Sunday, 14 October 2018

Plant Geeks

In horticulture, it seems every flower has it's devotees and own fan club. For some, it's roses, for others, it's orchids. There are ones for carnivorous plants, bromeliads, rhododendrons, herbs. Some of my workmates are into plants like gaura or bird of paradise (one even has a tattoo of said plant on his arm)  But for me, it must be the sweet pea.

I met what Monty Don would call a plant geek on Saturday. He is world renowned horticulturalist and plant breeder Dr Keith Hammett. Despite what Monty says, he is charming and we got on very well, because he breeds my favourite flower, the sweet pea. He also breeds clivias, dahlias, primulas, dianthus and amaryllis. Keith, as he likes to be known, opened up his garden  up at Massey for everyone to see his clivias for the National Clivia Festival. Keith is the one who developed a rare yellow variety of clivia that's highly prized in designer gardens. The originals are bright orange, but now there are demands for red ones. He hasn't quite perfected the red ones yet as he wants them to be bigger and more trumpet shaped, but the ones he has bred so far are striking fire engine red, a stand out in any spring garden.

Me being a sweet pea fan, I was able to query his daughter and himself on all things sweet pea, the different colours, their growth habits, when the best time to plant is (May) and just what it is about them that makes them the quintessential English cottage garden plant.  The fluttery petals, the divine scent, or the way it delicately climbs trellis, fences and arches? In England, where Keith was from originally, the sweet pea is highly prized, there are shows entirely devoted to sweet peas, and there is quite a lucrative market for seeds.  It's a valued export item, although it requires a lot of patience to breed all the different colours, that come from the original bi-coloured  species.

Keith's large garden is a haven for clivia which grows en masse in broad swathes under trees around his  park-like property,  there's nothing quite like it. Part of his garden is a nursery and the sweet peas are grown in neat shadehouse tunnels in very uniform rows. I bought four packets of seeds, two solstice (late sowing) sweet peas in red and hot pink, another early sweet pea that changes colour from blue to purple, and mixed dahlia seeds. I also bought two dainty perennial primulas that look like golden and red buttons.

I planted the primulas in the Camellia driveway bed (or the Fat Lady Sings bed, as I call it) and then got to work on removing creeping buttercup and edging my flaming log bed with mondo grass I rescued from a work tidy up. Compost was then applied and I am quite happy with it, so satisfying to remove great big clumps of buttercup! The flaming log bed is so named because it's got logs as edging and flaming  coloured plants like canna india shot, red abutilon,  nasturtium and of course, bright orange clivias.  I plan to add more red and orangy plants there so it looks like it's on fire, like love lies bleeding, red dahlias, and maybe poinsettias. Mum is a fan of red flowers so, will wait till Keith perfects his red clivias I know where to source them now. Thanks to Olga who is always telling us gardeners we have to meet this unashamed plant geek.