Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Chelsea 2017: Sumptuous New Roses

May 26th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

New Chelsea roses 2017: 'Papworth's Pride' (left), 'Deben Sunrise' and 'James L. Austin'

Roses used to dominate the Chelsea Flower Show. Eight or ten specialists staged elaborate displays of cut roses and, if the weather was unusually hot, they’d all be replaced half way through the show to ensure the exhibits looked their best until the last moment. Then they were sold off at the end of the Show. It was impressive; it was the traditional way but became out-dated, old fashioned and nurseries started dropping out.

Now, only three rose exhibitors remain: David Austin Roses from the West Midlands, Peter Beales Roses from Norfolk, and Harkness Roses from Hertfordshire.

All three have established a tradition of launching their new introductions at the show, although Peter Beales have only been developing their own varieties for a relatively short time.

I don’t think David Austin have ever produced a bad rose since their first, ‘Constance Spry’, was introduced in 1961. One of my favourites of theirs, that I’ve been growing for twenty years, is a the dainty kittle ‘Pretty Jessica’ – but they no longer sell it as they don’t feel its up to current standards.

I found it difficult to choose between this year’s three Chelsea three newcomers. ‘Dame Judi Dench’ features red-tipped buds opening to lovely, rather blowsy, rain-resistant, tea scented, rich apricot flowers with pale rims and peach centres.

The arching growth of ‘Dame Judi Dench’ contrasts with the upright habit of ‘Vanessa Bell’ which is a paler, soft lemon yellow and, again, paler at the edges and with a scent of green tea and lemon. The large rosettes of ‘James L. Austin’ are deep pink, unusually weather resistant, with a rich fruity fragrance and, in the end, that was my pick of the three.

It’s only relatively recently that Peter Beales have been breeding roses, for many years their only focus was on popularising old varieties, now they often associate their newcomers with charities. This year they have two: ‘Margaret Greville’ and ‘Papworth’s Pride’.

‘Margaret Greville’, named for the benefactor who donated the Surrey property Polesden Lacy to the National Trust, is a semi-double coral pink with a bold boss of golden anthers and an engaging cascading habit. The plants of ‘Papworth’s Pride’ I saw were very impressive, with large semi-double flowers like huge peonies in rich raspberry red. It supports Papworth Trust, a charity that helps the disabled.

Finally, from Harkness, ‘Deben Sunrise’ combines good health and powerful fragrance with creamy white flowers that are blushed in bud. It’s happy pruned hard to make a dense bedding rose or less severely to create a taller more open plant more like a shrub rose. I also liked their beautifully scented new single flowered ‘Simple Yellow’, the latest in their Simple Series of natural looking varieties.

I’ve been back and forth between the three Chelsea exhibits, checking on each of these newcomers, and my favourite is ‘James L. Austin’ (with ‘Simple Yellow’ in second place) for its combination of opulent flowers, rich colouring, fruity fragrance and a useful, slightly upright habit. My plant is in bud in its first season, I’m looking forward to the flowers.

New Chelsea roses 2017: 'Simple Yellow' (left), 'Margaret Greville' and 'Vanessa Bell'

Images ©, David Austin Roses, Peter Beales Roses, Harkness Roses.

Chelsea 2017: Taming Invasive Plants

May 25th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) smothering a building.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is a terrifying plant. Its presence in your garden will reduce the value of your property, lenders may refuse a mortgage and, if you have it, you’re required to tell potential buyers. The  Environment Agency describes it as “indisputably the UK’s most aggressive, destructive and invasive plant”. And, of course, it smothers native wildflowers.

In its instructive, rather chilling – and very popular – Chelsea exhibit entitled Finding Natural Solutions to Invasive Plant problems, the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) shows how they’re getting away from simply spraying invasives with weedkiller – usually more effective on nearby wildflowers than invasives – and exploring natural solutions.

Japanese knotweed is the worst invasive plant we have; walls, floors, drains and foundations – nothing stands in its way. But the exhibit reveals that a sap-sucking, aphid-like insect from Japan, a psyllid that kills knotweed, may be the answer.

“The first insects were released in 2010 but the first release didn’t go well,” Dr Dick Shaw, Country Director UK for CABI, told me. “They’d been bred in the lab for 140 generations and were not as effective as we’d liked. Now we’ve secured new stocks from high altitude in Japan and we’re very confident they will do the job.” They will not attack related plants in our gardens or in the countryside; the closely related Russian vine, also known as the mile-a-minute vine, is not affected.

Dr Shaw and CABI are also working on other natural ways of eliminating invasive plants including a type of rust fungus that attacks Himalayan balsam. There’s also a fungus to kill the stumps of buddleja after the top growth has been cut off; buddleja is an increasingly troublesome plant that can obscure signals along railways. A similar treatment for invasive rhododendrons is being investigated.

It’s heartening that we’ll soon be able to deal with these worst of invasives in a natural way and without covering our gardens and countryside with weedkiller.

Sap sucking psyllid versus Japanese Knotweed

* CABI works around the world, in particular helping farmers in less developed countries combat invasives of all kinds that affect their crops. This short video explains how.

Chelsea 2017: Celebrating Peter Seabrook

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

Peter Seabrook in his 40 Sunbury Road garden at Chelsea 2017

For some years Peter Seabrook has helped mastermind exhibits in Chelsea’s Great Pavilion that are focused with some determination on, as you might say, the many gardeners and not the few. This year, the front gardens of Sunflower Street have been replaced by the back garden of 40 Sunbury Road.

