Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Look and learn

May 25th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Chelsea look and learn Dianthus display from Calamazag Plant Nursery

At the Chelsea Flower Show, we’re used to exhibits that simply look wonderful, and the Great Pavilion is full of them… fifty five exhibits winning Gold Medals. But this year there’s a display of pinks that perfectly combines an attractive display of well grown plants with information about them.

So often, all that accompanies the plants is the name. But Cornwall’s Calamazag Plant Nursery, in a simple, colourful and stylish way, tells us something about the history and propagation of these essential, sunloving perennials. And does so without our eyes glazing over – there’s just enough information to take in during a long day at a busy flower show, presented clearly and effectively.

For example: many of us know that the classic garden old Victorian pink ‘Mrs Sinkins’ was raised by the Master of the Slough Workhouse and named for his wife. But did you now that his original idea was to name it ‘Queen Victoria’ – until, shall we say, his wife made her feelings clear!

And did you know that in the 19th century, clove scented varieties were eaten in salads, used to flavour food and drinks, used to decorate cakes and as treatments for heartburn. Soaked in wine, clove scented pinks were also traditionally given to brides after marriage ceremonies.

Many of those old Victorian are still available, along with our wild native Cheddar pink, Dianthus gratianopolitanus. Almost wiped out by people digging up the plants in its native Cheddar Gorge and by scrub smothering the plants, the Cheddar pink increasing again.

It’s great to be able to admire a Chelsea exhibit and learn a little something too.

This year’s Chelsea colour

May 24th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Lupins and salvias in these rich colours were this year's fashionable Chelsea plants

This year, it’s dark blue, it’s purple, it’s lupins and it’s perennial salvias.

Every year at Chelsea there’s a colour or a plant – sometimes a very specific variety and sometimes a more general theme – that turns up all over the Show Gardens and all over the Great Pavilion. Informal, naturalistic planting now totally dominates but the key plants vary from year to year.

For a few years it was alliums, one year it was coppery-leaved sedges. It’s even been cow parsley – cow parsley! I never thought I’d hear people asking at the Mr F seed stand for packets of cow parsley seed!

This year I lost count of the number of show gardens using purple lupins in their plantings and using blue-purple perennial salvias. The Urban Flow Garden (above), designed by Tony Woods, is one of a number using both and placing them together very effectively right at the front of the display.

On the Gaze Burvill display dark salvias jostle with alliums and lavender, on the Spirit of Cornwall garden, designed by Stuart Charles Towner, salvias mingle with vivid blue anchusas, purple flowered chives, and borage. Although similar in tone, grouping these plants together well can be a challenge, the idea is for the whole display to be more than the sum of its parts but, sometimes, the parts is all it is.

Not so on the LG Eco-City Garden, designed by Hay-Joung Hwang, where salvias are artfully grouped with anchusas, cerinthe, alliums and purple-leaved fennel.

A noticeable second favourite plant this year is Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’. Used on show gardens to intermingle with the salvias or with sparky blue anchusas, it was also seen in bold groups in the Great Pavilion.

So… With little sign of cow parsley at the Show this year (but plenty along roadsides across the country, where it belongs), the Show’s signature plants really are worth growing. The trouble is, they sell out so fast.

Winter and summer at Chelsea

May 23rd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Hellebores at The 2018 Chelsea Flower Show!

One of perennial challenges for Chelsea exhibitors is to hold back early flowering plants so they come to their peak at the Show, weeks or months later than normal, and to force late flowering plants into an early display.

The past master of all this is Johnny Walkers with his regular display of daffodils, held back in a cold store for the big day. Staged at the last possible moment, and the massed ranks of perfection completely replaced half way through the show as they wilt in the heat, it’s always a treat. Awarded a Gold Medal, of course.

But this year we have an even more amazing display: a whole exhibit of hellebores (above). Hold on, don’t they flower in January and February? Well, yes! Three months after their peak in the garden, Ashwood Nurseries from the West Midlands are staging a whole exhibit of their own amazing varieties in a huge range of colours and bicolours, single and double.

The plants had been in a cold store since October and removing them at the right time and bringing them on to ensure that they look their best – and look natural – at the Show is a real art. The display won a Gold Medal, of course, plus a special award from the President of the RHS.

And then, at the other extreme, there are the dahlias (below). I’ll be planting mine, grown from Mr F’s tubers in pots, later this week. But the Plant Heritage National Dahlia Collection, from Cornwall, have these summer and autumn specialities at their peak in full flower for the Show – now!

