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JEARRARD'S HERBAL




19th July 2015

Begonia boliviensis
Spells of cool moist weather have softened the week. I feel rather pathetic about it because I have been flagging in the heat. I can't even pretend we get much in the way of heat but it has been enough. Last week the first signs of autumn started to appear so this is the peak of summer. The long hot days that children will remember fondly in their dotage. An era of sunshine and naivety, i-pads and mobile phones. Days that will have passed safely into history.
I was put in mind of these things by the flowering of Begonia boliviensis. A few years ago it was re-introduced to cultivation with a (well deserved) fanfare to decorate the illusion of novelty. I say illusion, because it is one of the parents of all the tuberous bedding begonias (now rehabilitated as "patio plants") and once very well known. I suppose it was eclipsed by its offspring and slipped into obscurity. Whatever the reason for its fall, the return to favour was triumphant. As is the way with breeders, it was immediately hybridised with the old fashioned tuberous hybrids to get a new range of delicate forms and subtle single flowers. Can you imagine such a thing (you don't have to, I grew a lot of them, the pictures remain as evidence)? Once again B. boliviensis disappeared from the nurseries.
Last week somebody asked me "What is that lovely tuberous Begonia, is it new?" I did my best to look old and distracted and replied "Do you know when I was a lad, they hadn't invented the freezer!"




19th July 2015

Hemerocallis 'Bess Vestal'
Fortunately gardeners are a headstrong lot. We thrash around in the undergrowth in an effort to impose our own particular idea of paradise on the sod beneath our feet and we sing to ourselves very loudly, la la la ... so we won't have to hear anybody else. Hemerocallis breeders are out there in the fields of genetics thrashing about with determination. The latest seedlings are frilled and multicoloured with eye-zones and watermarks, fat budded megaploids that scarcely open in British summers. I was looking at 'Bess Vestale' in the week with a couple of friends and it turned out we were all thinking the same thing. What a fabulous colour.
It's a very old thing by modern standards, bred in 1949. I have been looking at some of the old hybrids here and wondering why I bother. Perhaps I should just throw them out and start again with something modern, but I look at the collection of modern varieties and I don't see anything that stands out in the same way. Perhaps they are all just young plants and yet to form great clumps like 'Bess Vestal' but they all seem a bit too clever. I get the feeling that the breeder noted the seedlings most likely to turn a profit from a plant patent.
I like to think that when 'Bess Vestal' first opened the breeder fell to the ground in rapture and had to be helped back to the house for a little sit down and some cool lemonade. We have lost that passion and it shows in the plants.
About a month ago I was asked what the amazing new Hemerocallis was in a friends garden. Vigorous and yellow and scented, quite the most wonderful they had seen. Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus
It is inconceivable that Hemerocallis and Begonia breeders would find anything in common. If you put them together in a room there would be a long, awkward silence as they thought the same things.




19th July 2015

Puya laxa
Puya solve the thorny problem of breeding, there is hardly any going on. A few years ago I grew something that claimed to be a P. mirabilis hybrid but I was never convinced and I haven't seen any others since.
I grew Puya laxa for years. I was (and still am) convinced that it would perish in the damp cold winters here. I have a plan to build a great heap of stone and plant some of the species on the top to see if they survive but that involves building a great heap of stone. While the plant was waiting it got moved around the greenhouse and because it is stiff and spiky it was always in the way. A few years ago I found it dead in the spring, under a bench. In the meantime the great pile of stone has not appeared, but I have found some space in the Agave house, and planted it with Puya.
I am already looking at P. berteroana with concern. I only have 2m headroom, and the leaf rosettes can get taller than that. It may not have been a wise planting decision.
Happiness in this case comes from discovering a small plant of P. laxa at Lower Kenneggy Nursery. They have more skill in keeping it alive than I do. It is a small species, well suited to the Agave house. Moderate flower spikes, silvery encrusted leaves. There is also something very nice about returning to something that I killed accidentally by neglect.
It has been planted with almost reverential care and attention, a sort of apology to the species for my earlier lack of regard. There is also the thought that if I am kind to it, perhaps P. berteroana will return the favour when I finally have to remove it. It has potential to cause some serious bloodshed as I move it outside (the only possible solution).
First, build your heap of stone.





19th July 2015

Watsonia Hybrid
Watsonia have also languished for a few years. I raised a great mass of hybrids when I first collected them together, and like Hellebore hybrids they were all lovely without there being anything obviously special. Slowly the brambles overtook them and I missed them in the theoretical way that busy people miss things. When I get a moment I will put a note in my diary to miss them properly.
Last winter I excavated them and they are all recovering in the sun beside the bulb house. Tough old things, healthy leaves are starting to appear again.
This is one of the hybrids that escaped. I wanted to try conditions along the path to the greenhouse so I took one of the pots of hybrid seedlings and plonked it in the ground. In theory it is W. pillansii Pink x 'Stanford Scarlet' but I have always been a bit suspicious of the W. pillansii parent. I think it is just a pink hybrid. Plonking has been a successful stategy.
Last year I was convinced I had two very similar clones growing in the clump, one slightly larger and paler than the other. This year I can only see one. The hybrid is selecting itself for vigour. It is lovely and I thought it probably wasn't very special, so I planted 'Dart Sea Trout' nearby as a bench mark. I was right, it isn't very special though I enjoy the simple splash of colour it brings to July.
With the collection rescued, I might have another try at hybrids next year and celebrate another small return from neglect.