Streptocarpus love

This summer, in that all too brief window between lockdowns, I found myself having a socially distanced ponder over a plant with an elderly gentleman in a trilby. We were at Batcombe House in Somerset, open for the National Garden Scheme, and had spotted a plant on a table that looked like a streptocarpus (cape primrose), but with smaller leaves and flowers. The gentleman fired up his plant identification app, snapped a photo and confirmed that it was a species streptocarpus. Chatting to the owner on the way out (oh, how I have missed conversations about plants) I found out that it is available to grow from seed from Dibley’s Nursery, a streptocarpus specialist. 

So that’s another plant on the wishlist for my ever growing collection of streps. They’re a plant you can’t help buying more of. The flowers are just so pretty, in shades of white, pink and vivid blues and violets, and smother the plant from spring until autumn. 

They are are fairly easy to look after. As with many houseplants, they don’t like to be placed in a spot that gets bright sunshine (which fades the flowers and burns the leaves) but they do like bright light. I grow mine in the bathroom and in a bedroom, near east-facing windows. 

They key thing – as with many houseplants – is not to water them too much or let them sit in a saucer of water. This will rot the roots and cause the leaves to wilt. It is fine to let the compost dry out between waterings – even though it may mean that (confusingly) the leaves will wilt when the plant really needs a drink (they soon perk up again). The older leaves have a habit of going grey-brown, especially towards the end of the season – you can either cut off the brown or just remove the whole leaf. 

It’s best to repot the plants into fresh compost every spring, but don’t necessarily go up a pot size – the rootballs are often very small and do better slightly rootbound. Feeding with a high potash fertilizer once a week from spring onwards will encourage lots of flowers – I use Baby Bio but Derry Watkins of Special Plants adds slow release fertilizer in spring to hers. She has an amazing collection, all propagated by leaf cuttings. I may just have to pay her a visit this spring…

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