}

January 1, 2012

Exhibition Flowers - Why not grow the best?

JUDGES FROM THE NATIONAL SWEET PEA SOCIETY EVALUATING SWEET PEAS IN ENGLAND AS PART OF THE RHS WISLEY TRIALS. LEARNING WHAT VARIETIES OF FLOWERS TO GROW AND GETTING THEM DIRECTLY FROM SPECIFIC PLANT SOCIETIES OFTEN IS THE BEST WAY TO OBTAIN THE NEWEST CULTIVARS.

 photo by  the talented photographer IanJmase ©All Rights Reserved/Flickr

Have you ever wondered why annuals that you buy in the spring in those plastic 6 pacs look so perfect? Why those pansies you buy are covered in flowers,  so green and lush with nice, dense growth?  Growers know that only annuals with flowers on them will sell, that short, dense and bush looking geraniums sell first. Most spring bedding plants are drenched in growth hormones, root stimulator's and are varieties selected primarily for their performance on the sales bench ( i.e. in flower when you buy them) and not for how they perform in your garden. We all deserve more, right?





On this New Year's Day, as our mail boxes are stuffed with glossy seed catalogs, I am going to share my thoughts on some alternative sources for some of the most common bedding plants, annuals and the like. My strategy is a simple one - if I want awesome pelargoniums and geraniums,  incredible pansies and other extraordinary annuals,  go to the real experts - the plant societies.

It makes sense, a pansy enthusiast who is raising  exhibition pansies, would never buy them at their local market, they know the varieties and methods that work, so why not learn from the pros. Here are a few secret sources for sourcing and growing the most perfect Pansies, Sweet Peas, and Geraniums from scratch.

Plant societies are concerned not with how a plant looks at Home Depot, rather they are focused on  conservation of old stocks of exhibition varieties, on how to cultivate a plant to perfection without chemical enhancement/ Members exhibit plants in regional and national exhibitions, they trade cultivation secrets freely and they have the connections- where to find the best varieties, and their publications and web sites often have links to the finest nurseries and sources for both seeds and plants that will never show up at your local garden center.

If you find yourself bored watching the Tournament of Roses Parade this year, I encourage you to check out some of these still active, yet needy societies for plants that were once in-vogue. Here are three I am currently looking at:

The National Sweet Pea Society

The National Pansy and Viola Society

The National Pelargonium and Geranium Society


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EXHIBITION PANSIES - IN 1833, THERE WERE MORE THAN 400 NAMED VARIETIES

Today I was thinking about pansies. I was aware the in the 19th and early 20th century, there were fancy exhibition pansies and violas, but perusing the seed catalogs from the major retail seed suppliers, I am finding little information, let alone any selections that excite me. Which brings be to the NationalViola & Pansy Society (NVPS), and English group dedicated to the culture of exhibition pansies, that is, if you can find them. Sadly, many plant society sites are poorly designed or no longer maintained, obviously due to the lack of interest from a new, younger generation who might be more digitally savvy. Still, these sites provide some basic information, I like to use them as I would a library or a book.
A CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW DISPLAY OF PANSIES GROWN BY A B LONGDEN ( from Flickr member Dryasdingo)
 
I found a chocolate - magenta variety called 'Jackanapes', introduced by Gertrude Jekyll, and said to have been named after her pet monkey, whose cheeky face she thought it resembled.  It is still available, and one of the vintage varieties I am growing this year ( look at the NVPS site to see hundreds more to try).

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EXHIBITION GERANIUMS
WINNING EXHIBITION PELARGONIUM'S FROM PRIZE-PELARGONIUMS.com, CHECK OUT THEIR STEP-BY-STEP TRAINING METHODS, THEY ARE AMAZING -  ORDER STOCK IN THE US FROM GERANIACEAE.COM


PELARGONIUMS - GERANIUMS


The Pelargonium and Geranium Society is still a rather active group ( I know this because I get many links to my posts from members), and a current favorite site for me to explore, especially the member links with directions on how to grow exhibition quality Pelargoniums ( geraniums). I've learned that with lots of pinching, and proper trimming, that a bushy plant with an explosion of bloom could be had by June. Florist geraniums and garden center forms, are rarely this nice. Check out this growers site. Ken Able, for excellent step-by-step methods on training pelargoniums for exhibition. I am so captivated with the images, just be certain to buy the proper varieties, not the over-hybridized forms often sold in the spring.


