Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Nasturtium lessons

October 11th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nasturtium 'Bloody Mary'

This year has been the Year of The Nasturtium! We’ve had marigolds and sunflowers and cosmos, most annuals are going to get a turn, and next year it’s rudbeckia. But we learned something important from growing nasturtiums this year.

Well, I say we learned something… It’s more that we were reminded of two things that we knew all along: pests can destroy the display and the leaves tend to hide the flowers.

The best nasturtiums I ever grew were in pots, long ago, when we could buy an insecticide to mix into the compost and which was taken up by the roots. I never saw a blackfly or a caterpillar on my nasturtiums all summer. Now, like so many effective but harmful sprays, it’s no longer available – and quite right too. Organic treatments can be very effective, but you have to keep at it.

Also, at both the Mr F trials and at the display at the RHS Garden at Hyde Hall, the leaves overwhelmed the flowers. This happens when the stalks on the leaves grow longer than the stalks on the flowers, so the leaves are held higher.

In general, modern varieties tend to have shorter leaf stalks than older varieties so the flowers are more likely to be prominent. But the key is to avoid overfeeding, or any feeding at all! Never use Miracle-Gro or other general plant foods as it encourages too much growth. Next year I’m going to try old, exhausted potting compost without any nutrients and, if I feed my nasturtiums at all, I’m going to use tomato food which doesn’t encourage leafy growth.

Varieties? Try this year’s newcomer, ‘Bloody Mary’ (above), and any of the Tip Top Series – they all tend to hold the flowers above the leaves.

New ways with calendulas

October 4th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Calendula 'Porcupine Yellow' (left') and 'Playtime'

Calendulas often feature here. And not just because I like them so much. There’s a quiet but continuing strand of development in calendulas that stretches from Oregon to Holland and to Norfolk and Cambridge and has given us an increasing range of flowers in some lovely, and unexpected colours.

They range from short bushy little plants for edging, and more especially containers, to taller types for borders and cutting. Perennial varieties raised from cuttings have also made a stir recently.

But perhaps the most striking feature of modern calendulas is the range of flowers forms and flower colours that is available compared with traditional types. They now come with single flowers, double flowers, anemone centred flowers, flowers with the fluted petals rolled into tubes and various combinations.

In colour they range from the traditional bright orange shades through to primrose yellow plus an increasing range of peachy tones. Dark colouring on the backs of the petals creates a whole new look and when the young petals are still rolled inwards in the centre provide a dramatic dark eye.

Two new calendulas have arrived this season. I’ve already sown mine and they’re up and thriving but even now its worth sowing.

‘Porcupine Yellow’ is like a yellow version of the old 1930s orange-flowered favourite ‘Radio’. Its mass of quilled petals are a lovely bright but soft yellow. And while ‘Porcupine Yellow’ harks back to the past, ‘Playtime’ is a carefully blended mix of the latest colours with single, semi-double and fully double flowers and includes some of the prettiest shades.

Sow now or sow in March, March sowings will germinate more promptly if sown under cloches or in a cold greenhouse – but we’ll get to that in the spring.

A new blushed lavatera

September 27th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Lavatera 'Dwarf Pink Blush'

I’ve always liked lavateras (annual mallows). They feature on the cover of my first book about annuals from over thirty years ago and I’ve been growing them on and off ever since. They’re just so easy, and so colourful, without being garish. A winning combination.

True the colour range is limited – basically, it’s pink or white – and they can grow quite tall and fall over in gales but this newcomer to the Mr F range addresses both these issues.

OK, it’s not blue or yellow, but it’s a very pretty combination of the two lavatera colours – plus an extra shade. The flowers are white, with pink veins in the throat fading as they run out into the petals – and with a deep crimson, blood red zone deep in the throat.

The feature that addresses the other slight drawback of most lavateras is that ‘Dwarf Pink Blush’ is exactly that, it’s dwarf. Not so dumpy and squat that it’s ugly, no. It makes about 60cm, is self supporting and bushes out nicely.

You can sow seed now in a cold greenhouse and move the seedlings on into 9cm pots then plant out in March. Keep them cool or they’ll grow soft and floppy. The plants will flower earlier than usual, but finish sooner too. Alternatively you can treat ‘Dwarf Pink Blush’ as a hardy annual and sow direct in March. Not your everyday lavatera…

Exclusive new sweet pea for Mr F

September 20th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet Pea 'Mayflower 400' and 'Our Harry'

Mr Fothergill’s have a fine reputation for sweet peas, with an astonishing seventy four varieties in the mail order catalogue and every one graded for the strength of its fragrance.

Every year Mr F checks in with sweet pea breeders around the world, trials possible new introductions and selects the very best new varieties to add to the range. This autumn sees the introduction of two new sweet peas, including another – an exclusive from New Zealand’s Keith Hammett, the world’s most innovative sweet pea breeder.

His latest new variety is ‘Mayflower 400’. This is a prolific variety with prettily ruffled cream flowers overlaid in pale pastel pink – “pink flake” is the classification. It is, of course, well scented.

‘Mayflower 400’ is launched to mark the 400th anniversary of the departure of the Mayflower from Plymouth carrying the first English puritans, now known as the pilgrims, for the new world in 1620.

“We are delighted to have a great relationship with breeder Keith Hammett and to obtain this wonderful new sweet pea ‘Mayflower 400’ so that gardeners can celebrate in the anniversary year,” said David Turner of Mr F.

But it’s not only new sweet peas from the other side of the world that have caught the eye. ‘Our Harry’ has been around for a while and over the years it’s been increasingly recognised as one of the best blues around. The gently waved standards, the upper petals, are rich lavender blue, slightly paler at the edges, while the lower petals, the wings, are slightly darker and folded down strongly. The stems are long and strong and especially good for cutting and the scent is good.

Next month is the prime time for sowing sweet peas, so get your order in soon for ‘Mayflower 400’ and ‘Our Harry’, not to mention your pick of the other seventy two varieties in the Mr F range.

Larkspur with a flying start

September 13th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Larkspur 'Giant Imperial Mixed'

This summer, my larkspur grew as tall as my delphiniums. They were amazing. And the reason for so much vigorous growth? They were self sown seedlings that germinated in August and September.

Germinating in warm soil, they soon got their roots down, developed plenty of attractive divided foliage through the autumn and winter and then surged into flower in late May and June.

So, learning the lesson, I’ve already sown some larkspur seed and the seedlings were through in just a few days. Of course, you can simply scatter the seed around as if it was self sown but there’s a better way.

Choose somewhere sunny and sheltered. If the soil is heavy, work in some old potting compost to open it up a little. Use the point of a stick, or your finger, to draw a drill (a shallow furrow) in the soil. Take the rose off the watering can then gently pour a stream of water along the drill, put your thumb over the spout to limit the flow. Gentle is good.

Sow the seed thinly along the drill. A packet of ‘Giant Imperial Mixed’ larkspur contains three hundred seeds. Don’t sow them all! In a 1.2m/4ft row you’ll only need fifty seeds. At this time of year the soil is warm and, with the moisture you’ve provided, the seeds should be peeping through in a week. Beware of slugs.

Sowing in rows makes it clear which seedlings are the larkspur and which are the weeds. Pull out the weeds.

In a 1.2m/4ft row you’ll only need about eight or ten seedlings, so remove some as they develop to ensure that they don’t become too crowded. If you grow ‘White King’ you’ll need fewer than if you grow ‘Giant Imperial Mixed’, you’ll need more seedlings of ‘Giant Imperial Mixed’ to be sure you get flowers from all the colours.

Keep them protected from slugs through the winter and late next spring you’ll be glad you sowed seeds now.

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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