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Retired professor garners national garden award
By Renu Sehgal - June 20, 1997

Ronald Parker, a former associate professor of plant science, has received the Garden Club of America's Distinguished Service Medal in the field of horticulture.

Parker took wild flowers and turned them into hybrids for the home gardener. He also turned them into a money-maker for the University as part of the billion-dollar plant bedding industry.

He developed several varieties of catharanthus, the five-petaled annual flower commonly known as vinca and recognized for its ability to withstand extreme sun and heat. The flowers were available in two or three dull colors before Parker developed his hybrids in 1991.

Parker worked on the wild plants for 12 years, developing shapely, large and beautiful flowers. The three varieties he released in 1991 - Pretty in Pink, Parasol and Pretty in Rose - won All-America Selections awards from the All America Selections Trial Gardens, the agricultural equivalent of an Oscar. It was only the second time that the organization awarded a breeder a triple selection since 1933. He won another All-America Selection in 1992 for a bright white cultivar.

The research was important to Connecticut. More than 76 percent of Connecticut's agriculture is ornamental horticulture, and the state ranks second highest in the $12 billion U.S. industry for its percentage of ornamental horticulture.

Parker and the University signed licensing agreements with two California companies, the Waller Flowerseed Co. and the Pan American Seed Co., to reproduce the flower seeds and sell them wholesale. Since 1991, the University has received more than $350,000 in royalties, a portion of which the University shares with Parker.

Parker's work also revolutionized the vinca. Waller Flowerseed purchased the rights to sell his Tropicana series, four of which are still on the market - Tropicana Rose, Pink, Blush and Bright Eye. Tropicanas Rose and Pink are doing very well, especially in Japan and other areas of Asia.

Parker, who joined the faculty in 1976, retired in 1994. He lives in Utah, where he is trying to develop a yellow impatiens.