Again, they don’t look forced, they look natural… And at three months before they’ll be at their best in the garden, huge credit goes to Jon Wheatley for bringing them forward to perfection on the day and winning a Gold Medal.

This is what’s special about Chelsea. Exhibitors devote vast amounts of time, energy, expertise, ingenuity – not to mention expense – to bring us something special. And they inspire us all.

* The Chelsea Flower Show on TV today: BBC1, 3.45pm, Angellica Bell. BBC2, 8.00pm, Monty Don and Joe Swift.

Dahlias at The 2018 Chelsea Flower Show.

Chelsea Plant of The Year Winners

May 22nd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Hydrangea Runaway Bride Snow White (USHYD0405)

Thirty nine plants were accepted as entries for the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year award this year and the result was announced yesterday. This is the country’s premier plant award and entries included a tree, large and small shrubs, roses, perennials, clematis, patio plants, house plants and veggies. The winner was a lovely white lacecap hydrangea and the runner up an impressive new eryngium.

Of course, comparing the virtues of such varied entries as a striped tomato, a dusky pink clematis, a sunflower, a rose and a greenhouse bromeliad is a tricky business but the RHS experts are up for the challenge.

There are three features for them to consider.
1 Innovation – Is the plant genuinely different and new and exciting? The winner definitely is, the runner up less obviously so, but many failed to excite interest because they were simply variants on what’s already around.
2. Impact – The quality of the actual plant entered for judging is important too. There were some gorgeous specimens on show but there were also some that looked scrappy and, worst of all, with few – or even in one case, NO – flowers!
3. Appeal – The judges must assess whether the plant will have long term appeal to gardeners.

The winner was Hydrangea Runaway Bride Snow White (above). This is a completely new type of hydrangea derived from crossing the familiar mophead types with a rare Asian species. The result is a plant that carries white lacecap flowers all along the stems, not just at the tips.

Runner up was Eryngium ‘Blue Waves’ (below), again a hybrid between two different species, and distinctive in that the flower heads just keep on branching so that as one flower head passes its best more rich steely blue flowers are opening just above it.

Mr Fothergill entered the lovely super-scented Verbena ‘Scentsation’ for the award but, unfortunately, producing attractive plants in full flower for the third week in May – two or three months before its natural peak – proved too much of a challenge after this difficult spring.

But Congratulations! Mr Fothergill’s won the Chelsea Flower Show Product Of The Year Award for Optigrow Vegetable Seeds

* The Chelsea Flower Show on TV today: BBC1, 3.45pm, Nicki Chapman and James Wong. BBC2, 8.00pm, Monty Don and Joe Swift.

Images ©RHS. Thank you.

Foxgloves in the Chapel and at Chelsea

May 21st, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Foxgloves at the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show in the exhibit staged by The Botanic Nursery.

Foxgloves were an integral feature of the floral displays in St George’s Chapel on Saturday and they make quite an impact here at Chelsea where two entirely different exhibits featuring foxgloves stand out.

For many years we’ve enjoyed the displays staged by Terry Baker of The Botanic Nursery in Wiltshire, holder of the Plant Heritage National Collection of Digitalis (foxgloves). This year (above) Terry has combined traditional varieties and old favourites with recent introductions alongside some varieties that are only just coming on to the market. Intermingling them with the slender spires of the related verbascums works very well.

Then, in a dramatic contrast, on the Skin Deep garden (below) designed by Robert Parker, full flowered white foxgloves are set amongst large square silvered cement blocks. The overall effect is both rather stark and at the same time, positive and uplifting.

But not all foxgloves are good, I’m sorry to say. Without pointing the finger at specific exhibitors, I also came across some of the ugliest foxgloves I’ve ever seen! The unnaturally large and broad mouthed flowers glared up towards me and in an especially sickly purple, their throats spotted not with delicate speckles but with large, almost warty blotches. It takes hard work to make a foxglove ugly but someone has achieved exactly that.

But don’t let these horrors put you off. Give me the supremely elegant, white foxgloves used in St George’s Chapel and especially the pure white and angelically spotted form of our wild native foxglove, the flowers artfully poised on one side of the gently arching spike as nature intended.

Seeds sown in the next few weeks will make fine plants to go out in the garden in autumn to flower this time next year.

Pure white foxgloves set against silvered concrete blocks on the Skin Deep garden disgned by Robert Parker.

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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