Salvia Ember’s Wish awarded Silver Medal at Plantarium!

Salvia Ember's Wish - silver medal at Plantarium
Salvia Ember’s Wish – silver medal at Plantarium

Salvia Ember’s Wish, bred by Plant Growers Australia Pty Ltd, has been awarded a Silver Medal at the 2014 Plantarium trade show in Boskoop, Netherlands.

Plantarium is the most important show in the Netherlands for garden plants. This year’s new plant competition had over 130 entries, covering perennials (tender and hardy), shrubs, climbers and trees, of which 99 entries were considered for the competition. It is the most important new plant competition in the Netherlands for these types of plants. It is judged by a jury panel from the Royal Boskoop Horticultural Society, consisting of plant experts, growers, botanists and consumers. This year, 3 gold medals were awarded, 14 silver medals and 22 bronze medals.

The show attracted 17000 visitors over four days from all across Europe and also from around the world. More than 300 companies from 12 countries were exhibiting. This year’s show was the 32nd annual event. In terms of reaching growers and retailers from across Europe, it is second only to IPM Essen in terms of impact.

The plant was submitted for the competition on our behalf by Florensis BV, our licensee. Thank you Florensis for your help and support and for growing great looking plants for the show!

Salvia Ember's Wish
Salvia Ember’s Wish

Phlox paniculata Becky Towe awarded AGM

Phlox paniculata Becky Towe, an excellent variegated summer-flowering phlox variety, has been granted an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society after garden trials at the RHS Garden at Wisley.

Becky Towe was selected by the late June Towe, keen gardener and plantsperson, as a mutation from the well-known variety Windsor. She named it in honour of her dog, Becky.

The RHS only grants the AGM after an extensive garden trial in controlled conditions, in this case held in Portsmouth Field at the RHS Garden Wisley. The trial is judged by an expert panel including RHS staff and authoritative growers, nurserymen and experts from outside the Society. Judging is also an ongoing process over the three year period of the trial and reflects the performance of the plants in the trial as well as the panel’s knowledge of the candidate varieties from their own experience.

The Phlox trial consisted of 135 varieties of Phlox paniculata, Phlox maculata and Phlox x arendsii. Only 41 varieties were awarded AGM after the trial and, of those, only two have variegated foliage.

Growers interested in adding this variety to their catalogue should contact us. We have availability of young plants from clean stock via one of our licensed propagators in the Netherlands.

Phlox Becky Towe at RHS Wisley
Phlox Becky Towe at RHS Wisley

Shipping plants to PFE

If you ship plants to PFE from outside the EU, you need to be aware that the details of our freight broker have changed. Contact us for an updated shipping instruction sheet.

Three PFE plants shortlisted for Chelsea Plant of the Year

We are absolutely delighted the we have three plants in the shortlist of 20 for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 Plant of the Year competition.

Eryngium Neptune's Gold
Eryngium Neptune’s Gold

Eryngium Neptune’s Gold was bred by Neil Alcock and is the world’s first golden leaved sea holly.

Lavandula x intermedia Heavenly Scent
Lavandula x intermedia Heavenly Scent

Lavandula x intermedia Heavenly Scent was bred by Downderry Nursery and Phoenix Ornamentals and is one of a revolutionary new line of compact and late flowering lavenders.

Petunia Black Night
Petunia Black Night

Petunia Black Night was developed by Thompson and Morgan and is the world’s first double black petunia. We manage licensing outside the UK.

The final result will be announced on Monday 19 May. May the best plant win!

Protective measures against pests of plants

You may have seen media coverage of the new EU proposal covering protective measures againsts pests of plants. We have serious reservations regarding this regulation which may make the international trade in plants more difficult and bureaucratic, damaging consumer choice, increasing cost and not actually doing much to protect the environment. We fully support measures to protect plant health, but they must be proportionate, practical, cost-effective and not provide barriers to trade.

The Horticultural Trade Association has published an excellent lobbying document which you can read here.

Eryngium Neptune’s Gold and social media

Eryngium Neptune's Gold

We’ve recently launched Eryngium Neptune’s Gold on social media. You can follow all the latest news on Facebook here, or follow our Twitter hashtag #neptunesgold.

We are busy working on the last details of the launch at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – watch out for more news, updates and photos!

European Union Plant Reproductive Material regulation – new update

This post should be read in conjunction with the related preceding posts, which you can find below.

