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Gardeners must rally to defend diversity in the specialist plant business

"US: " Save our small nurseries from the European Commission"

"It would be the death of 95 per cent of all nurseries," said the Dutch nurseryman.He was referring to some legislation proposed by the European Commission, which would make it mandatory for all plant varieties to be supported by a detailed description. At the moment, the only plants which need this level of description are those protected by Plant Breeders Rights (PBR), which operates as a kind of patent scheme. The descriptions have to be both botanically and legally precise, and the cost of the extra paperwork and employment of consultants runs to hundreds of pounds per variety.

In the case of PBR plants, the system is designed to precisely define a plant that is regarded as the intellectual property of the plant breeder. The description is a kind of contract that guarantees the qualities that distinguish a PBR plant from any other variety.

The scheme was originally planned only for crop varieties. As many amateur vegetable growers know, the differences between vegetable varieties can be minuscule, but for commercial growers the real distinctions between varieties are crucial to their economic survival. The addition of ornamental plants to the proposal seems to have been an afterthought.

The Dutch nurseryman, Coen Jansen, is one of the country's most innovative growers of perennials. His business is very much like that of the many small nurseries up and down the UK, focussed largely on unusual, rarely grown species and new varieties, mostly selections he has made himself. With a reputation for some stunning new phlox, his current focus is sanguisorba, a group of perennials with fine foliage and distinctive late summer flowers.

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