In April, I was fortunate to be the guest of Kees Sahin in order to view his extensive trial of violas and pansies in Holland. Kees produces and distributes seed of a variety of plants worldwide. However, he has a passion for violas and pansies which he has developed into a number of breeding programmes! Thus I found myself in company with other enthusiasts in a greenhouse about the size of a full size football pitch and containing some 187,000 plants, 13,000 breeding lines! One of our party, Dr. Matthias Evbent is the world's leading authority of the melanium section of the genus viola; and with his wife Irene had travelled from Munich. His interest lay mainly with those lines that were close to the species, mine with those that approached florist's standards, seemingly polarised and yet we found much to discuss and my viola education was much enhanced.
At first sight it appeared all too much to take in, but after the initial wonder we all settled to work our way through the trial with notebooks and cameras. Kees was ever at hand to advise and explain. The first things of note was that the trial plants were all grown in blocks of compressed compost - not a pot in sight - these blocks sat on weed suppressing mat and were watered from overhead mists,
I was soon on my knees lifting the flower heads and noting possible varieties from which to breed. In the very first row that I viewed I found looking up at me a perfect fancy pansy, dense blotch, good petal texture, neat eye, and an orange/red margin, to add to its virtues was a compact habit. Imagine my delight when Kees informed me that I could take such plants as I desired. The child in the toyshop is the only suitable simile.
We spent the morning and afternoon, breaking for an excellent lunch, noting, comparing and discussing everything that lay before us. Apart from finding a few more possible exhibition worthy blooms, I also selected a number of plants that I considered most garden worthy. One was a very neat and floriferous mulberry, a genuine colour break in bedding violas. I found it in a large bed of black selfs. Kees has done much selecting to improve both bloom size and plant habit, and for the many of us that have found >Molly Sanderson lacking in compact growth and flower production. I am certain that a good, neat reliable black self will appear before too long. Similar work is being done with the orange selfs of the Padparajal type. After some time it became clear that the close attention to detail, the selection and reselection of the best lines really is obvious to see in the resulting plants, there is no room for the complacent.
Working with his own introduction 'Baby Lucia' and 'Baby Franjo' Kees is working to improve the strain even more, by crossing both and selecting rigorously and I am sure that the eventual results will grace many members gardens.
For those with more exotic tastes the frilly edged pansy was in much evidence, some so tight that they appeared double. Once again the selection is rigid, only the best will do. Amongst all the neat clumps I noticed a row of lanky growers, rejects I thought, but no, Japanese varieties grown for cut flower! Kees is working hard to produce a good orange and more reliability in the form of Pansy Brumig. Attention to detail, enthusiasm matched with knowledge and ruthless rejection of the second rate were really the hallmark of the work that Kees does with violas and pansies. The extent of Kee's plantsmanship was staggering, to the extent that he both comprehends and appreciates the requirements of both florist and horticulturalist.
During my stay I was privy to the Sahin Library, remarkable in both quantity and quality. Kees was at pains for me to study one book in particular, 'Les Pensees' by J. Barillet, published in 1869. My French was just about good enough to cope with the text, but what a surprise awaited me when I arrived at the coloured Lithographs. There in front of me were pansies in all the pastel shades that many others and I assumed to be 'modem' characteristics. Not so! Another volume, Japanese this time, was most interesting if frustrating in one's inability to decipher the text.
Kees christened our weekend "The Summit". Truly it was a privilege for me to be a guest in such company, and to have one's education extended in such a pleasant way: a true joy. The memory of a genial and hospitable host will remain fresh for a very long time.
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