New Is Not Always Improved

It’s hard to go a day without running into something, somewhere that claims to be “New and Improved”. Supermarket shelves are loaded with such items, which in many cases are the same old sad, tired products repackaged in smaller containers (but selling for the same price).

And software designers just can’t resist the urge to add new bells and whistles to their products. For my tastes they should spend more time making the existing features actually work before they trot out new releases. I doubt that I use even 5% of the features in most of them anyway!


The plant world is no different. Every year the nurseries and catalogs regale us with their new introductions. Plant breeders strive for colors and shapes not normally seen in nature. How long before we see blue zinnias, or ruffled morning glories? Don’t laugh, Burpee actually featured a double white morning glory in their 1919 catalog. I guess it didn’t catch on.

I’m not buying the hype. I am convinced that not only is “new” not always better, many times it is actually worse! This year I am looking backwards in time to try old, tried-and-true varieties in my gardens.

For instance, I recently found a seed source for Ruby lettuce. I grew it years ago, and then the catalogs dropped it (no doubt to make room for the new and improved ones). It was a 1958 AAS winner and a nice red leaf variety. I found it at Victory Seeds, ironically on the NEW for 2010 page! I’m also growing Salad Bowl lettuce, a 1952 AAS winner that has stood the test of time. It’s a modest little oak leaf lettuce that is ‘slow to bolt, tolerant of heat, and doesn’t get bitter’. Hmm, hard to improve much on that!

In another retro moment, we are growing luffa gourds this year. I can remember growing them as a kid! My wife and I are going to experiment with soap making, and the dried luffas will make great natural scrubbers. Of course it will be next year before we have any to experiment with, but that’s ok.

In the Wild Garden I’m growing State Fair zinnia, which is a tetraploid variety around since the 1950s. I grew it last year and the butterflies loved it. There are some new zinnias out this year called Zahara which are AAS winners. They look lovely, but I think I’ll wait a few years. I want some feedback on whether the butterflies like them. Their opinion is important to me.

I’m also going to plant couple of rugosa roses, so we can have a nice supply of rose hips for tea. I grew Blanc Double De Coubert years ago, before I really appreciated the hips. It will be nice to have it back in the garden. It was introduced in 1892 – hardly a newcomer!

Another exciting find this year is Ramapo tomato. I grew it back in the 1980s but then it disappeared just like Ruby did. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to miss it, because the folks at Rutgers brought it back in late 2007. It’s a large red slicing tomato with an excellent taste, and I look forward to it gracing our table again.

I guess my one-man boycott of things “new and improved” won’t change the overall scheme of things. Marketing people will still hype, and catalogs will still trumpet the arrival of the latest and greatest.

It’s just falling on deaf ears here at Happy Acres!

This entry was posted in Gardening, Misc Rants and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to New Is Not Always Improved

  1. Meredith says:

    I say stick with what’s tried and true. Marketing is so untrustworthy in general. I’m interested in a zinnia that attracts butterflies (didn’t know they did that). Where did you get your seed, if you don’t mind me asking? I’ve seen lots of zinnias in my catalogs this year… and plenty of “new and improved” varieties. 😉 But no State Fair.

    • Villager says:

      I got the State Fair mix from Nichols Garden Nursery. Pinetree and Burpee have them also. And I’m glad you like the header. It’s so new, those paperwhites are still blooming!

  2. Meredith says:

    By the way, love the new header photograph. (I think it’s relatively new. Either that, or I’m incredibly unobservant!)

  3. I agree, this year I’ve been more inclined to be out with the new, and in with the old. These ‘fashions’ in gardening, like with everything else, tend to be fleeting. As such, I think if there are plants you truly enjoy, trying to save even a little seed of your own is so worth it, just in case it ‘disappears’ in favor of the next new and improved cultivar. Good luck with your Ramapo tomato, I’ll be interested to see how it turns out!

  4. RG says:

    I have grown the Luffa the past 2 years and they need quite a bit of space or a trellis to grow up. They are fun to grow, let dry and then peel finding the sponge inside! If you have any questions along the way, let me know! I have had great success with different gourds also. I am going to check out all your other choices, especially the lettuce … Thanks!

    • Villager says:

      RG, I am planning on putting some old fencing to use and making a trellis for the luffas. We grew birdhouse, bushel and Corsican dish gourds last year. I’m adding apple and baby birdhouse gourds this year, so my wife and I can have plenty to craft with!

  5. Hello Villager,

    I think you just hit the nail on the head. People often repackage and rename products because they feel consumers get tired of buying the same old thing. But, if the old thing isn’t broken, why change? I mean, there is a reason it is still around and that is because it is good. I look forward to seeing your Luffa and Zinnias later this year :^)

  6. Very well said! The classics became that way for a reason. I grew Blanc Double De Coubert for years, and I loved it and its rose hips. When you have time, you may want to read my old post, “Rose Hips, among other things” to find out what happened one day when I ate one! You can find it easily in my archives, where titles are listed alphabetically. I am really looking forward to seeing your garden when everything is up and growing.

  7. I think change is the thing that attracts many customers, so the companies are constantly re-labeling, re-naming, re-developing, etc…but if you’ve done your research, which it appears you do, you will know what’s a trend and what’s longlasting. Many people are new to gardening and wouldn’t know the difference! I love zinnias and of course, butterflies, and look forward to seeing yours. I have the ‘potential’ to be one of those customers that buys something ‘new’ so I ‘could’ end up with some of those newer zinnias, since I don’t really know the difference between one or the other. One thing I don’t want though, is a zinnia that doesn’t attract a butterfly;-) So perhaps I’ll make a note of your comment regarding that.

Thanks for leaving a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.