Blooming success at Chelsea: South African agapanthus experts Andy and Quinton

It takes more than hard work and sweat in the African sun to blow the petals off exhibitors at the world-renowned Chelsea flower show. For Andy de Wet and Quinton Bean, two South African plant breeders, it took 18 years of diligent cultivation, 12,000 hand-pollinated seedlings, and perfect timing to emerge victorious. De Wet Plant Breeders have claimed the prestigious Royal Horticulture Plant of the Year award for their native Agapanthus creation, Black Jack. In an interview with BizNews, the duo from Hartebeespoortdam discussed their previous Chelsea accolades and the soaring demand that followed their latest win. – Linda van Tilburg 

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Excerpts from the interview

18 years of effort to grow a world-winner

I started about 35 years ago, dabbling a little bit. When Quinton joined me about 18 years ago, we really decided let’s make something big out of this, and then we put a lot of effort in and we worked very hard at studying that genus, getting enough variation from different species and then bringing that together and then recombining and recombining to try. So, it’s 18 years of extensive breeding. Traditional old agapanthus will push out one flower, Black Jack will make more than one, It’s very floriferous and grows fast. It’s really special because it has dark purple velvet flowers, big flower heads, the buds are black and it is just absolutely stunning. It has an extended flowering season and grows very fast.

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The advantages of breeding Agapanthus where it comes from

It’s changed the whole Agapanthus scene worldwide with what we have been introducing. It’s always better to breed a plant which is indigenous to your area because we could study this genus a lot better and we could bring the extreme varieties into our breeding and it gives us an advantage over other people that are trying to breed our plants. We’ve really popularised the genus. It’s always been popular in Europe, but our new introductions have definitely made it very fashionable. 

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Sold out after Chelsea success

It will now make the sales of Black Jack much, much, much higher. I’m under the impression from my agents that all stock in Europe and the UK of the wholesalers was gone the day after Chelsea. It is the best advertising we could get. What also happens is it gives you credibility so people can see that we do things properly, we do it scientifically and what we produce, we set high standards, so it makes the other wholesalers worldwide interested in what we do. So, it opens the doors a bit more for us and makes it easier for us going forward. 

What will be of interest to the public is that they think Black Jack was made yesterday and released. But when a plant flowers for the first time for us and we say, okay, this is a winner, it’ll be about eight years before it makes its way to the retail floor in the UK or Europe. 

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