Reappraising Gerberas

 

It’s day three of my involuntary, lurgy-related incarceration. As you can imagine, I am not coping with it well. Yesterday, having taken until midday to generate sufficient energy to get myself showered and ‘ready’, I decided I should venture outside to check the greenhouse before the rain set in again. It was not a brilliant idea. I was freezing within 5 minutes, which was not long enough to complete the tasks I’d set myself and left me feeling rather downcast.

 

Assorted gerberas

 

Comfortably back indoors, looking forward to lunch (happily my appetite is unimpared, a good sign surely?) I had in front of me a jug of small, very ordinary daffodils. They clashed horribly with all the furnishings in the library, but studying them gave me greater pleasure than anything else in the room. Commercial cut flowers are such a different race from those we grow in the garden. It does not matter what’s going on below the waist, so long as their elongated upper portions are crowned with a bounty of bright, long-lasting blooms. Gerberas are a case in point. Their particular needs – steady warmth, good drainage and abundant ventilation – make them quite needy house or greenhouse plants. Most of us encounter them only as cut flowers, parted from their unspectacular foliage, with their naked, fuzzy stems terminated by daisies of improbable, almost artificial perfection.

 

Gerbera flower, detail

 

Since Volkswagen decided to plonk plastic gerberas in test tubes on the dashboard of their new Beetle in the 1990s, the Transvaal daisy, as it’s otherwise known, has been languishing somewhere between naff and passé in the flower fashion stakes. Despite that, gerberas remain the fifth most popular cut flower in the world, after tulips, carnations, chryanthemums and roses. Those cultivated as cut flowers are the result of a cross between Gerbera jamesonii and Gerbera viridiflora, both plants from South Africa. They arrived in the UK in 1887 but proved better suited to commercial cultivation on the French Riviera and, latterly, under glass in The Netherlands. Whilst our heads have been turned by hydrangeas, gladioli, dahlias and peonies, the Dutch have been busy ‘improving’ the gerbera, with some eye-catching results.

 

Gerberas in rainbow colours

 

Last week at Floradecora in Frankfurt, growers from The Netherlands mounted spectacular displays of the newest cut flower varieties, including roses, lilies, tulips, bouvardia, lisianthus and, of course, gerberas. I was most taken by the more free-form gerbera introductions, such as ‘Pasta Rosata’ (below) and finely fringed ‘Pink Springs’ (bottom of post), perhaps because these looked least like conventional gerberas. Closer inspection of individual blooms revealed incredible complexity, variation and subtlety of colour, possible only because each gerbera ‘flower’ is actually composed of hundreds of smaller florets which can be manipulated by the breeder to create endless variety of size, form and shade.

The gerbera’s colour spectrum starts with white, moving into yellow, orange, red and pink, ending with magenta and deep, velvety red. There are simple single blooms alongside dense doubles and ‘specialities’ with pincushion centres surrounded by longer ray florets. Improvements in breeding, cultivation and treatment before the blooms reach the end consumer mean that gerberas now last longer, look better and stay more upright in the vase than they did 10 years ago.

 

Gerbera 'Pasta Rosata'

 

Popular flowers like gerberas, dahlias, chyrsanthemums and roses must constantly evolve and reinvent their image if they are going to remain at the top of their commercial game. By introducing a softer colour palette and looser shapes, gerbera breeders are responding the same trend that brought dahlias such as ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Café au Lait’ to the fore.

Having spent a few happy moments browsing the displays, I was once again won over by the cheer-leading vivacity of these champion cut flowers. Am I persuaded to attempt growing gerberas at home? No, thank you, but next time I stray into a florists I shall certainly cast my disapproving glances elsewhere.

Love them or loath them? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts about gerberas.

 

Gerbera 'Pink Springs'