Jeremy Prentice >
Noelene Pullen Photo



Three Blokes, Three States,
and a Foolhardy Bet
(or what Victoria and beer have in common)
Round 1
by Jeremy Prentice, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne,
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 I’d 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 doesn’t 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 (Gareth’s 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 Prescott’s 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 wouldn’t be gardening now would it?


Things started well in late 2007 with the lion’s share of the seed germinating successfully, using the Victoria-Adventure method:

Germination rates:
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 wasn’t 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 Hybrid’s' 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 won’t 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 didn’t 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 he’d 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“) mark.

Being the experienced horticulturalist he is and thus always ready to keep trying, Gareth’s 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 challenge.


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 Kit’s 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?

No worries! 

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