Meet John Robb, Plant breeder, Paradise Plants.
Paradise Plants, established by Bob Cherry more than 40 years ago, has bred some of our favourite garden plants. John Robb explains there’s no room for sentiment in the working life of a plant breeder.
Interview: Robin Powell
Meet John Robb
How did you get involved with Bob Cherry?
Bob was one of our modern-day plant hunters and probably did 40 collecting trips into China over 20 years from the early 1980s. He. One of my lecturers
at Hawkesbury Agricultural College traveled with him sometimes and happened to mention I was interested in plant breeding. That got me an introduction.
Tell us about your latest camellias?
Bob loves camellias - he has one of the best collections of species camellias in the world -and has been breeding camellias for many years, even before
I started up with him. It takes a long time to develop a new camellia. From the time you make a first cross, it will take four or five years to see
any flowers, and it might take a couple of generations to get what you’re after.
One of our projects has been to develop a narrow sasanqua camellia - to meet both commercial nursery requirements to grow the most amount of plants in
the least amount of space; and to meet consumer demand for plants to fit narrow spaces as houses have gotten bigger and blocks have gotten smaller.
So our ‘Slimline’ camellias have been a long time in the making. They have a dense, narrow columnar form and a nice range of colours.‘Slimline With love’
for example, flowers around Mother's Day with double pink flowers, and ‘Slimline Avalanche’ has a cascade of clear white flowers, with that same narrow
‘Slimline With Love’
What else are you working on?
We’re doing a lot of work on michelias which are going to be popular plants into the future. You can use them like a camellia, but they are much faster
growing, and they flower late winter and early spring, with a repeat in summer, and the perfume is just beautiful.
What qualities make a good plant breeder?
One of the hardest things when you start is throwing away the ones that aren’t the best. There are a lot of good plants that go on the reject pile. For
example, at the moment I’m standing in front of my next generation of lavenders, which I have narrowed down to 14 from the 50 selections I made last
year. The rest, perfectly good, but not the best, will have to go in the rubbish.