Tony Shepherdson

Update from the North East Ė Late June 2020


After an extremely frustrating 2019 when I only grew begonias to keep my stock going due to a planned house move that was eventually abandoned, I was desperately looking forward to exhibiting again this year. Well, we all know that wonít happen now but at least I am able to grow them to exhibition standard again. One of the outcomes of last year was that I found myself very low on stock Ė thankfully I didnít loose any varieties but in terms of planning for succession I had fallen well behind.

The decision was made to reduce the number of plants grown to flower, which would then increase my available space for cuttings, The result of this change is that I now have one of my 16 x 8 greenhouses set aside wholly for this purpose. This hopefully one-off opportunity should get me back on track with my stock for 2021.


There are a few varieties that I will be flowering for the first time in 2020 even though I have had some of them for at least a couple of years:


Moira Callan

I really canít wait to see this one in full bloom in my greenhouse. I built up a bit of stock last year Ė it looks like it is quite generous with cutting material and I had also planned to try and flower it on a cutting, but out of the seven cutting tubers I started, four didnít pip even though they all rooted well, which is a worry, so I ended up sacrificing my only adult tuber to use for extra cuttings, so will only flower three cutting tubers this year.


Linda Jackson

I donít know why itís taken me so long to getting around to growing this variety but Iím pleased that I have it now. The two things Iím not looking forward to are dealing with the awkward angle of the bud and the dreaded petal marking.


Miss Rankin

An older variety that I cannot ever recall seeing on the show bench but I can most definitely remember seeing it in full bloom in John Hamiltonís greenhouse a few years ago. It is also one of his all time favourites so it comes highly recommended! Cuttings seem to root quickly and on the evidence so far it produces a substantial cutting tuber, but since I acquired it about three years ago, it has usually lost quite a bit of steam once itís potted up. This year however, I have two healthy looking plants that donít look out of place among the other varieties so my optimism is high.


Ken Gallagher

Another red to add to the collection, so thereís even more competition now for Tom Brownlee. It has nice glossy, dark green foliage but it doesnít appear to be the straightest of plants and it also seems to be one of those where the leaves donít grow in the same direction. This can be frustrating when sticks and ties have to be repositioned around bud securing time. One of my Moira Callan is growing like this as well Ė other varieties that do this on a regular basis are Tequila Sunrise, Fantasia, Eva Grace and Ruby Young.


Blind tubers


Blind cutting tubers is an issue that Iíve had before, probably the worst variety for me is Joyce Mihulka. It always produces a firm, uniform, healthy looking tuber, but most years I can guarantee that some of them will produce roots but no top growth. I have hung on to them if Iím short and a few will pip at some late stage in the summer whereas others produce nothing. Because of this, I usually grow about 50% more Joyce Mihulka cutting tubers than I need in anticipation of this.

It really is worth getting to know your varieties and this doesnít just apply to the flowering period. Varieties that are prone to losses through rot such as Mary Heatley, Nichola Coates and Mrs. Dan Ramage are worth rooting a few more than you plan to flower and I always grow at least twice the amount of Symestar cutting tubers that I need because of its tendency to not produce any tuber at all. The good thing is that when they do all come good I have some extra spare plants available.


Cutting failures


When I wrote the diary for the NBS website a couple of years ago, I was experiencing an ongoing issue with cuttings rotting off. I struggled to understand why at first because previous to this, propagation had never been an issue for me. I fell into the trap of blaming too many things Ė for a few years I had rooted my main batch of cuttings in a 5 feet by two open heated bench. I have quite a few Stewart electric propagators but none of them have thermostats, so I had got it into my head that they were far too hot for delicate un-rooted cutting material so had just about stopped using them. Looking back, I was loosing a few cuttings on the open bench as well but in 2018 due to the extra plants I flowered, the 5 x 2 wasnít available so I reverted to the Stewarts and the losses increased. I blamed fertilizer in the start up compost for the tubers the cuttings came from Ė not unreasonable as I was starting up in M2 and rooting in it as well however a change to plain peat didnít make any difference, but particularly I blamed the temperature of the small propagators. 2019 gave me the chance to have a detailed think about what was going wrong and eventually I realised that the fact was I had been increasingly restricting water because of the rotting issue. The cuttings were dehydrating and then when I eventually watered them the rot was starting.


For 2020, I have a Ďnewí regime:

        Back to using the Stewarts Ė including the lids to increase humidity Ė I had stopped because they were even hotter with them on

        Tubers are started in 6 to 1 peat and perlite, no fertilizer

        Cuttings are rooted in the same medium

        Rooting medium checked daily for water especially below the surface

        Spraying with water regularly throughout the day


As a result, I have taken over 300 cuttings this year with only around 5 lost and this was probably more attributable to them not being in the best condition rather than anything else. The compost temperature has been around 35įC for most of the rooting period. On warmer days, I switched them off from late morning until early evening and the temperature remained between 25 and 30įC. They were rooted in 3 weeks but I left them in situ for a further week, gradually reducing the time they were switched on then potted up after 4 weeks. I believe that they would have rooted just as well at a lower temperature, perhaps a little slower but I know now it was the lack of moisture to blame.


Something different


Purely for a bit of fun, I am also growing a couple of pot plants. This is strictly a one-off but probably Ė to be truthful, because deep down psychologically I know that I wonít have to suffer the trauma of preparing them for and transporting them to a show! Itís also a chance to use the bloom supports that I bought 7 or 8 years ago that have been in the shed ever since!

Without giving any thought whatsoever about which varieties to use other than the fact that I had three well-matched plants of each variety available, Iím using Powder Puff and Joyce Champion. They went straight from the propagator into twelve litre pots in late April, so in timing terms for growing pots, I suspect it was a bit on the late side. Each pot has three separate tubers and I am just feeling my own way with regards to training the breaks. Iím sure that Iíll make plenty of mistakes but Iím bound to learn something Ė even if itís just what not to do!

What I will say is that I am starting to appreciate just how much work goes into growing multi-stems Ė even with just two plants. Nothing can be done quickly without risking damage so I canít image what it must be like to grow a couple of dozen or more of them. One thing that I have noticed is how crowded things are in the centre of the pot so I am turning the pots through 180 degrees every morning. The greenhouse they are in faces south so if I didnít do this, the side shoots at the back of the pot would get very little light.

Iíll also decide soon if I am going to try a few plants grown as single stems, as the six pot class at Dundee is something that Iíve thought about from time to time, although I have to admit that I havenít given any thought whatsoever as to how I would actually get them there in addition to my cut blooms!


Iíll probably do an update around flowering time, in the meantime take care and good luck.



Tony Shepherdson




Miss Rankin


Moira Callan growing point

Moira Callan


Powder Puff back


Powder Puff front


Ken Gallagher


Left side





  Plants before bud securing Right side  

                                                                                                   Pictures by Tony Shepherdson