Montbretia – Tritonia aurea

Tritonia aurea, to give it its correct name, is one of the old cottage flowers which of recent years has been improved out of all recognition. Even the older writers made no mention of them, there is no reference to them in Robert Thompson’s comprehensive Gardener’s Assistant, published about a hundred years ago, and most of the writers of that period make no mention of the plant. For long it remained like the lupin, until George Russell took an interest in it, a flower which made little impression on the plant lover. The blooms were carried on short stems, no more than two or three bells on each stem, whilst the colour was a rather insipid pale orange-yellow.

They were of little value as cut bloom either for sale or in the home, whilst in the garden they commanded little attention. Then considerable work was done in hybridizing, with the results we nowMontbretia - Tritonia aurea see in the lovely modern hybrid varieties having long stems, a long-flowering season and possessing a wide range of the most attractive shades of lemon yellow, bronze, scarlet, crushed strawberry and gold. To-day, the montbretia appears to be on the threshold of becoming a profitable cut flower for the more recent varieties bear a large flower and are freely produced, and though natives of South Africa they have been known to withstand 20° of frost, completely unprotected, and so may be termed completely hardy.

SOIL AND SITUATION

Though so often seen in a shrubbery or under trees where sunlight is limited and even there they put up a brave show, and unfortunately because of their ability to overcome adverse situations, they are most often confined to dark corners and to a soil which is quite impoverished. They love an open, sunny position and a soil containing plenty of humus. There the new large-flowering hybrids will give a glorious display throughout the late summer and early autumn months, the blooms possessing all the autumn tints it is impossible to imagine. They should be planted in front of a border of Michaelmas daisies, using the rich mulberry-coloured Winston Churchill and the double violet-purple blooms of Moderator, with the lemon and golden yellow montbretia hybrids.

If possible select the montbretia to flower over a long period, some being early, others like the pure orange Aurora, being particularly late. The montbretia loves a light, sandy soil with which is incorporated some moisture-holding humus. Very well-rotted manure or some spent hops or peat will be suitable. The soil must be deeply worked for the corms have a deep-rooting system and will also suffer losses if moisture is allowed to collect around them during winter. If the soil is very heavy, some sand or grit should be worked in. The bulbs should be planted 3 in. deep and 6 in. apart in clumps of four to obtain the most charming effect. The best planting-time seems to be mid-March, though in favourable areas, any time between October and March will be suitable. They will appreciate a peat or compost mulch during early winter which will afford some protection and later help the soil to retain its moisture during summer. When growing for cut flower, the beds should be 5 ft. wide to facilitate picking and the corms are planted in rows 6 in. apart each way.

One cause of the montbretia quickly deteriorating is due to neglect in lifting and dividing the clumps. The corms rapidly form others in large numbers and if not lifted every three years, the clumps become too congested to flower. March is the best time and each of the corms should be separated, cleaned, carefully examined and then replanted. Very tiny corms should be planted in a small bed soil and peat for twelve months.

Robinson who devotes but a few lines to the montbretia, describes the plant as being useful for the greenhouse and gives in detail the necessity for lifting or protecting. I have heard it said on good authority that the corms of the expensive new varieties should be lifted every October in order to protect them from frost damage. I have, however, never found this necessary even though gardening in one of the bleakest district of Britain, but if lifting is preferred the corms should be otored in boxes of peat in a cool but frost-proof room after having first been thoroughly dried.

MARKETING

I find that the best way is to place eighteen flower spikes to each bunch and keep the colours separate as far as possible. The lemon-coloured varieties may be bunched together, also those conforming as near as possible to a distinct colour. The cut blooms should be allowed to stand in buckets of cold water for at least an hour before bunching and packing in boxes.

HYBRID VARIETIES

Scarlet and Orange Shades

  • A. E. Amos. A striking variety bearing large fiery orange- and gold-shaded flowers.
  • Aurora. Rich orange, tall-growing and late to bloom.
  • Comet. An unusual variety, the blooms being golden orange, with a wide crimson band.
  • Gladiator. A new montbretia and expensive but a beauty, the bloom being dark crimson, shaded white.
  • J. A. Fitt. A new hybrid being of a brilliant scarlet, shaded dark red at the centre.
  • Lady Hamilton. Rich apricot, shaded orange.
  • Lord Lambourne. A magnificent variety, the bloom being orange-scarlet, shaded deep crimson.
  • Lord Nelson. Deep orange-bronze, extremely free-flowering. Fine for market work.
  • R. C. Notcutt. Bears huge flowers on long stems of a fiery orange and having a clear golden yellow centre.

Lemon and Gold Shades

  • Citronella. A lovely variety, the star-shaped bloom being of a pure primrose yellow shade, blotched maroon at the centre.
  • George Davison. Fine for bunching, the golden yellow blooms being produced in profusion on long stems.
  • Lady Oxford. An unusual and distinct variety, the palest yellow bloom being attractively shaded peach-pink.
  • Lady Wilson. The large bright golden flowers are shaded rich orange.
  • Lemon .Queen. The large blooms are of an attractive creamy lemon, shaded paler towards the centre.
  • Princess Mary. An unusual variety, the primrose yellow flowers are tipped with scarlet.
  • Thalia. A new hybrid of clearest golden yellow.

Pink and Cherry Shades

  • E. A. Bowles. The large blooms are of an interesting shade of deep rose-pink with a yellow throat.
  • Jessie. Bears an abundance of bloom of a pure shrimp-pink colour.

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