Featured Hybridizer: Patrick Forgey
by John Curran
Patrick, how and when were you first introduced to Brugmansia?
I saw my first Brugmansia over 6 years ago, a single white blooming in a public conservatory in Seattle. I had never heard of them before that and I assumed they were a greenhouse tropical in my region.
Were your first seeds or cuttings gifts, trades, purchases? And when did you acquire them?
I started with cuttings that were gifted in 2005 at a local plant swap...soon thereafter, I was also given a few seeds from which I grew 3 plants...as luck would have it, 1 of those seedlings turned out well and was registered in 2009 as 'Jessie's Angel'. I have purchased only a few brugs...the rest were given to me as shared/traded cuttings and seeds. The brug addiction has been unlike any I've ever had for other plants.
Where do you garden? Do you grow your plants in the ground and/or containers? What challenges are specific to your area?
I live in the Puget Sound region, south of Seattle, WA....USDA zone 8b. My outdoor season is from about mid-April to early November. My home has a lot size of about 1/4 acre and I grow almost all of my brugs in containers. My climate maintains cool & damp soils until well into the growing season. Because of that and the need to store my dormant brugs in a heated building during the winter, I find container cultivation works best for me. Because I have had as many as 200 plants at one time, I don't have available space to plant them all in the ground, and having them in pots facilitates changing their locations, if needed or desired.
A big challenge here is growing brug seedlings to the blooming stage. Some will set their first blooms at the end of the first growing season. Young, tender seedlings often don't harden their trunks sufficiently to go through winter storage without dying part way back. This results in a long vegetative growing period in their 2nd year and I don't always get blooms that season. They go into their 2nd winter again with trunks that may be prone to dying back. It has not been uncommon to not get blooms until late in the 3rd year. If I were to get serious about hybridizing, I would need to either move to a warmer climate or get a greenhouse. Another concern is that my cool climate is not conducive to achieving great depth of color. I have noticed that pinks in particular are paler here than in other parts of the country.
How and when did you first get into hybridizing Brugmansia?
I want to emphasize that I am a novice at hybridizing and have pretty much stopped experimenting until I have more space to grow the seedlings. There is something in my nature that loves plant reproduction. Because seed production in most brugs requires cross-pollination and the introduction of new cultivars has been so exciting, I quite naturally felt the urges to experiment with creating my own hybrids, probably beginning in 2007 or 2008. At first, I would use any 2 brugs that happened to have flowers open at the same time. Now, since I have no scientific background in hybridization, I mostly go with my gut feeling of what 2 brugs might make a good new cultivar. I do try to pay some attention to the genetic background of the brugs I choose to work with...seeing some well-known brugs in the genetic pool is encouraging.
What is your current status with regards to growing out hybrid seedlings?
For 3 years I have been growing out seedlings for Seed Sprout Nursery (currently out of business). I selected 10 hybrid crosses Brenda Delph, the nursery owner, had created and she sent me seeds to trial. From those, I grew 66 seedlings. Because of the long growth period my area requires, I have postponed starting any new plants from my own hybridizing efforts. I have begun culling seedlings that aren't "special" and will continue the process through this year. Hard to do when the collecting fever runs so strong, I have begun to also cut back on the size of my personal collection of brugs. But I have finally subscribed to the concept that "less is more". I'm adding very few new brugs to my collection and trying to judiciously remove several that I feel I can live without. I will be happy to have some of my garden space reclaimed for other kinds of plants!
What is your hybridizing focus, your goals?
Nothing too focused here, but I do have an attraction to small-flowered brugs and would like to create some plants with smaller stature and smaller blooms, appropriate for limited space use, such as patios, decks or even balconies. I think we all are impressed by the impressive size that brugs can attain...I'd like to see some impressive mini’s come along with similar improvements in color and flower form. I look forward to working on that when I have more space available.
Have you registered any Brugmansia, and how many?
To date, I have registered just one brug, 'Jessie's Angel'. For those who like plants with a story: I had a cousin named Jessie, who was 1 day younger than me. We grew up playing together & even when separated as adults, we always felt close ties. During the time I was trialing this seedling, my cousin died of cancer. I chose to name this brug in her memory and because she was very religious, I felt it quite appropriate to go with the name 'Jessie's Angel'.
As a side note, I would point out that this brug attains a bright orange, almost tangerine, color in warmer climates. It has been trialed in North Texas and achieved a great color there. It is a versicolor and even in the lighter orange coloring I usually see here, it is beautiful to see the different stages of coloration going on simultaneously.
Do you have any promising seedlings under evaluation?
I have 3 or 4 that I'm hopeful for but I'm not ready to show photos of. I am conservative about deciding a seedling is worth registering. Beyond these few that might make the cut, there will also be a few that will remain special just to me. I strongly subscribe to the idea that brug seedlings that don't make the grade should be culled or strictly withheld from sharing.
Have you done anything unusual with your brugs?
Last year I grew a Brug-in-a-Basket. I have an unnamed seedling from a Brug Forum friend's hybridizing efforts. It is creme colored and a very good bloomer with nice fragrance, but I don't see it being offered for retail sale. But it has one characteristic that is a bit different...its branches grow more horizontally than normal. Last year I "decapitated" one trunk, cutting it off about 12" below the lowest Y. I rooted it and grew it in a large hanging basket with some fuchsias nestled around it. It made quite a novelty.
Do you enjoy photographing your plants and flowers?
Yes, I spend a lot of time in my backyard with my camera. I particularly like close-up work. Someday I plan to have a small book printed with some of my photo work. When I'm too old to work in the garden, I will have my photos.
Is your garden open to visitors?
Yes, but on a somewhat limited basis. I am a plant grower before I'm any kind of landscaper...so a visit to my backyard isn't like a trip to the park. Someone really into the plants might enjoy a tour the most. It is not a pet- or child friendly environment...I like both types of critters, but haven't laid out the gardens with them in mind.
Would you plan travel around visiting Brugmansia gardens?
If traveling to an area that has them, I would want to see them. To date, I haven't traveled anywhere far from home, solely with the intent of seeing brugs.
Do you have a website? Do you sell Brugmansia seeds or plants?
No website. I haven't sold seeds. I have mostly traded/gifted cuttings to friends & acquaintances, but have sold a few to people new to brugs. I don't see myself ever operating a nursery or selling on eBay. I grow mostly for my own pleasure.
What do see as the future of Brugmansia hybridizing?
It appears to me that the future is wide open. There has been a great deal of growth in the introduction of wonderful new hybrids. If we can contain ourselves from flooding the market with inferior plants, I'm sure there will be many special new brugs in our future. Maybe we'll see red, purple and blue?!
What other plants do you grow, collect, hybridize?
I've enjoyed general gardening for many years. I've had many of the collecting crazes that hit most gardeners: roses, dahlias, bearded iris, hostas, fuchsias, hydrangeas & peonies to name a few. None of those have truly hooked me the way brugmansias have. I grow quite a few hummingbird attractors and enjoy Anna's hummers year round and Rufous hummers seasonally. I collect seeds from a number of my plants, but rarely attempt any hybridizing other than brugs.
Thank you, Patrick, for a most interesting and informative interview.