Thursday 3 May 2007

Well here we are in May already ...

California poppies, from seed I sowed last year. They overwintered without any protection and were in flower by late April. Pretty good going I reckon!

Oh dear, I have been most remiss in keeping my blog up to date over the last month. I've been totally wrapped up in getting everything sorted out for my album, which is a month behind schedule and still not ready for release, but it's getting there.

So I thought I'd just catch up a little by posting some pictures taken in the garden today, since everything has been growing away nicely in spite of me.

One of the things I love about California poppies is the groovy little witches hats they produce when they're in bud. As the flower unfurls, the hat slides off. Then another one appears as the seedpod develops.

Meanwhile, I should be able to make a start on some pea breeding work in the next few days. I'm trying to produce a new purple mangetout (snow) pea for The Real Seed Catalogue based on a cross between their yellow-podded mangetout Golden Sweet and a purple-podded sheller, Desiree. They sent me some seeds to start me off and I've been growing them side by side in a bamboo frame and hoping to goodness they'll both flower at the same time so that I can do some hand-pollinations. Fortunately, as the pictures below show, they are looking to be doing just that.

I've grown Golden Sweet before, but I didn't know much about Desiree before I started growing this crop. I'm a bit surprised to find it's a dwarf variety (or at any rate, doesn't seem inclined to get beyond about one and a half feet). The reason I'm surprised is that all the other purple-podded peas I've collected have been tall varieties which reached at least five feet ... so I'd kind of taken it for granted that this one would be too.

You can tell when Golden Sweet is getting ready to flower because it starts to show a lot more yellow colour in the young leaves and stems. And the buds are quite easy to spot as soon as they start to form because they have pale cream-coloured sepals (those are the little spiky bits that make up the 'pixie-hat' around the flower) which stands out visibly from the greeny yellow of the leaves. Another peculiarity of this variety is that the flowers never really open out properly, but to make up for it they do go through some beautifully dramatic colour changes.

This Golden Sweet flower bud is at about the right stage for hand-pollination. Yes I know it's tiny, but peas are extremely efficient at self-fertility, so if you don't catch them early in the bud stage it'll be too late to do a cross with another variety. This bud is so small it hasn't started to open or colour up yet, and the petals are still tucked away under the sepals ... but the female stigma will be receptive by now, so this is the right time to make a cross by introducing pollen from another flower.

To find flower buds on Desiree I have to delve into the foliage because they're a bit less developed, but they are there. Here you can see a whole cluster of tiny flower buds, which have a distinctive purple flush on the sepals. These are too young for hand-pollinating, but soon, soooooon ...

As it's going to be a few days yet before Desiree is ready for pollinating, I may start off by making a different cross. I will have no shortage of flowers on these plants, so I can make as many crosses as I like as long as I label them properly. The only other pea that has flowers open at the moment is the dwarf sugarsnap, Sugar Ann. So I may as well try crossing Golden Sweet with Sugar Ann ... the obvious outcome would be the possibility of a yellow-podded sugarsnap, which would be nice, but actually these varieties are so different almost anything could happen. So it must be worth a go.

The flowers of Sugar Ann look a little different from the other peas I grow ... they have very wide open wing petals, so the innermost keel petal (which is normally fairly well hidden) is exposed. I don't suppose it makes much difference to anything, it's just an observation.


Anonymous said...

I'm really eager to see what comes of the Golden Sweet/Desiree cross.

I remember reading something a long time ago, I don't remember where, that many attempts have been made to create a purple podded mangetout (snow) pea. The problem was everything that resulted was too tough to eat.

Anonymous said...

Rebsie - Just to let you know that the Mr Bethells Purple Podded you gave me are belting away!!!

A wildlife gardener said...

I love Californian poppies and their witches hats. Your info on the peas is so detailed. I love reading about all the different varieties you grow.