Benary: 175 Years of Seeds


As home gardeners, we don’t always know much about where the seeds we grow come from. We just buy and sow them. Simple enough!

But somewhere, somebody (actually, usually a whole lot of somebodies) is busy creating new varieties, harvesting and packing seeds, shipping them, etc. Such is the case with Benary, a wholesale German seed company that has now been sharing seeds with the world for 175 years. You’ve probably grown seeds from Benary, or at the very least, plants grown from Benary seeds, but without knowing it.

Here’s a short resumé of a fascinating company history.

The Beginning


Ernst Benary, founder of the company. Source:

Ernst Benary Samenzucht für Gartensämereien und Pflanzen (Ernst Benary Seed Breeding for Garden Seeds and Plants) was founded by Ernest Benary (1819–1893) in Erfurt, Thuringia in the German Confederation in 1843, launching its first original new variety, Zinnia elegant ‘Benary’s Giant’. Amazingly, it’s still on the market 175 years later! They also bought seed from other growers for resale.


Benary’s Giant zinnia: launched in 1859, yet still available today! Source:

In 1845, Benary began producing seed catalogs in English, French and Russian as well as the original German. Their own breeding lead to such innovations as their first interspecies hybrid plant, a perennial called Haag’s Campion (Lychnis x haageana), launched in 1859. Remember, this was before Gregor Mendel first published his papers on biological inheritance: talk about being avant-garde! In fact, Mendel was one of Benary’s customers.

Benary’s distribution grew by leaps and bounds. Soon the company was selling seeds all over the world, not only to their original customers, the market gardeners of Western Europe, but to seed companies in France, England, Russia and North America, who then sold the seeds to their customers. Even the Tzars of Russia were growing flowers and vegetables from Benary seed!

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Plate from a Benary catalog in the 1870s. Source: Danielle Palencar,

At the turn of the 20thcentury, Ernst’s sons Friedrich and John were running the company. By 1909, their sons had entered the business.

1909 was also the year Benary launched the world’s first F1 fibrous begonia: Begonia x semperflorens Primadonna. This was a huge breakthrough: a brand-new plant for gardeners to discover. (A F1-hybrid is a plant selectively bred by cross pollinating two different parent plants.) The introduction of F1 hybrid begonias revolutionized the horticulture industry by allowing growers to produce begonias reliably on a commercial scale … and gave gardeners one of the rare annuals that blooms non-stop in shade.

Near Collapse

World War I almost saw the company collapse. Other countries wouldn’t trade with Germany during the war years, so they lost most of their customer base. Still, the family hung on, supplying desperately needed vegetable seed to German market gardeners.

The business rebuilt when the war was over, soon launching the world’s first F1 hybrid tomato, ‘Heterosis’, in 1927, then another first: the triploid fibrous begonia ‘Tausendschön’ (sometimes called Thousand Wonders in English) in 1934. It is still available today.

The rise of Nazism in Germany starting in 1936 was another serious blow to the company. The name Benary is of Jewish origin. To avoid prosecution, most male members joined the Germany army. By the end of the war, seven of the nine brothers had been killed. Then Ernst Benary KG found itself on the wrong side of a newly divided Germany, in the Soviet Zone of Occupation. The company, with a staff of over 280, was soon expropriated by the East German government. The Benary family lost everything. It seemed like the dream was over.



Fritz Benary. Source:

But that was without counting on the ingenuity and persistence of Friedrich (Fritz) Benary. He moved to Western Germany and restarted the company under the name Ernst Benary Samenzucht GmbH in Hannoversch Münden, Lower Saxony. With only a bicycle as a tool, he rode from town to town, recollecting seeds from former customers and rebuilding stocks. 20 years later, Benary was back as strong as ever … and continuing to make waves in the horticultural industry, as with the introduction of the still highly popular Nonstop tuberous begonia (Begonia x tuberhybrida) in 1972.

After the sudden death of Fritz in 1979, his brother Rudolf took over. New breeding facilities began to spring up in West Germany and Austria, then, with the reunification of Germany in 1991, in East Germany as well.

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The 6th generation of Benary. Klaudia and Matthias with their four children Hans, Marianne, Käthe and Friedrich. Source:

Another generation, the fifth, took over in 1994, then the sixth generation in 2006. Klaudia Benary-Redlefsen owns the majority of the shares while her husband, Matthias Redlefsen manages the company with Nick ten Pas.

