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Reflections from my covid pod

I have a more-or-less regular weekend pattern.

By Friday, I will be thinking about my column, looking around my garden and at other gardens I pass, seeking out inspiration. On Saturday, I will be churning the subject over in my head, and on Sunday, I will sit down and write next week’s column.

Not this week.

On Friday I was sniffling and snuffling around the house, feeling sorry for myself and cursing that I had caught another dose of covid.

Our plans for a weekend away with our family were scrapped and we had to accept we were going to miss our grandson’s last day at pre-school.

Saturday was not much better. I shivered and shook throughout the day, lying on the couch pretending to watch some sports.

That night, I was assailed by strange dreams that the covid molecules coursing through my body were somehow attacking me.

Oddly, my horticultural brain was engaged and thinking how much like the seed pods of Liquidambar trees they looked, with their rounded shape covered with spikes. I think it is because the seed pods have fallen now and are littering our street.

Last year I picked a few up and brought them home, interested to see what sized seed they contain. Many people assume that seed size is somehow proportionate with the size of the eventual plant, but that is far from the truth.

Some of the biggest trees have very small seeds – eucalypts are a good case in point – and this turns out to be the case with Liquidambars.

Although the seed pod is about the size of a golf ball, the seeds inside are relatively small.

I sowed a few and have a little nursery of tiny trees growing in my glasshouse. I have no idea what I will do with them, but they are fun to grow.

Interestingly, American garden sites have a lot about what a tremendous nuisance the pods are. I was also intrigued to see on an organic garden site that the spikey pods can be used to protect young vegetable seedlings from slugs and snails, as the slimy creatures cannot abide the spikes.

While I was in the glasshouse looking at the liquidambar trees [all 50mm of them] I checked on this year’s crop of Lapageria seeds, planted out a month or so ago. There is no germination yet, but they will soon be popping their luscious green leaves above the seed mix. I will need to put some slug and snail deterrent around the seedlings as the gastropod molluscs seem to be able to sense the minute they pop through the soil, and quickly devour them. Perhaps I’ll harvest some more liquidambar pods.

The lapageria are descendants of some plants I first started growing over 30 years ago.

I had been to a clearing sale of orchids at a local property and noticed that the shade house the sale was being held in was also home to a large, white-flowered Chilean bell-flower, Lapageria rosea ‘Alba’. This unusual form of a rare species is hard to propagate from seed because it requires pollination from another white clone – it is not self-fertile.

As it happened, a few days later, a very interesting gentleman came to see me in the nursery, wearing clothes he had knitted and sown himself and carrying a Wairarapa-made terracotta plant pot, plus the flower of a white lapageria.

I persuaded him to leave the flower with me and hurried to the property with the shade house.

The owners must have thought I had gone mad when I asked if I could possibly pollinate a couple of their white lapagerias, but they kindly consented.

The flowers duly formed the strange, small sausage-like fruits that lapagerias carry, and eventually, I harvested them and immediately sowed the little, sticky white seeds.

Most years since then I have raised a small crop of lapagerias, some turning out to be white, while others to be the usual rosy pink form. I dream of the day one turns out to be the light pink I have seen in some overseas publications

Of course, genes do not work like that.

If we mix red paint and white we will end up with some kind of pink, but in this case, it is likely that the white gene is recessive, so the rosy form crossed with the white form is most likely to bear rosy pink flower, but a proportion of white flowers will also be present.

However, I keep hoping that a gene mutation will take place. I have some white flowers that have pinkish buds, and I get excited that this might be the time, but the flowers always turn out white. Maybe with this crop I will succeed, if covid does not get me before then.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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