A renewed  mission

A renewed mission

Features - Cover Story

A new brand identity coupled with a southern expansion marks a revival of sorts for Bailey Nurseries.

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May 31, 2018
Kelli Rodda

Bailey Nurseries, a fifth-generation company, will launch a new corporate brand identity this summer.

“It’s more than a new logo. It’s a reflection of a new direction,” says Alec Charais, marketing and communications manager at Bailey. “When we took a look inward, we knew it was a good opportunity to move the brand forward and clarify our position that we’re focused on and committed to innovation.”

That new direction started some three years ago when Bailey Nurseries acquired Plant Introductions Inc. (PII), the breeding company founded by Michael Dirr, Mark Griffith and Jeff Beasley. Some of Bailey’s top sellers came from PII genetics.

“We are so fortunate to have had Mike [Dirr], Mark and Jeff and what they built. You can’t put into words what the three of them did as a team. They really created something special,” Charais says.

With the push toward more cohesive breeding activities, Bailey grabbed the opportunity to create a fresh, modern approach to its brand, Charais says.

“We feel extremely fortunate to have the equity of our brand to make a move like this. Whether it’s liners for growers or finished product for retailers, that part of our business is as robust as ever. We couldn’t make these changes without the strong customer support that we receive, which is what has built our brand over the long term,” he adds.

The new look comes with a renewed focus on breeding, now that Bailey’s Winterville, Ga., site is up and running. It’s home to Bailey Innovations, the nursery’s product development division.

And a new team is in place at the Georgia location. David Roberts is the general manager and lead breeder at Bailey Innovations and is joined by breeders Oren McBee and Justin Schulze.

(Left to right) David Roberts, Oren McBee and Justin Schulze make up the breeding team at Bailey Innovations.

“Those three are really focused on continuing the breeding matrix of specific types of genetics Bailey has identified as vital to its brand,” says Terri McEnaney, president of Bailey Nurseries. “They’ll continue to grow that pool of genetics and continue to get the product introduced successfully, not just in the U.S., but internationally, as well.”

The Georgia facility, Bailey’s southernmost location, will be built in phases.

“With this new location, our existing sites and our network of growers, we’re really able to work these plants through our system and get them thoroughly tested before putting them out in the market,” she adds. “It’s an exciting transition.”

The Bailey Innovations locale also allows the nursery to propagate more southern-centric plants, Roberts says. And thanks to the climate, the Georgia location gets about a month jumpstart on the season compared to Bailey’s other sites, he adds.

The Bailey Innovations site will house breeding operations and ultimately an extensive set of trial gardens, Roberts says.

“We’re still developing and building out the nursery, but we’ll eventually have production trial gardens and external trials that will include side-by-side comparisons with competitors’ plants,” Robert adds. “We’ll also incorporate display gardens to see how things perform in the landscape.”

With Bailey Innovations, the company has the opportunity to thoroughly test its genetics, Charais says.

“It’s not just about what the plant looks like in a pot. We need the ability to have more in-ground space for trialing,” Charais adds. “Having production trials is also a huge benefit to our end users. And housing all these steps under one roof at Bailey Innovations is something we’re really excited about.”

Roberts and his crew are searching for certain traits in hydrangea, such as double flowers and dwarf picotee.
Danielle Hulsey photography

Bailey will continue to trial plants at all of its operations, including Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Illinois, as well as at its network of growers.

Besides implementing the trial gardens, Roberts also plans to construct a temporary tissue culture lab until a permanent lab is built.

“The tissue culture lab will elevate our breeding program, and we can perform polyploid induction work for sterility breeding,” Roberts says.

Breeding focus

Bailey’s No. 1 breeding focus is Hydrangea macrophylla, Roberts says. That includes breeding around the company’s top brand, Endless Summer. And 2019 marks the 15th anniversary of the Endless Summer brand.

“We have strict criteria for a hydrangea to get into the Endless Summer brand,” Roberts says. “It must have remontancy, it must be cold hardy to Zone 4, and it must be production friendly.”

LEFT: Vitex Flip Side RIGHT: Hydrangea Summer Crush BOTT0M: Distylium Cinnamon Girl

Roberts and his team are watching for unusual characteristics, such as double flowers and picotee types, including dwarf picotees. And he’d like to find a macrophylla that is cold hardy below Zone 4.

“There’s a lot of variety within macrophylla, and those differences in colors, leaves and flowers are important to the market,” Roberts says. “The market will sort out the best of the best.”

In 2019, Bailey will introduce Summer Crush, its latest macrophylla to the Endless Summer brand. It’s compact and the smallest of the five hydrangeas in the collection, and features giant, raspberry-colored blooms.

But the buck doesn’t stop with hydrangea. The First Editions brand is also on the radar for breeding efforts.

Crape myrtles, an important plant for the southern market, are being evaluated at the Georgia location.

“We’re breeding for disease resistance – especially cercospora, smaller forms, big and boisterous blooms, a rebloomer, one that’s early to flower, ease of propagation, and selections that growers can cycle prune so they’re in flower at certain times,” Roberts explains.

If the team could push cold hardiness even by one zone in crape myrtles, that would be a boon to the market, he adds.

Distylium, an evergreen shrub with five cultivars in the First Editions brand, will continue to be evaluated, as it’s an emerging genus and gaining popularity in the market.

The new Bailey Innovations Georgia facility will eventually house a tissue culture lab.

“Bailey was first out of the gate with this genus, so we need to stay on top of it. We’ve made some Distylium crosses this year,” Roberts says.

Bailey Innovations is actively breeding vitex and looking for different flower colors.

“Flip Side vitex encapsulates what we want to do, and that’s find unique plants for the landscape,” Roberts says.

Flip Side represents a physical improvement with the bicolor on the foliage – purple-gray on the underside of the leaf and green on the top – as well as a cultural improvement because of its sterility, he adds.

Roberts can’t hide his enthusiasm regarding the future of breeding at Bailey. And he’s quick to honor the work that was done prior to his arrival.

“We inherited a gold mine from PII. They had an eye for plants and introduced things that were different and special to the market,” Roberts says. “We are taking their germplasm and introducing it into other germplasm, and we’re committed to making sure the next generation of plants meets our standards.”