It’s All Gone To P(l)ot


It’s been a shamefully long time since I last blogged but here I am again, having been re-enthused by the vagaries of life, much as I’d been drawn away from blogging by same.

I’m now studying Horticulture with Plantsmanship at RBGE and SRUC – a course which combines practical, hands on gardening and how-it-all-works theory.  It’s been a bit of a mad few months getting back into the rhythm of studying – evening time isn’t really your own – there’s essays or projects or idents to be taken care of and just keeping the normal things in life going seems hard enough without adding more writing on top even in the enjoyable form of blogging.  However, now that the first semester is past and Christmas / New Year is fading in the face of slowly increasing daylight, I seem to have begun to get used to everything and can contemplate activities other than eat, sleep, coursework, take care of cat, repeat ad nauseum.

Given both myself and the other half are now in Edinburgh we’re contemplating moving closer to town – travel costs are ridiculous (getting worse every year) and travelling for 2 1/2 hours a day is really eating any spare time we do have.  This means, however, that I’m not likely to have a garden this year – there’s not much point in building up all of the usual annual plants and veg when I might not be here in the summer and, if we move out, we’ll be restoring the garden to its former paved and gravelled ‘glory’ before we go.

On the upside, I do have a plot this year for my course, so I can throw my energies into it without worrying too much about my own garden being left bare.  I’ve started a blog for it over here to chronicle how that goes.

Double digging

However, not having a garden won’t mean nothing green at home and nothing for me to have here – my woes with bugs on my indoor plants have subsided (for now, at least) and I finally have flowers on my plants again.  I have broadened my collection, this time around, and now have a few other gesneriads alongside my violets – Sinningia, Streptocarpus, Columnea, Aeschynanthus and Petrocosmea. I’ve also been growing some  carnivorous plants – Drosera spathulata.  It’s apparently one of the easiest to grow from seed and I’ve been quite tickled to sit and feed them bits of crushed up mealworms to help them grow faster!

Sonata-kolchuga african violet

Also, it’s been a while, so obviously it’s time for a silly-cat-picture.   Come hell or high water, Sam must sit on my lap…



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African Violet Updates

Unfortunately, since my last african violet blog post I’ve had a mini-disaster – one of the reasons I’ve not much felt like posting recently.  At some point I got a plant in my collection which had mites and mites, for those who don’t know, are fairly devastating to AVs.  They stunt the grown of the crown and cause horrible leaf deformation, a huge slowing of growth and twisted flowers if they manage to bloom in the first place.  Unfortunately, the treatment for mites is almost as problematic (for me) as the mites themselves and between the stress of the mites and treatment, I ended up losing, probably, ~80-90% of my violets.

Luckily, having had so many of my little seedling hybrids to start with, I still have some of them!  I lost a growing seed pod, but it doesn’t feel quite so bad to lose ‘possible’ future plants as it would to lose those young ones which are getting close to maturity – or at least flowering size.  From around 140, I now have 30-odd plants.  Not all of them died to the problems – once I’d lost a few I found it was a little more inured to whittling them down.  Before this, I had no idea how I’d be able to even cull a single one, despite the fact I knew I just didn’t have the space for 140 violets!

So far, only one is starting to flower – many of them are showing at least some trailing habit which means they’re concentrating on producing more crowns before they’ll put up flowers.  I’m happy to wait this out as I’d rather have a better idea of how they grow than remove all of the suckers and see the flowers earlier.  It’s decent trailing plants which I want – good form and shape, before trying to get pretty colours.  This means, of course, that the only one which is flowering is one of the very few non-trailer type plants.

Even it’s being especially slow – teasing me with a slow, daily, petal-by-petal form of opening.  The first bud is a lot paler than the rest, so even when it does get a move on it’s not likely going to be a good representation of the plant – I’m going to have to wait for the second one to slowly tease its way open over the next few days!

I can’t believe I have my first flowering hybrid, though – I didn’t really imagine I’d get this far when I first pollinated the parent plant nearly a whole year ago.  The fact that they’re this far along, flowering after 6-7 months, feels amazing given that they had such a rough start.

 Species & Restocking

Since the mitepocalypse, as I’ve come to refer to it, I’ve restocked a bit.  Wonderfully kind Angelika Dibley sent me some plants when I was probably at my lowest regarding my violets – I wasn’t sure if I could summon the energy to continue with them.  Her kindness cheered me up enough to give me the kick in the bum I needed to get cracking and, as well as restocking my plants, I’ve gained some new shelves for them to live on!

To restock, I also grabbed some plants at Gardening Scotland from Dibleys stall – some I’d had before and lost, others which were new.  They’ve always gone out of their way to be helpful and this show I walked away with some lovely fully grown AVs alongside some other gesneriad plugs.

I also grabbed some leaves from Galina Domnina.   Although the site, at first glance, looks only to be in German and Russian, there’s also English in there too.  The shopping cart won’t work if you use google translate, so if you’re curious to read all of the russian etc. then make sure you cancel it before buying.  The leaves I bought from her were top quality and I’m looking forward to them eventually spawning young-uns.

