Thursday, May 31, 2012

Table Top Gardens

Table Top Gardens with Kalanchoe and Begonia
 Story # 26, 

      ‘Table Top Gardens’

      For years I tried to find a better name for the old ‘dish’ garden idea.

      Florists have sold dish gardens forever.  They are usually a collection of foliage plants planted together in a decorative ceramic pot.  They are sold as a gift item for those who want a present to last longer than cut flowers.

      There was a period when the term ‘European Garden’ was promoted.  It was a low container where flowering plants were added to a mix of foliage plants.  These are very colorful and are still sold, with or without, the European Garden name.

      ‘Table Top Garden’ is the perfect name for the category.

      I saw the term used in a trade magazine and decided that this is the perfect name for a low container with a combination of plants.  ‘Table Top Garden’ can work for indoor table decorations and for outdoor mixed planters that could fit on a picnic table.

      Both Sinningias and Streptocarpus can be used for the color plants in ‘Table Top Gardens’.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sinningia 'Party Dress' --Will it follow 'Gabriel's Horn' into the Fairy Gardens?

Sinningia 'Party Dress' hybridized and grown by Thad Scaggs
Story # 25,

      Sinningia ‘Party Dress’ – Will it follow ‘Gabriel’s Horn’ into the Fairy Gardens?

      There are many named varieties of Sinningia flowers with the whirling flair of a party dress.

      Thad Scaggs, dedicated hybridizer of Sinningias and other Gesneriads, has shown his creations and selected a pink one to be the one and only ‘Party Dress’.  Thad has others, also, with names like ‘Florida Floozie’ and ‘Diva’.

      The double-calyx flowers are very unique and the extra outside petals appear to float around the center corolla.  The flowers have size and their weight cause them to droop down.  This gives the party dress look.

      So far production is limited to rooting tip cuttings.

      Will there be a series of ‘Party Dress’- type Sinningias produced in the future?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sinningia 'Gabriel's Horn' -- Coming soon to your Fairy Garden!

Sinningia 'Gabriel's Horn' grown by Gary's Specialty Plants
 Story # 24,

      Sinningia ‘Gabriel’s Horn’ ----coming soon to your Fairy Garden!

      Sinningia ‘Gabriel’s Horn is worth looking for.  We know that it can get many buds and flowers.  It has double-calyx flowers that look like the pixies have arrived in the Fairy Garden.  The hobby of creating a Fairy Garden looks like fun and has evolved into an extra special niche with miniature landscapes and scenes with tiny furniture and characters.

       I could just declare that ‘Gabriel’s Horn’ is the ultimate plant for your Fairy Garden but that will be up to those of you who spend time thinking about and designing your gardens.  For you Fairy Gardeners, it is highly unlikely that you’ve ever seen a plant like ‘Gabriel’s Horn’ to consider it for your landscape.

      The plant is in collections of Gesneriad growers and shows up in Gesneriad flower shows but has never escaped into Fairy Land due to limited production quantities.

      Small flowering plants of Sinningia ‘Gabriel’s Horn’ will be available for sale at the Longwood Gardens’ plant shop soon.  Watch for the availability announcement in the right hand column.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nothing can be sold until it has a name and a use!

Table Top Garden with Begonias
Story # 23,

      Nothing can be sold until it has a name and a use!

      The names Streptocarpus and Sinningia are not commonly known, but if you do learn about them, then you have a new category in mind.  We think of Chrysanthemums as Fall color and Roses for very special events.  Annuals are planted in the Spring and perennials come up every year.

      So what is a Streptocarpus or Sinningia for?

     They are not winter hardy nor indestructible so they fall into the houseplant or patio pot category.  As a houseplant, plant people want to learn how to grow  them forever.  Causal consumers just want pretty things for temporary use.

     A common question in plant selection is:  ‘Will this fit in my nice ceramic pot that I have at home?’  Decorative pots need refilling.  A Streptocarpus is great for that.  A Sinningia is lower and smaller so they can work for Table Top Gardens in combination with Begonias and Ferns.

     More Streptocarpus and Sinningias would be sold if we knew what to do with them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Begonia Solenia 'Dusty Rose' - Best of the best!
Story # 22,
      Innovator: _____    _______

      Business Week magazine has a regular feature in the Technology section called Innovator.  It features a scientist or otherwise very smart person who has made some advance in science and product development.  I like these kinds of stories and usually read them first.

