I’ve got Big Ones!

A decade ago I was thrilled to finally get to visit  Cally Gardens in Scotland, and even more excited to there obtain a plant they listed as Eucomis pole-evansii ‘Purpurea’.  Cally’s owner Michael Wickenden had brought it to the UK from Tasmania, and had just begun to offer.  At the time I was quite taken with colored foliage and size, and, as I was already growing Tony Avent’s fantastic E. comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ as well as  E. pole evansii (now E. pallidiflora , ssp. pole-evansii) I immediately recognized that the one thing better than being big or being purple was being big AND purple. Imagine my disappointment, then, when, two years later, the plant finally reached flowering size, and looked like this one flowering at Wisley:

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Not terribly purple, and certainly not pole-evansii, but clearly, to my mind,  a comosa hybrid, slightly taller, but with the same floppy-flowered habit. But why be limited by plants that are, when one can dream of plants there ought to be? With my need for big AND purple unrealized, there was only one thing to do:

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Eucomis ‘Rhode Island Red’

Arranging a tryst between ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and pole- evansii , I grew out the purplest seedlings for a couple of years until they flowered, and selected the one that had the darkest foliage and sturdiest flowers.  ‘Rhode Island Red’ is definitely an improvement, but still not quite what I had in my mind’s eye for big and purple, as it’s quite short in flower – 32″ or so.  My latest attempt to realize the dream was to cross ‘Rhode Island Red’ with pole-evansii.  I culled out all but a couple of dozen dusky seedlings last year, and grew them on in pots. I planted them out in the ground this spring to give them maximum opportunity for growth, but, of those that flowered, none were a noticeable improvement on ‘Rhode Island Red’. Cleaning up this fall, I realized that as I now had eight years into this project, and, as pole-evansii is too tender to risk winter in the ground here, I should perhaps not admit defeat, but dig up those that hadn’t yet flowered, take them in for safe keeping, and try again.  Imagine my delight, then, when, amongst the un-flowered, I found bulbs like these:

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A bit hard to see, but after just two years of growth,  the bulb on the right is already 17″ in circumference, and the one on the left has 24 offsets!  Perhaps this will be the year.  To paraphrase a favorite aphorism,  the limits of my plants are the limits of my garden.