One of Horvath’s newest plants, Sedum ‘Pillow Talk’
Photo courtesy of Brent Horvath
Horvath's love for plants extends beyond his professional life. Here, he poses with an agave that he came upon and liked.
Photo courtesy of Brent Horvath

WHY HE’S GREAT:

Brent Horvath, owner of wholesale growing operation Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Illinois, is a lifelong horticulturist and has bred perennial plants for more than 20 years. Horvath currently has more than 20 U.S. plant patents for his introductions and estimated he would have filed applications for about 20 more by the end of 2016. He has filed most of those applications himself, he says, which is a feat in and of itself.

Horvath’s work has led him to work with many different perennials genuses, such as grasses and sedum, rather than limiting himself to one, which distinguishes him from other breeders. “I’m one of the few independent breeders, even though I have a company that helps me make all that happen,” he says. “Many other breeders have a bigger company and a bigger group of people working behind those plants, but it’s still mostly me.” Horvath also wrote “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Sedum,” published in 2014. The Perennial Plant Association (PPA) recently awarded him the coveted Grower of the Year title in 2016.

Horvath with a Gunnera plant
Photo courtesy of Brent Horvath

A PATH TO GREATNESS:

Horvath was born to be a plant aficionado. His parents had a garden center, landscape company and florist that he worked at growing up. After graduating with a degree in horticulture from Oregon State University, he started a nursery division for the company. It was then that Horvath read “Alan Bloom’s Hardy Perennials,” a book written by a British horticulturist who founded Blooms of Bressingham and helped revitalize people’s interest in perennials after World War II. The book describes the process of breeding and introducing some of the more well-known plants like ‘Moonshine’ Yarrow, “and that really peaked my interest,” says Horvath.

“I found my first couple of plants in 1996-97,” he says. “In the beginning it wasn’t an intense focus. In the last five years, I’ve really focused on it. I have a part-time breeding assistant that comes in one day a week and we collect and sow seed.”

WHY PERENNIALS:

Inspired by his father’s work with perennials during his childhood, Horvath pursued an internship at a perennial grower in Germantown, Wisc. called W&E Radtke Perennial Nursery. “I enjoyed learning about them and the wide variety that there was in perennials even in the ’80s and ’90s,” Horvath says.

Horvath’s 2016 releases include Rudbeckia ‘American Gold Rush’.
Photo courtesy of Brent Horvath

BREEDING POTENTIAL:

While Horvath says there’s room for growth in plant genuses like leucanthemum, rudbeckia and heliopsis, he’s been honing in on grasses, especially prairie grasses, lately. “I’m trying to make them more ornamental,” he says. “My big blue stems have scarlet red fall color and near purple black fall color now. I’m trying to do that for other genuses like Indian grass and prairie drop seed.” The goal is to “make them more spectacular.”

PATENTING HIS WORK:

Horvath’s first patented plant was a variegated sport of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ that he named after his father, ‘Lajos,’ with a trade name of Autumn Charm. “‘Autumn Joy’ was basically a staple in the garden, so I thought it was worth pursuing, and I thought it would be a big seller,” he says. Although he had a few challenges throughout the application process, he was eventually successful in patenting the plant. “After I did one [patent application], I figured I could write all of my patents,” he says.

When determining which plants to patent, Horvath considers which plants have the best potential. “Some of my plants are mild selections of native plants that don’t really warrant patenting, or they’re lower sellers, more novelty plants,” he says. “Depending on the category, [I’ll] pick whether I’m going to patent it or not.” Horvath says that about a third of his plants are patented and “more and more will be patented” in the future.


WHOLESALE GROWING + BREEDING = SUCCESS:

At times, it may be tough to balance his wholesale production with breeding, but Horvath sees a lot of advantages in the combination. “I’m able to compare [new plants] to the ones I’m already growing or ones already in the trade,” he says. He’s got a handle on the propagation and cultural side because of his growing experience, as well as the ability to ability to propagate large quantities.

ADVICE TO PROSPECTIVE BREEDERS:

  1. Start a collection. “Collect a lot of different and unique species once you figure out which genus you want to breed and propagate,” Horvath says. “You can make a lot of unique crosses by bringing in some outside genuses that no one else is working with or aren’t in the trade.”
  2. Choose carefully. Horvath cautions against going into genuses where a lot of work is already being done, such as coreopsis, because it may be hard to stand out from the crowd.
  3. Find an experienced industry partner. “Working with someone to bring [yourself] into the trade is very helpful,” Horvath says. “I worked initially with Walters Gardens. They weren’t doing as much breeding at that time.” While Walters has been doing more breeding of their own since then, Horvath continues to work closely with them and they trial his plants. “They’re still very happy to evaluate and look at my new plants, so I send them most everything I’ve introduced,” he says.