Plant Breeder Profiles

Ken Rigney

photo: Ken Rigney

As a youngster growing up in Durban, South Africa, I was always interested in gardening. I was greatly influenced by my Grandfather, whose passion was roses.

Settling in the UK revived my interest in gardening. On holidays to South Africa I would return with seeds of Agapanthus, Crocosmia and Zantedeschia and of any unusual plants that caught my eye. I would select the plants I wanted to breed from, isolate them from the others, and with a tiny brush and the help from some obliging bees, cross my fingers and hope. From this method along came an Agapanthus which caught my eye as it came into bud, first looking as blue, and then seemingly white. Once they fully opened I realised it was the first bicolour agapanthus I'd ever seen. An enigma? Hence the name Agapanthus Enigma. Another success is Agapanthus Snow Pixie.

I had a number of Lavateras growing in large pots and once again using my tried and tested method of pollination, I was ecstatic when I saw Lavatera Red Rum for the first time, with it's deep reddish pink flowers and almost black stems. My family will insist that Red Rum was named after a famous racehorse, but my version is that when I was much younger and working in the merchant navy we were given a daily tot of rum, when diluted with a dash of blackcurrant, lemonade and ice, it was most enjoyable. The colour of that drink is exactly that of Lavatera Red Rum.

Breeding plants has always been a hobby of mine. When a new colour appears on one of my seedlings, I become excited, hoping that it will be another success. As everyone knows it is a long slow process, and a lot of patience is needed.

Dr Woods

photo: Dr. Woods

After a career of over 30 years teaching Physiology and Histology to medical and veterinary students, Dr Roderick Woods moved into accident and injury research and the testing of protective clothing, before focussing his time on the breeding of Hibiscus syriacus spp. It all started in the 1980s when he spotted a glowing pink form of Hibiscus in France and immediately decided that he wanted one. Upon his return to England he started an extensive search to try and find a glowing pink form, only to be told that it didn’t exist. For this reason Dr. Woods returned to the same spot in France the following year only to find that the road had been widened and the plant no longer existed. This was the start of ‘The Future’!

Although the work to perfect a pink variety is still ongoing many excellent varieties have been generated from different projects, which to date include 566 designed and controlled crosses, resulting in a total of over 8,000 flowering seedlings. Each one is assessed before the final decision is taken to move the plant onto the next stage of further testing. The varieties already launched this way include Hibiscus Lavender Chiffon (NotWoodOne), Hibiscus White Chiffon (NotWoodTwo) and only this year, a blue form was launched at The Hampton Court Flower Show called Hibiscus Blue Chiffon (NotWood3), creating a fantastic collection of varieties that match in terms of flower size, shape, formation and overall plant quality. Dr. Roderick Woods is still working away not only to produce ‘The Perfect Pink’ but also many other varieties that have been highlighted to either be impressive in their own right or a vast improvement on current forms.

The obsession doesn’t end there as he is also very interested in Hamamelis, Bamboos, Lilies and cats, although no new crosses there as yet!

Steve Yandall

photo: Steve Yandall

Steve started his hands on approach to plants in the early 1960's, working for the very innovative Brighton Corporation with lots of input from Alec Sayers, Stan Tingley, Len Poulton and Jack Smith.

Steve has been an apprentice gardener, a head gardener, nursery owner, landscaper, a garden centre manager and then regional co-ordinator of 100 garden centres.

Steve is now focussing this intense knowledge of which species are garden worthy, produceable in cost efficient structures, and distinctly different and marketable through to the public.

Steve is working on a huge range of plants where he sees that significant improvements can be made, with a just a few examples being Abutilon, Acacia, Callistemon, Berberis, Fuchsia, Luma/Ugni, Lophomyrtus, Ophiopogon, Passiflora, Agapetes and many others.

The present ProVar Offer allows Steve to offer a license on Berberis 'Starburst' through New Place Nurseries, ProVar and the early flowering Passiflora 'White Lightning' at this early stage is his commercial life.