Innovations continue. The Big® line of begonias (Begonia x benariensis), the result of 100 years of begonia breeding, was launched in 2008 to great acclaim … and note the name Benary integrated into the Latin name! And Benary now has facilities in California, the Netherlands and China as well as Germany and Austria. Today’s Benary is a multinational company selling wholesale seeds and plant plugs to greenhouses, nurseries and seed companies all over the world, covering over 120 countries.

Super Hero

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French marigold ‘Super Hero Spry’, named in honour of Fritz Benary. Source:

To honor Fritz Benary, the company launched a new line of French marigolds (Tagetes patula) in the spring of 2018, the Super Hero series. One of them has already been awarded an All-America Selections award. ‘Super Hero Spry’ is an extremely stable bicolored compact marigold that made a great impression on judges during the trialing process

“Fritz is our superhero,” said Jen Calhoun, the company’s North American Marketing Specialist at the 2018 California Spring Trials. She then went on to announce that in further celebration of his journey, Benary employees would be distributing seed from bicycles to their customers throughout the world during the summer of 2018.

Benary: 175 years of seeds and still going strong. 10 to 1 you grow something from Benary, probably without knowing it, in your garden every year!

Thanks for help in researching this article go to Jen Calhoun, Marianne Wilburn, Benary and the National Garden Bureau.

New Plants From the Garden Writers Conference!



I recently returned from the annual Garden Writers Association Annual Conference & Expo in Chicago where, as usual, I met many fellow garden communicators, visited beautiful gardens and took tons of photos.

Among the attractions is the GWA trade show where some truly beautiful new plants are on display, notably in the New Varieties Showcase organized by the National Garden Bureau. Here are some of the most striking plants from that display as well as booths in the trade show, all new plants scheduled to be available in a garden center near you near spring. Some are even available on a limited basis this summer.



Makana™ Silver Artemisia (Artemisia mauiensis ‘TNARTMS’)

Although in real life a shrub native to Hawaii and hardy to zone 9 and above, Makana silver artemisia can easily be grown as an annual in other climates. It has extremely deeply cut, soft-looking silver leaves and a mounding habit. Insignificant greenish-yellow flowers may appear in late summer. It reaches 2 feet (60 cm) in height and 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter. Drought resistant. For full sun and well-drained soils. If it looks homesick, playing a ukulele will perk it right up!

Supplier: Terranova Nurseries

Canary Wings Begonia (Begonia x hybrida ‘Canary Wings’)

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Source: Ball Horticultural Company

Seriously brighten up your shady nooks with this new begonia, with large, shiny angel wing leaves in a particularly luminous shade of chartreuse. Of course, the arching stems bear tons of brilliant red blooms as well—indeed, it will bloom nonstop all summer and it’s self-cleaning to boot!—but it’s the leaves that make this mutation of Dragon Wing Pink (‘Bepapink’) really stand out from the crowd. ‘Canary Wings’ makes an excellent choice for a specimen or companion plant in containers and hanging baskets, or as a bright addition to the garden and landscape. It will do best in partial shade (and will take full sun in cool summer areas). Bring it indoors in the fall as a houseplant (only in the tropics will it be hardy outdoors). Expect yours to reach 12 to 18 inches (30-45 cm) in height and about 15-18 inches (40-45 cm) in diameter.

Supplier: Ball Ingenuity

Soiree Kawa*i*i® White Peppermint Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus ‘White Peppermint’)



You’ve never seen a Madagascar periwinkle anything like this! The star-shaped blooms, white with a red eye, are tiny, but numerous on a dense, compact plant. It reaches 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 cm) in height and 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) in diameter: a tight bun of plant! It loves full sun and hot summers. Designed for use in containers. Totally charming! Poisonous in all its parts: don’t eat it!

Supplier: Suntory

Tattoo™ Papaya Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus ’PAS1192834’)

This Madagascar periwinkle couldn’t be more different from the previous one. Its flowers are large instead of small and come in a most unusual color combination: deep orange pink highlighted by brushstrokes of black. In fact, the other colors in the Tattoo series share the same unusual dark markings, but I thought Papaya was the most striking. It’s a mounded, upright annual 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm) tall and 6 to l8 inches (15 to 20 cm) wide with dark, shiny leaves. The flower petals overlap for a denser appearance. It will love sun and heat and will be at its most colorful under those conditions. Again, poisonous, so foodies, keep away!

