A close-up of the flowers of Alan Deadman’s puya.
GARDENING I LOVE a good garden mystery — and this one is of Poirot proportions.
Alan Deadman e-mailed me with what he thought was a simple discovery — the identity of the puya flourishing in his garden.
After my column of a few weeks’ ago, he thought he had nailed it as puya berteroniana but I had my doubts.
So into action went the investigation team, headed by Ventnor Botanic Garden curator Chris Kidd, whose initial reaction was: "This is very, very interesting indeed."
I immediately went to Chris because the garden is heading for National Collection status for its puya. Chris seemed the obvious port of call.
However, the mystery started some time ago.
Ten years ago, Alan went to a car boot sale in Hayle, Cornwall, where he bought a plant.
"It stayed in a pot until we moved to Avenue Road, Sandown, in January 2006. I planted it in my tropical raised bed in the spring of 2006 and it started to flower in the summer," said Alan.
Nothing too unusual in that tale, until Mr Kidd looked at the evidence. He called in Dr John David, the chief scientist at the Royal Horticultural Society.
Dr David said: "Overall, the plant looks as if it is P. alpestris but I’ve never seen it with blue flowers.
"It’s just possible it is a hybrid with another species, such as P. caerulea or P. venusta, and, if so, might be attributable to P. x
"Coming from Cornwall, one does wonder whether it has come from Tresco or whether it perhaps is a new introduction from seed.
"In such circumstances, I wish we had provenance."
Further investigation is promised by Chris.
"I would very much like, ideally, some live material or seed, as second best, to eliminate further hybrid issues — because puya is known to readily hybridise," he said.
So it would seem Alan’s question will be answered — even if it takes a while longer than we thought — and his plant’s progeny will find a place in the Ventnor collection.
I did receive this postscript from Alan, containing good and bad news.
He points to also having a Butia capitata and a large banana plant also flowering for the first time in his raised bed.
"It is certainly unusual for the UK and interesting that all the plants were planted in the spring of 2006 when we moved to the Island.
Alas, it was not all good news.
No sooner had he trumpeted his successes, than Alan’s magnificent 14ft echium fell over and he woke to discover it blocking the path outside his house.
• Puya is a species of bromeliad, native to the Andes and to central southern America, but they flourish at the Ventnor garden, which, of course, has a very special micro-climate.
Many of the species are monocarpic — that is to say the parent dies after flowering and seeding.
Most notable among them is Puya raimondii, which has a flower spike rising more than ten metres above its leaves.