Anne endearingly entitled her talk “Make your own daffodils (& snowdrops)”. Fetch the scissors and paste! Or at least the razor blades and fungicide, key tools in her propagation of hybrids.
She began with wild Narcissus however, and took us through the options for gaining more plants:
a) Wait; they’ll form additional bulbs over time.
b) Sow seeds, by letting the plants seed themselves to produce “volunteers”, or by collecting and sowing seed (and systematically recording names, sources and dates. Anne assigns each pot a unique identifying number, and – sensible tip this – writes it at both ends of the label so that when the top inevitably snaps off . . . . ).
Her seed compost incorporates:
- 2 parts John Innes seed compost
- 1 part sharp sand
- 1 part Perlite
- 1 part leaf mould or peat-free multi-purpose compost
- A dusting of slow-release fertiliser.
She recommends soaking seeds in water (with a drop of washing-up liquid as a wetting agent) for a few hours to plump them up, before planting them deep otherwise the young plants will use all their early energy pulling the bulb down.
To sow, place a compost layer in the bottom of the pot, then a thin layer of sand. Make a depression in the centre and pour in the soaking water with the seed, followed by more sand before topping up with compost. A little gravel on top, she suggests, discourages liverworts and other growth. She recommends liquid feed during the first season. The first growth will be like grass, which will thicken in the 2nd year. In the 3rd year they should be well developed and likely to flower, so doing this annually will ensure a succession of flowers from the 3rd year.
Razor blades at the ready! Anne emphasised the importance of good hygiene when cutting bulbs, to prevent transfer of viruses and bacteria. There are two methods of propagation of hybrids: chipping and cross-cutting.
- Select a healthy mature bulb and trim the plate – ie trim off the roots and create a flat surface;
- cut off the top;
- chip the bulb, ie cut it into vertical sections (Anne’s weapon of choice is a razor blade);
- twin-scale each section, ie divide into pairs of joined scales.
Dip each pair into fungicide, but very briefly – bulbs ooze a sticky juice when cut and will soon turn the fungicide into wallpaper paste.
- Place a layer of Vermiculite in a tray;
- Lay out the chips in rows, making sure they aren’t touching, or mould will develop;
- Cover with another layer of Vermiculite, then repeat the layers until finished.
The tangle of roots that can ensue should be bodily transplanted into compost under a layer of sand – Anne warns against trying to separate them. She gave us the cheering statistics: a bulb vertically sliced into 12 chips, each of which provides 3 twin-scales, potentially therefore produces 36 new plants.
This involves making a horizontal cut just above the base of the bulb. Bulbs so treated are then placed in a propagator at 20C, in Vermiculite in lidded pots, for 6 weeks (though check after 4 weeks in case they’ve dried out). Shaking the pot sideways will bring the bulbs to the surface, and little bulbils should have formed along the cut area. On top of a layer of compost in a pot, pack a layer of baby bulbs (don’t try to separate them), a little sand, and more compost. These too should flower in their 3rd year. Anne notes that Galanthus will also produce bulbils on cut-off tops.
She then went into the painstaking, steady hand- and strong eyesight-demanding process of “making your own hybrids” by cross-pollination. For more detail I’ll refer you to her website: www.dryad-home.co.uk .
Anne’s power-point presentation was first-class: witty, well-illustrated, and properly sequential: a genuinely informative tutorial.