In The Greenhouse with Lila Das Gupta
I can’t remember the wit who said it: “you know you’re becoming middle aged when you contemplate elasticated waistbands…”
Personally, I’ve always felt that an interest in indoor flowering plants was the beginning of the end. My mother in law used to have a whole conservatory full of streptocarpus, and lovely though they were, I was never tempted to keep any myself….
Then one day, not so long ago, I heard the siren’s call. It came from the Dibley’s stand at the Chelsea Flower Show. There they were, hundreds of them: beautiful, floriferous and a perfect foil for my other house plants. Mistakenly, I bought a packet of seeds thinking that it would cure me of my yen to take some home.
I sowed the seed in the greenhouse (use seed compost, don’t cover and make sure the surface stays damp) and after about three weeks the tiniest of leaves are emerging. Not long after I went to Gardener’s World Live in Birmingham where Dibleys were displaying once again. This time, resistance was futile.
I’ve gone for the purple flowered varieties because they also combine well with the pink and purple orchids I have. With a bit of care, they will flower for up to 10 months of the year. (Don’t over-water, particularly in winter, it’s one of the biggest mistakes people make. Feed once a week when they are flowering with a high potash fertilizer and deadhead old flowers.)
What I was really looking forward to doing was having a go at propagating them. I’ve grown lots of things from seed, but I’ve never done much serious propagation because I haven’t had the space. Now that I have a free bench in the greenhouse I’m constantly on the lookout for plants that I can take cuttings from just for the fun of it. Streptocarpus seeds never come true to the original plant – the variations depend on the parentage of the plant, so the most common way to propagate is by leaf cuttings. The simplest way is to take one young leaf from near the centre of the plant (older leaves are not so vigorous) then put it in some compost and keep it in a part of the greenhouse that isn’t in direct sunlight. This will take a few weeks to root and will then produce a plant that flowers in about 6 months. You can also chop a leaf up in three or four places (cut horizontally with the rib in the middle and remember to plant the pieces the same way up as the leaf was in its original state. Make sure the leaf parts are planted standing up and not lying down). After a few weeks the plants will have rooted and you will have spares to increase your collection or give away.
I may be too young to join SAGA, but who am I kidding? I’ve given in to streptocarpus — can the fluffy slippers and cocoa be far behind?