This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Truly Named - Waterlilies (and other Plants)

Nymphaea alba var.rubra

How often have you bought a plant, awaited expectantly for its buds to open after a long and careful season of growth - and then discovered it is not the right variety? (or cultivar - for the future I will be using the word cultivar as that is technically the right word to use. In botanical lingo a variety is a variety of a species e.g. Nymphaea alba var. rubra the word rubra indicates that it is a red-flowered naturally occurring variation of the common European white waterlily Nymphaea alba.)

So back to the question of the right plant.I am sure that we have all experienced such frustration and annoyance. Unlike buying an item of clothing and then finding it is not the colour ordered and returning it immediately for exchange, the plant may be healthy and growing happily for several months before the truth is revealed. It is a shame to disturb it and take it back to the nursery. Will it do any good anyway? Not to be too disparaging about true nursery folks, with them it might be worthwhile. I have found that just telling the grower or retailer, and perhaps producing a photo of the plant in question, is often enough to solicit a refund or replacement. Real nursery folks are usually pretty good about it, its the multiple stores who lean on the growers to push down prices that usually do not care. Try complaining to a girl at the superstore on a busy Saturday and see where you get. Usually it is a two-fingered salute.

A couple of years ago I walked into the Tesco supermarket in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in the UK. For my friends in other parts of the world Tesco is one of the biggest supermarket groups in the UK. My brother, who regularly shopped there for his groceries, and whom I was staying with belonged to the shoppers’ club. A very smart booklet arrived through the door offering a Miniature Water Garden for £16.99. (US$29.50) It contained a large ceramic bowl, a bag of "pond soil" and three aquatic plants that were "guaranteed to flower". The plants that were to be grown in this ceramic bowl were a waterlily, Water Hyacinth and Arrowhead. The choice of waterlilies was of cultivars that require a minimum of 45cm (18ins) of water in which to prosper, and one cultivar being offered required a depth of 2m (6 ft) if it was to flourish, and had a spread of almost as much. The bowl provided may well have accommodated the Arrowhead, Sagittaria sagittifolia, and even allowed flowering, but the other plants would certainly not have had room to grow alongside. In any event, the Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes, is a plant from the humid tropics, requiring a day-time temperature of 28º-30ºC (82º-86ºF) consistently in order to flower well. The last time it flowered outdoors in any great numbers in the UK, was in the extraordinary heat-wave of 1976.

Miniature Water Garden Offer

Well one of my passions is waterlilies. I wrote a book back in 1983 which was published by Timber Press called Waterlilies. Although outdated now, for a while it became the standard gardeners’ text on waterlilies. I also was invited to write the introduction to the newly revised botanical monograph Waterlilies written by Henry Conard and first published by the Carnegie Institute in Washington in 1905. I had also been the International Registrar for Nymphaea and Nelumbo. So that, along with the recent publication of the Encyclopedia of Water Garden published by Interpet, which I had also written, I felt quite confident approaching the company about what I saw as a serious misdemeanour. I believed that my background gave me more than a little authority to discuss the matter. I politely suggested to Customer Services at the Huntingdon store that the selling of a bowl a few centimetres deep for a waterlily that had a potential for a spread of around 2m (6feet) and that required a similar depth of water might be inappropriate, especially as the company categorically stated that they were "guaranteed to flower".

When the subject was broached, a blank look crossed the girl’s face at the desk. I was then taken to an office around the back of the building. More blank faces and eventually a supervisor. "I am sorry" she said, "I am not sure I understand. You had better contact head office. It is nothing to do with us". Oh well silly me, I should have known that. So I wrote to head office. A prompt acknowledgement. A couple of weeks passed. I wrote again. Then again. No answer. I am still waiting. The moral of the story - do not buy from a superstore unless you know exactly what you are doing. Getting the wrong plant or a plant that is unfit for the purpose that it is sold is a not unlikely outcome - so be warned.

Sorry I have digressed a little, but the naming of plants and getting the right ones is very important. Here I return to waterlilies, one of the worst plant groups for misnaming. Water gardeners who belong to Florida-based Water Gardeners International in the US however, are doing something to address the problem with a programme that endorses the authenticity of cultivars through a grower and retailer certification and registration scheme. For details click here. This is a great initiative and one which other enthusiasts of other plant groups could well emulate. It will not solve the problem completely, but it is a step in the right direction. Oh, and by the way the GardenMessenger group has a specialist group for enthusiastic water gardeners which also endorses this initiative. It is called PondMessenger.
Happy Gardening



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