Thursday 29 January 2015

Achimenes revisited

Some posts take on a life of their own and are visited many times! I wish I knew why and I would write a few more! 
Early on I did a series that I dubbed ‘Her indoors’ to identify my little forays into how to grow house plants. There is nothing in the title ‘Her Indoors 3’ to attract attention but there have now been 18,000 visits! It had languished at about fifty ‘hits’ in the whole of its first year!
I wanted to write just a little more about this easy to grow house plant and wondered about updating my original post. But no, why should I kill the golden goose? If it’s not broke don’t fix it!

For a plant you never see at the garden centre, achimenes is very popular and has been from Victorian times. I recently read a very long list of varieties grown in an iconic Australian glasshouse in 1850.
There is a huge range of colours which vary in habit and size. Some tend to be tall and floppy, some rather insipid and others weak growing. There are however a handful of magnificent varieties that will give you for very little effort, four months of glorious colour each summer.

My rock is still purple Achimenes ’Early Arnold’ but I wanted to tell you about my fun with ‘Inferno’ last year. I have never grown ‘Ambroise Verschaffelt’ but is well recommended with it’s lilac flowers with strong purple veins and sturdy constitution. It is a heritage variety, has an award of garden merit, and has been popular for at least 150 years!
I want to grow Tarantella again as we did in my old home. I think it’s my favourite with strong pink flowers which hang from beautiful, very healthy and glossy, slightly pendulous, almost black shoots.
Go to Dibley’s site to find some beautiful named varieties. Go to google images to find lots of lovely colours but rubbish identification. 

Overwintering in our frost free porch. There is no good reason not to cut off the dead tops. Except it helps me remember what’s in the pot!

Culture of achimenes

I gave you the formula for growing achimenes in my previous post. Withhold water and let them die down to dormant tubercles in October. Keep them completely dry and frost free in Winter. 

For demonstration purposes I have divided my old plant in January. Enough tubercles for three new plants (plenty more if I feel frugal). 

Start up again in late March, usually repotting and watering thoroughly. Beware not to generously water again until they start to become dry. Over enthusiastic new gardeners tend to overwater before there are any leaves to take up water and later in summer with plenty of top growth and high temperatures they don’t water enough.

There are many variations on the above formula that might be regarded as refinements or just my own slovenly practices. In Autumn I do not remove mine from their compost until I restart them in Spring. Tidier persons than me might separate the tubercles and keep them in an envelope. On balance I think my way is better as tiny tubers can dehydrate. In Spring I just crumble-out lumps of compost containing several tubercles and repot them back into a mixture of new and old compost. I reuse all the old compost and throw nothing away! I have far more tubercles than I need and I pot up lots of extra plants to give to friends.

I lie about my use of ‘proper’ compost. Regular readers will know I am one of the lucky few whose garden soil is suitable for potting. I enrich my soil with slow release fertiliser and later on top dress with my YaraMila fertiliser. Most gardener’s will need a proper potting compost. Nothing special, but remember as to quality, you get what you pay for and these days there is a lot of rubbish around.
I read that some gardeners like to use water absorbent gel as an additive to their compost. Perhaps this is more relevant in much warmer climes than the UK when the plants  can go outside in tubs for the summer!
I recommend regular liquid feeding, perhaps fortnightly from when new growth gets going. Alternatively you might prefer to infrequently top dress with fertiliser as I do.

My plants are grown in a bright east facing conservatory and receive direct sunlight from early morning until mid day. I think they like the fairly dry atmosphere and excessive humidity can be a real difficulty in wet greenhouses. They do not like their leaves to remain wet for long periods, especially when it is cold at night. Best not to wet the leaves when you water, although I usually fail. In my old home I was not allowed to water at all!

I have sinned and wetted the leaves when the weather has been dull. It’s difficult to avoid water scorch in humid glasshouses and imagine what a garden centre would do to them!

Let the compost get dry before you give a good watering and if some water drains through into a saucer that's alright. If they had got really dry, leave them to to suck back the water which has run through. Don’t of course leave them standing in water more than a few hours.
My adventure with Achimenes ‘Inferno’.

Brenda shouted at me when I described it as orange - “it’s crimson!”

Two years ago in April, Peter gave me a small pot of tubercles. As my ‘Early Arnold’ raced away they failed to appear. Only in August they emerged and made weak pathetic growth and hardly a flower. 
I gave the stronger dormant tubercles a second chance last year. This time they did not appear until the end of September when my other achimenes were fading!
But how different from the previous year, they grew strongly and produced a continuity of magnificent scarlet flowers from late October until early January. They have been absolutely superb.
They have only now in February died down. I can’t wait to see what they do in the coming season. Should I start them later than the others? I don’t think so. They won’t clutter our conservatory whilst I wait for them as I start my plants out of the way in a warm porch.

All has been explained now I have checked out my plant on the net. It’s  actually called Achimenantha  x ‘Inferno’. It’s not a straight achimenes, it is an inter-generic hybrid, achimenes crossed with smithiantha! It looks identical to other achimenes and I guess there must have been some back crossing.

Considering  my recent posts on hybridity, it’s quite ironic really!

(I have just submitted to temptation and ordered six new varieties from Dibleys and will update this post in six months to report on their progress)

(To read my other efforts with house plants put ‘her’ in the search box at the bottom of the blog scroll)


  1. Some tears ago I used to have some purple achimenes - not sure what happened to them, Furtling around in the compost searching for the tubercles was like panning for gold but far more successful. I think maybe I them replanted too many in a pot. Maybe I should give them another go.

