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Cliviasby Harold Koopowitz
The horticultural history of any group of plants is really the story of a set of people who became interested in the plant and the proceeded to develop it. Why some plants are selected and worked with while others are neglected is not clear. Flower growing is a mixture of art and science, and the reason why some people prefer one flower over another is as much a mystery as why others prefer the impressionist style to abstract art. Clivias are impressive flowers, sometimes even overwhelming. The question is perhaps not why are some people smitten with the plants, but rather, why are others not?
There are several different ways that gardeners and plant enthusiasts react to the plants they like. At one end of the spectrum are those like a plant but really could not be bothered to grow it. At the other extreme are the true collectors who need, desperately, to possess as many variants on the particular plant's theme that they can. It does not seem to matter what the plants actually are. They could be miniature coniferous evergreens, African violets, daffodils, orchids, or even clivias. In many cases the need for plants becomes a true obsession and the addict will often follow his or her particular fancy to extravagant lengths. When one encounters other gardeners with the same obsessions, the result is often instant empathy and communication that can develop into a lifelong friendship. It is among the great payoffs for this peculiar obsession.
In the course of researching this book I met a great many clivia enthusiasts. I looked for patterns in their personalities to see if it was possible to isolate some feature that had steered them toward clivias. Of course not every one fitted the same mold, and it was hard to pinpoint specific patterns. It goes without saying that they all seemd to like plants and were not monomaniacal about clivias; many appreciated and collected other types of plants and flowers as well. But a few people were so obsessive that they might be considered addicted to clivias. And there were also a fraction, albeit a small one, who regarded these plants merely as valuable objects for which other people were prepared to spend real money, and their intereste was purely mercenary.
One similarity did occur among a high percentage of the enthusiasts: they had been initiated into growing clivias, sometimes unwittingly, by a parent or older relative. There were also clivia plants that had been passed through several generations in a single family and were regarded as heirlooms. Clivias, of course, lend themselves to this by their very nature; they are long-lived, tough plants that are hard to kill through neglect, and yet they reward a modicum of care with a spectacular display of flowers. I had not realized the common thread until I remembered that my mother had come home one day, very excited, with a "Port St. John's Lily", (that was the name then in the Eastern Cape for Clivia miniata). I was probably no more than ten years old at the time, and though the plant subsequently died before it flowered (it was exposed to a very hard frost), I remembered her excitement. When I was later exposed to a fine truss of orange flowers, I understood her excitement and realized clivias were worthwhile plants to grow. I was twenty when I visited the gardens of one of the earlier South Africa clivia hybridizers, Miss Blackbeard, (it was before she gave up her clivias), and her flowers more than confirmed my earlier assessment.
Photo:Clivia 'Four Marys'. Dr. Earl Murphy traveled halfway around the world to get this plant. PHOTO BY JAMES COMSTOCK.
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