Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rainbow Streptocarpus

The musical, 'Finian's Rainbow', includes the lyric 'When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near!' All very fickle but actually I'm rather like that myself - with plants of course! People sometimes ask me what my favourite plant is and there's no easy answer, because it can change with the seasons, or even from day-to-day if I see something new and exciting. I can easily fall head over heels in love with a new plant, particularly if it's bright and colourful and just catches my eye. At the moment, I'm having a passionate little fling with Streptocarpus, commonly known as Cape primroses. They aren't related to our native primroses, once again illustrating how confusing common names can be. Streptocarpus come from Africa and Madagascar and are members of Gesneriaceae which also includes Gloxinia, Achimenes and Saintpaulia.  Amongst the various wild ones there are some curious species that only ever have one leaf - unusual but not particularly garden worthy!

A unifoliate Streptocarpus

One of our local garden centres regularly has a display of modern Streptocarpus from Dibleys who are the specialist growers and breeders in the United Kingdom and regularly introduce new cultivars. Some of their newer hybrids are really quite spectacular and I could have purchased half the display if my good friend Gordon hadn't curbed my enthusiasm and reckless spending! In fact the recent purchase, intended for my new greenhouse, was also justified as a potential subject for painting. You can see in the picture beneath how I captured it in paint. Was it worth the effort?

'Harlequin Purple'

My watercolour of the above with a bit of licence!

At the Centenary Chelsea Flower show next week, there will be a display of ten plants, chosen from many hundreds that have been launched at Chelsea, since 1913. These particular ten plants have been selected, one for each decade of the show and for the period 2003-2012, the chosen plant is Streptocarpus 'Harlequin Blue' which was plant of the year at Chelsea in 2010. (You can see the full list of ten and cast your vote for plant of the century  here) Dibleys will also have their own stand packed no doubt with Streps and foliage Begonia, another of their specialties.

'Harlequin Blue' - Dibley's 2010 introduction
'Harlequin Lace'


For those of you that had never grown them, Streptocarpus are relatively easy  to grow and will flower continuously throughout the summer. They do not like full sun, coming originally from shady hillside crevasses in their native habitats. Overwinter, they like a temperature of around 10C (50F) to keep them healthy. They are propagated by cutting up the fleshy leaves and inserting sections as leaf cuttings.

Streptocarpus leaf cutting
 Good job Chelsea doesn't sell plants or I'd be returning with a case full of new Streps!

1 comment:

  1. We always look forward to Dibleys display of Streptocarpus (and begonias) whenever we attend RHS shows, you're always guaranteed a visual delight!