Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Evening fragrance

March 24th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

'Starlight Scentsation' night scented stock has better colours than the usual form.

Matthiola longipetala subsp. bicornis. It’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it. Night scented stock is a much happier roll off the tongue. But, either way, this is a sadly neglected plant. Many people like the idea but not so many people actually grow it.

The great thing about it, of course, is the spectacular evening and night time perfume. It really is special. The problem is that the plants enjoy plenty of sun but during the day the flowers close up – so it’s tempting not to place them in sunny position. After all, who wants a plant that looks wilted for most of the day in a prominent place?

It’s often suggested that you mix them with Virginia stocks, which have the colour but no scent. The Mr F catalogue suggests exactly that. But the only time I tried it I found that the night scented stock plants were larger and more bushy so they smothered the Virginia stocks.

Bu this year here’s what I’m going to try. I’m wondering if, in this case, “sunny” might actually mean “not shady”.

Huh? What I mean is that perhaps the night scented stocks will do well in a bright open position – but one which doesn’t actually get any sun. So perhaps I’ll sow them behind something unscented that reaches a little more than the 12in/30cm of the night scented stocks – some asters perhaps or some nigella – but where they’re not overhung of by trees or smothered by taller neighbours.

And here’s the other thing. There are two varieties – and one is much better than the other. The one simply called ‘Night Scented’ is fine, but all the flowers tend to be more or less pink, and often a rather watery shade. ‘Starlight Scentsation’ is a pastel mix with more pink tones and with cream and white as well.

Yes, ‘Starlight Scentsation’ is a little bit more expensive – or, if you like, a little less cheap. With ‘Night Scented’ you get 1500 seeds for £1.89; with ‘Starlight Scentsation’ you get 1000 seeds for £2.19. How many seeds do you need? 1000 is plenty, and for the extra 30p you’ll get a much better variety.

Sunflowers for cutting

March 17th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflowers 'Taiyo' (left) and 'Velvet Queen' are both good cut flower varieties.

Sunflowers are not difficult to grow. In fact, if you keep the slugs off, give them plenty of sun and support the taller types, they’re easy. And, as you can see from every supermarket in the country in summer, they make superb cut flowers.

But why allow the supermarket to choose the colours and types that you can have in your home – there may only be one variety on offer – when you can choose from these twenty nine different varieties available from seed?

You can sow sunflowers in the open ground, where they’re to flower, and I usually have some self sow after I’ve left the last seed heads for the birds. But you never know what the seedlings are going to be like until they flower. I prefer to sow exactly what I want – so I’ll be pulling up any volunteers popping up in odd corners.

Seed germinates best when the soil is above 10C so the seed I’ll be sowing this weekend will be going in pots, just to be safe. I’ll sow more in the open ground later. But sunflowers have deep roots so it’s important not to allow them to get pot bound. I’m going to try them in deep Rootrainers this year.

Varieties that make medium sized, well branched plants, such as ‘Buttercream’ and ‘Hallo’, are ideal for cutting as are some of the taller types with medium sized flowers that branch less, such as ‘Copper Queen’ and ‘Velvet Queen’ (above right). For dramatic arrangements, large-flowered varieties such as ‘Taiyo’ (above left) that are tall and relatively unbranched give very long stems – but may topple your vase!

Cut sunflowers when the first petals are lifting off the central disk, always use flower food and remove any leaves that will be under water.

These varieties are specially recommended for cutting: ‘Buttercream’, ‘Copper Queen’, ‘Hallo’, ‘Infrared’, ‘Magic Roundabout’, ‘Santa Lucia’, ‘Soleo’, ‘Taiyo’ and ‘Velvet Queen’.

Annuals for damp soil

March 10th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mimulus 'Magic Blotch Mixed' enjoys moist soil.

Most annual flowers grow wild in the Mediterranean or in California and enjoy sunny sites, often in stony soils. They grow when it rains, make seed as it dries and are adapted to survive through the hot season as seeds.

Relatively few enjoy soil that is damp for long periods – but there are some. They still appreciate sun, though may be happy with a little less sun than many annuals, but they’ll flower well and self sow in damp soil. There are three that stand out.

Limnanthes
Sow in the spring, sow in the late summer and autumn (and it will self sow as well) this low, fleshy little plant spreads well, makes lush growth with masses of saucer shaped flowers standing up above the leaves and looking you in the eye.

In the old favourite, Limnanthes douglasii, the yellow flowers are tipped in white – hence the common name of poached egg plant. But in the variety ‘Scrambled Eggs’ you’ll also find plants with pure yellow flowers and with white flowers. They make a very pretty blend.

Mimulus
By far the brightest and most varied annuals for wet soil, and flowering very quickly from seed as well, the cheerful speckled and blotched flowers of ‘Magic Blotch Mixed’, come in a delightful, dizzying array of colour combinations. You get far more seeds for your money with ‘Extra Choice Mixed’, but they’re mainly straight unblotched colours.

Good in containers that are not more than 30cm deep, stand the pots in a saucer to keep the plants moist. Sow in spring and summer. They’ll self sow, but the results might be a little unpredictable.

