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Cornucopia - Have Fun and Hybridise

Have fun and hybridise
Brita Carson

You have taken all the cuttings of all the plants that you can, and dutifully carted them to all the plant sales to sell for HPS etc. etc. With an easy conscience, you can assume that all the world has got the same as you have in your garden and it’s over to them to grow them successfully. What you now want to grow is something individual that no-one else has and something you have created yourself.

Time for your reward; have fun and hybridise. It is such an amazing thrill to watch the first flowers open on a plant that you have pollinated yourself. I have to admit to only trying to cross flowers that are flowering at the same time which is restricting but this summer I may try to keep pollen in the freezer to be a little more selective and make a cross that I think will produce something special. Of course all our tadpoles are special but we need to look for that something a bit extra special.

Some flowers are easier than others to find the stigma and stamens and it may take a bit of practice to get the hang of it. Some people use tweezers to remove the anthers by the filament but I’m a bit heavy handed, grip it too tightly and end up chopping it in half. I prefer to use a cotton bud and collect pollen on the end to transfer to the stigmas. It is essential to catch the blooms opening before the bees get there and you need a nice calm day so that the flower head isn’t swaying about in the breeze. It’s also better to have the sun shining to slightly heat up the pollen. It’s also necessary to remove all the stamens on the flower being pollinated so that the bees can’t have a go too. All these factors add up to getting a good result.

Once you’ve got the bug keep hybridising trying more and more flowers, and as many different genera as you can, so that there is plenty pending in the waiting years ahead. It can be a long time from pollination to seeing your brand new protégé, the shortest time, with luck, can be two years but most likely it will be five or six. Keep records and dates. I crossed the common tree peony, Paeonia lutea, with the peony that was growing in the garden in Dollar and could be P. delavayi (but it could be something else) to produce a very vigorous tree peony which was too tall to try to bring with us but I collected a lot of bee set seed from it last year. It will be interesting to see the next generation. Not spectacular but it pleases me.

Hellebores are a good subject to have a try at hybridising. We are all looking for outward facing blooms in all sorts of shades and those who went to see how Beryl does it, will remember her enthusiasm and the wonderful results she has achieved over the years through hard work and dedication. Iain, Beryl’s husband, was more interested in producing perfect gentians than new colour forms and perfect they were too. A little dedication is what we need.

Irises are my particular addiction and they are frustratingly difficult to pollinate. I have watched the bees and they tramp about rough shod all over the petals to get at the nectar. In an ideal world I would have specimen plants sitting pretty in their pots in the glasshouse where I could calmly remove the lower petals and get the pollen onto the stigma without hassle but instead I am usually trying to catch and hold down the flower head in a gale and watch what both hands are doing at the same time.

Don’t forget to add a label with all the information needed or just a reference number and carefully record all the pod and pollen parent information. It could be annoying if you haven’t done this some years later when you produce a wonderful plant. It may be worth using plants that you already grow and that you know set seed regularly. And it could be a great excuse for buying another one to use as the other parent.

Do a little research first of all to check that the two plants will be compatible with similar chromosome counts. Some cultivars are sterile and some will not be stable enough to produce any of the characteristics you want but hey, they are all worth a try. There are many hurdles to jump; the first is just getting pods with some seeds in them; then there is the germination; the growing on to maturity while competing with weather, disease, vermin and slugs. And this is fun.

First published in the Scottish & Northern Borders Group Newsletter, Spring 2008
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 24
© Copyright for this article: Brita Carson

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2009. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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