Following on from the last update, the European Council, in COREPER, decided to continue its discussion of the regulation, but with a request to the Commission to produce a revised proposal to reflect Member States’ discussion in the Council Working Party and amendments tabled by European Parliament. At its next meeting on 12 May, the Council Working Party will discuss the changes it expects to see in revised proposals. No timescale has been set for the preparation of the new draft by the Commission – with elections imminent (22 May), I can’t imagine that it will be quick. The worry must be that we will end up with a document that is as bad as the original draft or even worse.

DEFRA is currently formulating its discussion/negotiating position in consultation with stakeholders and the devolved administrations. A discussion document has been circulated to the stakeholder group of which we are part and we are currently formulating our comments on it. One of the difficulties for DEFRA is it is not yet clear how other Member States will respond or what direction the Commission might take in preparing the new draft. There has been talk of breaking the regulation down into smaller sector-specific regulations, although one of the problems with this is that so many products and markets cross the boundaries (for example, pot grown herbs sold in supermarkets – food or not? Vegetative or seed raised? Is it PRM or is it an “entire plant”? Should a 11cm sage plant sold here be treated differently to an identical plant sold to another grower to produce a 2 litre finished product?).

Understanding the complexity and diversity within the horticulture industry is a challenge. In the stakeholder group, we’ve got vegetable, fruit, pot plant, garden plant, forestry, retail, wholesale and amenity interests. Several times, the issue of products which awkwardly cross over the boundaries has been thorwn up. Added to this is the need to convince non-experts (MEPs, Commissioners, Ministers) of the needs of the industry and to facilitate their understanding, so we are increasingly using simple examples that are easier to grasp – for example, a young strawberry plant grown in a pot which might end up being sold to a consumer or to a grower and has different outcomes based upon who it is being sold to and in what context. Behind this sort of product lays a production chain that also needs to be understood and the stakeholder group is trying to help DEFRA with this.

I do think that they (DEFRA) are right that the regulation should be based more on outcomes – that the regulation should aim to protect varietal identity and PRM quality to the customer only where that is entirely necessary to protect the customer (whether the “customer” is the end consumer or somebody in the production chain) and with the lightest touch regulation that is possible. Whether enough of the other Member States agree with that line remains to be seen.

New update on the European Commission’s PRM regulation proposal

Today, the British stakeholder group that has been working on the European Commission’s proposal for a regulation on plant reproductive material (PRM) met virtually. It was an opportunity to review the latest developments and to attempt to understand what will happen next. The group includes trade bodies, amateur bodies, growers, distributors, breeders and representatives from DEFRA.

Note that the interpretations below are mine and mine alone and do not represent the position of the group, any of its members or DEFRA.

The refusal of the Commission to withdraw the proposal after being requested to do so by Parliament has resulted in a certain amount of tension in Brussels. This regulation was supposed to pass through the legislative process using the new co-decision procedure that was the outcome of the Lisbon Treaty discussions, and the apparent failure of that process does not reflect well on any of the parties, particularly the Commission. Whilst this is unlikely to be an election issue in the UK (it may be on the continent, where the media and voters tend to follow these things more closely), it is certainly not a PR success.

The ball is now firmly in the European Council’s court. Next steps will be decided by the COREPER 1 committee which consists of representatives of the Member States and which sets the agenda and decides procedural matters for the Council – until this process is complete, it is not possible to put a timescale on things. Then Council will decide on one of several courses of action available which include, but are perhaps not limited to, the following:

  • Align with the wishes of the European Parliament and reject the regulation outright. It will then be up to the Commission to either abandon the regulation (unlikely in the context of the package of regulations to which this one belongs) or to create a new draft.
  • Call a halt to any further action until a new Parliament is in position post-elections and a new Commission has been appointed. This will take until the end of the year. After that, it may be that a new Parliament and Commission may be able to work together; equally, they may be further apart.
  • The Council could discuss the matter and create an idea of what a modified proposal would look like, make recommendations to the Commission and then ask the Commission to rewrite it accordingly.
  • The Council could create a radical redraft of the regulation to present, with the risk that it may be rejected by Parliament again.

Any of these outcomes is possible or another unanticipated outcome may occur. Furthermore, progress may be very slow or very quick.

