Victorian varieties revived

July 22nd, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 1 Comment

Frilly Pansies from 1900 and 2016The Victorians were great ones for developing new forms of old favourites. This was often driven by the enthusiasm of factory, mill and mine workers, often first or second generation city dwellers, for exhibiting auriculas, pinks and other plants including even gooseberries and rhubarb.

Some of the types grown a hundred and fifty years ago are still with us, others have disappeared and are lost forever while some have recently been upgraded. Two of plants which have benefited from recent improvements are frilly pansies and laced polyanthus.

'Victoriana Dark Red Gold Lace' polyanthusFrilly pansies had almost disappeared. But since seed was rediscovered about thirty years ago they’ve been brought back and although the flowers of ‘Fizzy Fruit Salad’ are less frilly than the old types (‘Fizzy Fruit Salad’ and ‘Fairy Queen’ from 1900 – above, click to enlarge), the straggly growth of the old types has been eliminated, plants produce more flowers for longer, and there are no plants without the waved petals.

Laced polyanthus, in which each petal is edged in silver or gold, were special favourites but with so many men away at the two world wars – many, of course, never to return – stocks declined and varieties were lost.

In the last thirty or forty years members of the National Primula and Auricula Society worked hard to bring laced polyanthus back and now commercial plant breeders have added contemporary qualities.

The ‘Victoriana’ polyanthus come in red edged in gold, and in black edged in silver. The plants are compact, the stems are stout, the heads are full of flowers, the lacing is neat and consistent, and the plants produce more stems than older types. Grow them in containers where you can admire the flowers close up or cut them for posies.

Plants of both these updated Victorian favourites – ‘Fizzy Fruit Salad’ and ‘Victoriana’ polyanthus – can be ordered now for planting in September. Expect a mass of flowers in spring.

One Response to “Victorian varieties revived”

  1. Thank you for this update on Victorian flowers. I loved it. Keep up the good work. I am convinced that we still garden with the Victorian pallette, our flower choices are much the same. Gardeners owe a lot to the Victorian style of gardening.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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