Clivia in China

I was fortunate enough in late March 2016 to visit China and view the greenhouses of several growers. It was interesting to note the growing differences between China and Australia. Unfortunately we had missed the Clivia show at Changchun by one week.

More notably, due to the extreme cold in winter, the plants are kept indoors and heaters keep the atmosphere at 25° Celsius. The air is very humid and it remains this way all year round. I asked how they get flowers as we know Clivia need a certain amount of cold weather to produce flowers. I was told that for several weeks in late winter, they turn the heater off at night so the plants get a certain amount of cold.

The first group of photos is from the growing area of Mr Wang, famous for his Wang Dian Chun yellow.

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Mr Wang has two areas similar to a factory structure here in Australia. He grows Group 2 yellows and oranges. The plants are compact, painted face with broad leaves. A mature Wang Dian Chun Yellow sells for the equivalent of US$2,000.

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Unlike other Chinese growers, Mr Wang does put some thought and effort into growing nice flowers, though the leaf structure and shape remains very important.

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Over the next two days we visited several growers who specialise in Engineer Clivia. These plants are known for their veined leaves and fan shape. Seeing a huge line up of these plants is certainly an impressive sight.

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The next photo clearly displays the veins on the leaves and the fan structure.

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All the growers we visited use oak leaf litter for the potting medium. The oak leaves are sifted then covered and left for 6 months to decompost. All plants are repotted twice per year.

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We showed the Chinese growers photos of Hirao and other popular flowers. Their comment was that it was not commercially viable for them to grow anything other than yellow or orange and that the leaves were the most important attribute.

I do love nice fan shape leaves with painted face or veined, but the flower will always be number one for me.

Photographing Clivia

I am not going to pretend for a moment here that I am a great photographer or even a remotely good one.  I am very pleased with many of the Clivia photographs I take and perhaps that is because I take so many, a few would have to turn out satisfactory. Or, perhaps I have a good eye for what makes a plant look attractive and at its best. I think that is the answer. The most professional photographer in the world may not necessarily photograph your plant to look how you would like it to look.

This article aims to be simple and not get into fancy cameras or settings. I have taken many photos with a simple Nikon camera that has automatic settings, and I have taken some fabulous photos with my iphone6.

When a flower is first opening, it is so tempting to want to photograph it immediately, however the plant will not likely look its best until all the flowers are open. I tend to take a few photos as it is opening and then take more when the flowers are fully open. That way I am covered should something happen and I am not able to photograph the plant when it is fully open. An example is a pink flower that opened this season. I photographed the plant as the one flower opened, and had planned to photograph the entire flower head in a few days. That night it was extremely windy and the pot was blown over, damaging all the flowers. I was pleased I had at least that one photograph.

Before I photograph a plant, I gently wipe all leaves to remove dust or marks. Nothing looks worse than a beautiful flower in a photograph with dusty or dirty leaves. If I will be photographing the pot then I clean that too. Generally I do not photograph pots.

If there is a spike in the pot to hold a previous flower up, or to hold this particular peduncle up, then I will remove it for the photographs.

I turn the pot around to determine the best angle for the flower arrangement. Sometimes what you consider the front of the plant does not photograph as well as the back of the plant where there may be more flowers. It is important for balance so it is a good idea to gently swivel the pot in a full 360 degree turn to work out where the best balance is.

The background for me is always a nightmare. I have bought numerous black cloth from stores and have never been happy with it. Somehow it tends to attract light and shine in places rather than be a matt black. I will keep experimenting and hopefully find the right material. I try to have a neutral type of background, whether that be a black material background, a pale coloured wall, or some other surface which is flat and matt. Photographing a flower with a busy background should be reserved for excellent photographers who are able to blur out the background and focus on just the flowers. I am not one of those.

The lighting is very important. I try very hard to capture the exact colour of the flowers. If I photograph indoors, sometimes the colour tends to look a bit pastel compared to if I photograph outside. Often I will try a few different locations and backgrounds before deciding what works for this particular flower. The time of the day makes a difference with the lighting.

Trying to judge what angle works best with photographing a particular flower takes practice and also just a flair for it. Sometimes positioning the camera low and shooting upward towards the flowers works best, other times shooting at an even level is best and other times, shooting slightly sidewards works best. I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder and everyone sees the flower at its best in a different light.

Photographs that frustrate me and are so often seen on Facebook, websites and forums are the ones where the flower is slightly blurry (or highly blurry) and out of focus, the colour is not correct making the leaves look slightly blue, over exposed photographs and over-done photographs where you can’t believe they are real as they look too sculptured and manicured.

Good photographs are very important for people who wish to sell plants, or sell seeds from those plants, and also to have a good record of your own flowering. It is worth taking some extra time to get the best possible photographs that you possibly can.

An example of good and ordinary photographs taken with a Nikon automatic camera and an iphone6 can be seen on the Clivia Market 2015 flowers Flickr album – flic.kr/s/aHsk895E1N 

Orange is the new black

The chances are that the Clivia that hooked you and turned you into an obsessive enthusiast was orange. I know my one was. I didn’t even know there were other colours. I just saw this orange Clivia miniata flowering and thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was determined to own one. I went onto ebay and bought an orange Clivia and was a bit shocked when it turned up in the mail. The seller had cut off all the roots and all the leaves. It looked like a stick of celery. Obviously the seller did not know anything about Clivia and thought it was like an Iris where it is ok to cut off all extremities. I planted the poor thing and it still managed to flower a month later. The flower embryo would have developed prior to the butchery the plant endured.

As I gradually become aware that there were other colours, I just had to have one of each. I went crazy on ebay and bought as many different types and colours as I could, and I am sure other enthusiasts can relate to this.

My favourite colour kept changing from yellow to peach to ghost to appleblossom to bi-colour to green and so on.

It wasn’t until many years later and a few thousand Clivia plants in the shadehouse later that I stopped and thought seriously about what I really like. At the end of the day, all these other colours are rare, attractive and desirable without doubt, but I realised that it is the shape and form of a flower that makes it beautiful and not necessarily the colour.

When you walk around a Clivia show or Expo, the plants that attract you are the ones with large soccer ball heads of flowers, huge flowers and often with recurved petals. Of course everyone has their own preferences regarding the shape of the flowers.

There is nothing more beautiful than a huge plant with a strong, tall peduncle of flowers on a soccer ball head. I have always joked that my ideal flower is one where I could pull off a flower, turn it upside down and put it on my head like a hat. Somehow it seems that most of these vigorous and lovely plants are orange. That should be no surprise, orange is a dominant colour in Clivia.

A garden full of vivid orange Clivia flowering is a beautiful sight. Orange and yellow planted together is lovely with the contrast yet a garden full of just yellows can actually look a bit insipid.

I have a number of beautiful large orange plants in my collection that I find really breathtaking when they flower.