Nemophila
This is one that will take a little shade as well as enjoying moisture. The classic blue-and-white of Nemophila menziesii soon makes fresh looking plants with upfacing white-eyed blue flowers for a long season. It has a relation called five spot, N. maculata, whose white flowers each have an inky spot at the tip of each petal.

Sow both in sown in spring or autumn and they’ll flower on neat little plants.

* Impatiens We always used to think of impatiens as good in damp conditions, but the downy mildew has put paid to that. My advice? Don’t risk it.

Nemophila maculata will self sow in damp places.

Think twice before growing these plants from seed

March 3rd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Leucanthemum 'Goldfinch'

I’ve grown so many plants from seed, over the years. Often, in the peak years, I grew well over a hundred and fifty different flowers from seed each year. And you learn a few things about what to grow – and what not to.

There are two main reasons to think twice about growing some flowers from seed – and I say this writing for a seed company blog! We want you to have the very best, that’s why I’m discussing this.

So, firstly, when varieties propagated by division are so SO much better that the extra cost is more than justified perhaps growing from seed is not such a good idea. And, secondly, when most seeds are stored in a modern and efficient temperature and humidity controlled store, as they are at Mr F, they germinate very well and fairly quickly with the usual treatments.

But some seeds are have special requirements, they’re more particular… They need to be sown fresh and however carefully they’re stored after harvest when they arrive in the post they’re sometimes just not fresh enough – and then they may take months, or even years, to come up. And there are other reasons…

Aconitum
All parts of aconitum plants are poisonous – you wear gloves, it’s that simple. But it’s easy to think that handling the seeds is safe, they’re so small. But some people react badly just to handling the seeds. So think twice.

Coreopsis
Some coreopsis, such as ‘Presto’ and ‘Sundrops’ are superb plants to grow from seed: easy, well-behaved, flowering reliably in their first year, prolific over a long season. But a few, such as ‘American Dream’, are colourful and prolific – but they’re alarmingly vigorous and unless you have plenty of space you’ll regret ever sowing the seed.

Hardy Cyclamen
Fresh seed sown straight from the plant germinates well, seed from a packet… not so much. Soak packeted seed of hardy cyclamen overnight in water – if it floats, add the smallest drop of washing up liquid to break that surface tension. After sowing, keep the seed dark and at a temperature of between 15C/59F and 20C/68F and evenly moist. You might think you’ll be better off buying plants and allowing them to self sow.

Hellebores
Again, fresh seed sown immediately that it’s ripe germinates well a few months after sowing. Packeted hellebore seed needs thoughtful treatment, I outlined the best approach back in the winter.

Leucanthemum (Shasta daisies)
If you’re looking for a traditional Shasta daisy then ‘Alaska’ and the semi-double ‘Crazy Daisy’, are great varieties and easy to raise from seed sown in spring. But recent developments have led to better, more self-supporting plants with larger flowers, new flower forms, and new colours – including yellow – and a longer season. But these are only available as plants. I’d grow these every time and ‘Freak!’ (more fluffy than freaky) and the canary yellow fading to primrose ‘Goldfinch’ are excellent.

Michaelmas daisy
I’d never grow these from seed because although they’re great value at £1.45 for 200 seeds, the many many varieties you can buy as plants, such as ‘Purple Dome’, are so much more dependably impressive. It’s that simple.

The Year Of The Bean (yes, really…)

February 24th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Dwarf runner bean 'Hestia'The Year of The Bean? The Bean?! Really, it’s The Year of The Bean? And what’s that got to do with Plant Talk, where we usually discuss only flowers and other ornamentals?

Well, just take a look at this dwarf runner bean. Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s called ‘Hestia’ and, as you can see, it has bright red-and-white bicoloured flowers on naturally bushy plants, ideal for containers.

Have to say, it’s my guess that there’s a block of oasis in that pot, not compost – specially set up for the picture. But that doesn’t prevent us seeing what a bright and colourful patio vegetable it is.

Also, in spite of being a dwarf plant that reaches no more than about 45cm/18in in height, it holds its tender, stringless beans off the soil so they don’t get muddy or diseased. What’s more, you’ll get the first crop about two weeks ahead of climbing varieties although through the season the crop will be smaller. Well, what do you expect? The plants are only about a quarter of the size of climbing runner beans.

And here’s another thought. In her classic book Creative Vegetable Gardening, the great Joy Larkcom says you can turn climbing runner beans into bushes!

What you do, she says, is… “pinch out the leading shoot when the plant is 20cm (8in) high, then nip out secondary shoots that develop beyond the second leaf”. Though of course if you go on holiday for fortnight you know what to expect when you get back.

Unfortunately, naturally dwarf runner beans in scarlet, in white and in pink are disappearing, leaving only the excellent bicoloured ‘Hestia’. But if you want to grow bushy runners in other colours then Joy Larkcom, Queen of Veggies, has explained how to do it.

Order seed of dwarf runner bean ‘Hestia’

Order seed of climbing runner bean varieties

Order young plants of runner beans

Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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