Alpine Garden Society

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Gentiana sino-ornata and hybrids

Gentiana sino-ornata

One of the glories of the AGS / RHS autumn shows is the gentians. Who could ever forget those piercingly blue trumpets rising from grassy mats of foliage? George Forrest found Gentiana sino-ornata in NWYunnan in 1904 and in the Lichiang mountain range in 1910. Seeds sent to Edinburgh and Ness Botanic Gardens flowered in 1912. Only those who garden on an acid soil or employ troughs and containers filled with a rich ericaceous compost – sited in good light but with some shade in the south – may succeed with this otherwise easy plant, for it detests any trace of lime in soil or water and will show its resentment by speedy departure. Watering must always be adequate and ample in hot weather.

The slender, lobed trumpet flowers come in every conceivable shade of blue, most with dark lines on the outer sides. Gentiana sino-ornata ‘Praecox’ is a few weeks earlier than the type. There is a white form G. sino-ornata ‘Alba’ which has greenish lines on the outer sides of the corolla and seems to need more attention than its blue brethren and, from the late 1970s the lovely ‘Angel’s Wings’ white with an inner blue marking. Of the many hybrids ‘Shot Silk’ shown by Aberconwy Nursery in 1990 was awarded an AM in 1991. The deep blue colouring is suffused by violet purple and appears to be first one colour and then the other depending on the angle of vision. ‘Glendevon’ is sky blue and very floriferous, while the dark blue ‘Midnight’ flowers on, sometimes into November.

From the continent and, as to be expected, from Scotland there is a stream of more recent varieties. Among the German offerings is ‘Delft’ whose large flowers are distinctive, for the white petals have a blue edging or lacing, wider on the lobes. There had to be a double gentian eventually and ‘Eugen Allerbester’ is an intense blue, flowering from August to October, and now quite readily available in this country.

‘Dark Blue Perfection’ comes from Switzerland and is marine blue, the throat marked inside with lines and stippling. It is really necessary to see the flowers before making a choice for all are beautiful and shades of blue are as notoriously difficult to describe as they are to photograph.

Several good nurseries now carry a range of selected gentians from an ever increasing stock of home bred plants

During winter leaves and shoots tend to turn a gingery hue as they die back to the central rosette. Some form new ‘thongs’ along the old stems which can be lifted in spring, or the plant may be left to itself to form an ever larger mat. A too-large plant can be lifted and gently shaken, when it usually falls naturally into divisions or can be divided.

For those who have nowhere to grow the autumn gentians and who walk those far off mountains only in their dreams bunches are now often to be seen on sale at the Shows and these cut flowers last well in rain water. All may enjoy those ethereal shades of blue in one way or another.

Ruby Baker
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