Jeremy Prentice >
Noelene Pullen Photo
Three Blokes, Three States,
and a Foolhardy Bet
(or what Victoria and beer have
by Jeremy Prentice, Royal Botanic Gardens
Click images to enlarge
Late in 2007 a three-way bet was made, which resulted in two
new members being welcomed to WGI, Victoria seeds being
sent across the globe, and a considerable volume of beer put
on the line . . .
After receiving a batch of Victoria seeds from Kit
Knotts in December 07, I thought it would be interesting
to see how the same batches of seed performed in three different
locations and under the care of three different growers. So,
who better to contact than my peers: Gareth Hambridge at the
Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney (New South Wales) and Graeme Byrne
at Flecker Botanic Gardens in Cairns (Queensland).
To get the guys really interested, I figured Id need
to involve a bit of healthy competition and perhaps offer a prize,
so being the rash bloke I often am, I offered to shout a beer
for the first of us to achieve each of the following:
- first flower per variety
- biggest pad per variety
- first seed set AND capture per variety
- most complete records and summary of the growing season, including
successes, failures, thoughts for next year
Now that may sound like quite a reasonable bet -- three experienced
growers, each in a botanic garden with seeds from the same batch,
and all receiving their seeds within a day or two of each other.
That doesnt factor in the locations of said Botanic Gardens:
Melbourne (where your author is) is at 37°50
latitude and a very temperate, Mediterranean climate; further
north is Sydney (Gareths place of residence) at
33°53 latitude, granting it sub-tropical status; and
finally, Cairns (where Graeme calls home) sits at 16°57
latitude, placing it firmly in the wet tropics, prime Victoria
growing conditions. Starting to sound a bit more rash now?
The one trick I had up my sleeve was that I was keen to get
working was Mark Prescotts great innovation, the Thermoplanter.
Hoping it would extend my growing season at both ends, I thought
I might actually have a chance of competing with the other guys.
Well, here is where I would love to write that the season was
a great success, there was a photo finish in all the prize categories
and the beers were enjoyed by us all . . . but that wouldnt
be gardening now would it?
Things started well in late 2007 with the lions share
of the seed germinating successfully, using the Victoria-Adventure
Euryale ferox - 4/5 seeds germinated
V. amazonica - 32/40 seeds germinated
V. cruziana - 3/80 seeds germinated
V. Longwood Hybrid - 27/40 seeds germinated
Euryale ferox seedlings
Things began to turn for the worst in late January however,
particularly after I was away for a week on a field trip. By
February most of the seedlings had failed, or were on the way
out, apparently showing signs of both melt (too little
fertilizer) and burn (too much fertilizer).
Well, as we often learn more from our failures than our successes
in gardening, it was now a case of reviewing my cultivation techniques
and considering some serious adjustments. Needless to say, I
had the feeling that those beers were fast disappearing northward!
In review, there were two key issues with my growing techniques:
water and media. Thinking it was the best method, I had been
doing weekly water changes of around 70% and over time I realized
that every time I did that the seedlings would burn fairly quickly.
When a colleague brought to my attention the fact that our tap
water was very alkaline (at a pH of roughly 9) it clicked home,
and I started using pond water to top up my tanks.
Second to that I changed my growing media from a sand/peat blend
(the sand wasnt washed beach sand and thus less than ideal)
to a blend of organic silt and potting mix (added for soil structure).
With a reliable source of silt in one of our Fern Gully creek
pits, and gardeners only too happy for me to dig it out, I had
found my black gold. From then on I had fantastic growing results,
and have managed to keep half a dozen V. Longwood
Hybrids' going (now to be stalled and overwintered), including
one planted out in a Thermoplanter. That one was put out in the
full sun in January 09 and is fed weekly (using organic
plant food tablets). It now has pads of 55-60cm (22-24)
with more coming on. Flowers? None yet, but with daily checks
any coming wont go unnoticed for long!
When I called Gareth to chat about his results, his immediate
response was one word: terrible!!
After having had a reasonable germination (though not as good
as he has had other years) Gareth was plagued throughout his
growing season by intermittent heating failures which were beyond
his control. This very frustrating issue and the fact that he
didnt use peat in his pots were the only two really different
factors between his 07-08 season and previous years which had
been far more successful. Given that hed followed his other
cultivation techniques as for previous years (50% strength Aquasol
injected into the media for feeding seedlings, well-composted
cow manure mixed into the growing media for older plants, heated
water tanks with flow between them all, etc.), then it would
seem these points were of high importance.
In the end, Gareth did manage to get one V. Longwood
Hybrid up to planting out in his outdoor pond and flowered
it before the days began to reduce in length - at the time of
writing (early April) it had pads around the 50-60cm (20-24)
Being the experienced horticulturalist he is and thus always
ready to keep trying, Gareths response to my question of
a Round 2 was "Of course!", especially after I mentioned
there would probably be more beer on offer again.
So, with his ponds cleaned out and refreshed, and more experience
under his belt, Gareth now awaits a new batch of seed and a fresh
I visited Graeme in Cairns in January this year and he was
itching to show me his Victoria pond and the beautiful
plants he had growing there.
Graeme also used Kits cultivation method and had good
germination and success, though like Gareth and me, he had his
fair share of setbacks: from water snails and a dose of copper
to combat them causing scorch, to unreliable assistance while
he was away. Despite this, Graeme still managed to produce some
good quality plants from his seed and raised them up to flowering
stage using his usual methods for adolescent and adult Victoria:
planting out into his pond once up to size and feeding with composted
manure pressed into clay balls plunged into the mud.
So where did the beer end up?
Well, perhaps it was a foregone conclusion, but Graeme did
take home the prize, and I willingly supplied him with his hard-won
lagers when I was visiting him. Needless to say he is also happy
to have another go . . .
Which begs the question: Round 2 in 2009/10, same blokes,
same states, same stakes?