How much plant improvement can we stand?



Bloomerang is sold by White Flower Farms and others

Long bloom seasons, disease resistance, hardiness, and other
desirable improvements in perennials come at a price.  Stella d’Oro blooms its head off all summer
but its ubiquity has rendered it obnoxious to many, Knock-Out roses are
foolproof but have no fragrance, and the long-blooming dicentra can’t begin to
compare with the old-fashioned spectabilis. Sometimes, the trade-off is
worthwhile; I love the foliage of the all-summer dicentra, for instance.

But some critics think the hybridizers have gone too far. Should
a lilac bloom all summer? It’s quite a concept. There are at least two
reblooming lilacs on the market: Josee, and, more recently, Bloomerang, a 3-4-foot
blue/lavender variety developed by Proven Winners. And likely others to come.

I totally understand where the naysayers are coming from. Regardless
of how these new varieties perform, the romance and excitement of lilacs is all
about their brief, glorious moment in spring. Everyone loves lilacs. In spring.
Would Whitman have bothered to write poetry about them if they bloomed in the door-yard
all summer long? I doubt it. So this is what some garden writers are saying
about the reblooming lilac concept:

From Anne
Kingston of Macleans
The arrival of a reblooming lilac has drawn a fresh line in
the soil between the old and the new gardening guard. Those who eagerly await
the species' fragrant flowering as a harbinger of spring find the prospect of
lilacs blooming again in September akin to watching a burlesque dancer perform
the same act into her dotage—untimely and kind of creepy.

From Bradford McKee of
In the annals of plant novelties that cheapen gardening for
the sake of enriching it, I can't think of anything so dumb. When you can have
any flower whenever you want it, that's not gardening. That's shopping.

The actual rebloom performance of Bloomerang is not
spectacular: a heavy first flush with some sporadic repeats through fall, with
rests in between. So, really, as long as the spring bloom is up to standards,
should we care if the plant puts out a few flowers afterward from time to time?
Is it that big of  a deal? New
hybrids are allowed and people can buy them if they want.  Still, I can see why this one might be a
bit disturbing to some.

However, if someone comes up with a smallish lilac that will
bloom in shade, I might have to buy it. 

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. People get upset at the weirdest things – like anything NEW. Though it’s nice to see their lives are so glorious they can focus on something so trivial as plant introductions they don’t like.

  2. I have a small yard so I require a lot of bang for my spot. A plant that blooms for a short period and then is nondescript for the rest of the year had better be spectacular for that short period, otherwise I can’t spare the space. I love some of the new developments of smaller versions, reblooming, longer bloom periods or colorful folliage. Then again some plants, like lilacs and roses, have to pass the sniff test to be chosen for my yard.

  3. Stella d’Oro may bloom all summer in your garden but in mine it puts out a few blooms and then poof – one of the poorer performers as far as hemerocallis goes. As for reblooming irises, mine have never rebloomed. Maybe we have too short a summer. I agree with Diane, shrubs and perennials have to pull their weight in my small garden too.

  4. Non gardeners always seem to want something that blooms all season. These are the folks that will buy these hybirds. If it gets them interested in lilacs or daylillies or what ever that is great, if not, at least they will have something in their yard besides meatball evergreens and grass. Do you have to deadhead it to get it to rebloom?

  5. For ME:

    Much of the joy and interest of gardening is in the seasons, and the change of flowers. One loses the whole cycle, the whole calendar, with plants that start blooming in Spring, and continue until the end of Fall.

    The woods explode in a diversity of blooms in the Spring, and then subside… what a lovely and brief world it is! A minor bloom follows in the Fall with Asters and Goldenrod.

    The prairie starts small, and ends blooming in a towering stand of yellow, white, and purple & and blue…

    I can estimate the approximate date of almost any photo of my yard, or any natural Midwest or Eastern landscape…

    I do keep a couple of beds of favorite “plastic” flowers (marigolds, snapdragons, etc… those that look the same all the time), but without the natural blooming cycles, I feel that our connection with the Earth’s seasons is lost. Ever-blooming varieties would seem to lead to a static display, not a living, changing garden. One COULD do that with plastic…

    Anyway… they’re not MY “cup o’ tea”!

  6. It’s one of the things in horticulture that embarrasses me…it seems glutinous to me. I toss those press releases straight into the trash bin/recycling bin.

    Of all the things that plant hybridizers could be focusing on, this type of indulgence is a waste of creativity. Let’s find the food crops that will help solve hunger, etc. not make us dizzy and bored with lilacs that stick around too long.

  7. The purpose of my garden is to create habitats for wildlife: birds, butterflies, native bees and other pollinators. I’ve found that hybrid cultivars, even of native plants, often remove the essential characteristic that makes the plant attractive to wildlife in the first place. Therefore I tend to steer clear of any hybrids.

  8. If you don’t want a Lilac that blooms all fracken season then don’t plant it. Same with roses or iris’ or ever bearing strawberries.
    Often hybrid experimentations lead to medical discoveries. You wouldn’t poo poo a new cancer curing drug if it came form those same silly scientists , would you ?

