Origanum "Bellissimo" and Things Horticultural
It's depressingly autumnal here in Hobart, after a week of ups and downs, the weather Gods look to have brought the curtain down on what could only be described as a summer when you're not actually having one. It was the pits. So to cheer myself up a tad I thought I'd tell you all about my plant, "Bellissimo". OK, I can hear what you are saying: shameless advertising pitch, blatant abuse of my loyal and trusting readership, gone over to dark side and joined the hard sell crew ... . Well, no, it's just that it's my first ever mass market "product" so I beg a little indulgence, and thought that some of you might be interested in the journey such plants make to jostle for a place alongside all the other "hopefuls" on the shelves of your local garden centre.
Let me start by saying "Bellissimo" is a cracker of a plant. It has all the virtues of its tribe: heat, drought and cold resistant, impervious to pests and diseases, a prodigious bloomer with strikingly beautiful flowers, an exceptionally long flowering period and an excellent subject for dried flower arrangements .
But this is not the end of the story. It's clearly superior to the two "benchmark" varieties in the trade, "Kent Beauty" and " Barbara Tingay", bearing the richest plum flowers that barely blemish or fade. It gives rise to a prodigious number of blooms with a neat pagoda shape virtually smothering the plant creating a very individual look.
So how did this seedling get from my garden into a garden centre near you?
It arose from a random cross between the two cultivars just previously mentioned and was probably growing in my rock garden for two years before I noticed it. Only then did I start looking at it critically, comparing it to its two parents and other siblings that had taken root nearby. The next year I contacted a mate of mine, Marcus Ryan, who at that stage worked for David Glenn at Lambley Nursery. I told him I had a really good one and would they like to trial it with the aim of selling it exclusively through the nursery and we would cut some deal.
I heard nothing for a year, then David rang and said that its a really good plant and suggested, to avoid copyright problems and to enhance potential overseas market penetration, that it would be better not to sell it in Australia at this stage and to get Plants Management Australia (PMA) involved. PMA are agents that will take the plant to a wider market if they consider it good enough. So Chris Sargeant, the owner and manager of PMA gets on board. Another year of trials by growers in Australia and at the end of that he says, "Yep, let’s put PBR (Plant Breeders Rights) on it and get cracking .... "
Another year went by ... one in which Chris and his company built up sufficient stock in readiness for overseas trialling, developed a portfolio of promotional material and presented this to potential growers in Europe, Japan, New Zealand and the USA.
By the following year, my new origanum, its name now "Bellissimo" is being trialled by growers in all of the important markets overseas. It's finally ready to be released in Australasia in the coming summer and in Japan in the northern spring. There are discussions on royalties, contacts, etc, but things have stalled in the USA, and as a consequence, in the UK. Something about climatic zones: "Kent Beauty" was successfully sold as a durable perennial into zone 5 markets so to be profitable "Bellissimo" must follow suit. Last season it was planted late, the north east of the United States experienced one of the coldest winters on record, and the plant failed. Patents have been renewed, hopes are high for a better result next time around ... fingers are firmly crossed.
How do I feel about all of this?
Well, it's exciting, .... and there's the chance for some REAL money ... but I feel something is missing, or maybe more precisely, something has been lost.
When John Watson took a few plants of Origanum rotundifolium out of Turkey the Convention on Biological Diversity did not exist. And I say hallelujah to that because if it had of, he would have been treated as a criminal, locked up, made pay a hefty fine and the plants confiscated ... and probably destroyed.
When Origanum rotundifolium was given to Elizabeth Strangman at Washfield Nursery, to more or less look after, my bet is that this was done on a handshake. And when "Kent Beauty" arose in her nursery there was no beady-eyed intellectual property lawyer from Wisley leaning over her shoulder. There was no Plant Breeders Rights either but everything appeared to tick along okay, with those involved making "a bob or two".
Origanum "Kent Beauty" was the first O. rotundifolium hybrid to appear on the gardening scene and it was exciting times. Dan Magnus (Woodbridge Nursery) and I traded it from Elizabeth Strangman for a root of the Tasmanian hellebore, "Betty Ranicar" (one of the very first double white hellebore). Dan Magnus carried "Betty Ranicar" to England in his backpack on his way to Africa to make drums and he picked up "Kent Beauty" three months later on his way back. You couldn't do that these days without very deep pockets. Neither of us made any money out of "Kent Beauty", it was before its time, but it was kind of satisfying to beat the "Big Boys" ... and I did get "Bellissimo"
At the time we were just “kids” finding our way working Dan's stall at Salamanca Market in Hobart. On one occasion a bloke walked up and introduced himself as a plant wholesaler from Melbourne and said, "You guys have some very interesting plants but you're never going to make any money out of them". We were somewhat taken aback. He handed us his business card and as he left he called out, almost as an afterthought, "Get in touch and cash in". We never did.
Back then there were dozens of small specialist mail order nurseries and some pretty good local ones propagating their own plants. These days you could count the former on two hands ... and the latter? Well they're an endangered species ...