Additionally, I was given a species plant from a member of the AVSE  (African Violet Society of Europe), Gabi.  We’re keen on keeping the species going in collections all over the AV world  and so she kindly sent me a plant of S. ionantha ssp. grotei (formerly S. difficilis).

One downside to the mitepocalypse and subsequent restocking, though, is that all new material is being strictly quarantined.  Once was enough!  This means that most of my violets are under plastic – not the prettiest look.  However, eventually they’ll all be back in action and I’m looking forward to having shelves full of bloom again.

It also hasn’t stopped me starting on the next generation (albeit self-pollinated).

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African Violet Seedlings Update

First post on my hybrids can be found here.

It’s now fifteen weeks, around four months, since my AV hybrid seed was sown.  The picture below shows the first seedling which germinated.  If you look at the leaves at 2/8 o’clock you’ll see they have a distinct serrated edge as compared to the older leaves which are mostly smooth edged.  It’s nice to see this trait in some of the seedlings as I prefer serrated edges to plain by far.  About 1/2 of them show some red colouring on the back of the leaf.  I expect that to go up as they only appear to gain red pigmentation at a certain size / leaf maturity which not all have arrived at yet.


The plantlets are getting bigger nearly every day – as soon as they are separated from the nursery bed into their own cell they seem to take a growth spurt.   Three weeks takes a plant from this size:

to this size:

I was surprised at the rate of growth given how slow ‘leaf babies’ can come on.  As you can see, there’s a wide range in sizes even amongst similarly aged seedlings.  All of the ones in the bottom row were the same size when planted but where the leftmost have filled out their cells, the other three aren’t even close.  It’ll be interesting to see if some are just ‘weaker’ or if they are genuinely going to be smaller plants – their smaller leaf size gives me some hope for the latter.

I was interested in how many would germinate and how long it would take when I first began.  It’d been mentioned that it was worth keeping a tray of seeds for up to or over three months due to the fact AVs have a wide germination window.  Thus, I logged how many plants had germinated per day since the first one.  It’s not too onerous as it allows me to have an excuse to peek at them ;)  At the weekend I made a table of my results so far, condensing the days down to weeks.  It was definitely interesting – I’d expected a bell curve of germination given the very stable germination conditions but it’s a wee bit more complex:


Although the first seedling germinated within two weeks, and there was a good amount of germination for the first month or so, the peak in germination (so far) was after 9/10 weeks!  This really does make keeping your seed trays around longer a must-do if it’s a general trend (can’t rule out that it’s something to do with my growing conditions on this alone).

Even now, at four months, I’m still having a seed germinate most days…

Salad, anyone?

An update on my seedlings can be found here.

  1. n.b. I have problems with numbers, so it’s not unlikely that I’ve made a silly mistake in plotting the graph… If you notice anything let me know! =)
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Watering Miniature African Violets

I’ve long suspected that something in my ‘regime’ is a little off for my smaller AVs.  Recently, after some chatting back and forth with various people,  I’ve come to suspect I wasn’t watering them enough – I was too used to my big plants, where I could go a week or even two without watering them and still expect to get good shows.  I’d also been a little worried about over-watering some of my plants as african violets are very susceptible to root rot in wet conditions.

Fortunately, I happened to have 5 plantlets of the same cultivar on hand which were all about the same age and size.  I decided to experiment to see which would grow better under different watering regimes – testing both soil density and watering. I promise the little green one is the same plant – it had mosaic leaves just before this picture was taken but I stripped them all down to ~4 mature leaves each for a more even comparison – I’m not sure if it has sported or just decided to be all green for a little while.

Plants 1 & 2 have 40:60 perlite to compost.
Plants 3 & 4  have 50:50 perlite to compost.

Plants 1 & 3 would be watered every four days (a little lower frequency than suggested as it’s still chilly here so they’re not drying out fast).
Plants 2 & 4 would be watered when I ‘felt’ they were getting dry (my ‘usual’ regime, probably about once every 8 days).

This would test whether a more or less retentive soil would do well under either condition and whether a plant watered more regularly would grow better.  I suspect the soil with less perlite will do better under the lower water conditions and the higher perlite might do better under the higher water volume – though if neither rot then it may well be the one with more compost comes out on top as both are still fairly well drained substrates.

Plant 5 is in a 50:50 mix with a wick. (I didn’t have a sixth plant to try out 40:60 on it)

I’ve had a member of one african violet community tell me that he found that his hand watered plants do better than wick watered ones so I’ll be interested to see if that ends up being true for me.

So far, they are all doing reasonably well with plant 3 (50:50, watered frequently) and plant 4 (50:50, watered less frequently) looking to have grown the most in relation to when they started but it’s only three weeks in, so far, so anything could yet happen.

Hopefully in a couple of months I’ll be able to update on these little plants and see who’s done best in the long term – especially as we’ll be moving into warmer weather and longer days – so their growth won’t be slowed by being on a slightly chilly window!

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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!


Update on the seedlings can be found here!

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