Archive | January 2019

Trademarks and Patents

When you’re shopping for your plants, did you ever notice that some of them are patented and others are trademarked. What’s the difference? Does a patent or trademark mean that these are better than other plants?

Plant patents, given to the breeder of a new plant, prevent anyone else from selling that plant or using it as one of the parents in a breeding program without permission — and without paying royalty fees, which are promptly passed on to those who buy the plants. Patents aren’t a guarantee that a plant is better, just that it is different.

The benefit to gardeners is that breeding new plants is a very long, expensive process, filled with many more failures than successes. Without patent protection, and royalties, fewer companies would take the risk.

Trademarks are names or symbols used to identify a product. The raised letters ™ mean that the designation is claimed as a trademark, and ® means that it has been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

A trademark is simply a marketing tool, used to create an identification between the plant and the company. The company hopes that your previous good experience with one of its plants will convince you to buy from it again.

Theoretically, companies put their reputations on the line and have a vested interest in providing you with a high-quality, well-grown plant. They hope that if gardeners have an easier time making choices, they may find it worth the additional cost.

Paying more for trademarked and patented plants may mean a future of fewer small nurseries with a wide range of plants, and more large-chain garden centers with rows of the same plants. But remember, a lot of things can happen between the grower and your yard. How a local nursery or mail-order supplier handles a plant before you guy it makes everything else moot. Good plants come from people who care about them.

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Easy Growers

Who’s already thinking about spring? Have the seed catalogs started filling your mailbox? Perhaps you’re starting a new garden, or you’re a new gardener. With that in mind, let’s tackle some of the easiest annuals to add to your garden.

The easiest annuals to grow from seed are those that sow themselves. Alyssum, calendula, cosmos, larkspur, nocotiana, nigella, and poppies will all come back the following year as long as you leave some seed heads and the seeds fall on receptive ground*. With this group, you only have to plant once. I’ve had good luck with dianthus as well.

The next easiest are those whose seed is large: marigolds, nasturtiums, sunflowers, and zinnias. Annual phlox is also a reliable choice, as is portulaca (moss rose).

Bear in mind that larkspur, nigella, and poppies are cool-weather germinators, so if you’re starting from scratch, be sure to sow their seeds as soon as the ground can be worked.

No matter how quickly they grow, annuals need a couple of months to make it to blooming size, so if you want them to flower in summer you’ll need to choose things that get growing in early spring, well before the last frost. The list is short but there are a few, including annual poppies, annual phlox, larkspur, nigella, silene, and bupleurum (a little-known but valuable bouquet filler that looks a bit like chartreuse eucalyptus). For best results, plant the seeds in fall the way the flowers themselves do. They will sprout in spring when conditions are right.

If you don’t mind waiting until late summer for your flowers to bloom, the list can be expanded to include calendula, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans), and asters. These need a bit more warmth to germinate or, in the case of the asters, a longer growing time so they don’t start flowering as soon as those listed above; but they don’t mind light frosts and can (usually) be relied on for color in September and October.

*Receptive Ground: as it relates to self-sown seed, receptive ground is nothing more complicated than reasonably loose soil that has room at the surface for something new to take hold. It need not be weed-free, or as soft and smooth as soil that has been thoroughly cultivated and raked. All that is necessary is an occasional bare place; the seeds will take it from there.