December Catch-Up

Like my garden, this blog always seems to go into a partial hibernation in the winter.  There are still things to do, though: I have plans to take up more gravel, there are greens under the cloche tunnel, cuttings and winter sown seeds to take care of.  I also, at some point, need to put up the new roofing felt for the shed as the bad winds we had just before Christmas tore half of it off.  As well as the outdoors work of the garden, there’s also the indoor things – planning what will go where, seed inventory and ordering, pot washing.

There’s still some green close to hand, though, as I’ve expanded my indoor jungle quite a bit this year!  I think, looking through my photo archives, that there were a few more of my violets ready to flower at this time of year.  However, most of those which did have been re-potted or restarted within the last few months or weeks and likely won’t be giving me a good display for a few more months or so.  One of my violets, ‘Rob’s Shadow Magic’ has decided to peek up and say hello, and my oddly white ‘Jolly Orchid’ is still giving its best but the rest are slumbering away.  There are a few tiny buds on some plants,  but I don’t expect to see much more from them until maybe late January or February.

On the other hand, the little seedling AVs are getting greener by the day – I’m up to 27 seedlings, now, with most of the older ones showing their typically gesneriad single-cotyledon expansion.  I can’t see any variegation for sure, yet, but I think that it will be less obvious on these ones as ‘Mum’ has a more buff variegation to my eye, with a little red, rather than a bright white like some other plants.  I’ve been peeking at them through my loupe, but it’ll be hard to tell until they mature a little.  Hopefully I’ll be reporting soon on some true leaf growth!

This year I also have a small bulb collection on the windowsill to brighten things up – though they’re also only sluggishly awakening.  One hyacinth is showing off spectacularly, with a lovely, gentle scent, and I’m expecting the ‘amaryllis’ (hippeastrum), given to me by a kind folian in promise of some AVs when the weather is warmer, to open any day now.  Lined up are, hopefully, the other hyacinth and a second amaryllis gifted to me by Andy’s mother.  I had to laugh when I opened it, as we’d just given her an almost identical bulb – great minds and all that… It’s a lovely double flowered cultivar called ‘Nymph’ and the bulb is massive.

I also took part in a European seed swap via Folia – I sent seed to Belgium and London and received some from Belgium, & Holland.  There was an interesting mix – quite a few plants I’ve never even tried before – chamomile, wallflowers, tulbaghia, and giant scabious, amongst others  as well as more varieties of amaranthus, to add to the ones I bought earlier in the year.

I also went a wee bit mad when I found out that Chiltern Seeds do gesneriad seed for sale and bought some Streptocarpus cooperi (an annual streptocarpus which produces one huge leaf and flower stalk) and some mixed Episcia hybrids.  I also grabbed some Drosera spathulata (sundew plant) to have a go at.  The sundew is currently in sphagnum in the propagator along with the african violet seedlings.  Once those are a bit bigger and ready to move on I’ll try the others!

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My First Steps in African Violet Hybridization

Meet the Parents…

 Mac’s Just Jeff (G. McDonald) Semidouble coral red pansy/variable darker fantasy. Mosaic variegated medium green, white and variable pink, plain, scalloped. Miniature .

Pixie Pink (L. Lyon) Single light pink/rose eye. Plain, ovate. Miniature trailer.

My first viable cross, the second one I attempted, was sown on 11/11/11.  African violet seed pods are said to require a maturation time of three to six months,with those ripening prior to four months having low or non-existent germination rates.   Word of mouth, though, I’ve heard that some people have had success with seed pods at around 2 months and given the very variable nature of violets it seems entirely possible that there would be outliers which produced their seed pods and seeds faster.  The plant will let you know when it has matured as the seed pod and stem will begin to shrivel and dry, so there are no real needs for guessing games – they’re ready when they’re ready.  For my particular pod this point was reached after exactly four months.  My failed attempt was removed from the plant at just over two months – it unfortunately rubbed against the marker which I’d put on it to show which plants had been crossed – and although it did have what appeared to be viable seed I could not get them to germinate.  I have a feeling that was a failing on my part, though, as I wasn’t prepared or ready for its arrival and had to cobble things together.

The first of the above pictures shows the seed pod not long after pollination – a few weeks or so, and the second shows them after around three months.  Not all AV seed pods are oblong like these – my first cross gave me a small ball-shaped seed pod (which ultimately came to an early demise!).

I dried this seed pod for ten days and it went from a mostly brown, still plump pod to completely dried and much harder.  I simply left mine in a cool spot with a piece of cotton wool over it to both reduce moisture and stop the tiny pod from falling out of the cup!  The seed pod, once ripe and dried,  can be cut open with a sharp knife or blade.  This is best done on top of a piece of white paper so that you can both see the seeds more easily and to act as a tool with which to sow the seeds.

The seeds themselves are tiny, slightly ovoid or round and a dark brown colour.  They are so small that I feared breathing on them in case I sent them flying across the table.  These seeds require a fine but loose medium in which to be sown, with fair humidity.  They need to be surface sown as they require light to germinate.

A tiny seedling, 8 days after sowing.  This little thing was around 1mm in length – from tiny radicle (seed root) to baby leaves.

 This photo shows four of the seedlings and is about twice life size to give you an idea of just how tiny these are.  They have fully formed little seed leaves on a miniature scale – much smaller than any of the plants I usually grow – even my alpine strawberries, which were minuscule, were bigger than these are.

By this morning’s count I’ve now got nine seedlings, with a few radicles peeking out here and there.  I have been keeping them in a propagator since sowing, but was worried the light was not sufficient in a windowsill for germination.  Luckily, the garden centre had a deal on one of the exact same type and my seedlings are now sitting under fluorescent lights and at a suitable temperature – I’m hoping this will help them grow more strongly and improve germination rates in our dull winters.

I’m still amazed at getting this far, if I’m honest.  Having managed to pollinate an african violet, bring it to maturity and get the seeds to germinate is a personal achievement.  I am hoping that I manage to get at least one to full size, but even if I don’t I know that, in the future I’ll be building on a stronger understanding of the process.  If all goes well, though, I’ll be able to update on good progress on here in the future!

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Update on the seedlings can be found here!

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