Some six miles east of my home in Polmont, in the old market town of Linlithgow, one will see warehouses bearing the name Suntory.
These used to carry the name Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd., Bowmore being a premier brand of Scotch from the Isle of Islay. Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd. also operated the Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch distilleries as well as using the name ‘McClelland’s’ for unspecified single malt bottling from the Lowland, Highland, Islay and Speyside whisky-producing regions.
Today, the brands all belong to Suntory, a Japanese drinks conglomerate whose huge range of drinks includes Teacher’s, Laphroaig and Canadian Club whisky, Courvoisier cognac, Domaines Barons de Rothschild, E & J Gallo and Laurent-Perrier wines, Lucozade and Ribena health drinks and many, many other brands. Suntory Group, founded in Japan in 1899 when Shinjiro Torii started to produce and sell wines, now has a portfolio of 321 companies … as at 31st December 2016 … and employs more than 38 000 people worldwide. And, gentle reader, if you are wondering what this has to do with horticulture, Suntory began to collaborate with Melbourne biotechnology firm Florigene to genetically engineer the world’s first true blue rose in 1998, acquiring a 98.5% equity holding in Florigene in 2003. Since then, Suntory has expanded its horticultural interests with the hugely popular bedding plants Surfinia® and Million Bells® being among its many introductions.
This year’s big news is the arrival in the UK of Senetti®, another Suntory development. Botanically, it is a hybrid of Pericallis cruenta and Pericallis lanata, which are both native to the Canary Islands. Pericallis hybrids have been around for a long time, the hybrid having been first developed in the British royal gardens in 1777. This eighteenth century plant is known as cineraria, florist’s cineraria or common ragwort and is a member of the Asteraceae family. In recent years, the genus Cineraria has been restricted to a group of South African species, the Canary Island species being transferred to the genus Pericallis.
Pericallis are tender, cushion-forming or loosely branched perennials which grow to a height of 40cm … say, 18 inches in old money … and spread to a similar size. The daisy-like flowers come in a variety of vibrant blues and purples, some with white centres like cineraria. The Suntory Group has trademarked the name Senetti® for their particular version of pericallis, meaning that it can only be produced commercially under licence. The secret of Senetti® is that it is the first genuine re-blooming pericallis. It also has better branching, larger blooming and more tolerance to a wide range of temperatures … allegedly being able to withstand up to 3° of frost … and is easy to cultivate in North America, where it has been marketed since 2004. It took the American market by storm, very much in the manner of Surfinia®, becoming a consumer favourite thanks to its rich and long lasting blooms, excellent garden performance and undemanding nature. Suntory’s American website claims, “Every consumer who buys or receives Senetti® is bound to want this magnificent product in their garden again next year. This has been indicated by consumer research!”
Time will tell if British gardeners will give the same welcome to Senetti®, an annual which thrives in sunny or partly sunny spots and is at its best during the later spring. Spent flowers must be cut off to encourage further blooms to appear; and, since the plants must never be allowed to dry out, they actually do demand some care to get the best from them.