The Tennessee Gesneriad Society held its annual show last month at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville. Two local members, Brad Walker and Johnathan Chisam, attended and brought home several accolades.
Gesneriads are a group of herbaceous plants from all over the world, including the more recognized African violets (Saintpaulia), flame violets (Episcia) and florist gloxinias (Sinningia speciosa). They are a large and varied group of plants that contain plants that grow in the tropical forest canopies, cloud forest environment and a few that grow in more temperate climates. They range in height from a small tree (Paliavana tenuiflora) to the world’s smallest blooming houseplant (Sinningia pusilla).
Walker became interested in the group almost 30 years ago and started developing his own hybrids in 2005, growing a large part of the original collection from seeds imported from Brazil. He was awarded 10 blue ribbons, 11 reds, three yellows, and one honorable mention in the categories of horticulture, artistic and arts. Six of the ribbons were for his own hybrids.
Chisam became interested in gesneriads last year, and received three blue ribbons and a red ribbon in the horticulture and artistic categories at the recent competition.
There are over 3,000 species in the large family flora, with Walker growing numerous plants in a heated greenhouse, as well as indoors under florescent lights. He enjoys hybridizing them, that’s taking two different plants and making a new variety. He has named one for his parents, as well as one for the late Mary Hamby with Mary’s Greenhouse.
“It is a very challenging but rewarding hobby,” said Walker. “The plants are very sensitive, and controlling lighting, soil, and even watering can be a challenge.”
Both Walker and Chisam are employed at Magness Library, with Walker serving as library director and Chisam involved with technical support.