Beauty and a Beast: cymbidium and protea are tough to grow – Isle of Wight County Press


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THIS week tales of beauty and a beast of a beauty hit my inbox…

Arthur Howett, from Seaview, sent me a photograph of his beautiful display of cymbidium orchids (main image above).

Days later Maurice Preece, from Havenstreet, pinged me a photo of his King Protea, one of the most impressive national flowers of any country, but something of a beast to propagate from seed, I have found.

Maurice went the other route, buying a plant six or seven years ago from a Cornish nursery at a flower show at RHS Wisley — and it has just flowered — and magnificently too.

He asks: “Do you know if anyone, apart from Ventnor Botanic Garden, has flowered one indoors or outdoors on the Island?”

Sadly, Maurice, I’m not one of them, but I am sure that there will be gardeners on this mild Island of ours who will have had success with this unusual shrub.

Maurice Preece’s King Protea.

I was kindly gifted protea seed brought back from South Africa by colleague and good chum Sue Pert.

I did everything I could to get the super furry seeds to germinate, but spectacularly failed in my endeavour.

There are about 100 protea species and my failure was with one of the most impressive pastel pink varieties.

Propagation of this shrub is best done by taking tip cuttings or semi-hardwood cuttings in early summer from non-flowering plant material.

Seeds germinate best when days are warmer and nights cooler in autumn or spring. The contrast in temperature helps.

Compost needs to be extremely well-drained and germination can take weeks, or even months.

Protea are one of those species that in their native South Africa can lay dormant until a brush fire presents them with a growing opportunity.

I dutifully mixed up my own smoke solution to mimic that, soaking the seeds overnight in warm water mixed with wood ash — but still no joy…

I would be most interested to know of other readers’ experiences — especially if there are any proteas out there cultivated from seed and flourishing in Island gardens without having to be brought in when the temperature dips below freezing.

If you fancy a go, proteas generally grow best in sun and in nutrient-poor, sandy and acidic soil. Plants should occasionally be fed with a phosphate-free fertiliser — an organic fertiliser is generally best.

Turning to Arthur’s gorgeous cymbidium orchids, he reckons they must have liked the last of the warm sunshine last year.

Cymbidiums prefer high, bright light, but not direct sun and cooler conditions.

While needing the protective indoors this time of year, they love trips outdoors in spring, summer and autumn.

Look for a space beneath a tree which will filter sunlight throughout the day.

Whatever Arthur has done, he has obviously found the right blend for these slightly picky customers.

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