lizzie (impatiens walleriana) species disappeared from garden retailers’ shelves around six years ago, as the widespread impatiens downy mildew disease took hold and stockists could no longer guarantee the plant’s performance. “In 2011 downy mildew became a very significant disease affecting the busy lizzie species,” explained Mr Clapp. “Growers saw huge crops destroyed. They saw the disease start in one corner of the glasshouse and make its way to the other side in the matter of a few days. Eventually, many retailers, including B&Q, took the decision to stop selling busy lizzies – and that was entirely the right thing to do. We couldn’t, in good conscience, sell a plant to a customer that we know won’t survive within their garden or won’t survive very long.”

Whilst availability disappeared overnight, demand for the much- loved plant appareently did not. “We still get lots of people continuing to ask for them,” said Mr Clapp. “It was and still is the UK’s number-one favourite bedding plant. At peak we were selling 20 million plants every year.” Busy Lizzie’s became a firm

garden favourite due to their ability to grow in sun or shade and bloom colourfully throughout the summer. They are also extremely easy to grow and perfect for the unpredictable British climate.

So, it is big news that B&Q is now in a position to be able to offer the plant variety in store once again. With the whole operation kept under wraps, even the retailer’s own staff were kept in the dark about the new range until the plants started arriving into branches across the country. The new variety, dubbed the Imara Bizzie Lizzie has been unveiled by Syngenta Flowers and B&Q, having undergone extensive testing, and is described as being “hugely resistant to downy mildew and really easy for people to grow”.

The breakthrough Explaining the motivation

and sense of urgency behind the “breakthrough innovation”, Syngenta head of research and development Joost Kos said: “Nine years ago I had a breeder come into my office crying saying that her trial of busy Lizzies had completely gone. Now, a breeder crying means something big is has happening!” Impatiens downy mildew first appears as a grey powder under the leaves, then causes the leaves to

curl, turn yellow and finally drop off – leaving only the stems. The pervasive nature of the disease and its resistance to fungicides presented a huge challenge to Syngenta but one that the company was willing to take on, said Mr Kos – resulting in the development of the Imara Bizzie Lizzie B&Q will be stocking from the start of next month. This new species is “highly resistant to downy mildew and outperforms previous commercial varieties,” explained Mr Kos.

The task ahead was not a small

one. The downy mildew infection is impossible to cure and sees the plant attacked both via the leaf and plant itself, as well as through the soil. “It can last for years in the soil,” explained Mr Kos. Syngenta brought a team of specialists together to work on the project, including a grower, breeder, and plant pathologist. The team developed a scale of one to 15 to screen the ornamental value and resistance to downy mildew, which was, “an important start to the research,” said Mr Kos. In the 2010 trial they tested 552 plants but, said Mr Kos, “we realised it was not going to work combining genetics with chemistry. However, that lead to the next stage...” So, what was the ground-breaking discovery that resulted in the new breed? “We identified a resistance source – things that were going on in nature rather than a modification,” said Mr Kos. “It’s a genetic trait – something that naturally exists in the plant that resists the infection. You can compare it to a cell wall, I suppose. The infection is being slowed down and, significantly, the fungus is not able to grow inside the leaf tissue anymore.” Syngenta combined the resistant lines with the original busy Lizzie lines in classical breeding in order to create a hybrid, which has then undergone extensive garden and greenhouse testing over the past five years. “I can say with real confidence that this species will perform well in the garden”, said Mr Kos.

“These plants have been heavily mistreated,” Tim Clapp added, describing a trial that saw the species planted in fields that were heavily infected with downy mildew fungus, both via the soil and also by spraying the plants directly. The in-house and independent trials were successful and both Syngenta and B&Q are confident in the new variety they have created.

The name given to the new plant ; ‘Imara’ means ‘strong & resilient’ in Swahili, and is a tribute to the region in East Africa where the original

busy Lizzies are from. As well as its resistance to the seemingly unstoppable downy mildew, the Imara variety is also described by Tim Clapp as “a good, vigorous plant” with long flowering periods that “typically last through the season”.

B&Q exclusive B&Q has secured worldwide exclusivity for the Imara Bizzie Lizzie for the first year, which is a real coup for the business. The plants will be available in six colours – white, red, rose, orange, violet, and orange star; in a variety of packs, pots and planted containers, including hanging planters. They will retail from £2.50 and will be in 300 B&Q stores in time for the early May Bank holiday. “We’ve got many millions of plants available in all stores for people to buy,” said Mr Clapp – and if the British public’s appetite for the humble busy lLzzie is still there, the plants should fly out the door. B&Q market director for outdoor, Steve Guy said: “We are extremely proud to be bringing back the

L-R: B&Q’s Tim Clapp and Syngenta Flower’s Joost Kos unveil the new variety

busy Lizzie and to be launching the new ‘Imara Bizzie Lizzie’. There has been a pent-up demand for the plants within the gardening community, and a genuine love among customers. This has driven our perseverance to address this need in the market by developing a resilient and beautiful plant with great garden performance. We’re confident our customers will recognise and love the ‘Imara Bizzie Lizzie’ just as much as before.”



Dave Moore is the founder and director of Block Blitz, the hassle-free paving treatment brand. With over 20 years in the building services industry, Dave has worked for Multinationals, including ICI and Dupont, as well as specialising in product development for the construction and garden trade sectors. Since founding Block Blitz in 2012, Dave has grown the Doncaster-based company into a nationally recognised name in the garden care industry and is now planning to build on the company’s success with a new manufacturing facility in Lincolnshire.

27 APRIL 2018 DIY WEEK 9

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