended with tree bark. "At best," he said, "the picture is mixed, and we've got a long way to go."
Hutton believes there should be more organizations like Veriflora, which has established sustainable performance standards for growers of cut flowers and potted plants.
But the question of what's sustainable and what's not is sometimes very difficult to answer. Hutton cited one case in which giant redwoods were pitted against solar panels. In the end, the redwoods that were blocking the sun were cut down, and the solar panels won the day.
Let's hope that Steve Hutton's thoughts are spreading around the industry. If we're actually going to preserve our planet, everyone needs to get the message.
(click on images to enlarge - images: Conard-Pyle, Inc.)