Splitting hairs Posted on January 25, 2010

Nigel Colborn makes a powerful case in The Garden this month: that there is too much random plant-breeding going on and too many new cultivars are being sold. The gardening world has become a jungle of fancy flowers with fancy names and no one can keep track.
The standard response of course is that no one is obliged to buy or plant them, and that the laws of natural selection will ensure the survival of the prettiest, or the most pest-proof. The multiplication gives innocent pleasure to anoraks of different stripes. Where would galanthophiles be in the snowdrops-and-marmalade season without tiny green blotches to discuss?

Anything that sharpens observation, you could argue, has a merit. It has a de-merit, though, too. It baffles and confuses those who just want a straightforward answer, and the means to create a simple, strong and memorable garden effect.

Snowdrops aren’t the only thing; nor is horticulture alone in hair-splitting. Wine-lovers are prone to debating the merits of different patches of ground, different farmers on the same patch, the smell of oak from different forests, and whether a Belgian bottling doesn’t capture more of the essence than the domaine’s own efforts. A wine-lover, though, is not painting a picture or laying out ground. He/she is just reporting the messages from his/her taste-buds and olfactory nerves.

Is hair-splitting bad news for gardening? One answer is that it is not gardening at all.

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