Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Gold medal winners old and new

January 24th, 2020 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Fleuroselect Gold Medal winners Lavatera 'Silver Cup' and Zinnia ‘Queeny Lime Orange’

Fleuroselect is the Europe-wide organisation that trials new annuals and gives awards to the very best. The idea is to highlight the finest new plants so that home gardeners can choose varieties we can depend on.

Trial grounds where the assessments are made are scattered all across Europe and, in the organisation’s fiftieth anniversary year, a new trials site has been added to the roster – the Mr F trials in Suffolk!

Every year new varieties are grown, unidentified, under code numbers – to eliminate any chance of bias – and voted on by experienced and knowledgeable growers. The very best performers are awarded a coveted Gold Medal.

Now you may wonder what relevance the results from trials sites in Italy or Russia have to us in Britain. Well, if a variety does well enough across Europe to be awarded a Gold Medal then it’s likely to do well in different situations here in Britain.

One of the best early winners was Lavatera ‘Silver Cup’, gaining its Gold Medal in 1979 and still going strong as is Alyssum ‘Snow Crystals’ (1989). The pick of recent Gold medal winners is last year’s Zinnia ‘Queeny Lime Orange’, an entirely new colour in zinnias. Mr F will soon be highlighting the Gold Medal winners in the print catalogue and online.

Of course, many older Gold Medal winners have also been superseded by newer introductions, development is rapid and competition to create improved varieties is intense. But even those winners from long ago are still good plants and worth growing.

Winter weeds

January 17th, 2020 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

It’s been wet. And so far the winter has not been cold. In my garden this has meant a few things. Wild primroses were flowering two weeks before Christmas, the gladioli that I left in the ground again were peeping through two weeks ago – and the weeds have grown like crazy.

It’s the weeds that are the most worrying because not only are they growing but they’re flowering and seeding. And while many of the old gardening sayings have doubtful relevance these days, one that does is “One year’s seeding brings seven years weeding.” If those weeds shed seed now, their seeds will be germinating and causing back breaking work for seven years – and probably longer.

I’ve noticed three weeds doing their best to break my back for the next seven years.

White dead nettle (main picture), is kind of sneaky. It’s flowering in a couple of hidden corners of the garden, and in hedgerows all over the place – and it’s very pretty. Fortunately, each of those white flowers only produces four seeds but unless you use a handfork to lever out the roots the flowering stem comes off in your hand and this only encourages the creeping roots to spread further.

Shepherd’s purse (left) is one of those weeds, hairy bitter cress is another, that flowers and seeds when it’s tiny. It’s also the second most common weed on earth! On average it produces 4,500 seeds – per plant! But it can also flower and seed now when only an inch of two tall and a single tiny pod contains about twenty seed.

Even small plants can easily be pulled up by hand, but give then a shake to knock off any soil otherwise you’re only carrying your garden away with the weeds.

The third little beast that’s seeding and flowering now is annual meadow grass. This is another that can flower and seed when young and one which is even more efficient at holding soil in its roots when you pull it out. At the RHS garden at Wisley, a purple-leaved form has evolved in response to hand weeding and hoeing, camouflaging the plant against bare soil so that it’s missed even by diligent Wisley gardeners. Natural selection in action… This dark-leaved form has also been found in Norfolk, Lancashire and Cheshire and elsewhere.

But the lesson with these three weeds is to remove them now, NOW, before they seed, and cause you backache for years. And be sure to shake off as much soil as you can.

White deadnettle:
Shepherd’s purse:
Annual meadow grass:

Looking ahead with the RHS

January 10th, 2020 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nemesia Karoo Series and 'Big Devil' chilli

It’s the new year, so everyone’s been making predictions – including the Royal Horticultural Society. Many of their ideas are, not to put too fine a point on it, continuations of existing trends – more and larger houseplants, naturalistic planting styles, and the continuation of the whole grow-your-own phenomenon for example.

But here we focus on plants and the RHS has picked a couple of out-of-fashion favourites for a comeback: diascias and nemesias. These two, often not quite hardy, are plants best used in patio containers and were very popular in the 1980s and 1990s but diascias in particular have drifted out of favour.

