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It's as good a time as any to make the acquaintance of Twinky Pinky

By This is NorthDevon  |  Posted: December 31, 2008

  • SOMETHING FOR 2009: (From left) Cisanthe Twinky Pinky, Tomato 100s & 1000s and Ptilotus Joey.

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H ANDS aloft all of you who have heard of cisanthe. Or, to give it a full title, Cisanthe Twinky Pinky.

No, being a mere mortal, I can't count all your responses from the comfort of home, though my hunch is very few — if any — of you reacted in positive frame of mind.

What I can reveal is that Twinky Pinky is a pretty perennial, best grown as a half-hardy annual, flowering from late June to September and reaching a manageable 16in.

Devon-based seedsmen Suttons are giving it first-time space in their 2009 catalogue - and I have to say the picture looks a delight.

Yet try as I may, I was unable to unveil much about cisanthe. Not from Suttons themselves, not online, and even Rosemoor curator Chris Bailes scratched his head in puzzlement.

As a botanical "stop press", I have just heard from the RHS's garden at Wisley, Surrey, whose principal horticultural adviser Leigh Hunt reveals that cisanthe is probably incorrect — it should be cistanthe, derived from Cistanthe grandiflora, which bears all the hallmarks of the Suttons flower. Furthermore, if this were the case the plant should now be called calandrina.

Leigh adds: "This plant isn't cultivated that often. We have just four plants in our alpine department at Wisley being grown for display."

I can tell you, though, Twinky Pinky proved an eye-gazer at the Suttons flower trials in August and I've also been informed it looks slightly odd when the blooms drop off . . . but I'll wait to judge that later on.

In its livery of vivid pink, I'm not surprised cisanthe — or cistanthe — has earned the nickname Bubblegum Flower, reminding me of those long-ago years when I would occasionally sink my gnashers into a dollop of Wrigleys and threaten to unplug my handful of fillings.

Cisanthe has fleshy, silver-green leaves and attractive gold-tipped stamens that appear from rosettes that are best shielded from temperatures below zero.

At £1.35 for 380 seeds, you could end up with lots of Twinky Pinkies for less than the price of a pint. So go out and sow and grow . . . and raise a jar to your success.

Elsewhere, Suttons have labelled 2009 as their Year of the Tomato. They hail toms as "nature's red bodyguard", as they are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and are known to keep certain diseases at bay.

That apart, tomatoes are juicy, full of taste, highly productive and come in all sorts of shapes, shades and sizes.

The Paignton firm's faith in the red skins is reinforced with its blazoning of its catalogue's pole page with a big bunch of new tomato 100s & 1,000s.

Like that famously boastful lager advert, Suttons claim their debutante is "probably the world's most prolific-fruiting tomato".

Grow it on the patio, in a window box or a raised container and watch it deliver thousands of sweet, juicy grape-sized berries. Indeed, one of Suttons plants produced more than 2,000 of them during their ultimate test — enough to feed their entire staff and more.

A random sweep of a handful of Suttons' numerous newies — in both seed or small plant form — include chilli pepper Fiery Furnace that's exceedingly hot, rhubarb Raspberry Red that doesn't need forcing, eschscholzia Bridal Bouquet (12in) with large double flowers in a mix of salmon-rose and delicate whites and creams, dahlia Chocolate (3ft-4ft) that will reward you with countless choccy-scented blooms and coreopsis Sea Shells (28in), in curiously-shaped yellow and orange red-tipped flowers that open like small trumpets.

Nearby at Suttons' sister company, Dobies, my eye was drawn to something a little different near the end of its 130-page catalogue. Ptilotus Joey looks a real gem, sprouting an abundance of 14in high bottle brushes in silver, tipped pink. It's from central Australia, so give it a hot spot and don't fret in a drought — Joey will smile through.

A run-through of Dobies' other debutantes sees blueberry Ozark Blue, gooseberry Xenia that's almost spine-free, strawberry Amelia with large, sweet fruits, fuchsias Rose Quartet (12in) and Satellite (up to 2ft) that are like none other, with their four corolla petals resembling tiny satellites orbiting the central stigma, geraniuim himalayense plenum (10in), a pretty double-flowered perennial with glorious purplish-pink flowers shaded with darker blue veins, and, if you are really adventurous, grow walnut Fernor which crops early in its life, flowers late to dodge the frosts and delivers bounteous tasty kernels.

It's a handsome garden feature, provided you offer it sufficient limb room.

● For Suttons, phone 0844 9220606, write to Woodview Road, Paignton, TQ4 7NG, or go to www.suttons.co.uk

For Dobies, phone 0844 7017625, write to Long Road, Paignton, TQ4 7SX, or go to www.dobies.co.uk

In the New Year I hope to begin an occasional series spotlighting plants that are seldom grown but which deserve a wider audience.

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