May 27, 2010

A New Generation of Nemesia and Diascia are worth trying

Diascia varieties today are better than before.
Recently, two rarely grown plants have been getting a lot of attention for use in stylish containers and gardens on other gardening blogs, but most of what I could find written about them is exactly the same content, and I traced it all back to a press release from Proven Winners (which is fine, but I wanted more, and you deserve more), so, a quick post about the re-invention of two old annuals, Nemesia and Diascia.

Yes.  These two look alike to many, they are two distinctly different genuses, but are related to the common Snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae), and even a child. You might be surprised that Diascia and Nemesia are not new to man gardeners, especially experienced ones, but are rarely seen only due to the fact that they are difficult to grow. At least the older varieties were. These two native South African annuals are plants that our mothers may never have grown (unless they were botanists or extremely intense gardeners), but the odds are that your great grand mothers did grow them. These are true old-fashioned annuals, and like many classic vintage flowers, like sweet peas, Nemesia and Diascia are currently experiencing a come back, but with a new twist. They’ve been Proven Winner-ized, which is a good thing, I think.

Nemesia and Diascia had their hey day, in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, when the flowers were common in country gardens but the commercial popularity of the Marigold and Petunia moved the two back on the list, so far, that they became rather unfashionable.  Similar to Pansies, these two plants are known as early spring short-day photoperiod plants, those tender plants, which require exact and proper day length and temperatures for germination and bloom, far too much trouble for modern gardeners, and required some horticultural skill of any nurseryman interested in cultivating them.

Some colors with Nemesia, especially the new 'Sundrop' strains, are simply unavailable in any other annuals.It's easy to see why they are classified in the Snapdragon family.

Diascia varieties today that are sold as bedding and container annuals through brand names like Proven Winners® are worth trying vs. older seed-grown strains, especially if you live in the north eastern US.

For nearly a century, Nemesia and remained obscure, as annuals go, only grown winter blooming annuals by estate greenhouses in England, or sold at more knowledgeable greenhouses for winter color in more Mediterranean climates like California and England. Their color flowers, which come in literally a rainbow of colors, enhanced stonewalls, rock gardens and containers on large British estates and public gardens in San Francisco, but rarely graced a Boston garden.
I have tried a number of times to grow Nemesia from seed, especially for winter color in the greenhouse, but still had little luck, so I focused on easier grown unusual annuals like Schizanthus. But if you look beyond the press releases for newer varieties of Nemesia and Diascia, you learn why today’s cultivars sold as plants are so different – today’s Proven Winners versions are propagated vegetativley) if not micro-propagated from cells, my point is, they are selections, which are propagated all from the same mother plant, perhaps a complex hybrid of many species, (or not – that’s why they are patented), and seed saved from such plants would most likely revert back to a poor performing selection. Vegetativley propagated plants are true to their parent, they are all clones, and will perform exactly as sold. Precisely what commercial growers want, and, what home growers want.
Seed for many Nemesia and Diascia are still sold, but perhaps not worth growing unless you really want a certain species or older strain. These new vegetative varieties are spectacularly different, and are indeed, proven winners. So go for it, try some in your container plantings and see what happens, and let me know.

I hope that we see more breakthroughs from plant breeding ventures (take that image from Food Inc out of your head, don’t go there!) – Repeat – Luther Burbank, Luther Burbank… today’s hybrid flowers are bred to meet market and consumer desires, as well as designer visions. Plants like many things today, are also driven by trends, but these two genus also are feeding a new trend, that of design and color, and I am OK with that.

The newest Nemesia and Diascia varieties are coming from creative plant breeding programs in England and Germany, and they are mostly supported and distributed by large corporations like Proven Winners. These partnerships are resulting in strains and propagated forms that never existed before, and it is exciting to see the results. We are already seeing improvements in other genus, like Calibrachoa.

The new generation of Nemesia are quite different visually from the older seed-grown species and crosses, mostly because the new forms are genetically as mixed up as a hot-house tomato in January, ( or perhaps as over-bred as a Tyson Chicken Nugget? OK….stop.). New Nemesia are actually complex hybrids, which are often sold with varying Latin names. You may find these new ‘Pan American’ ‘Sundrop’ strains sold through Proven Winners or other distributors as Nemesia foetans, N. pallida, N. fruticans, N. caerulea or N. capensis, perhaps a better name might have been ‘Nemisia Soup’ rather than Nemesia ‘Sundrops’ (or Newmesia).

Regardless, they all are lovely and I urge you to try some, since most likely you have not.
These new varieties are all much more colorful, they are easier to grow, and they will over-perform in containers and hanging baskets as long as you never let them dry out, and keep them cool. Remember, the seed grown cultivars that are still available in many retail seed catalogs are nice, especially for cool greenhouses and for winter growing in frost-free areas, but these vegetative cultivars are far superior, and are worth the extra price. I can only imagine what plant breeders are working on with the future for these two genuses. 


  1. we picked up some of these weeks ago in our local garden center and they are still going strong in containers. I had no idea they were a relatively new reintroduction but I'm delighted at the background you've provided.

  2. in mediterranean climate of Sardinia these PW selections,very beatifull in spring, suffer during the summer for mites.

  3. margotsgarden5:23 PM

    Great Article! I bought some 'sundrop' nemesia 5 years ago and fell in love. I've grown them every year, buying new plants each year. The old fashion romantic history of them was lovely to learn. We have an old Character house and I designed and planted a miniature boxed formal rose/perennial/herb garden this winter with a styrex japonica in the centre with 2 flats of nemesia in every colour I could find under the little tree. Everyone who passes by comments about how lovely it is! Such joy!

  4. Anonymous6:15 PM

    to inform future readers of this article:
    Nemesia is all the way easy to grow, every year i raise it up and until may it's charming, but due to heat intolerance it readily scorches/witls within the first hot days of summer... There is a huge need for an improvement, i think the breeders raise up new varieties in british climates, that's the reason they fail with heat.
    I recall years back from now i had one wonderfully scented (i named it springy scent) nemesia thriving throughout winter outside next to a huge sphere-trimmed dimorphoteca, all covered with blooms, i couldn't be in wintertime, they would have tricked anyone into believing it was june.

  5. Anonymous12:21 AM

    I bought some nemesia last summer and i see now that they were diascia. I have never have growen them before, they are one of my favorites.


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