  9. I do think that some criticism is merited, but basically there is more of a problem with the lack of imagination when a plant becomes so ubiquitous that people hate it.

    Sometimes these pursuits are simply the science of pushing the borders. I would like that to become a bit more circumspect.

    Can’t say about the poetic impact of all this.

  10. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. And although that absence can be painful, it has a certain twisted, sadistic, masochistic joy and happiness connected to it. I relish the return of my quick-blooming liatris next June, I anticipate the autumn leaves changing and the agony of their meaning. To me, that is joy in its purest form.

  11. It’s not for me, but I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to criticize what someone else likes to grow (so long as it isn’t actively invasive) or hybridize. The whole point of gardening is forcing plants that don’t grow together to live in harmony. There will always be someone looking for flowers that never go out of bloom, but there will also always be someone trying to preserve heirloom lines. I think we can live in harmony too.

  12. I have been working on my gardening skills for about seven years now. When I first moved into my house, I planted a mixture of hybrids and heirlooms, before I even knew the difference. I make some mistakes, and I had some successes. The hybrids were much more tolerant of my learning curve. I am a much more confident and skilled gardener now (although continually learning). I am finally able to grow heirlooms well. In most cases, I find that they are more particular about their care, but their rewards are so much greater that, to me, they are well worth it. I have also noticed a substantial increase in bees, birds, and other wildlife since my garden has been more “heirloom-heavy”. I am grateful, however, for the hybrids. They were perfect for a beginner gardener, and they still have a place in some of the problem areas of our garden.

  13. Not impressed wit altering plants to get them to re-bloom. Kind of like eating your favorite meal time after time.

    Stick with breeding for disease and insect resistance.

    And thank you again Home DePot and Wal-Mart for ruining my tomatoes. But thanks for bringing to light heirlooms are not that great after all.

    the TROLL

  14. Grandma and Grandpa’s deserve respect. They carried some seed in their pockets riding on conastogas from Canada.
    I’d rather eat a hybrid.

  15. Greg, I’m one of those folks who makes a one-pot meal and eats the same dang thing all week. If I like it Monday I know I’ll still be happy devouring it on Thursday.

    Same with plants. If the charm of a lilac to someone is that they only happen in spring, then for goodness’ sake don’t plant the fancy new one. But I don’t have any such feelings. Give me a workhorse of a rebloomer anyday.

    Part of why I don’t plant lilacs is their short season and dull foliage. Find me a variegated or colored-foliage re-blooming one and I might reconsider my lack of lilac love.

  16. I love lilacs if they can give me one that will bloom more then just in the spring yippee!!

    That’s why I don’t like to plant spring blooming Azaleas they look beautiful in the spring and then they turn into a boring bush the rest of the year.

    With the busy life I have at the moment I look for plants that can take care of themselves. I wish I had the option at this time to be home and just garden (work keeps interfering with my life) So when I do find those precious moments to work in the yard and do some planting I don’t want it all to go to waste because I was not able to give the garden my full attention for a few days.

    I’m not sure what’s up with the plant snobbery there is room for both the old “heirlooms” and the new “hybrids” here and I love both.

    I say give the new plants a chance.

  17. One feature in gardeners is that we respond to is the newest plant out there. we want it. that may be a hybrid that blooms for a longer time. in the nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs the new plants were called ‘novelties’. readers then too couldn’t get enough of them. plant dealers couldn’t find enough of them. maybe it’s part of the human psyche to want the latest and the newest. these novelties were promoted as ‘must have’ plants. and people bought them. we do the same today. in a sense that’s part of the fun of gardening.

  18. I’m cool with the reblooming thing, but I’d prefer that plant breeding for disease, heat, cold & insect resistance become more of a priority. While I love the old fashioned Lilacs, I will never plant one because it lacks autumnal foliage color. Even if it rebloomed, I still wouldn’t plant it because of that failing. Bloom alone is insufficent to make a garden, while a great garden can be completely devoid of bloom. Give me great foliage that doesn’t get mildewed, is attractive all season & goes out with a bang.

  19. Anything that existed when you were born is the natural order of things.

    Anything invented before your 30th birthday is a good idea and will probably make the world a better place.

    Anything invented after that is an affront to nature, and dammit, why can’t things be more like they used to be!

  20. Genevieve:
    Point well taken! I will choose not to plant one but will still have the opinion that it is not a good idea.

    Look at all the problems with Endless Summer hydrangea. People in Zone 5 planting them under the guise of many blooms.

    However it is just too cold for the flower buds in many locations and the new wood is not blooming either.
    The TROLL

  21. I didn’t read all the comments, so someone may have brought this up already.

    What if this had happened naturally? What if your neighbor had a lilac that for whatever reason rebloomed in the fall. I guarantee you’d be asking for a cutting! Is it so different that people are doing it on purpose?

    However, please take into consideration per Jeff’s comment that I AM under 30!

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