As many may know, Pennsylvania is known as "the keystone state." A keystone is the architectural piece at the crown of a vault or arch and marks it's apex locking the other pieces into position. This makes a keystone very important structurally. Today, It is my privilege to introduce Betty Cessna, a hybridizer from central PA., who is a keystone to hybridizing in the strep world.
Betty has been a dear friend and encouragement since I have come to know her. Not to mention, a very generous trading partner. I don't quite remember how I actually was introduced to Betty, however, Dale Martens was instrumental in peaking my interest in her hybrids. I had asked Dale for a few plants as a trade and she sent me a small clump of a divisions of Betty's hybrid called Daybreak. I remembered at the time the divisions struggled and I was ready to "toss" them into the compost. Luckily, patience won out and Daybreak was one the most stable and prettiest fantasy I had seen at the time. To this day, Daybreak is a "must" fantasy in my collection.
Recently, I asked Betty if she would be willing to allow me to write an article on her and her hybridizing. She has graciously accepted the challenge or should I dare say the limelight for this writing. So without further ado, it is my honor to introduce Betty Cessna's story written In her own words how she got started gardening and hybridizing.
"I don’t remember a time when I was not involved with plants. My mother started our family business in the early 1940s with an eight foot greenhouse that grew to include a 28 foot and two 60 foot ones as I was growing up. We grew cut flowers in the winter, daisies, snapdragons, sweet peas, and calla lilies, then switched to vegetable and bedding plants in spring. I had an aunt who grew African violets, and she gave me my first ones, along with what she called a Flame Violet, which I later learned was an episcia, when I was in my early ‘teens.
When I married, my husband and brother built me a small greenhouse of my own, which I used mostly to start my own vegetable plants for our garden. It gradually evolved into a sunroom, as I began growing more gesneriads. When I first managed to get a seed pod on one of my episcias, I was looking online for information, and discovered Dale Martens, a wonderful source of information, so helpful and knowledgeable, and she later introduced me to Thad Scaggs. Any success I have had in hybridizing Is directly due to the unselfish sharing of plants and instructions from these two, and I can’t thank them enough. I loved episcias, but they didn’t like winter in the sunroom, and it took me months to rehabilitate them every spring. (As I was also a wildlife rehabilitator, time has always been a problem) So I hybridized rex begonias for a while, then discovered streps, thanks to Dale and Thad., and fell in love with them. I have also hybridized some kohlerias, which I like because I can “pack them away“ over winter.
When I began hybridizing streps, one of my first plants was a seven petal fantasy, and I was hooked on fantasy. I have produced several very pretty ones, and found the secret to be several generations of fantasy in their background. They can be very unstable, as Liberty Belle proved to be, or very prolific, as her sibling Daybreak is. I also was happy to produce a few color changing streps, most notably Red Dawn. Now I am obsessed (that Is not too strong a word) with getting ruffled blooms, and brighter colors into a more traditional strep bloom shape, producing more color changing streps, and more and better fantasies, That’s not asking too much, Is it?
The sunroom overflowed, and my basement now has four three tiered shelf units from Lowe’s, fitted with eight foot shop lights. I live in a rural area, with no large cities near, and there Is very little interest in streptocarpus that I know of. Therefore, all of my hybridizing friends are online. I have made many new friends along the way, and it seems to be a common trait among plant lovers to be helpful and sharing. I have so enjoyed sharing photos, seeds, and plants with these friends, but I am not able to sell plants because there Is just not enough time in my life at this time."
Betty has produced many gorgeous hybrids, some people would consider "plain jane's," others with very interesting markings and gorgeous fantasy blooms. One trait of many of her hybrids is their generous blooming habit! Betty was a pioneer, hybridizing several years ago one the first yellow flowers which at the time was very rare named Golden Girl. This was just the beginning of things to come!
Betty is currently working with many Polish hybrids created by Piotr Kleszcynski. The early results have been promising, particularly with Verso. Verso's early progeny has produced very bright yellow in their flowers. Crosses with Eva also are showing some promising potential. Who knows what will come of these crosses, but the potential combinations are intriguing. Could it be a new color? Possibly a true sunkist orange colored flower? Maybe a flower with yellow fantasy? Time will tell.
One of Betty's most widely known and highly sought after strep among growers is Liberty Belle. Though it can be very unstable, when it blooms correctly, it is one of the most gorgeous fantasy blooms in existence. A combination of pink, blue and white it truly is a spectacular flower. This plant requires slightly brighter light than most streps to grow successfully and tends to grow a tad slower than most.
Other hybrids of Betty's include; Daybreak, Summer Storm, Eclipse, Second Chance all gorgeous fantasy blooms. Dracula's Daughter, Summer Wine, Christmas Cheer, Peachy Keen, Misty Sunrise, Starburst, Gold Rush, Starstruck, April Showers, Fairy Dust, Sailor's Delight... the list goes on. You can find pictures of her hybrids on her Facebook page, Betty's Hybrids along with her episica and kohleria hybrids. Better have a few Kleenex on hand, to wipe up the drool that will inevitably happen!