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Graham Rice on Trials

Updates on trials and awards from the Royal Horticultural Society by Graham Rice

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Trials reveal plants to avoid (as well as AGM winners)

Posted by Graham Rice on 31 Jul 2009 at 12:11 PM

Kniphofia 'Flamenco' - as it was when first introduced. Image: ©Benary Samenzucht GmbHOne of the interesting things about the Wisley trials is that not only do they highlight plants which are deserving of an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) but they also highlight plants which are unusually poor  and so serve as a warning to gardeners not to grow them. The Kniphofia trial, one of the season's most colourful and interesting trials, is a case in point.

Most kniphofias are intended to be propagated by division so that the plants are guaranteed all to be the same. But the trial also includes four entries of kniphofias raised from seed - and these are just not worth growing. The varieties are ‘Border Ballet', ‘Flamenco', ‘New Hybrids' and ‘Royal Castle Hybrids'. ‘Border Ballet', raised by one of the great British plant breeders, the late Ralph Hurst, and ‘Flamenco', which received an award from the European flower trialling organisation Fleuroselect, used to be excellent - but not any more.

The trouble is that over the years the quality of the stock has deteriorated so much, now the heights and colours and the flower power of the individual plants are far too unpredictable. There are twelve plants of each variety in the trial and last time I checked many weren't flowering at all. ‘Flamenco' was just one that disappointed - the picture (above, from its raiser) shows how good it once was.

The lesson: grow named kniphofias propagated by division. This is the last year of the trial so there'll be some award winners to tell you about in the autumn.

Begonia 'Sensation Red' - withdrawn from the trial with mildew. Image: ©RHS TrialsAnother trial which revealed some plants to steer well clear of was the trial of begonias for pots and baskets - which I have to say is absolutely spectacular and well worth a visit. It's been sprayed against mildew but in spite of that precaution two varieties have already been removed owing to severe mildew infection. So if you're thinking of growing the new ‘Martha White' ("bad mildew, plants looking v poor" say the judges' notes) or the popular ‘Sensation Red' ("very bad mildew ") - beware: last week they were taken away and disposed of.

With this in mind, the judges decided to cease spraying the begonias and so make it easier to assess which really are susceptible to mildew and which are not. And growing almost a hundred varieties together is a severe test. We'll see how it goes...



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on 31 Jul 2009 at 03:55 PM

coolplantsguy said:

I would suggest the other valuable lesson is for the seed wholesalers to periodically check the strains they`re offering.

on 01 Aug 2009 at 12:31 AM

Graham Rice said:

Absolutely, coolplantsguy, you couldn;t be more right. And they do... but often it's a question keeping the quality high against the cost of doing so. And when the retail seed companies whose names we all know are often so keen to pay as little as possible for the seed they put into packets - well, that creates a problem. And sometimes standards suffer.

And it's important to say that all seed companies have these problems and all tread this line between quality and cost in their own way.

on 01 Aug 2009 at 01:47 AM

coolplantsguy said:

I just wish the industry would create a good seed stain (and keep it "good"), as the vegetative varieties seem to be rather scarce in North America, at least for commercial production.

on 01 Aug 2009 at 02:45 PM

Graham Rice said:

Sunny Border has nineteen varieties available wholesale.

on 01 Aug 2009 at 04:05 PM

coolplantsguy said:

Well, they are certainly a unique nursery! As for any of the wholesale propagators (whereas SB supplies to retailers), I am only aware of a small number that may offer one or two varieties.

on 01 Aug 2009 at 08:45 PM