IF you believe that history has a habit of repeating itself, recent developments in a section of the horticultural market might be of interest.
On February 16 a single snowdrop bulb sold at auction for £725, almost double the world record set for a similar bulb last year.
It is reminiscent of a situation experienced by the Dutch soon after tulips were introduced to Holland at the tail end of the 16th century.
Backtrack 400 years to early 17th century Holland and the first special tulip sold for a huge sum, sparking a spending bonanza that saw bulbs changing hands for the same price as a dwelling house. Then the market crashed.
Tulips were introduced from Turkey at the end of the 16th century and the Dutch immediately took to them but the inevitable demand sparked a shortage of bulbs which kept the prices quite high. Then a phenomenon occurred that was to send prices soaring.
Some bulbs were affected by a mosaic virus which although not fatal to the plant, caused coloured streaks to appear on the petals. As these enhanced the appearance and novelty value, ownership of one or more became the in-thing.
Huge sums of money were invested, despite the high prices, and in one incredible month the value of special tulips increased by 20-fold.
The inevitable rush of investors to cash in while prices were sky high, led to a flooded market which caused it to crash. Widespread financial depression followed.
Several questions arise. In our modern world where savers are looking to protect any money they have and get best returns on it, are snowdrops seen as the new gold? Who has splashed £725 on one bulb? Will they get their money back on the investment and more? Why snowdrops?
Facts: The Ipswich-based seed and plant firm Thompson & Morgan saw off 30 other bidders at auction to secure the single bulb of galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’.
It is named after the owner of a Scottish garden in which it appeared as a seedling a few years ago. What makes this cultivar really special is the combination of a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings.
The firm says that it hopes to reproduce this variety and bring pleasure to as many gardeners as possible.
Achieving this by traditional propagation methods is not straightforward because such oddities are reluctant to increase in number at the rate we’d wish, a point made by Howick Hall head gardener Robert Jamieson recently when we discussed the flower variations in their brilliant displays.
However, T&M intend to explore the possibility of reproduction through tissue culture on a commercial scale and they do have previous form in this area. In living memory, they paid £50,000 for the world’s first black hyacinth ‘Midnight Mystique’ which took 15 years to develop for sale to the public. Since then, demand has always exceeded supply. So as a T&M spokesperson has said: “Buying the bulb is the easy part.”
Last year, they sold in excess of one million snowdrop bulbs and had been searching for something special to extend the range on offer.
Highlighting the obvious appeal of these harbingers of spring, they refer to the snowdrop mania that has descended on the UK in recent years. In celebration of this T&M are offering 75 bulbs of the popular galanthus nivalis for less than half price, see www.thompson-morgan.com for details. £7.99, now that’s a price we can all afford.
Will Thompson & Morgan recoup the initial £725 spent on this single snowdrop bulb? You bet they will – and more!
Daffodils, or more correctly narcissi, are just starting to burst into glorious bloom and new cultivars are already catching the eye as potential purchases. Breeding these is not too difficult but it does demand lots of patience, as you can discover at a local talk/demonstration on March 9 at 7pm in the Pavilion room at The Alnwick Garden.
The Garden has always been a customer of Dutch bulb breeder Peter Nyssen and, in recognition of this relationship, he has named a new daffodil Alnwick Magic.
This will be launched on the night and available in limited numbers. He will also have other new cultivars for sale that are not yet available on the open market. What an opportunity to buy something rather exclusive!
This talk is intended as a lead in to a Daffodil Festival that will be based in the Alnwick Garden Atrium from April 6 and 15. Entry to both these events is free.
Last year, I ran a small trial involving grafted vegetables for the gardening trade and was impressed by the results myself.
In essence, a research group sent tomatoes and chilli peppers in pairs, one of each grafted, one raised from seed. Notes were kept on development and these covered growth-rate, stem thickness, number and weight of fruits produced.
The main conclusion for me was that grafted plants may be more expensive but they have several advantages over those raised from seed.
The obvious difference is a greater vigour in growth and larger plants, which in effect offers more resistance to soil-borne pests and diseases.
Whereas plants raised from seed, tomatoes especially, will quickly show nutritional disorders through leaf colour changes, the strength of grafted types carries them through.
This is not say that they do not require regular feeding at the height of season.
Grafted plants show a definite advantage in fruiting earlier and continuing longer with heavier crops. This came across loud and clear in both the tomatoes and chilli peppers we grew. Ideal for pot and container culture, they also have a better chance of performing well outdoors if you can find a sheltered, sunny spot for them.
Given this positive experience with grafted plants, the latest communication from Suttons was music to the ears. They’ve launched a new range of tomatoes raised via a different grafting technique. This encourages trusses to set lower down the stem resulting in six to eight per plant, and many more fruits.
If novel, yet practical, gardening ideas are your thing, they have two stems of different F1 varieties, ideal for pot culture, emerging from the same rootstock. Floryno (red cherry), and Orangino (orange cocktail), costing £6.99 per plant. Alternatively, there are two grafted tomato doubles bearing the same variety for £5.99.
Anyone who has difficulty in growing cucumbers stands a better chance of success with a grafted plant. The surge of growth sees it through the difficult early development stage. Suttons’ latest offering is the F1 hybrid Quatro, a small cocktail type that just about fills the hand when fully grown. It retails at £3.99 per plant. As for choice of chilli peppers, there is a wider range of varieties around than tongue can tell – and tolerate in some cases!