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:


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:


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:



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.

Only The Beginning

Cotyledons emerging from Cardiandra formosana seed



Cardiandra alternifolia HC970549

My first post realizes two New Years ambitions: One of this year’s, to finally start a blog while I have time in the slower winter months;  And one of last year’s, to attempt some crosses within the genus Cardiandra, herbaceous Hydrangeaceae members from China and Japan that I’m quite taken with.  I grow a few forms of three different species, alternifolia, amamioshimensis, and formosana, with alternifolia being the best garden “do-er” of the three here in RI.  This past autumn in England, Fortuna’s wheel had my hands on C. moellendorfii, a species I’ve long sought as it is supposed to be the best garden plant of all, but it’s incredibly scarce in cultivation, with no plants even in the US and available at very few nurseries abroad. I did manage to bring it back into the US, alas as a favor for a friend, but I hope to have one of my own soon!


Cardiandra formosana Large Flower Form

A few years ago (seven now, to be precise) I came across an interesting piece in The Plantsman about Crug Farm’s cross between alternifolia and formosana, xagricola, which incorporated the larger, serrated sepals of the latter into the former, and immediately felt hunger pangs.  Six years later, Crug still hadn’t released any of its clones, and I realized I was no nearer acquiring one, and that the only way I’d probably get my hands on one was to take pollen to brush, as it were, and repeat the cross here.  As I’d grown out alternifolia from seed before it wasn’t too great a leap. I’d also found a spontaneous seedling, which I suspect was a hybrid.  It lived long enough to flower, but, unfortunately,  my inattention caused it to croak last winter.

However, when it came time and the plants were flowering this past year,  I decided not to replicate, but instead to imitate, and so used formosana rather than alternifolia as the seed parent.  I also attempted some crosses with  amamioshimensis, as I’d never noticed any seed set on it before, and it’s an enigmatic plant, supposedly from the Ryuku Islands in Japan, yet known only in cultivation. 


Cardiandra hybrid?

I’m still waiting for ovaries on amamioshimensis to ripen to see whether there has been any seed produced.  In the meantime, seed from Cardiandra formosana has begun to germinate.  As with this blog, they may flourish or fail, with a great deal depending on luck, and my attention.  Time will tell.  It’s only the beginning.