     The plant world will never get this kind of attention but plant hybridizers are continually innovating with new hybrids.  The genius is in their selection process.  But first they have to see a plan of what combination of plant characteristics are possible, and then carry out the crosses to discover what genetics will give them.
     I’ve been asked how horticulture has changed since I started 40 years ago.  The answer is that the plants are better.
      The innovators in the plant world are doing a good job!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's the buds that count!

Sinningia 'Gabriel's Horn' grown by Gary's Specialty Plants
Story # 21,

            It’s the buds that count!

            In selecting Sinningias for commercial production, two things count the most ---- flower color and bud count.

            The number of buds that form when the Sinningia grows to first flowering is a variable inherited characteristic.  There have been named hybrids that have great flowers but very few of them.  With this in mind we only want to pick varieties that have multiple flower buds per peduncle which leads to showy clusters of open flowers.

            Sinningia ‘Gabriel’s Horn’ consistently gets 4 – 6 buds per leaf axil and can build a spectacular show of double calyx flowers.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sinningia 'Kristobel' ----- Just because...

Sinningia 'Kristobel' grown by Ruth Coulson-- Australia

Story # 20,

            Sinningia ‘Kristobel’ ------ Just because it’s from the other side of the world doesn’t mean it’s any good.

            There is an impression that if a product is imported from afar it must be better, why else go to the trouble.  Sinningia ‘Kristobel’ was hybridized by John Nedwich in Australia and found its way to the U.S. in the hobby world.

            The picture is of the plant grown by Ruth Coulson, an advanced hobbyist and also a hybridizer of Sinningias.  I was fortunate to meet Ruth when she came half way around the world to the Gesneriad convention in Philadelphia in July 2011.  I offered to take her to Longwood Gardens as part of her site-seeing and had the chance to talk Gesneriads with her.  Somewhere in there we talked about this ‘Kristobel’ which she had grown so well for a show at home.

            It evolved that I got my original tuber of ‘Kristobel’ from Dale Martens who was growing it from plant material supplied by Ruth previously.

            Based on a picture and Ruth’s recommendation, I shipped it to be produced by tissue culture without actually seeing the plant myself.  Once we have quantities of this mid-sized Sinningia with terminal clusters of rosy flowers, will this gamble pay off?

            I should have S. ‘Kristobel’ in flower for sale in 8 – 12 weeks.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why worry?

Patio pot from 2007 grown by Hunter's Greenhouse
Story # 19,

            Why worry?

            One of the best things I’ve done is read Seth Godin’s blog every day.  His marketing advice makes sense to me and he has been a great cheerleader for telling you to: Just do it! It is sent by e-mail each day.

            You can sign up to receive my blog automatically by e-mail.  Find it at the very bottom of the blog pages.  Just enter your e-mail address and FeedBurner will send an e-mail request for you to click on a link to confirm that you want to do it.

            Thereafter, my blog will arrive by e-mail every time one is published.

            Why worry about remembering to look for it?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Will Sinningia 'Magic Moment' make the cut?

Sinningia 'Magic Moment' hybridized and grown by Ben Paternoster
Story # 18,

            Will Sinningia ‘Magic Moment’ make the cut?

            When I looked at the pictures from the Long Island Gesneriad show I saw some new Sinningias that I had not seen before.  Sinningia ‘Magic Moment’ looked very interesting with three flowering shoots with multiple rosy flowers.

            It was grown and shown by Ben Paternoster, the hybridizer.  When I contacted Ben, he told me that his hybrid is a cross of S. conspicua and S. amambayensis and was registered in 2004.   Ben offered me a plant to try and I have it here to evaluate for possible commercial production.

            The parent, S. amambayensis, had flowered easily last Fall when my friend, Mary Schaeffer, had given me a plant.  I had 10 flowers open at one time.  The leaves are sticky so I don’t know if that will be an issue with the hybrid.  Sticky leaves don’t matter unless you are trying to get dirt off the leaf.  Petunias are sticky and it hasn’t stopped them from being a top-selling annual.

            The plant shown of Sinningia ‘Magic Moment’ is somewhat tall growing from the tuber so we will need to see if young plants will, on first flowering, be shorter.

