I have liked Pleiones for close to twenty-five years at this point; while this seems like an inconceivably long period of time, even my rudimentary mathematical abilities tell me that this must be the case.
Where else except in the greenhouse that was linked to the agricultural science building of a school in Worcestershire did I first come across these beautiful plants? The rural science instructor was simultaneously one of the most laid-back and energetic persons I have ever encountered. He didn’t mind in the least that lads around the age of 13 were using sharp knives in the greenhouse and cutting up everything that seemed like it could be able to be grown there. In fact, he encouraged them to do so. There was a tiny part that was utilized by other instructors, and it was in that area that I spotted Pleione formosana for the first time. Later on, in the school year, I also observed Cyclamen hederifolium. It’s strange that even after all of these years and two collections established and scattered later, these two families continue to be my favorites. The riddle of the plants was answered a few years later when I discovered that my history instructor was an extremely skilled and well-known grower of alpines. This brought an end to the enigma surrounding the plants.
My first Pleione was a Pleione pricei, which is now known as P. formosana “Oriental Grace” or “Oriental Splendour,” and it was obtained from Percy Picton’s eccentric but wonderful nursery in the Midland. This was the beginning of my passion for alpines. I also purchased Pleione yunnanensis in blossom, which now goes by the name Pleione bulbocodioides “Yunnan,” and Pleione limprichitii. Both of these varieties have beautiful colors of magenta passion. I purchased an old copy of the RHS journal that contained an article written by Reverend Blakeway-Phillips about the Pleione pogonioides (now aptly known as the Pleione speciosa “Blakeway-Phillips”) and was mesmerized by the picture of an elegant and richly colored orchid flowering in a pot that was carpeted with emerald green moss. I named this orchid after Reverend Blakeway-Phillips. I believe that I was ultimately able to hunt down a plant that was flowering, and I kept it on the windowsill of my bedroom. Unfortunately, I was never able to coax the plants into producing flowers again. After this setback, I went on to growing other plants, such as Dionysias, and ignored the orchids. At the time, I found the Alpine Garden Society exhibitions to be a source of motivation, and it was there that I saw the first appearance of the breathtaking Shantung hybrids on the show benches. I regret that I was not able to try these wonderful plants since they looked to pave the way for a wave of peach and apricot blossoms to emerge inside the alpine realm as a result of hybridization between species that were pink and yellow. When they initially came out, the Shantung hybrids were unfortunately exceedingly pricey and so way out of my schoolboy purse’s price range.
When I moved to my current home around 12 years later, long after my first collection had been depleted since I had gone to college, I found a greenhouse in the garden. This was shortly after I had relocated. My curiosity was reignited in the subject. I went to a nursery in the area and inquired about suitable plant species for my recently constructed “alpine cottage.” The proprietor vanished for a few minutes before reappearing with a plant of P. formosana in his possession. I had my reservations but decided to go for it. After that, I believe I saw a feature on “Gardener’s World,” during which I found out that my previous Pleione world had been flipped completely upside down. Pleione forrestii was a little brilliant yellow-flowered species, while Pleione formosana and bulbocodioides were gobbling up known names like a pair of horticultural Ghengis Khan’s. P. yunnanensis was no longer an explosion of color, but rather a refined and delicate study in lavender pink. And the hybrids had come, and they were ready to wreak havoc.
The Pleione limprichitii species has been added to my collection. I thought it to be pleasant, and it grows and blooms well; yet, it did not “light my fire” in any way. Something to do with the level of saturation of the color, I believe. Plants that are either “pale and intriguing,” have a solid rich mid-tone color, or a deep color are my favorites to look at. Even though it pains me to confess it, when compared to the other species and the hybrids, it just cannot compete. I have noticed that I am beginning to slowly move away from my alpine “roots” (yes, that pun was intended), changing my preferences to a set of criteria that is more aligned with the mainstream orchid world. This movement away from my alpine “roots” comes as a result of my growing interest in orchids. Despite this, I continue to be impressed by the sophistication of pleiones and recoil in horror at some of the monstrosities being developed in the camp of tropical orchids.
It was obvious that I was prepared for the hybrids. I was able to locate a few providers, as well as Peter’s remarkable Pleione exchange, and I immediately got to work assembling a collection. Even though they were distinct grexes, I realized that several of them were really similar to one another. In point of fact, I discovered that distinct clones contained inside a single grex might exhibit more variation than plants belonging to other grexes.
