French Gardening history

David Fenwick
Thu, 26 Jan 2012 01:35:51 PST
>>>>Thanks for that very generous response, David. You are either up very 
>>>>late or up very early. Was that written with the breakfast coffee?

It was a passionate late night response and I'm now sitting typing with two 
cups of coffee LOL !

>>>>Does the Crocosmia hybrid 'His Majesty' still exist? etc. I have a color 
>>>>slide or two of those plants of 'His Majesty', and although I keep an 
>>>>eye on Crocosmia offerings, I've never seen anything like it again.

This interests me for I know the breeders son who's now quite elderly 
himself. He visited me quite a few years ago now and he brought a painting 
by E.A. Bowles of His Majesty' with him to show me. Given paintings ususally 
fade with age, the hybrid 'His Majesty' would appear to be much deeper than 
is currently reflected by trade sales. The hybrid is of course one of the 
most well know of the Earlham Giant Montbretia Strain, selling for £2 per 
corm when initially released, and that's at a time when beer was probably a 
penny a pint and there were 240 pennies to the pound; a lot of money. 
Because of the expense a few nurseries sold seedling strains of the Earlham 
Hybrids and these somewhat muddy the water, as well as hybrids grown from 
them by amateur enthusiasts.

One thing I forgot to add last night was the importance of 'fashion'. 
Crocosmia are now very fashionable but heirlooms developed prior to 1939 
were greatly affected by both WWI and WWII. Because of the latter very few 
Crocosmia were brought into cultivation prior to 1966 and the breeding of 
Crocosmia 'Lucifier'; so we have a gap of about 30 years until their garden 
virtues were discovered oncemore. 30 years is a very long time to fall out 
of fashion.

I was once asked to provide vouchers (pressed flowering material) of the 
Earlham Hybrids I had to the RHS Herbarium but I felt I had to decline to do 
this due to the lack of provenance for any of those I had in my collection, 
and I wouldn't want the RHS Herbarium to be full of hopefulls. That said, 
many, as you're well aware, are very beautiful garden worthy plants so it 
shouldn't put anyone off growing them, it's just that there's a need never 
to assume with some of the older ones. In my mind I personally feel that 
where older heirloom varieties / hybrids cannot be absolutely proven true to 
type they should be marked appropriately when offered and to potentially 
improve trading standards if nothing else. However, I fear all that will do 
is show what a huge gap in knowledge we actually have and not just with a 
single genus. Many old hybrids were equally affected by WWI, WWII and the 
depression of the 1920's across Europe.

I've actually never been able to find out where the current 'His Majesty' in 
the trade originally came from, you are right when you say there can be 
deformity and there are potentially a couple reasons for this; one is 
Gladiolus or Flower Thrip and two, virus. Sadly when we look at heirloom 
varieties / older hybrids, and here we must include trees and shrubs as well 
as bulbs and corms the older a plant gets the more likely it is to pick 
something up. A similar thing happened to the Russel Lupins, and these 
somewhat shortened over the years until they were cleaned up.

I must add that one of the best Crocosmia growers I've come across was Alan 
Lewis at Forde Abbey Gardens in Somerset; he wasn't a friend and I didn't 
find him especially easy to get on with but his plants were always 
particularly good, sadly he's not at Forde Abbey anymore and I've not had 
dealings with Forde Abbey lately since having to give up physical gardening 
five years ago. Sadly I'm not able to currently recommend any suppliers to 

I would be interested in seeing a scan sometime of your slide if you were 
able to do this, I should be able to confirm if it's like the original E.A. 
Bowles painting or what has been offered in recent years.

Best Wishes,
Dave (Penzance, Cornwall, UK)

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