    1. The Alison link sent me to a page unavailable message,

    2. Will check this but not now. I am having internet problems and it is lethally slow. I did not check the link when posting for that very reason. Thanks Sue

    3. Hardly a crying matter Sue! (or is it a typo?)

    4. Yep should be years! Movable keys again! One thing I do well is creating typos- trouble is when it is a real word the red curly line doesn't pick it out,

    5. I just turned my router off and on and the wi fi is liked lightening Well for a country village in Yorkshire!
      As to Alison Bilverdale I have removed the reference to her nursery.
      Alison is quite welcome to put her contact details in this column if she wishes

  2. There's this link
    Good to see you areas bad as me Bilverdale?

    1. whoops
      As to you trying achimenes again I guess if I give you a pot you can blog about how you grow them better than me as you did with the amaryllis lily! Not that you would be so indelicate to say so.
      I am not opening this year, but Seaton Ross gardens are open in early summer including mine. I will be giving info later. You and Martyn don't need to wait for Open garden to call!

  3. I don't over-winter plants indoors but am challenged a little by how much leaf to leave on plants outside. Sometimes the old leaves help me remember something is underground. Sometimes they give cover to plants in their shelter and sometimes I leave them for insects to live in. This morning I went and cleared some away. I always feel bad about this. Bulbs coming up need air and light before insects have quite finished with their homes.
    Re. stats - I just looked at mine and the odd thing there is not which posts are popular but where my blog is most read. First comes USA - not surprising. Second - UK - not surprising. Third - Ukraine. Why is my blog of such interest in the Ukraine? And because no-one from there ever leaves a comment I'm unable to ask.

    1. Another scruffy gardener like me! I have cut back now all my herbaceous perennials ( except a few such as dahlias for protection) but there is plenty of debris around for the insects!
      As to Ukraine. I too have a number from Ukraine. My son has too, he blogs about Dr Who and reckons the Ukraine hits are robots trying to put on adverts. As none appear I doubt that.
      I did read an interesting account recently about a landscape conference over there which did demonstrate that there are some keen and knowledgable horticulturists.
      Lets have some comments Ukraine!

  4. Roger, the hits from Ukraine come from "Spambots", not real people. I don't want to be too negative, but those 18000 visits are probably mostly spurious ones. I have the same problem: my top post of all time has over 15000 hits, and it's on the subject of Pickled Red Cabbage - which surely can't be THAT popular?!

    1. Thanks Mark. Deflated again!
      It makes sense, but what are they doing as no spam appears?
      (I am sure your pickled cabbage post is VERY good!)

    2. It's hard to tell what they are up to, but it happens a lot. I get repeated "spikes" of apparent pageviews (usually 20 -25 at a time), but the stats from Google are impossible to drill down through, so I can never really discover as much as I would like about this phenomenon.

  5. I'm completely unfamiliar with this plant, though I'm not a big houseplant person in general. It is beautiful, though. I don't think I have ever seen it growing anywhere. On the other hand, I really do love pickled red cabbage.

  6. I like vinegar and love cabbage but I really don't like pickled cabbage
    Stop swelling Mark's figures by constantly logging on to his red cabbage post! :)

  7. The practice of growing house plants is very much in decline and any plant which has actually to be grown or has a dormant period such as Achimenes, Streptocarpus and Gloxinia, all of which were once very popular, are far too much trouble for the average householder today.

    1. I think there is more joy in having your own plant that you have grown yourself rather than one you buy and it dies slowly rather like a cut flower in a vase.
      It's real gardeners - including ourselves Rick - and most readers of this blog that get true satisfaction from their plants.
      Not that there is anything wrong with benefiting by other's expertise. Brenda bought yet another orchid today at B&Q which will give us pleasure for years.

  8. It’s not easy to predict what will be picked up by Google. It is true that a proportion of the hits are robots crawling the net, but from your stats you can take off some of it as that and still assume that this post has had a much higher visit than the other. Whether people have read it is another matter entirely though, they might just have arrived and though gosh, that’s so not what I was looking for. Sorry if I am disappointing you :-)

    I have had the same thing with one of my YouTube movies, I sold an Ikea daybed on GumTree, and thought it would be better to make a movie with proper photos rather than the very small ones you could post on GumTree – and I just put the link to the YouTube movie in my GumTree ad. That was 3 years ago, the bed is sold, but I have kept the movie online and so far, over 96,000 people have clicked on the 1:21 min long presentation of that bed!! Absolute madness….

    As for achimens, a new plant for me, and I have either indoor plants all year round or outdoor plants – all year round. I have nowhere to store tubers or similar so although these look lovely I can’t see how to grow them. I tried growing gloxinia one year but they didn’t come again, I thought I would just try to leave them in the pot and reduce watering until next spring – that turned out not to be the right way :-)

    1. I know the stats are inflated, HELENE, but I am so addicted to blogging now that I don’t think I could stop. I understand little about google stats but I had imagined that they might have weeded out those calls where someone arrives, swears and immediately leaves.
      Having seen your videos I can understand why your ad is so popular. (We sometimes play ‘love birds singing’ for Poppy our own love bird and he can listen to repeats for hours. That u tube video has millions of hits - all from parrots!)
      As to achimenes, I think perhaps a plant that is dynamic and goes through different seasonal phases does give something to people who are gardeners at heart and perhaps have no garden.
      I have never really grow gloxinia but with achimenes when I stop watering I really do and it is sudden. Gradual withdrawal as it dies and leaves are starting to cease to function might leave the compost wetter than you think and gesneriads are very sensitive.
      I should have also mentioned in the main piece that at the start of dying down don’t shove somewhere out of the way in the dark. Like with bulbs as long as the leaves are green make them work in light conditions!


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