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The New

The New

I was recently asked "How do you make the choices of what seeds to grow for new plants?"

My response: I need something that is easy to grow and attractive in the garden. Further, on a personal level, I want to reach beyond the ordinary and grow those bits of nature that are beautiful, yet not generally found in our gardens. One needs time and experience to make the selections for garden-growing subjects. Criteria for selection may shift over the time, in the past 20 years I have sought plants that are more heat and drought tolerant, not just because of rock garden conditions, but also for the increased interest in trough gardening, that has drawn more people to appreciate the qualities of alpine plants. Gardeners here in North America have finally come to accept the reality of a mostly continental-type climate and to build on its advantages, which are many. It is the gardener who is often ahead of the growers and one must look to fill those gaps in the list of plants available. Much of our early stock came from England, Eunomia oppositifolia being an example. The form from Ingwersen's was OK, if somewhat shy growing and loose in habit. In the late 1980's the Czechs were offering collections from Turkish mountains and soon we had a better type from Ala Dag, 3600 meters, that grew densely compact with a profusion of those sweetly-scented flowers that are such an early treat for both bees and humans. Most of our non-North American seed comes from Czech collectors.

Logistically speaking, I have settled on ~ 300 pots of new seed each year, from which ~ 240 yield seedlings within 6 weeks. It's a lot to handle and keep track of. The seed selections are heavily dependent on what is offered, and leads to "fads" of sort. One year it was high-level collections of Cytisus and Genista, which produced hairy and dwarfed selections of Genista. spp. lydia, Genista carinalis, and now a hardy form of Genista delphinensis.

Although Turkey has been a great source of mid-latitude, hardy plants, China will prove to be the most extensive. In terms of speciation, East Asia has the most as much of its land mass was not glaciated in the last Ice Age. The number of endemics in the mountains is unknown and slow to ascertain due to the difficulties of travel there _ but it must be huge. Of course, the Czechs are there and leading the way. Their recent expeditions to Yunnan and Sichuan have brought so many new collections of Androsace, Primula, Gentiana and more. The early impressions are that the collections as a whole are more growable than counterparts from the Himalaya where conditions are wetter and not so harsh. I have observed that the Androsace spp. in particular are as trouble-free as the Turkish species; even the ultra-hairy types are remarkably adaptable. So too, the Gentiana spp.: Gentiana farreri, Gentiana sinoornata, and Gentiana futtereri are very much worth trial. They appear to be lime tolerant, which has been a big problem for growers. They may also be more heat tolerant.

Better cultural methods have broadened the range of plants we can grow. I would have to say that use of tufa has provided the biggest step forward. Tufa is a better medium for saxatile plants that struggle in ordinary garden soils. There is more time for observation and study of particular needs and the opportunity to increase the number of plants through cuttings- almost always giving a more tractable specimen. It is the success of these efforts that take us back to the seed collectors, who really are the key people in the quest for the new.

Anemone obtusiloba
This plant is a widely distributed species from the Himalaya to West China, growing in wet meadows and open woodland. The trilobed basal leaves are on short stalks radiating horizontally. The petals (sepals in reality) are a bright blue/purple. Flowering in spring can be for well over a month and in fact, can continue right on through the summer if sufficient water is provided. A very undemanding plant, it wants only rich garden soil with plenty of moisture and a bit of shade in the mid-day.

Incarvillea aff. compacta
The genus is centered in West China, but ranges as far as Afghanistan. This Jurasek collection has been put close to Incarvillea compacta, but is a dwarf form rivaling Incarvillea younghusbandii. The location in Gonghe, Qinghai was at an elevation over 4000 m. on bare, rocky soils. Pinnate leaves hug the ground and rather large trumpets of red/purple erupt from the center. Much easier to grow than Incarvillea younghusbandii, the 2 year tubers we have done well. I would expect that it is small enough and tough enough to grow in a trough.

Teucrium polium ssp. capitatum
Pavelka collected this in N.E. Spain at 1400 meters, in very dry, stony terrain - an evergreen shrublet whose stalks of silvery green leaves stand out in brazen fashion, winter or summer. The more severe the weather is, the greater the contrast. White flowers with a touch of pink, provide the frosting for this superb plant. What's the catch? There is none, just another case of being overlooked.

Seed sources and other Websites

The Biodiversity of the Hengduan Mountains

Pavelka Alpine Seed

Vladislav Piatek

(these will e-mail you a list):

Jurasek Seed

Holubec Seed


(February 2009)

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