Port Alfred’s clivia queen
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.