Our conversation started innocently enough. There was a piece in the Midweeker where Kevin Moore predicted the collapse of Western society over the next three years. Now, I don’t wish to denigrate Mr Moore’s beliefs in any way whatsoever. I am assured he is an intelligent and thinking man and it is clear that he believes deeply in his predictions. But I was raised by a mother who spent the better part of her life predicting the end of social order as we know it. She lived out well in excess of her three score years and ten and, if she but knew it, she died a disappointed woman having missed out on the growth of Islamic fundamentalism and the Twin Towers attack, let alone the election of George Dubya – all of which she would have seen as vindication of her dire outlook.
What caught our eye here was the quote from Kevin Moore where he said: “Anyone who plants rhododendron trees at this stage of the game is mentally ill. You can’t eat any ornamental trees.”
It is, we would like to state clearly, entirely coincidental that this particular piece of wisdom came at a time when we made our decision to exit the ornamental nursery production trade. It is not the fear that the market for ornamental plants will disappear entirely in the next three years that drove this decision on our part. Rather we decided we had too many things left to do in life that we had better get on with before we are too decrepit or elderly. Two of the passions we wish to have more time to pursue are gardening and plant breeding.
And what possibilities did this dismissal of one of our favourite ornamental plants generate? With the impending demise of the annual rhododendron festival in the face of the collapse of western society, Mark wondered about the possibility of producing rhododendrons where the flowers matured into apples. In a myriad of colours and sizes, we could see the opening for a Rainbow Festival. A useful marriage of beauty and productivity.
Should his rainbow plants succeed, he pondered camellias which then produced mandarins. Maybe flowering cherries which then produce the equivalent of luscious Black Dawsons. Magnolias which morph from flower to pear.
From there, we went on to a discussion about the gene which bestows the ability upon some fish to glow in the dark. My memory was of being told in the UK that glow in the dark fish were common around the outlets of nuclear power plants but this may have been inaccurate in the face of recent research which has isolated the glow in the dark gene.
Herein lies a quandary for environmental ethics and genetic purists. Imagine the potential of a glow in the dark plant. Not the financial potential (though we are pretty sure we could sell a glow in the dark plant to most New Zealand households). No. Such plants would be a huge boon to the environment and could eliminate almost entirely the sale of those cheap and tacky solar lights beloved by so many. When they first came on the market, solar garden lights were not cheap. I think I bought some from the Maruia Society who were, and probably still are, committed environmentalists. The lights were reasonably expensive but now they are so ludicrously cheap that they have become throwaway, despite the issues of used batteries.
Would an environmental advance such as a glow in the dark plant suitable for all climates justify the cross species genetic manipulation that would be required? I refer to introducing a fish gene to a plant. A bit of genetic engineering would be necessary, maybe even embryo rescue. We are still pondering this tricky, ethical matter.
There was also a letter to the editor last week advocating the planting of fruit trees and home vegetables and counselling the use of organic methods for growing them. We are in full agreement with the advice but the letter made the suggestion that gardeners should not buy hybrids because these are unsuitable for saving your own seed for next year. In fact most veggies are hybrids (the naturally occurring species can be poor specimens which many gardeners and cooks would reject out of hand). What the letter writer meant, we think, is that if you save seed from F1 hybrids you will get a variable result. Possibly one of the best known F1 hybrids is the original release of Honey and Pearl sweetcorn – a super sweet variety where the kernels can be yellow and creamy white on the same cob. F1 hybrids are first generation seed and if you keep selecting and raising seed from these, you can stabilise the form you want but that initial generation of seed will be patchy and variable. Most seed packets will identify if they are F1 hybrids.
There is no guarantee that heirloom fruit and vegetable are naturally occurring species either. They are simply old varieties and in many cases may have crossed in the wild or be the result of controlled crosses back in time.
And with the news that the Ellerslie Flower Show is moving to Christchurch (though it is unlikely that most of the exhibitors, northern visitors and many retailers will follow it there), we were hugely amused by the message left on our answerphone from a friend with a natural talent for mimicry. “Ah gidday. It’s Tim Shadbolt here. Ha Ha Ha. I was thinking that we might, ha ha, move the Taranaki Rhododendron Festival to Invercargill. Just let me know if you think it is a good idea, eh. Ha ha ha.” As Tim is apparently scheduled to visit our area before Christmas, maybe we had better batten down the hatches before we find our successful event has moved south too.