The problem with diascias is that they come mainly in orange and in vivid pink – colours which most gardeners think clash horribly – plus the less often seen white, and not much else. Demand has been so slow that Mr F now lists neither seed nor plants of diascias although eyes are open for new introductions that break the mould.

Nemesias come in a wider range, as in the Karoo Series (above), and have lost less of their popularity but they too need the kickstart of something new. Deadhead and feed them regularly, though, and they’ll flower all summer.

The RHS also mentions grow-your-own, and in particular chillies. “Chillies remain the number one choice owing to their ease of growing and colour,” they say but I confess that I’m surprised that chillies are the most popular grow-your-own crop. My advice is to grow grafted plants like ‘Big Devil’ (above) for their extra vigour, disease resistance and the ability to thrive in less than ideal conditions.

All grafted chillies need is a pot on a sheltered patio – you can even plant them in a large container and surround them with nemesias. Now there’s an idea…

Sweet peas can take the cold

January 3rd, 2020 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet peas 'Blue Shift', 'Spanish Dancer', 'Erewhon' and 'Gwendoline'

I’m always bashing on here about how important it is to sow sweet pea seeds in the autumn, to grow the strongest plants that will flower for the longest possible time. But you know what? It doesn’t always happen. Life gets in the way.

But if you have any sort of protection – a cold frame, some plastic cloches, even a low fleece tunnel you used to keep carrot fly off the carrots – anything that provides a little protection will help January sown sweet pea seeds germinate a little more quickly and grow a little more strongly.

And here’s something to think about. In 1909, at Cornell University in New York state, they sowed a sweet pea trial. They sowed the seed in succession in October and November, and some of it germinated before winter set in while some germinated in the following April.

But here’s the thing. New York state is cold in the winter, far far colder than here. We’re talking about temperatures getting down to -23C to -29C. And whether the seeds germinated before the winter or later, they flowered the following summer. This proves they can take the cold.

I’d suggest sowing in 12cm pots, six seeds in each, and standing them under the cloches or fleece. To be honest, slugs and mice will be more of a danger than cold so be sure to take precautions.

Varieties? Well, the new and exclusive varieties like ‘Mayflower 400’ and ‘Our Harry’ might well sell out so they should be high on the list to order and sow now. There’s also one you should never be without, ‘Gwendoline’ (bottom left), for its beautiful colouring and powerful fragrance.

I’d also remind you about three varieties in unusual colourings that I recommend. ‘Blue Shift’ (top left) changes colour from reddish mauve to true blue, ‘Spanish Dancer’ in cream (almost yellow) and rich and rosy reddish pink and finally ‘Erewhon’, a reverse bicolour with purplish blue lower petals and pink upper petals.

All are well scented and won’t disappoint. Just be sure to keep the slugs and snails off.

Rosemary is now sage!

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

Botanically speaking, rosemary is now a Salvia


Yes, you may have heard about this, it even featured on the Radio 4 news: the botanists have decided that rosemary is actually sage. No no, don’t panic. We can all still call it rosemary, of course, and still cook it with the roast lamb. But botanically speaking sage was Salvia and rosemary was Rosmarinus – not any more. Here’s why.

Botanists have been taking a close look at rosemary, and also Russian sage (Perovskia), for some time. It was back in the 1830s that it was realised how similar, botanically, sage and rosemary are and even then it was proposed that the scientific name for rosemary should be Salvia rosmarinus. But the name never stuck.

There are almost a thousand different Salvia species growing wild around the world and botanists have now agreed that Rosmarinus and Perovskia are more similar, botanically, to many Salvia species than some other Salvia species are to each other.

When new science turns up things like this, the botanical names have to change to reflect the new understanding and there were two options. Keep the names Rosmarinus and Perovskia, and also give new names to about seven hundred plants previously known as Salvia. Or change Rosmarinus and Perovskia (and a few other genera neither you nor I have ever heard of) to Salvia. And that’s what’s happened – with just fifteen name changes. Fifteen is better than seven hundred: job done.

So botanically rosemary is now Salvia rosmarinus; Russian sage is now Salvia yangii.

But when the recipe says rosemary – you know they don’t mean sage, right?

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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