The bright sparks of electro-horticulture

Ever since Benjamin Franklin got his knuckles burned when flying a kite in a thunderstorm, many scientists — and even more quacks — have been curious about the possibilities of what has been called electro-horticulture.

The logic is inescapable — most things react in some way to an electric current. Why shouldn’t plants react too, and perhaps grow better/faster/bigger?

While I’m not prepared to speak authoritatively on this subject in general, I have had a bit of experience with one aspect of electro-horticulture: the use of electric lights — fluorescent lights to be precise — in a contraption intended to start seedlings indoors. It had three shelves illuminated by bulbs casting a special kind of light (I’m not sure how special it really was) and provided space for a couple of dozen seed trays. At the time I was working on the 29th floor of an office building, and inevitably the contraption ended up in the corridor outside the ladies’ room, which was the only place I could find to put it.

The plants didn’t seem to mind. In fact, under the benevolent rays of the Gro-Lux, watered from time to time and admired by most of my fellow office workers as they passed by, the infant courgettes, tomatoes, snapdragons and the rest thrived. If they resented the low status of their situation, they could at least look forward to being transplanted.

The Chelsea Flower Show: New plants and the not-so-new

The Chelsea Flower Show is perhaps the world’s brightest stage on which to launch new plants. It’s great opportunity to tell gardeners about new plants, and blogs, websites, newspapers and magazines are full of the news. The Chelsea Plant of The Year award, launched last year, has ratcheted up the interest.

But some nurseries announce plants as new when they’ve been around for years. Others fail to mention really good new plants that they’re exhibiting and have to have the information coaxed out of them. And can a plant first publicised last summer really be “launched” at the show?

Hillier Nurseries have a very attractive new ruby-red leaved maple, Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’ (pictured above), a lovely plant, which they say is “Available exclusively through Hillier Garden Centres and online at in 2011”. But in fact it’s been available since the 1990s, the RHS themselves say it’s listed by 24 other nurseries and garden centres all over the country have it. Despite three or four attempts I have been unable to get hold of Hillier to ask why they’re promoting the plant in this way.
Clematis ‘Celebration’ Clematis ‘Celebration’. Photograph: Fred Godfrey/Sussex Plants

Clematis ‘Celebration’ is certainly a breakthrough clematis – the first ever large-flowered type with yellow foliage – and Thorncroft Clematis are lucky to have it.