An avalanche of pineapple plants

By Richard Wright

Friday, September 21, 2012

 

An avalanche of pineapple plants

Mike and Jane Dennes’s picture of an eucomis.

GARDENING IT IS always a tricky call to admit you do not know something that is so stunningly obvious to others.

And it is also a good idea when appealing to others for info to include an e-mail address so they can communicate it.

But, undeterred, readers managed to pick up the phone, use every electronic avenue into the County Press and employ 'snail mail’ to such a degree I cannot acknowledge everyone because it would be a very long list of names — and, every contact was helpful, interesting and informative.

It was a valuable exercise in that everyone was correct and, more than that, people had anecdotes, growing tips and the best locations to view examples of what turned out to be eucomis bicolour, also known as the pineapple plant through its shape and top-knot of foliage.

First on the phone was Reg Milton, from Staplers, and toward the rearguard Estelle Rayment, who lives not a million miles from me.

Estelle said: "In the spring, I found the bulbs in my garage and thought it was about time I planted whatever they were.

"I was so surprised when they grew so tall — it was my brother-in-law who put the name to the plants."

Keith and Anne Marston sent me a picture of eucomis in bloom in its native South Africa — in the Drakensberg Mountains.

Howard Atkins, from Cowes, saw several for sale on stalls at the Wisley flower show a couple of weekends ago and Colin Potter pointed to them being available much closer to home — from Rookley Nursery.

I am also grateful to Hilary Bevis, who took the trouble to photograph a page of her gardening book, and Gerry and Joan Smith, who jotted the name down on the front of a good, old-fashioned, envelope.

Now, if you want to see a really wonderful display of eucomis, Janet Fishleigh recommends a trip to the community-planting beside the Royal Hotel at Ventnor.

"I have a dark variety, sparkling burgundy, and there is something similar in the Ventnor Botanic Garden," she tells me.

"Loved by bees, the bulb needs full sun and well-drained soil. Propagate by seed (which I have easily done) or division in the spring."

Helen Mount contacted me too.

"Eucomis is usually hardy on the Island if it gets reasonable drainage in the winter but needs quite a bit of water in the growing season as it tends to grow on moist slopes in its natural habitat.

"There are several other species: E. autumnalis, which is smaller (about 30cm) with cream flowers, and E. comosa (much bigger at up to 1m), which has a purple-leaved hybrid, sparkling burgundy.

"All have the characteristic tuft of leaves on top of the flowers, hence the common name pineapple lily. They are also part of the liliaceae family, like fritillaria."

David Moody’s wife bought three bulbs a couple of years ago and, after flowering, he collected the seed pods from the flowers.

"It was a good job too as the bulbs were eaten over the winter so I sowed the seed I had and ended up with more than a dozen of them and they have this year flowered for the first time."

Cherrie Newman, from Cowes, also points to the ease of propagation.

"They’re very easily grown from seed to flower within a couple of years.

"My original ones must be at least ten years old now and have proved to be hardy. However, there’s snail damage to growth on my seedlings this year but the bulbs are still intact, so they will hopefully flower again next year."

A couple of readers really enjoyed answering and implored me to do it each week so gardeners can share their knowledge and experience of plants, and I’ll certainly do it again.

Leonard Monk from Ryde said: "Another great query, may we have one every week please?

"There are a handful of species and loads of cultivars but isn’t this good old eucomis bicolor? We have a clump in the garden.

"Like many plants up here in Windmill Close, it is doing especially well this summer with all the extra water. It seems pretty hardy.

"Often it sulks in the drought of early summer but copes with September rains — and winters down to -15C have not destroyed it. It gets no special treatment."

In my article, I also mentioned snake’s head fritillaries and Leonard tells me of the annual pilgrimage to see them in one of the few remaining places in the wild in this country.

"Christchurch Meadows, Oxford, is often black (spotted white and pink) with them and they are also superb in Magdalen College gardens, Oxford, and at Kew though those are hardly wild.

"The Meadows are waterlogged for much of the winter and not completely dry in the summer. This combination of full sun but moist at the roots is impossible in our garden and I have failed in several attempts."

The best photograph, though, came from Mike and Janet Dennes, putting my single bicolour to shame.

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