Supplier: PanAmerican Seed

First Flame™ Purple Celosia (Celosia argentea plumosa ’PAS1295065’)

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When I saw this plant in the PanAmerican Seed booth, I felt like sneaking into the show room at night and stealing a pot … but I didn’t. Still, it’s a stunning plant … and such an unusual color for a celosia! Its deep purple plumes are the densest I’ve seen in a celosia and are set on an upright, well-branched, vigorous plant reaching 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm) in height and 10 to 16 inches (25 to 40 cm) in diameter. Easy from seed and an excellent garden and container plant, plus it makes a great cut flower and dried flower to boot. It holds its color all summer.

Supplier: PanAmerican Seed

Angel Wings Senecio (Senecio candicans ‘Senaw’)

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Source: EC Growers

Wow! Let me repeat that: wow! Simply the star of the show: it blew everything else out of the water! This upright subshrub (grow it as an annual in zone 8 and below) bears sturdy stems of large, broadly ovate, brilliantly silver leaves with scalloped edges. Do run your fingers over them: they’re sturdy on the inside, but soft and silky on the outside. The plant may produce yellow flowers in the summer, but still, it’s the foliage that counts. For full sun in any well-drained soil, both in the ground and in containers. Drought resistant and salt tolerant (it originally comes from stony beaches in Patagonia). Try it indoors as a houseplant in the winter. 10-12” (25-30 cm) tall and 10” (30 cm) wide.

Supplier: Concept Plants

Super Hero™ Spry French Marigold (Tagetes patula Super Hero ‘Spry’)

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This super easy annual grows fast and furiously from seed, producing sturdy dense plants with dark green deeply cut foliage. It flowers nonstop all summer with the deepest dark maroon lower petals yet seen in marigolds, topped with a tuft of golden-yellow upper ones. It’s one of the most uniform marigolds ever, comes to bloom in the wink of an eye and requires no deadheading to stay in bloom. It won both an All-America Selection award and a Fleuroselect Novelty award, a sign of a true quality plant. At 10 to 12” (25 to 30 cm) tall and wide, it’s of medium size for a French marigold. It will catch everyone’s eye in full sun in just about any soil, both in flower beds and in pots.

Supplier: Benary

‘Queeny Lime Orange’ Zinnia (Zinnia elegans ‘Queeny Lime Orange’)

A double award winner: All-America Selections and Fleuroselect Gold. When a plant wins the top awards in the world’s two main plant testing programs, you have to sit up and take notice! This easy-from-seed annual sports big, dahlia-like blooms on a sturdy compact plant and blooms all summer. The orange to peachy orange flowers have a distinctive touch of green in the center to set them off. Highly double, although with a dark center, it makes both a great garden plant and a superb cut flower, lasting about 3 weeks in a vase. Full sun in any soil. Dimensions: 1.5 to 2 feet(45 to 60 cm) in height, 14 inches (35 cm in diameter. Note that this plant also being sold as zinnia ‘Queen Lime Orange’ (rather than Queeny).

Supplier: Floragran


Sombrero® Tres Amigos Echinacea (Echinacea x hybrida ‘Balsomtresgo’)

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Three colors on one sturdy, compact, well branched, highly floriferous echinacea: hats off to the hybridizers! The flowers open peachy-coral, age to rose and fade to burgundy, starting early in the season and continuing until fall. (Deadheading will help prolong bloom.) The plant is drought and deer resistant, hardy to at least zone 4 and attracts butterflies. Expect it to reach 18 to 20″ (45 to 50 cm) in height and somewhat more (22 to 24″/55 to 60 cm) in diameter. Full sun is best.

Supplier: DarwinPerennials

Pop Star™ Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus Pop Star)

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Source: Benary

The shortest, most heavily branching balloon flower yet. It forms an upright mound only 7 inches (18 cm) high of green foliage, bearing inflated buds that “pop open” into star-shaped flowers in violet blue (Pop Star Blue), light pink (Pop Star Pink) or pure white (Pop Star White). (I thought Pop Star Pink was the prettiest.) They practically cover the plant! Long-lived and easy to grow, with a long blooming season. This is the ideal balloon flower for borders and rock gardens. Try it as a pot plant as well! Hardiness zone 3.

Supplier: Benary


Canna Cabana™ Cosmopolitan™ (Canna x generalis ‘Cabana Cosmopolitan’)

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A compact, repeat blooming canna with dramatic, glaucous green, tropical foliage and striking deep red flowers. It loves full sun, heat and moist soils. Only 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) tall and 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter, so you can fit it in anywhere. Hardiness zone 7. In colder climates, bring the rhizomes indoors in fall and store them dry for the winter.