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EXHIBITION SWEET PEAS HAVE STEMS 18 INCHES LONG, WHICH ONLY COME FROM CAREFULLY GROW SPENCER VARIETIES WHICH MUST BE GROWN FROM SEED IMPORTED FROM ENGLAND, STARTED EARLY, PINCHED BACK TO CREATE A STRONGER GROWING SIDE STEM, AND TIED TO A SINGLE CANE. COOL WEATHER IS A MUST, AND LOTS OF WATER. STILL, NOTHING COMPARES WITH THIS RARELY GROWN ANNUAL.

THE RHS WISLEY SWEET PEA TRIAL FIELD - NOTICE HOW THE SWEET PEAS ARE GROWN ON CORDONS - BAMBOO POLES, EACH WITH A SINGLE VINE ATTACHED TO IT. WANT LONG FLOWER STEMS? THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT. IRRIGATION, PINCH OUT YOUR SEEDLING TO GET A STRONGER STEM, AND FERTILIZE WELL. 
IMAGES OF THE WISLEY SWEET PEA TRIALS FROM LATHYRUS.COM


SWEET PEAS FOR EXHIBITION AND FOR CUTTING

AT Lathyrus.com. and Owl's Acres Sweet Peas, Exhibition Sweet Pea seed is available world-wide ( it's where I get mine), and the National Sweet Pea Society in England can connect you to many other members and sources over-seas for the finest seed, and step-by-step cultivation guides and techniques for growing the most amazing cut flower sweet peas. Look, Burpee and other commercial US sources just won't have the fine exhibition Spencer varieties that the real experts grow- the proper varieties are essential.

If you want long, long stems, intense fragrance, and large sweet pea flowers, you simply must order your seed from the British growers. I do every year, and in side-by-side comparisons, the difference is substantial, and once you grow them yourself, you will see the difference. After growing them myself, I first notice that the leaves alone are almost three times the size of US grown cultivars, and well, the colors are luscious! Order seed now for many will sell out, and you will need seed soon, even here in New England, since you will need to start seedlings in mid February to pinch back properly to grow on cordons. Also, I strongly advise that you join the Sweet Peas Society for their free handbooks and source lists.

4 comments :

  1. Great post! I love shopping locally, but I am frustrated every year with the very, very limited selection of annuals available based on plants that have historically been popular, quick sellers (and thereby look cliched growing in every flowerbed in every neighborhood.) I will check out the plant societies as you have suggested.

    By the way, there may not be hoards of younger-ish, tech-y people interested in plants (beyond what's cool on the store shelf) but there are a few of us, & we enthusiastically share our plant-passion with anyone who will listen. :)

    Happiest New Year to you, & I hope it's just perfect for all your gardening adventures!

    Keri

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  2. nice post, i like it...
    this is flower so beatiful

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  3. I love to garden too. But I only do a summer garden. I envy those people who build a winter garden. But for some reason I am not motivated in the winter. I love your blog, jsut found it. I will be back so I can keep up with your blog.!

    I hope you check out my blog at www.thecribhub.com where you can find luxurious and affordable baby cribs, diaper bags, and crib bedding sets. We have a crib sale on classic cribs, mini cribs, & convertible cribs.

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  4. I think you said once before that you haven't been to Wisley yet? You must go. The sweet pea and Delphinium trials I saw were unreal. It was actually my favorite part of Wisley.

    Thanks for that link to Owl's Acre Sweet Peas. I'm living in the perfect sweet pea climate so they are definitely something I want to grow though I may be a bit late starting them for this year. I do have some seeds from Beth Chatto's garden when I visited last May of the variety named after her. I will try to sow them this week.

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