It seems fairly certain that the regulation will survive in some form, but there may be opportunities for Member States to push for certain concessions. Areas where the Commission may give ground include:

  • Article 50 (requirement for officially recognised description) – move to a system where varietal identity is bound up with assured traceability (e.g. I obtained this plant material from supplier “x” who holds a true to type mother stock – retaining a need for varietal descriptions with the need for them to be “officially recognised”);
  • Removal of PRM for gardeners from the regulation, or at least making the requirements absolutely minimal – although how “PRM for gardeners” could be defined accurately may be tricky (in recent years, packet size has been used to exempt seeds sold in modest quantities to gardeners, but this would not work for other forms of PRM, such as young plants, which may be sold in units of one both to the trade and to the end user; also, what is a “packet”? Is a tray a packet? Or a pot?);
  • Agricultural seeds quality requirements – moved to less prescriptive system to a system based on outcomes.

Our stakeholder group would also like to see an improved definition of “PRM”. The current draft of the regulation includes all plant material intended for growing on as PRM, such as seed, in vitro tissue culture material, unrooted cuttings, rooted cuttings, young plants, scions, etc. This is too vague, and means that the same plant may or may not be PRM by virtue only of its context (example: is a young strawberry plant in a garden centre PRM when the same plant supplied to a commercial fruit grower certainly is?). It may also be advantageous to move the emphasis away from (but not excluding) consumer protection and towards the protection of biodiversity, taking biodiversity in its broadest sense to include cultivated plant varieties.

It seems most likely that there will be some sort of hiatus whilst the elections take place in May, the new Parliament forms and the new Commission is appointed in the autumn. In the meantime, it is quite possible that the Council will continue to work on the regulation. Overall, the feeling in the group is that it would be better to hammer the regulation into something workable, including all the amendments we proposed via MEPs, than to have continued uncertainty and a void. But, my feeling is that we may have to go through this entire process of review, campaign, lobbying and more when a new draft comes along. Spectators might recall that many members of the stakeholder group have given their time and energy to the project for free, simply because we want to see our industry and horticultural biodiversity protected.

Either way, it hasn’t gone away. It is not over yet.

Further update on the European Commission PRM regulation proposals

There has been much in the news recently about developments in Brussels regarding the European Commission’s proposed regulation on plant reproductive material (PRM). The plain facts are these – both COMENVI and COMAGRI, the two committees involved with the proposal, voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposed regulation in its current forms. This then went to a plenary vote in the full EU Parliament, in other words all the MEPs from all 28 member nations that we are being asked to re-elect later this year.

Mindful of the fact that I am not an expert, I asked Dr Chris Hartfield of the National Farmers Union if I could quote from his analysis of the situation, to which he kindly agreed. Chris has been very active on this issue, both in the UK and in Brussels, and is a member of our stakeholder group. Growers of all sizes should consider him a friend. Note that the quotes below are his, but the other commentary is mine alone and only I should be held culpable for any errors or inaccuracies.

The Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reject the Commission proposal. But then the Commission stated that while they were willing to discuss how to improve the proposal, they were not prepared to withdraw it.
As a consequence the Chair of COMAGRI intervened, and in response to the Commission disregarding the Parliament position he invoked a procedure to conclude the first reading, which was voted on and supported. The result is that the first reading concluded at Parliament with no position.

This seems odd. I’m not an expert on the legislative process, but I don’t believe that we would have an equivalent process in the Westminster Parliament. In essence, the MEPs have thrown their hands in the air and said “this is too difficult to fix” – in spite of the fact that a large number of clearly worded and precisely drafted amendments were suggested by MEPs under the guidance and influence of stakeholders.

Chris goes on:

[This] is a huge mess and really the worst of all possible outcomes – because not only do we have no changes, going forward the second reading is always much harder to influence – so we have a reduced ability to influence. The second reading will start on the basis of the Council position, and MEPs will have much less opportunity to put forward amendments. Industry success going forward will also be much more dependent on getting support from Member State representatives. Which is fine if everyone agrees on an issue – but if there is any difference in opinion of stakeholders we know the Member State position is likely to get watered down to the lowest common denominator.
I think we all welcomed the interest and huge support of MEPs. The problem is that at some point this erupted and spilled over from being focussed on making specific amendments, to calling for the whole proposal to be thrown out. That’s when we (as an industry) lost control of the process. I can only refer to what we [the NFU] were doing – and that was pressing for specific amendments, not a wholesale rejection.

I should add that this was the agreed position of nearly everyone in our stakeholder group and DEFRA. We all felt that it was better to try and morph the proposal into something that reflected existing legislation and existing industry practice and that could accommodate the wide range of interests from amateurs, collectors, gardeners, growers, breeders and retailers. Personally, I think we had got there with our amendments – they would have given a regulation that would have both protected the consumer (the Commission’s original and very laudable ambition) and protected the industry and the diversity of horticulture. There would have been additional regulation, but it would not have been burdensome.

