March 27, 2013
In my March 5 blog I mentioned that Mabel Corwin, an amateur breeder, had crossed begonia species #U014 with ‘Glamour Rose Picotee’ to create ‘Christmas Candy,’ a precursor of the commercial success we know as Dragon Wing Red®. In case you were wondering, Mabel got #U014 from the seed fund of the American Begonia Society (ABS). Seeds of hundreds of different species and countless hybrids are offered in the Society’s magazine,The Begonian, at nominal cost. ABS membership at $25 per year is required to participate; details at begonias.org.
The seed funds and exchanges maintained by several plant societies represent a way to grow rare and unusual plants that are not otherwise available in commerce. Besides the ABS, here are some of my favorites for both indoor and outdoor gardens:
The Gesneriad Society’s seed fund is patterned after that of the ABS, including membership at $25 per year (gesneriadsociety.org). The Society’s journal for the first quarter of 2013 offers seeds of over 60 genera, ranging from familiar plants such as Streptocarpus (Cape primrose), Saintpaulia (African violet) and Sinningia (florist gloxinia) to fascinating kinds unknown to most of us but worthy of experimentation.
If you grow begonias and gesneriads, then you probably also have an interest in bromeliads. Membership in Bromeliad Society International (bsi.org) at $45 will give you access to hybrid seeds and self crosses and the possibility of growing unique plants unknown to others.
Now to outdoor interests: Awareness of penstemons has been steadily growing since ‘Husker Red’ was named Perennial Plant of the Year for 1996. The American Penstemon Society (apsdev.org) has an active seedEx ($15 yearly membership required). The 2013 list included about 170 choices. It is commonly held that at least one penstemon species is native to each of the 48 contiguous states.
The North American Lily Society’s annual seed exchange offers seeds of species and hybrids from around the world. Membership ($20 a year) is required (lilies.org). Seeds of species and hybrid crosses are available. Some will take three years to reach blooming size, others as much as seven. For the impatient, there is also the possibility that given an early start indoors, seedlings of Lilium pumilum and L. formosanum may bloom the first season, more likely the second.
Join the Species Iris Group of North America ($12 for one year at signa.org) and you will have access to a seed exchange for a wide variety of irises and members of the iris family. More information at signa.org.
The American Horticultural Society (ahs.org) seed exchange this year offered 181 kinds, including annuals, perennials, vines, woody plants, vegetables and herbs. Membership ($35) is required in order to participate. Some are common, some unusual; for example Cerinthe major, a blue-flowered relative of borage brought into cultivation in 1997 by Penelope Hobhouse when she designed new gardens at Walmer Castle in England, honoring the Queen Mother’s 95th birthday.
Finally there is the Seed Savers Exchange (seedsavers.org), a major source for seeds of heirloom vegetables and flowers. While membership ($40 a year) is not required in order to purchase seeds, dues help support this important nonprofit. If you want big zinnias with long stems for cutting, here’s your source. Or how about the night-scented candlestick flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) that grows to five feet tall? It self-sows in my garden and reaches peak bloom in late summer when other annuals are looking tired.