            This will be a continuing story…….

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What is the perfect Streptocarpus for the future, Part IV

Streptocarpus 'Rose Halo' from Dibley's
Story # 17, Part IV,

            What is the perfect Streptocarpus for the future, Part IV?

            When picking an order for delivery to a retail store, I pick the plants with the most flowers open and the most buds showing.  The idea is that the customer will see the flower that they like and have the buds open at their house.

            The problem with this strategy is that the Streptocarpus may never get bought in the first place since it is not showy Now.  The ‘Flush’ characteristic solves this.  To have many flowers open at once is a good thing.  If they hold up nicely in the house then we will call it success.

            Next we would like it to reflower.  Now that we have gone from ideal greenhouse conditions to infinitely different and variable home conditions, reflowering is uncertain.

            A flush of flowers that hold on tight for several weeks is more important than continuous flowering.

            If we can have both, then we have something.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What is the perfect Streptocarpus of the future, Part III

Streptocarpus 'Jealous Heart' grown by Jon Lindstrom
Story # 17, Part III,

            What is the perfect Streptocarpus of the future?

            Streptocarpus wilts when the temperature is over 85 degrees F., even if watered.  Many growers, not knowing this, have rushed to water the wilted plant when it does not need water.  It needs cool.

            Many experienced hobbyist are disappointed that they can not keep Streptocarpus alive during the heat of the summer.  Global warming or not, we usually have periods of 100+  degrees every summer in Pennsylvania.

            Last summer I observed that S. ‘Jealous Heart’ did not wilt down in the two weeks of 100 degree heat. So by dumb luck, I discovered at least one clone that has heat tolerance.  If this is transferable, then we can create a series of heat tolerant Streptocarpus.

            This could be a ten year project but it could help make Streptocarpus the next ‘Big’ thing.  At present commercial growers do not attempt to finish Streptocarpus crops in the summer time.

            Heat tolerance could change everything. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What is the perfect Streptocarpus of the future, Part II?

Streptocarpus 'Ako Lemon Spirit' with 'Flush' of buds

Story # 17, Part II,

            From the varieties that we have already, we know that a new release better be more than a pretty flower.

            Flower size seems to be inversely correlated.  If you get big flowers, there are less of them.  But since we know 12 – 16 flowers per peduncle are possible, why not always expect that?  The unusual hybrid ‘Dale’s Scarlet Macaw’ routinely  get 26 flowers per cluster.

            We have varieties with short leaves.  Why not always have short leaves so they don’t get broken off.

            Dale Martens, a genius amateur Gesneriad hybridizer, has shown that a ‘Starfish’ plant habit is possible.  If this symmetrical shape could replace the annoying ‘one big leaf, one little leaf’ growth habit of Streptocarpus, we would have something to rival African Violets.

            Another characteristic that I observed while watching S. ‘Ako Lemon Spirit’ set bud and flower is what I would call a ‘Flush’.  Many flower spikes came up at once giving a ‘Flush’ of flowers.  This is a very important thing to happen in commercial crops----uniform flowering.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What is the perfect Streptocarpus of the future?

Streptocarpus 'Ambra' from Poland

Story # 17, Part I,

            This question could take a lifetime to answer.  As a declared amateur hybridizer, I see many plans of attack to improve Streptocarpus hybrids.

            Many variable plant characteristics are evident in modern hybrids.  Since we know that all genetic characteristics segregate independently, the combination of the best can be achieved if you have enough time.

            When I used to give talks about hybridizing Streptocarpus, I would ask the question:  ‘What is the most important thing to select for?’

            It was never intended to be a trick question.  We think about bud count, earliness to flower, continuous flowering or heat tolerance.

            The most important selection criteria has to be the flower color.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What is the perfect Streptocarpus?

Streptocarpus 'Cape Essence' - - Scented
Story # 16,

            Are we talking about the group that exists or the fantasy of what could be?

            Fortunately there are many colors, sizes and shapes to pick from.  What’s your favorite color?  There are velvety dark purples, pinks, reds and whites.  They used to say that blue was a hard color to find in plants.  I’m not sure why?  There are many very good blue Streptocarpus flowers.

            I like very strong, bright colors and distinctive markings.  In between shades are Ok but muddy colors are not.

