Do you know, my first overseas work trip was to The Netherlands?? I even had to get a passport for the event! I’d never been abroad before… It was in the early days of Easyjet, and it was all such a novelty for me! I remember getting butterflies in my stomach at take off and landing, and being super excited about the duty free. I bought a pre-mixed large bottle of Pina Colada and some CK1 aftershave.. not even sure why!
Anyway, that first trip was to a company named Sahin Zaden BV, and we were hosted by the legendary Kees Sahin and his wife, Elisabeth. I was still quite a shy 18 year old at that point, but was enthralled by the fields of flowers. It was the first few weeks of my job, and I was on a high. My job was to find new flowers, how cool!
We drove around countless fields, filled with rainbow colour, and were still driving as the sun came down. In the evenings we would cool off with pink champagne and typical Dutch food, and obviously the champagne was a little dazzling for my young metabolism! In those days, I was a vegetarian too, and my choices on the menu were limited… most Dutch places offered me “uitsmijter” (egg on bread with cheese in between), which sounds simple but was utterly delicious! I also discovered ice tea for the first time, which changed my world. I’d previously only known the milky hot stuff!
Anyway, enough of my trip down memory lane! The company Sahin Zaden BV was incorporated into the Japanese company Takii a few years ago. Thankfully, Takii have kept on the majority of their unique breeding programme. They specialise in home garden varieties, annuals that are just a little bit different, and that can be mostly direct sown into the soil. Takii have been responsible for tonnes of new introductions with Calendula, Nasturtium, Cornflower, Eschscholzia and more- sometimes they breed with intentions, other times the bees do the job for them!
I was super lucky to have a tour of their 2020 trial grounds with Alan Sparkes, a Nasturtium breeding specialist himself, as I hunted down a few new varieties, and found myself enjoying some old favourites…
First up, the classics.. varieties I remember growing with my Nana when I was knee-high to a grasshopper! Many people haven’t heard of some of these beautiful flowers, such as the orchid-like Schizanthus! It’s time for a revival..
Zinnia ‘Peppermint Stick’
I have fond memories of growing Zinnias when I was young- they always made such sturdy seedlings, they were like textbook plants! My Nana taught me that they don’t like disturbance, yet were hard to grow in situ, so we used to transplant super carefully, or grow in biodegradable peat pots! The blooms are humungous, and last a couple of weeks easy!
Zinnia ‘Cut and Come Again’
A classic selection of the finest cut flower Zinnias, collated over many years from a mix of varieties. Lasting 14 days in a vase, you might even need to dust them!
Now, here’s something special! Once prized as a cool greenhouse specimen, thanks to their glittering orchid-esque blooms, yet out of favour in recent years. Amazingly, these precious plants were sown directly into the soil, and here they are, in their full glory just a couple of months later!
Salpiglossis ‘Kew Blue’
If you don’t know Salpiglossis, you really have to get involved! They are close relatives of the humble Petunia, and indeed some sneaky cross-hybrids exist too! They’re far more upright than Petunia, you can expect a plant 12 inches tall, with these bloody awesome blue blooms!
Poppy ‘Danebrog Laced’
The Poppy family is super wide and very interesting, with this ‘Danish Flag’ variety being a favourite. A type of somniferum, yet with fringed petals and inner stripe. It looks fab against the bluey foliage, and will self-seed as much as you let it!
A real plant to stop you in your tracks! I did a quick quiz on Instagram and most people thought it was a mini Hollyhock! But, again, I used to grow these with my Nana, as well as their close relative Godetia. The cut flower enthusiasts have re-discovered Clarkia, and I am super happy!
Cerinthe major Purpurescens
Star of countless plant ident questions on social media, this oddity is actually a bee magnet! It’s a doddle to grow, and will self-seed with abandon (whether you want it to or not..) A classy cut flower, perhaps you can sell them for a quid a stem!
Calendula ‘Pink Surprise’
There’s a lot of new Calendula breeding, but sometimes the old favourites are the best. ‘Pink Surprise’ was indeed a surprise to the breeder.. Whilst not technically ‘pink’, it’s more a trick of the eye, as the orange glow plays against the cream!
Alyssum ‘Aphrodite Mixed’
Another of my early sowings, but in those days I only had the white variety to play with! This ‘Aphrodite’ mixture is really fab, and most of the colours are colour-changing too. The fragrance is not to be under-rated either, it’s rich like honey! An easy filler plant, can be sown direct into the soil.
There’s always plenty of surprises in the breeding programme at Takii, as they work hard to keep up with gardener’s thirst for new flowers! A few of these varieties are available now, but others have a bit of a wait…!
Teloxys ‘Sea Foam’
Such a cool plant, and it’s already caught the eye of the creatives! Florists love it, but so do miniature railway enthusiasts! The frothy flower formations are perhaps substitutes for miniature trees around a train set.
Sunflower ‘Garden Statement’
If you’ve only ever grown yellow sunflowers, where have you been?? There are reds, oranges, bicolours, even slight pinky ones… plus this handsome creamy-yellow! Most new Sunflower breeding gives multi-branching too, making them an excellent garden plant, flowering longer too.
Nasturtium ‘Baby Rose’
Some of the strongest new Nasturtium breeding for years, the ‘Baby Series’ is recognised by the bubble shape, and presence of blooms on the top of the plants. These Nasturtiums will never become cabbages with hidden flowers, no sir!
Nasturtium ‘Baby Orange’
Rounded plants, selected for shape as well as deeper green foliage. This sets off the vibrant blooms of Nasturtium ‘Baby Orange’ just perfectly! Try it in pots or baskets too!
Eschscholzia ‘Jelly Beans’
The fabulous Californian Poppy, in almost every colour of the rainbow! I actually helped to name this mixture during one of my past visits. An excellent, easy sow plant for a sunny spot, it’s super carefree and I’m sure you’ll love the crinkled blooms as much as I do!
Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’
Cosmos interest has sky rocketed in recent years. Whilst I’m not that enthralled by it’s cut-flowerability, it does make a fine border plant. ‘Candy Stripe’, as you can see, has been selected for it’s excellent branching too, something the older varieties seem to only manage when they are 12 foot tall!
Calendula ‘Oopsy Daisy’
Another exciting colour break for the English Marigold, ‘Oopsy Daisy’ combines butter yellow with vibrant orange. Sow the seed directly where you want them to flower, they’ll even fit into the vegetable garden, as they’re edible too!
Calendula ‘Double Lemon’
A bit of a sneak peek into the Calendula breeding. Here, they are selecting for better quality, almost Chrysanthemum-like blooms. Watch this space!
Nasturtium ‘New Bronze’
It takes a keen eye to recognise new plants.. would you have spotted this browny-coloured Nasturtium? Another top tip for future gardens!
Thanks to Takii Seed BV for my exclusive tour of the breeding grounds!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.