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4.12.2006

Orville's Clivia

A guest post from my sister in law Elizabeth Senger of Onalaska, Wisconsin

I remember a discussion--was it a decade ago?

A specific date eludes me.

It was a discussion of whether a seed could possibly be worth such a high price. Only a small quantity was available. The catalog would send only two seeds, with a guarantee that one of the two would be yellow.

The ordinary Clivia Miniata takes four years from seed to flower. The yellow Nobilis variety or Salome hybrid could take seven or eight years before it flowered. He wondered aloud (in a speculative, measuring, matter-of-fact manner) whether he would live long enough to know.

He had seen his share of seed catalog hyperbole. As a serious plantsman he did not succumb to such things.

Still, the idea intrigued him.

The seeds came from Thompson and Morgan (UK). They were planted immediately. Care was taken with every variable: soil, drainage, feeding, day and night temperatures, even the temperature of the water!

However, even under his very able ministrations, one seedling didn't make it. The remaining plant was potted on each season, making growth over several years from a thin shoot to a thick sheaf of strap-like green leaves.

Years went by.

They were not passive years. Nor were they easy ones. Our regular discussions included plant diseases and human ones as well. We spoke of mealybug and lab results. Still he maintained an active form of waiting -- paying attention and tending to needed tasks at the proper time.

When he judged that the Clivia had approached flowering size, he let the white fleshy roots become pot-bound, top-dressing the pot with home-made compost sieved by hand.

A flower stalk began to emerge. Weeks of suspense ensued. Our regular phone conferences on the care and progress of the Clivia became daily reports. The buds remained pale green as the stalk lengthened with no hint of color.

His joy was well-earned the day the buds opened, revealing a creamy butter yellow with a deeper center.

He lived to see it bloom more than once.

I saw it in person in August 2005. The original plant was pushing the soil up out of the pot, and had two large side-shoots crowding for the light. It was in need of repotting.

So he and I had yet another conference on the subject of the Clivia, this time at his bedside instead of over the telephone. Every detail of the planned procedure was talked through in advance, like consulting surgeons.

The operation would take place on the wooden picnic table in the back yard. The plant would be carefully taken out of the pot and the soil removed. The difficulty would be to discern which of the intermingled brittle roots belonged to the parent plant and which to each offspring. Once untangled, the original plant would be returned to its pot, and top-dressed with more compost. The two "pups" were to travel home with me.


The offspring are doing well. They are a bit thin and still too small to flower. But each is putting on new growth, thickening up at the base to form that characteristic fan shape. The news that the parent plant has bloomed again as soon gives me hope.

I know that years will need to go by. I will need to engage in active waiting as he so admirably demonstrated.

I know that even with my best ministrations, loss can occur.

I know that they will be yellow.


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