What’s New in Gardening?

Change is the only constant. Don’t you agree? Dr. Pascal P. Pirone, an expert on plant disease for the New York Botanical Garden, who died in 2003 at the age of 95, recognized great changes occurred in horticulture in short periods of time. How do I know this? Because I just finished reading his book ‘What’s New in Gardening’ which was published in 1956! 
A good read!

I was curious to know how much of what he wrote over 50 years ago would apply today. The first thing I noticed was that Dr. Pirone was not politically correct. He would have made the news based on his introductory comments that “Gardening today is drawing housewives out of the kitchen and many of their husbands away from the golf course and the fishing boat.” He continued by saying that “The housewives appear to be more interested in ornamental plants; the husbands are attracted more toward lawn management and vegetable growing.” Yep, the times have changed.

Highlighting the parent Locust tree from Dayton, Ohio as a new, desirable tree

But much of what Dr. Pirone observed, still applies today. He observed that “Gardening is not static. It is a constantly changing hobby. It is more than a rebirth every spring. There are always new kinds of trees and flowers, new tools, new chemicals to do a better job with less effort on the part of the gardener.”

I also liked his description of gardeners. “Two characteristics of a dyed-in-the-wool gardener are his short memory and his optimism. By January he has forgotten his failure of the previous year and is already planning to grow perfect plants in the coming spring. Another characteristic of any person who likes the soil his that he is a good person at heart. I have never known or heard of a true gardener who was mean. Somehow love of the soil and meanness never go together.”

As horticulturist at the New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx from 1947 to 1974, Dr. Pirone was responsible for keeping its indoor and outdoor plants in good health. He was a highly sought after teacher and speaker and his expertise was apparent in his books.  
The first chapter in ‘What’s New in Gardening’ was entitled ‘Plants with Constitution Rights’ and it was about the process of patenting plants. I learned that the ‘New Dawn’ climbing rose was the first plant patented in the United States in August of 1929 by Somerset Rose Nursery in New Brunswick, New Jersey. 
The story about the New Dawn rose was pretty amazing to me. Apparently, in the spring of 1925 Henry Rosenberg purchased ten climbing roses from Dr. Van Fleet, a famous rose hybridizer.  Most of these roses were planted, but one was heeled in temporarily. Weakened by abuse, the heeled in rose struggled to survive. But this struggle seemed to give it extra vigor and an incredible will to live. In the summer a tiny shoot appeared with a single pink flower, followed by more flowers as the season progressed and continuing into November. Never before had there been a hardy, recurrent-blooming, climbing rose. And thus, plant patent #1 was born. As in 1925, plant patenting is still big business with over a thousand plant-based patent applications being submitted to the United States Patent Office each year.
Other chapters in the book included a discussion of annuals, perennials and bulbs and how best to grow them. Dr. Pirone referenced plants that had won the All-America Award which reminded me of the Perennial Plant of the Year award we celebrate today. 
Dr. Pirone also educated readers on shrubs, trees, vegetable gardens, house plants and more. He talked about lawns, plant propagation, tools and chemicals. And while the ‘new plants’ and tools he discussed are now passé, and his recommendations for use of chemicals would be looked down upon those who prefer more organic practices or lawn replacement, many of the concepts highlighted still apply. It just goes to show you that what goes around comes around, and often history repeats itself. 
Promoting the discovery of selective weed killers

So the next time you work in your garden or make a trip to the garden center, think about those who have gone before. Think about how what’s old is new again. Think about educators like Dr. Pirone and many, many others who spent their lives caring for plants and the people who love them. 


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