As always with Peter’s projects, the 40 Sunbury Road garden celebrates the best in British horticulture but this year – the clue is in the name of the garden – it also marks Peter’s forty years as Gardening Correspondent of The Sun. He joined The Sun when he was hosting BBC TV’s Gardeners’ Peter Seabrook's first column for The Sun in March 1977! World and his very first column (right,  click to enlarge), in March 1977, recommends growing potatoes in pots – decades ahead of his time – and he’s still there every week with good practical advice.

Peter has also had a weekly column in Amateur Gardening magazine for more than thirty years! He writes regularly for the trade press, too, and this year began a weekly gardening podcast!

His wisdom, his understanding of what’s important to gardeners across the country, his easy authority that’s always down to earth and that fact you can always depend on his guidance being exceptionally well informed has ensured that his advice is valued by gardeners everywhere.

His 40 Sunbury Road garden shows what anyone can do with  an average sized space. “It’s everyone’s back garden,” he said. “I’m trying to inspire people and show what can be done in a limited space.”

Peter’s exhibit includes a toy car, a washing line, a shed and a barbecue and Peter enlisted the help of school kids to grow vegetables for the exhibit and help create a fairy woodland.

A wide range of new varieties available from British nurseries and garden centres are included on the exhibit. Many have been developed by British plant breeders such as the petunias I featured here a few weeks ago and two new felicias (below), all bred in Cambridgeshire.

Peter’s exhibit was awarded a Silver Medal and is proving very popular  with visitors who appreciate how well the ideas and plants can be used in their own gardens. Just as Peter wanted.

British bred Felicia 'Friends Blue' and 'Friends White'

Chelsea 2017: Plant Of The Year

May 23rd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mulberry 'Charlotte Russe'

Looking at the advance write-ups of the original thirty five entries to this year’s Chelsea Plant of The Year competition a week before the show… Well… I was a little underwhelmed. There seemed to be nothing as outstanding as the 2012 winner ‘Illumination’ foxglove. That just shows how descriptions in print can fail to convey a plant’s true worth.

For when it came to the Sunday meeting to slim down the entries to a shortlist of twenty, some proved to be outstanding. Although it was also striking that some of the specimens entered were very poor – including a poppy with no open flowers at all!

The winner, a new long season easy-to-grow hybrid mulberry from Japan, clearly had the best story. It was developed over forty years by a dedicated Japanese breeder with the aim of creating a mulberry that anyone can grow, even in a patio container. ‘Charlotte Russe’ looks a fine variety – but there were no ripe fruits to be seen or tasted.

The most impressive specimen was the rose ‘James L. Austin’ but the three features assessed for the award are innovation, potential for long lasting appeal and the quality of the specimen entered on the day. The rose entered was a fine specimen but, as another in the long list of excellent David Austin roses, not an innovation.

The astonishing Clematis ‘Taiga’ was certainly innovative, but the fine specimen covered with utterly unique flowers suffered because a clematis won last year and some of the judges were reluctant to give the award to a clematis two years running.

I voted for what turned out to be the runner up. Salvia ‘Crystal Spires’ is a lovely pale blue hardy perennial salvia – a colour breakthrough – and was in full flower and very well grown. This is a plant that will surely have lasting appeal.

I’ll be growing it, to be sure.

Impressive entries for the 2017 Chelsea Plant ofThe Year award award.

Chelsea 2017: Greening Britain’s Greyest Places

May 22nd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Chelsea Flower Show 2017: Greening Grey Britain gardenGreeningGreyView

* Today I begin a week of daily posts from the Chelsea Flower Show, the finest flower show in the world. Please check back here every day for updates or follow me on Twitter – I’ll tweet whenever a new post goes live.

We’re all seen the desolate, depressing, corners of modern Britain and, by paving front gardens for parking, we’re still adding to the problem. Greening Grey Britain is the Royal Horticultural Society’s campaign to reverse this trend and one of the highlights of this year’s Chelsea is the sustainable garden that illustrates ways of solving the problem. It also features spectacular naturalistic planting featuring intermingled perennials including salvias, asphodel, euphorbias, foxgloves and veronicas.

The RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden is designed by Professor Nigel Dunnet, Professor of Planting Design, Urban Horticulture and Vegetation Technology at the University of Sheffield and designer of the planting at London’s Olympic park.

Set outside a block of flats, an area that is often the epitome of grey Britain, this innovative, but realistic, design has replaced the cracked paving and accumulating rubbish with a communal garden featuring a pool, seating, insect hotels, and even a few edibles.

Bin and bike stores have been skilfully integrated into the design, which also encourages getting together with neighbours to foster friendships and combat isolation. The planting emphasises the “right plant, right place” approach with moisture loving plants where damp accumulates and drought tolerant plants in places which might otherwise seem parched and inhospitable.

Brightening up the bin store

I was also especially struck by the way that the designer, Professor Nigel Dunnet has turned concrete from a curse into a creative asset with clever ways of re-cutting and  re-using slabs and staining it to make paths.

The living wall is also a great idea. Here, abandoning the dull foliage so often seen on living walls, grasses and wildflowers are used in an exciting new way – vertically – to bring a little rural atmosphere, and a lot of pollinators and other insect visitors, to an urban space transformed by ecological ingenuity.

This is a Chelsea show garden from which everyone from gardeners to town planner can take inspiration.

Find out more about the RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign

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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