Supplier: J. Berry Nursery


Amazel™ Basil (Ocimum Amazel)

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If you’ve been struggling with powdery mildew on your basil over the last few years, there is good news. Amazel is the first Italian sweet basil that is resistant to the disease (there is no report of it being resistant to fusarium wilt, though). It forms a large, vigorous plant with equally large, highly aromatic, curiously wrinkled leaves. Unlike typical basil, Amazel is seed sterile and therefore continues to produce leaves and shoots even after flower initiation (other basil varieties focus most of their energy on seed production once flowering begins). For best flavor and leaf production, though, harvest and/or pinch regularly to promote fresh tender growth. Watch that it doesn’t overwhelm your other basils, as it can measure up to 3 feet (90 cm) in height and 2 feet (60 cm) in diameter. In order words, give this big basil plenty of room!

Amazel is more “perennial” than other sweet basils. Of course, it will only be hardy outdoors in the tropics, but you could try overwintering cuttings indoors in strong light. Outdoors, full sun and warm to hot temperatures are required. Given its size, it will do best in the ground or in a large pot.

Supplier: Proven Winners


Chef’s Choice Red F1 Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Chef’s Choice Red’)

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Winner of an All-America Selections award, ‘Chef’s Choice Red’ is the fifth addition to the popular Chef’s Choice tomato series. It produces globe-shaped, bright red, firm-fleshed beefsteak tomatoes with just the right balance of acid to sugar. It produces prolifically, yielding 8-ounce (225 g) fruits on strong indeterminate vines about 5-foot (1.5 m) high. You’ll enjoy harvesting 30 or more scar-free fruits throughout the season from this disease-resistant plant with dark green leaves and a well-behaved form. Full sun and rich soil ensure best results. Disease resistance: VF, F

Supplier: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Valentine F1 Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Valentine’)



Yet another All-America Selections award winner, ‘Valentine’ is a grape tomato with an appetizing deep-red color and a very sweet taste (Brix of 7-9). It holds well on the vine without cracking or losing its excellent eating quality. Earlier than most grape tomatoes (55 days from transplant), it’s a tall-growing, indeterminate plant that will require staking. Tomato lovers will appreciate the sweet, firm flesh that is meaty enough to resemble a Roma tomato but in a smaller sized fruit. Very heat tolerant.

Supplier: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Woody Plants

Icebreaker Korean Fir (Abies koreana ‘Ice Breaker’, syn. ’Kohouts Icebreaker’)

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A unique dwarf conifer, mutation of the popular variety ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ with which it shares the same strongly curled needles, revealing the shimmering silver undersides and giving the whole plant a permanently frosty appearance. Slow-growing, putting on 1 to 3 inches (2,5-8 cm) per year, it will be about 2 feet (60 cm) tall and wide after 10 years in the garden, depending on its size when you buy it. Eventually though, it will form a leader and become a broadly pyramidal small tree. Very hardy (zone 4 is given, but I know for a fact it thrives in zone 3a). Sun or partial shade. Any well-drained soil will do. Winner of the American Conifer Society’s Collectors Conifer of the Year program in 2014.

Supplier: Iseli Nursery

Panther™ Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ’N5’)

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The darkest ninebark yet, making Diabolo look a wimpy purple-red in comparison. The smaller leaves are a shiny deep black-purple, while the stems are totally black. And it’s a modestly sized shrub, almost columnar in habit: 4-5’ tall (120-150 cm) high and only 2-3’ (60-90 cm) wide. Plus, it’s mildew-resistant! Plant it next to brightly colored selections if you want to stun your garden visitors. For best color, give it full sun. It’s not a heavy bloomer, but do expect some clusters of pink flowers … but with leaves like these, who really cares? Hardiness zone 3.

Supplier: Bloomin’ Easy

Hebe Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis ‘Hebefolia’)

20180830Q Tsuga canadensis 'Hebefolia' David Olszyk,

Source: David Olszyk,

Tiny dark gray-green needles almost wider than long look more like leaves than needles and cluster tightly together, resembling the leaves of the New Zealand shrub Hebe, whence its name. I’ll bet some people will mistake it for a boxwood (Buxus)! Green on top, the leaves are held very close to the stems so that the white undersides are exposed. Given the short needles, lots of stem is exposed, giving the plant a twiggy look. It’s expected to reach about 3 feet (90 cm) tall by 2 feet (60 cm) wide in 20 years, larger thereafter, growing about 2 to 4 inches (5 à 10 cm) per year, taking on a broadly upright form. Sun to partial shade. Hardiness zone 4.

Supplier: Iseli Nursery