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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


15th September 2019

Gladiolus carmineus
Autumn weather has gripped the garden. Misty nights have fallen to become heavy dews in the morning and the grass is saturated. If the cloud lasted through the day it remained wet. On the days that the sun came out, the dew dried and the garden was magnificent. Suddenly in the last days of summer I have found some time to sit in the sun and watch the bees buzz by, the hungry, angry wasps buzz by even the big fat flies buzz by. It is surprisingly relaxing. I must be on the flight path to a nectar source but I have no idea what it is.
It seems a pity to leave the spectacular weather and hide in the greenhouse, but out of the wind it suddenly makes sense. The ground inside is warm and dry, it lends a peculiarly exotic feel to the atmosphere. The evening scent of Tulbaghia wafts around and there are autumn bulbs springing up all over.
Gladiolus carmineus refuses to be ignored, the soft pink flowers stand out against the dark background. It produces flowers on naked stems in autumn, the leaves will follow in a month or two At the moment it is a strange sight, the thin stems rising straight out of the bare pot and balancing large flowers at their tips. It comes from coastal cliffs in a small part of the southwestern Cape and tolerates extreme drought when dormant. I keep it with the Nerine so it gets watered at the height of summer and that seems to start the growth cycle for the year.


15th September 2019

Hedychium coccineum 'Thai Spirit'
Hedychium follow the reverse pattern of growth, the leafy stems emerge in late spring as the seasonal temperature rises and the flower heads appear at the top in autumn and early winter. In the garden there will always be a problem of getting the flower heads to open before the first frosts arrive and destroy them. There are a number of deciduous species that flower in late summer and then shed their stems but most of the genus are evergreen. The stems will flower in late autumn and winter, the fruits develop into the spring and then the stems will brown and die back, by which time the new seasons growth will be quite tall. It is the evergreen species that look the most exotic in the garden, and the ones which cause the most problems. The old stems will be killed by the frost, but so will the new growth. The plants are effectively forced into dormancy. The replacement shoots start late and have to fit in a lot of growth before they will flower. As a result there are only a few that give a reliable display in gardens and some of the best are forms of H. coccineum.
Or at least they might be.
H.'Tara' may well be a hybrid with H. gardnerianum, it certainly has larger flower spikes than is usual for H. coccineum. H. 'C. P. Raffill' is almost identical, perhaps a shade paler and a week later. H. 'Thai Spirit' is a touch brighter and arrives after another week has passed. I have a theory that all three are selections from the same wild population at different times, but only 'Tara' has detailed collection notes attached, the stories behind the other two are vague at best.


15th September 2019

Nerine seedling.
I have been growing Nerine seedlings for a while now, the years blur together, the pots of labelled promise accumulate. Usually I have a date on the back of the label to tell me when I pollinated the hybrid but sometimes I forget or plan to add the details at some optimistic "later date" (it never happens). Without a date it is difficult to know what to expect of a pot.
This seedling is the first to flower from a pot that seems to be packed to the edges with nerine leaves. I should probably have split them up before this. I see that it is dated 2013 so I have had plenty of time. Somehow these pots of seedlings become familiar objects on the bench, they sit there with expectation suspended until suddenly there are flower spikes and everything seems very urgent again.
That is not to suggest that the first flowers are anything but welcome. They don't simply mark the end of the unpredictible pause between the excited intent of pollination and its (occasionally heartbreaking) realisation but first flowers are always jolly nice. The excitement returns and once again it is shrouded in uncertainty. Is it actually any good, is it what I had hoped for?
Am I looking at it with rose-tinted spectacles? Yes of course I am otherwise what would be the point?
So this is the first flower on a cross between 'Eve' and 'Dingaan', two deep red/purple flowers. I was breeding for colour, I remember the intention. It is a great relief to see that the first flower is in the right colour range. If it had been orange I'm not sure what I would have blamed but I am certain that blame would have been required.



15th September 2019

Rhodophiala bifida .
It is perfectly possible that the genes for the dark mulberry flowers of Nerine 'Eve' and the genes for the purple flowers of N. Dingaan' are completely unconnected, and that the natural orange colour is the only possibler outcome of their union. These systems are very complex and don't always resolve into simple solutions. My natural youthful tendency was to leap upon the simplest explanation with gleeful conviction. I am older, more likely to say 'Hmm. Perhaps.'
The south-west is like that. It isn't just wetter than the east. It doesn't just have shorter winters or cooler summers. It has a different climate, a complex thing. The plants that grow here are different, they dance to a different tune. When I wonder if a new plant will thrive in my garden I am left thinking 'Hmm. Perhaps.'
Which brings me directly to the door of Rhodophiala, though you might not have realised it. What is the crucial environmental factor that leads them to grow in one place but not another? Why do they seem to behave so differently from Hippeastrum when they are fairly closely related. I don't think it is temperature requirement or seasonal growth pattern or anything specific, I think it is a complex mix of factors. Perhaps.
Whatever is going on, R. bifida has come through one more year without dying and without me feeling any more confident in its culture. I wonder what it makes of my efforts.
This is the flowering of mutual incomprehension.