Raising New Varieties

At the start of his year we were swamped by visions and predictions for the future. For those of us who attempt the raising of new varieties this is something which we indulge every year; the planning of possible crosses and the expectation as the first seedlings bloom. Indeed the future must always be kept in mind, we grow the results of previous generations work, we should as good stewards, conserve what we have, and make an addition to the sum. Hybrids do not last forever, many breakdown, lose vigour, vitality and bloom quality. Therefore as conservationists we must look to producing good and vigorous varieties for the next generations to grow and work with.

The late Ray Frost produced a stream of good varieties; some of which happily remain in cultivation. My pick of his introductions is the purple self 'Alma'. I have 3 year old plants of this that continue to bloom well, and produce good cutting material. The records show that he was working very much on his own, and this was the position that I found myself in until a couple of years ago. It was then that Ian Pickup in Bristol began to take serious interest. This has been inspiring for me as I have someone to share ideas and experiences with, and I guess that our telephone bills bear witness to our cultural exchanges. My second piece of luck was contact with Kees Sahin in Holland, whom I have sent very small amounts of seeds for the last two seasons. These will be germinated and grown in optimum conditions, and then subjected to Kees exacting and knowledgeable eye! This is all so much better than working in isolation.

The sharing is something that is not only enjoyable but useful. The negative results of one growers work can be used to save another one or two seasons of fruitless work; the keeping of records is also important, and something that previous generations for one reason or another were not good at.

As a National Collection holder, plant heritage is an inherent part of my work. I know that Morris May at Planta Vera has continued the breeding work of Richard Cawthorne; and it is the continuity that is so important. But just what are we working for? I would suggest new colour breaks as a priority and improvement of current colours; is there a good reliable orange viola? Pink and red must be on the list. I have been fortunate in being able to have viewed Kees Sahin's trials and discuss the philosophy of improvement. Nearer home I was privileged to receive a plant of 'Jennifer Andrews' from the raiser, Colin Andrews. A chance seedling from "Alwyn", did I think it of any merit? Well all members who have grown it will know just what a good variety it is.

This year has seen the first major results of Ian Pickup's work, and here there is much promise! A Fancy Pansy with a distinct bronzy margin is soon to be graced with a name. I have a most distinct seedling from Ian's work with the dark purple self "Jimmies Dark". The bloom has the 2 back petals in jet black, the same texture as "Molly Sanderson". The other 3 petals are deep purple, this is a true "Fancy", a class of viola that we are desperately short of. I hope that its trial in the coming year proves it to be worthy of a name. I have already labelled it "Pickups Fancy", so much better than a number)

Just last week I received a packet of photographs from Bristol, and I do believe that we shall have several new varieties of true quality in the next few years.

I continue to work away quietly, still searching for that pink, and a new ground colour Show Pansy. The Autumn 1998 newsletter carried an article on the mechanics of breeding. However, if any member is interested in making a start on this most fascinating aspect, I shall be only too happy to share my little knowledge and wealth of ignorance.

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