            Some people love double flowers but I don’t.  A semi-double Streptocarpus flower looks like it never really gets open.

            Scented flowers may evolve.  Everybody instinctively wants to sniff a flower and is usually disappointed.  The strongest scented one that I have, ‘Cape Essence’, has a floral smell, but will never be confused with an Easter lily or Hyacinth.

            The perfect Streptocarpus is the one you like.  Or maybe the next one you find?

Monday, May 7, 2012

What would you do if you had the best Streptocar[us in the world?

Streptocarpus 'Harlequin Blue' by Dibley's Greenhouse, U. K.
Story # 15, Part II

            In 2010 the Royal Horticulture Society at the Chelsea Flower Show selected a Streptocarpus as Plant of the Year.  Dibley’s Greenhouse won this award for ‘Harlequin Blue’, a blue and yellow bicolor which is very striking.

            This is like winning the Super Bowl in the English plant world.

            Since Dibley’s do not ship into the United States, this great plant is mostly unavailable.  Fortunately, ‘Harlequin Blue’ has been bootlegged into the collections of hobbyist and has shown up on eBay occasionally.

            I have eight plants. From these stock plants, plants can be propagated to sell through selected retail outlets.  By simple supply and demand, they will be expensive.

            I’ve been told that a well grown plant of ‘Harlequin Blue’ looks like Easter-----yellow and egg shell blue.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Where are the professional plant breeders when you need one?

Streptocarpus 'Myfanwy' by Dibley's Greenhouse, U. K.

Story # 15, Part I

            I consider myself to be an amateur plant hybridizer.  Amateur----- because no one ever paid me to do it.  I am self-taught.  I have friends who are university trained and work as professional plant breeders.  They work on whatever plant category the company requires.  None in the U.S.  are working on Streptocarpus that I know of.  The last paid plant breeder was at Oglevee/Ecke Greenhouses but they dropped production, apparently because the numbers were too low.

            I came from the other direction.  I learned about Gesneriads first and the fun of hybridizing second.

            The leading Streptocarpus hybridizing specialist is at Dibley’s in the U. K.  They are a wholesale and retail mail-order greenhouse serving Europe.  Creating new varieties can be fed into their own production to help subsidize the cost of the research & development (2 – 5 years to evaluate a new variety)

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Sinningia 'Towering Inferno' sold by Plant Delights Nursery
Story # 14, Part II

            The subject of evaluation of new plants is always an issue.  Just because you have a new Sinningia doesn’t mean that it’s any good.

            Testing of a product depends on at what scale it will be sold and what is the necessity of it being without fault.  Plants come and go.  The good ones survive.

            So how do we know which are the good ones?  The market place is brutal.   People talk.

            Sinningia is such a minor crop that word-of-mouth whether it is good or bad doesn’t get much press.  But through hobby flower shows and of course, the internet, the bad plants or the good plants including Sinningias get sorted out.

            Sometimes ‘Just put it out there for the people to see’ is not a bad strategy.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Innovation is so easy in horticulture!

Streptocarpus shown by GreenFuse as experimental

Story # 14, Part I

            All you need is time, money and talent.

            Through plant breeding, hundreds of new varieties are introduced by commercial plant companies at the national plant trials and trade shows.  In the top three crops of Poinsettia, Chrysanthemum and Geranium, the completion is stiff.  Breakthroughs are less common because of previous intensive breeding programs.

            However, in minor crops, like Streptocarpus and Sinningias, the chance of developing a new, different and maybe better plant is easy.  Streptocarpus hybrids can be made in less than a year and Sinningias even faster.  Evaluations are done quickly.  If the new hybrid looks different, it can be released and let the public decide.

            The new or different always creates interest.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In your opinion...

The best-- Brugmansia 'Peach Parfait' grown by George and Joan Postlethwait
Story # 13,

            In the TV show, The Good Wife, the lawyers run up against a female judge who demands that every statement be given as: ‘In my opinion……’

            I don’t know if this is an inside joke for lawyers.  One attorney caught unaware, argues that all statements in court are presumed to be in ‘their opinion’.  The judge was not impressed with that and continues to require them to say ‘In my opinion’.

            Everything that I say in these stories will be: ‘In my opinion….’.  It makes writing a lot easier when you don’t have to defend or footnote everything-------It’s just an opinion!