Which ones are my favorites out of the roughly 40 different kinds that I cultivate? In the “pale and intriguing” sector, we have P.Piton, who, in my view, is a significantly undervalued grex. I have a few clones, including one that has some yellow on the lip and one that is quite similar to a plant of Yunnanensis that was shown by Ian Butterfield. The long stems, the modest pastel colors, and the interesting specks of deeper color on the petals are three of my favorite aspects of these flowers. P. formosana “Clare” is a stunning pure white with lemon yellow on the lip. It is also an obvious magnet for the aphid population in the area. My experience has shown that it readily produces nice, plump pseudobulbs and blooms. This year, I decided to splurge and buy two additional white Formosana trees: one named “Red Spot” and another named “Kate.” I can’t wait till spring arrives! The P. x confusa is going to be beautiful to look at when it flowers. Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the talent to grow those large light yellow blossoms that are to die for. Although I’ve heard that there are supposedly excellent and awful varieties, the one I have was given to me by Eric Humphrey, and I know he grows it really well. I’m sorry, Eric, but I decided to keep them even though they don’t seem to be thriving. My efforts with Shantung have been more successful; I now have three clones of this strain: “Ridgeway,” “Maryfield clone,” and “Muriel Haberd.” Because I am unable to differentiate between the two, either my capacity for discriminating is lacking or there has been some kind of error. In spite of this, they have a very appealing appearance, with light yellow petals that have a tint of pink and delicate lips that are pale yellow with dark red patterns.
In the category of medium-sized solid colors, I can only think of one example. I believe it to be P. el Pico “Kestrel,” which has flowers that are a very solid matte pink and a lip that is a similar color but has huge red dots. Really uncomplicated and very charming.
There are a large number of plants that fall into the category of having rich, deep colors. The duration of the interval during which there is astonished silence when I tip out the pots in January and find the plant’s judgement on my cultivation that season is the test that I use to determine whether strains really deserve the title of “true stars.” Somehow, calamities manage to strike on a consistent basis throughout the year. This has only ever occurred to one other plant, a Piton, and now it has happened to a P. el Pico “Goldcrest.” It has been eaten by a slug (which has only ever happened to one other plant), it has toppled over when it is in the middle of flowering, and it has stem rot. I don’t believe that any other plant has experienced even a fraction of the amount of misery that this plant has. However, despite my best efforts, I am powerless in the face of its cheeky, stubby rich pink blooms, vividly patterned lip, and white whiskers. Pleione speciosa “Blakeway-Phillips” continues to withstand the test of time and can hold its own against the assault of hybrids, all while retaining its elegance and sense of refinement. Each and every time, the arc of the petals manages to capture the mind. I am aware that there are some more magnificent Pleiones today, but this one surely satisfies my taste. P. Stromboli “Fireball” is the Pleione that comes to me when I think of dramatic color bursts. Another fascinating one is the P. Tolima “Moorhen,” which has a form that is a little bit different with a lip that is rather broad.
Then there are some that have two colors in one. One of the most well-liked grexes is the Vesuvius variety. I have three clones: one from R.Kretz with mid-pink petals, “Phoenix,” and “Linnet,” which are darker in color. The clone I have is fairly strong and has petals that are a medium pink color with a broad lemon yellow lip that is extensively blotched with blood red. Soufriere has a tendency to blossom pretty early in the primary season. I’ve decided to go with Irazu “Cheryl” as my last option. Curiously, when I initially tried it as a flower, I didn’t like for it. It’s possible that, like aged wines and unusual cheeses, it takes time to develop a taste for it, but this year I really like it. The color is difficult to describe; it is mauve but with a tinge of yellow, and the lip is lemon yellow on the surface but purple below. The color is difficult to pin down.
My aspirations? I believe that would be necessary in order to achieve success with some of the species that I have not been able to cultivate successfully up to this point, such as P. bulbocodioides “Yunnan” and P. aurita. It would also be really appreciated if you could provide us the ability to make P. x confusa bloom and grow. But my greatest hope is that when I leave these shores and go to Brazil, I will be able to get past the cultural obstacles I am facing right now and that in the sweltering heat and filth of Sao Paulo, where the insects are large enough to easily defend themselves, I will finally put together a collection of which I can be proud. In addition, I have this fantasy that others will see the collection, and that someone else will fall in love with Pleiones in the same way that I did all those years ago, and that the tale will begin once again.