Chris continues:

The wheels tend to come off with these things when they get politicised, then the factual arguments and logical positions get lost. MEPs are politicians and understandably end up listening to the masses – their electorate – the mass message they got [via media coverage] I guess was to throw out the proposal altogether. Or that certainly seemed the ‘easy’ option given the vast number of amendments.
The EU is a trialogue process – the Commission, the Council, the Parliament. You can argue that the Commission has done its job in producing a proposal (albeit a flawed one), the Council has done its job so far in working through that proposal, and it is the European Parliament’s job to amend the proposal and smack it into some kind of form it finds acceptable – but the Parliament has failed to do this job. It got a good way there with a massive number of amendments, but then appears to have thrown its hands up and said that the proposal is just too hard to amend, so let’s reject it wholesale.

Consider that last paragraph when you place your X at the ballot box in May.

You’ll be wondering what happens next. Well, essentially, the Commission now takes the proposal to the Council, which has already been working on it. The Commission can withdraw the text, although that seems very unlikely. The Council has the power to reject it wholesale, but that also seems unlikely. All we can hope is that there will be sufficient unanimity between the Member States to get the changes through that we hope for and need. If not, then we will be saddled with a burdensome regulation that may have all the implications that we originally feared.

And that would be a disaster.

Proposed changes to Community Trademark regulations

My thanks to Thomas Leidereiter for pointing this out to me. However, the commentary below and any errors or inaccuracies it contains are mine alone. Remember that PFE is not qualified to give legal advice and the following should merely be regarded as personal opinion.

The European Commission has proposed amendments to the Regulation that controls Community Trademarks (CTMs). CTMs are often used for branding plant varieties, series of plant varieties or even entire breeding programmes. For example, we look after plants covered by the CTM “Walberton’s” which is applied to plants originating from breeding activites at Walberton Nurseries. We attach brand values of quality and the assurance of many years of experience and trialling of new varieties. Other examples that you would be familiar with are the mark “Surfinia” (Suntory), applied to the well-known Petunia breeding, and “Wave” which is used for Petunia and Viola (Ball Horticulture).

CTMs are regulated by EC Regulation 207/2009 which you can read here. The European Commission has proposed amendments which are contained in document COM(2013) 0161 final, whch you can read here. Paragraph 10 of the latter document proposes the addition of a new paragraph (l) to Article 7 of the former, which is the section that covers absolute grounds for refusal for CTMs at the application stage. The new text reads as follows:

“trade marks which contain or consist of an earlier variety denomination registered in accordance with Council Regulation (EC) No 2100/94 of 27 July 1994 on Community plant variety rights with respect to the same type of product”

This is a new provision. Consider it carefully. If one applies for a CPVR using the name “Whatever”, one could then not obtain a CTM in the word “Whatever” for class 31 goods (plants), even though you would be the owner of both the CPVR and the CTM. “Pink Whatever” or “Whatever Beauty” would also be disallowed.

Moreover, if you wanted to apply for a CTM for class 31 and that contained a word that had previously been used by anyone as the variety denomination for a CPVR, then your application would be refused without any further consideration, even if the variety had been commercialized under a different (marketing) name.

The upshot of this proposal is that vast swathes of potential trademark names have been rendered unusable (there have been more than 40,000 applications for CPVR, I believe). Furthermore, applicants for CPVR will have to use a codename for the denomination if they have any intention of applying for CTM for their variety (which is probably good practice anyway). Potentially, existing CTMs which contain or are the same as CPVR variety denominations that pre-date the CTM application could be challenged and declared invalid.

Also, note that the amendment only refers to Community Plant Variety Rights and not to national PVRs in the Member States. So, potentially (and we’re being wilfully obscure here and our learned friends may well pull this to pieces!) a breeder could apply for a national PVR in a Member State in January 2015 and then apply for CTM in March 2015. In the meantime, no commercial exploitation of the variety is undertaken. Then, in January 2016 (before the first anniversary of the national PVR application), the applicant submits an application for CPVR using the rule of priority to claim the earlier filing date. Because the owner of the CPVR is the same as the owner of the CTM, the CTM does not preclude the use of that name for the CPVR denomination and yet, because the CPVR is filed after the CTM, the CTM remains valid. (Mind you, this would be very convoluted and potentially costly, just for the sake of not using a codename for the CPVR denomination).

All of which is jolly exciting and nicely illustrates why breeders pay a company like Plants For Europe Limited to worry about this sort of stuff so that they don’t have to!