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Breeding spectacularly colourful aloes has been the dream of aloe hybridists across the world. The aim has always been to produce aloes with flowers that not only attract nectar-loving birds to the garden, but can also be water-wise focal points.
Local aloe breeders started hybridising indigenous aloes more than 30 years ago and the generation of stunning aloe shapes and flower colours that resulted from these programmes are now being bulked up for local gardeners.
June is a great time to take a look in your local garden centre to see the new ranges of flowering colours available. In nature, it is not uncommon to find hybridised species where two or more species of aloe flower together, but very few of these naturally pollinated hybrids have spectacular blooms.
Local hybridists such as Leo Thamm have taken hybridising to a whole new level.
With imagination and experienced horticultural selection skills, the resulting generation of aloe hybrids are proving to be dramatic improvements on their ancestors.
Aloes are just the latest plants in a range of indigenous SA species to have hybridisation techniques create a range of super-bloomers. Dutch and German plant breeders have managed breeding programmes for decades and the common pelargonium, scabious, nemesia and diascia hybrids that we see in garden centres bear little resemblance to their ancestors.
British hybridisers have transformed our indigenous Cape primrose (Streptocarpus) and David Austin crossed old world cabbagey roses with repeat-blooming modern roses to produce an entirely new generation of hybrids known as English Roses.
While standardised products with a familiar colour, shape and size are easier to sell regularly, it must be remembered that the new aloe hybrids are all slightly different and there is uniqueness in the flowers of every aloe hybrid found in garden centres.
Thamm explains this phenomenon by saying: “When a breeder manages to grow an exceptionally beautiful aloe hybrid, with superior flowering capability, one of the biggest problems is propagating identical copies. Brothers and sisters from the same batch of hybridised seed, just as human siblings, are not always identical. Even the seed from the selected plant will never provide identical offspring,” he says.
“The only way to obtain identical plants is through vegetative propagation. This means cutting and rooting shoots of the selected plant, which is a slow process. When the propagation has been successful, the plant can be called a cultivar and the breeder normally gives the cultivar a common name like Candy Floss or Karoo Crimson, to name two well-known aloe hybrids” he adds.
There are lots of good reasons gardeners should support the new aloe hybrids.
“Although there are 125 species of aloe in SA, many are legally protected in the wild, (being) on the endangered list or very vulnerable in nature,” Thamm says.
Removing aloes (or any other plant) from the veld is not ethically acceptable and hybridists and growers who are producing new generations of aloes are helping reduce the pressure on these valuable indigenous plants in the wild.
Why should you be choosing aloes for your garden? They are fabulous garden plants for the following reasons:
l With a few exceptions, aloes will obligingly adapt to unfamiliar conditions.
l Aloes are water-wise, low maintenance plants, undemanding, with simple needs, and rewarding for both the beginner and experienced gardener alike.
l Many are fire-retarders and can be planted in borders on the periphery of a garden to slow a wildfire from taking over a garden.
l Aloes provide colour in winter when little else in the garden is in flower.
l They attract many nectar-eating birds to the garden.
Interested in seeing the garden of aloe hybridist Thamm?
The garden is being opened today (only) by the charity Gardens of the Golden City.
Thamm’s aloes are at the height of their flowering season and a stunning winter showpiece. You will see many of the aloes that have been so lovingly bred by Thamm over many decades.
The Thamm aloes range in size from large plants to small and come in a range of colours from the limes and yellows to bronzes, reds and bicolours.
Plants will be on sale, some of them newly launched.
Thamm’s garden is at 336 Vine Ave, Ferndale, Randburg. Open today only, from 9am to 4pm.
Entry: R20 per person. All proceeds to charity. Call Peggy at 011 678 2328 or 072 193 4616 or visit www.sunbirdaloes.co.za - Saturday Star