Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Changing opinions on a winter wonder

December 14th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

White-stemmed raspberry has lovely winter stems plus tasty berries

With gardening a rather soggy business recently, interest continues in The Floricultural Cabinet and Florists’ Magazine for December 1852, “conducted by” Joseph Harrison.

Each month, the good Mr Harrison includes Notes On New Or Rare Plants, details of which he unashamedly, and with appropriate credits, borrows from other titles. It’s a little like Amateur Gardening magazine quoting from a piece on new plants in Gardeners’ World magazine.

One of those discussed in December 1852, Rubus biflorus, catches my attention and so I’m continuing in the tradition of Mr Harrison by quoting details from his magazine here:

“This very handsome Bramble has been obtained from Nepaul by Mssrs. Veitch. It is quite hardy and very ornamental. The stems spring from the ground on clusters, like our common Raspberry, and attains a height of ten or twelve feet, erect, branched. The stems are very white, appearing as if they had been whitewashed. The flowers are produced in profusion, white, each blossom nearly an inch across; they are succeeded by well-flavoured fruit, as large as a usual-sized Raspberry, and of a beautiful orange or deep amber colour. It is not valuable for an ornament for the shrubbery, but would be a handsome agreeable-flavoured fruit for the table.” Thank you to the Botanical Magazine, from whom The Floricultural Cabinet sourced their information.

Problem is…. Firstly, “not valuable for an ornament for the shrubbery”? No. Rubus biflorus, and the related Rubus cockburnianus, are superb shrubs whose white stems provide invaluable bright winter colour.

But there’s a conundrum. I’ve never seen the amber fruits on R. biflorus because to produce the best display of white stems, and to keep the plants well below the mature height of 3-4m, the plants are cut down to the ground in early spring. And the stems you cut down are the ones that carry the berries.

So if you grow Rubus biflorus, or the black fruited R. cockburnianus – leave a few stems unpruned and check out the flavour.

Concrete and bark paths – and manure

December 7th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Path through perennials made from shredded black bark

With rain like stair rods, gardening has been, well, limited recently. So it’s time again to pull off the bookshelf the wisdom of gardeners of long ago, and open the doors of The Floricultural Cabinet and Florists’ Magazine for December 1852, conducted by our old friend from previous posts – Joseph Harrison.

There’s a lot of discussion of tropical variegated plants together with a slightly surprising note from J. Beaston on the subject of Concrete Surface Walks. “I observe a correspondent,” he says, “who has some walks thus constructed, states that they are objectionable in consequence of being hard; the surface does not yield in the least to the tread, and the rough pebbles make it painful to the feet.”

Now it may seem surprising that complaint is made that concrete is, well, hard. But this is 1852 and, in spite of being in use since before the ancient Egyptian civilisation, concrete was still relatively unknown. Strangely, the good Mr Beaston then goes on to describe in great detail how to make what appears to be a progenitor of the tarmac path – which must have been just as hard as concrete.

Me? I’m a fan of a black shredded bark path. Soft, soft, inexpensive, the ideal colour to go with green foliage and easily replenished every spring.

However, oddly, after the long discourse on how to make a different kind of hard path, a contribution follows immediately from J. J. Mechi of Tiptree Hall in Kelvedon in Essex, who dives right in with: “In fact, I see clearly that the liquefied manure will enable me to produce my root crops at 5 shillings per ton, and will very largely increase my other productions.”

So there you have it, the garden in December!

Water for pollinators and other garden wildlife

November 30th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Garden pond and waterfall

It’s not just plants that attract pollinators and other insects. The other crucial feature is water and the smallest pool will make a difference. In fact I once saw a tiny pool made in an upturned dustbin lid with its own little population of bugs.

Natural ponds have disappeared. I know the ponds I used to root about in as a kid in the London suburbs, catching stickleback and trying to identify the dragonflies – well, they’re long gone, drained and built over. In rural areas, farm ponds have been filled in to make the fields easier for machinery.

But so many of us have a little piece of land outside our back door where, amongst the roses and the lawn and the patio and the kids’ bikes, there’s room for a pond.

My daughter and her family have a tiny London garden but in the middle of a little border on one side is a pond. In area, it’s probably smaller than a dustbin lid but much deeper so there’s a goldfish and water snails and insects I couldn’t tell you the name off. The birds drink there too. And there’s never been a mosquito.

But most of us will have room for something a little larger, and all you need can be sourced here at Mr F, even snails to clear up the algae. The winter is the time to get started, so why not think about making space for a pond.

Plants for Pollinators: Native plants or garden flowers?

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

Plants For Pollinators available from Mr F

It’s easy to think that to attract native pollinators to our gardens we need to plant native plants. But it turns out that this is not necessarily true, which is just as well because garden plants tend to be more colourful then natives.

The Royal Horticultural Society conducted some very diligent research, counting insect visitors to native and non-native plants in carefully controlled experimental plots.

These are their conclusions, and I’m going to quote their advice in full because it makes it very clear that to attract encourage pollinators we do not need to plant only native plant species.

The RHS says:

• In your garden the best strategy for gardeners wanting to support pollinating insects in gardens is to plant a mix of flowering plants from different parts of the world.

• As part of this mix aim to have more plants that are native to the UK and the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere. Exotic plants can be used to extend the season (especially late summer flowering) and provide nectar and pollen for some specific pollinators. Many gardeners in the UK already adopt this approach since native and northern hemisphere plants are usually very reliable in a UK climate and a smattering of more exotic plants helps provide flowers up to the first frosts and often introduces unusual flowers colours and shapes.

• Regardless of plant origin (native or non-native), the more flowers your garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees, hoverflies and other pollinating insects it will attract and support.

Mr Fothergill’s highlights over two hundred plants as being attractive to pollinators and other insects. Start with these.

Helping helpful insects

November 16th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments


We’ve heard so many of reports recently about the decline in insect populations, both pollinators and other insects, that many gardeners are wondering how they can help. Recent news of the decline in bird populations and the populations of other vertebrates is also rather chilling.

Insects are not only vital pollinators for our crops and for wild fruits and for seed-set in wild and garden flowers, but they also provide – not to put too fine a point on it – themselves as food for birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and even other insects. A brood of ten blue tit chicks can get through one thousand caterpillars – per day! [At first, I didn’t believe that either but the British Trust for Ornithology confirms the figure]

But blue tits are also very efficient predators of aphids, and I’ve watched them dealing with infestations on roses and lupins very efficiently, carrying beakfuls off to their chicks.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we plant roses so that blue tits and other birds can feed on their aphids! But the help of gardeners can be crucial in two ways: firstly, by attracting wildlife of all kinds to our gardens through providing food and nest sites, and secondly by planting varieties that insects appreciate. Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at different ways to help insects and other wildlife.

Of course, protecting natural habitats is crucial and one way of helping with that is to buy friends and relatives memberships of conservation organisations such as local wildlife trusts as Christmas gifts – and to join up yourself.

So that’s a start: your local wildlife trust. And next time I’ll be thinking about insect friendly flowers.

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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