Port Al­fred’s clivia queen

Talk of the Town - - Opinion -

FROM the glory and ex­cite­ment of play­ing in­ter­na­tional and pro­vin­cial sport to the more sub­dued life of grow­ing clivias, it is al­ways a busy life for well-known Port Al­fred res­i­dent, An­nie de Wet Steyn.

In only 18 months, De Wet Steyn has be­come one of the big­gest col­lec­tors and breeder of clivias in South Africa.

“I de­cided on clivias be­cause they are indige­nous to South Africa and are such re­ward­ing plants to grow. They are hardy, don’t need much water and there is a huge de­mand for them over­seas,” she said.

With­out re­al­is­ing it at the time, Port Al­fred is one of the best ar­eas in South Africa to grow th­ese beau­ti­ful flow­ers. Her nursery is si­t­u­ated on Riverview Farm on the out­skirts of Port Al­fred, which her hus­band, Justin, bought from the late Trevor Reed. In a re­mark­able co­in­ci­dence, the cou­ple then dis­cov­ered that the very first clivia in the world was found in the veld on Riverview Farm.

Bri­tain’s Duke of Northum­ber­land heard about this and sent Wil­liam Burchell out to Port Al­fred to iden­tify the plant way back in Septem­ber 1813. This fact was later con­firmed in a pub­li­ca­tion by the fa­mous Kirsten­bosch Gar­dens in Cape Town.

De Wet Steyn added, “Co­in­ci­den­tally, it is fit­ting that I estab­lished my nursery here on the land where clivias orig­i­nated.”

Burchell, of course, also be­came well-known in wild life when he had a species of ze­bras named af­ter him.

De Wet Steyn has­tened to add that she was given a good start in her new ven­ture as she re­ceived tremen­dous sup­port from hus­band Justin. As a re­sult she bought her first stock from two other col­lec­tors in the coun­try.

Th­ese ar­rived by truck and she was faced with the huge task of iden­ti­fy­ing many of th­ese and placed in pots. She had to wait un­til they flow­ered to en­able her to do this ac­cu­rately. She ex­plained that clivias grew bet­ter in shade, which she pro­vided by putting up shade cloth. To­day she has more than 65 000 plants un­der 7000m² of shade cloth.

She set out to en­large her gene pool and did this by im­port­ing seed from China, where the best clivias in the world are grown. The re­sult has been that she now has one of the best col­lec­tions in the coun­try.

“I have some colours here that you won’t get any­where else in the world,” she said.

De Wet Steyn pointed out that there were only six dif­fer­ent species of clivias avail­able, but she in­ter-breeds to get the dif­fer­ent colours. It is, how­ever, a slow process. She ex­plained that it took only seven days for the seeds to ger­mi­nate and then one had to wait for four years be­fore they flower. She added that once cross-pol­li­na­tion had been done, one had no idea what colour flow­ers they would pro­duce.

She said she and her staff of four, with ad­di­tional help, pol­li­nate the plants them­selves, do­ing be­tween 10 and 15000 in an 18-hour day.

De Wet Steyn said she had Face­book friends grow­ing clivias all over the world – there are grow­ers in 46 dif­fer­ent coun­tries – with China be­ing the largest.

Many of th­ese peo­ple are in daily con­tact with her, or­der­ing seeds from her vast col­lec­tion.

Though still rel­a­tively new in the busi­ness, De Wet Steyn en­tered in both the East­ern Prov­ince and Bor­der an­nual shows last year for the first time. This proved highly suc­cess­ful and she came home with many awards.

A mem­ber of the South African Clivia As­so­ci­a­tion, she is look­ing for­ward to at­tend­ing the world con­fer­ence at Mul­der­s­drift in Septem­ber. But more ex­cit­ing is that the cou­ple have planned a trip to China and Ja­pan next year to meet grow­ers and col­lec­tors in those coun­tries. De Wet Steyn said her web­site would be com­pleted in about a month’s time and she plans to have “open” days in the fu­ture.

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