Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

A super rosy snapdragon

February 15th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Antirrhinim 'Twinny Rose'

The wild snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus, is native to southern Europe and was probably grown in Britain long before Linnaeus formalised its name in 1753. Always appealing, if only because of the way we can make the flowers open their mouths by pinching them at the sides, it’s been constantly developed and improved.

We’ve had tall cut flower types a metre high, tiny bushy ones and trailers for hanging baskets. We’ve had two different kinds of variegated ones and we’ve had bronze-leaved ones. We’ve had flowers in every colour but blue, including some striking bicolours, and we’ve had varieties with flared instead of two-lipped flowers and some with almost double flowers. We even have a few with scent.

‘Twinny Rose’ is the prettiest of the seven varieties in the Twinny Series, but they all combine a number of valuable features. They’re dwarf, but not too dwarf – about 30cm – and make low rounded plants that are good at the front of borders or at the edge of tubs.

The flowers are a lovely soft rose pink, in fact they open pale rose pink and then darken as they mature so each plant will be covered in flowers in different rosy shades.

The individual flowers are flared, with extra petals in the centre. The great thing about this is that the bees find the flowers difficult to pollinate – and it’s pollination that triggers the fading of the flowers. So the flowers last longer.

‘Twinny Rose’ is a lovely little snapdragon and this year it’s available as young plants as well as from seed. Well worth a try, don’t you think?

Best lupins money can buy

February 8th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Lupins ‘Blossom’, ‘Masterpiece’, and ‘Polar Princess’ (l-r)These are the best lupins you can buy. It’s as simple as that. Let me explain.

George Russell, back in the 1930s, was the first to develop lupins in this style, allowing bees to cross the yellow-flowered tree lupin with the blue-flowered perennial L. polyphyllus to create – eventually – dazzling, long spiked plants in amazing colours and colour combinations. He worked for decades slowly improving them year by year. He raised an astonishing 152 named varieties in all but there was always a problem; his lupins were difficult to propagate.

Each plant only produced a few cuttings so there were never very many plants to sell. One attempt to solve the problem was to grow them from seed and it’s certainly possible to grow seed-raised lupins without much difficulty. They’re colourful, it’s true, but the fact is that the quality is just not there and purple colouring and then gappy spikes tend to dominate. In the end his named varieties faded away. Virus diseases didn’t help.

In 1985, Woodfield Lupins won the first of ten Gold Medals at Chelsea having used the remaining Russell Lupins to develop new varieties. But, again, propagation was a problem.

Then for many years, down in Devon, Sarah Conibear worked on creating her own named varieties in the same style and she too won Gold Medals at Chelsea with them. But now there’s a difference. Modern laboratory propagation techniques have made it easier to produce these impressive named lupins in sufficient numbers to offer them here.

They come in a collection of five varieties: ‘Blossom’, ‘Masterpiece’, and ‘Polar Princess’ (l-r above) plus ‘Manhattan Lights’ (purple and yellow) and ‘Tequila Flame’ (red and yellow).

And you know what else? They’re all deliciously fragrant! Why not try the very best of all lupins?

Unique new verbena

February 1st, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Verbena 'Showboat Mango Orange'

We’ve occasionally been looking at that splendid old Victorian magazine The Floricultural Cabinet over the last few months. As we leave January, I see that for the January 1852 issue the good Mr Joseph Harrison, who “conducts” the magazine, has commissioned “Orion” to discuss verbenas. They love pseudonyms in these old magazines….

“Verbenas stand very high in the estimation of the flower-loving world,” he reports, “and deservedly so, for what rival have they for filling beds on lawns? What is there that will make a grander display, from early in the season to quite the close?

“So various are the shades of colour that a splendid parterre may be laid out consisting entirely and exclusively of the Verbena…. Yellow is the only decided colour wanting; though new ones described as yellow, have been, I think, dishonestly put out only to prove dirty white or pale Primroses. But no more need be brought forward to prove the superiority of this many-coloured flower over every other, for bedding and other out-door purposes…”

And while yellow verbenas still prove elusive over a hundred and fifty years later, last year’s super-scented ‘Scentsation’ (from seed) brought as fragrance as never before combined with soft pastel colours and this year we have a new colour, never seen before: ‘Showboat Mango Orange’.

Voted second favourite by 3,500 professional and amateur visitors to the country’s largest annual flower trials (we’ll get to the favourite next time), this striking new colour features large umbels of brilliant mango-orange flowers with blushes of pink and brings a new colour choice to verbenas.

Valuable in baskets and tubs, and also as a front-of-the-sunny-border ground cover, why not give Verbena ‘Showboat Mango Orange’ a try and order some plants?

Disease resistant nicotianas

January 25th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Disease-resistant Nicotiana 'Babybella'Disease wiped out the trials of tobacco plant, Nicotiana, at the RHS Garden at Wisley in Surrey in 1997. Tobacco blue mould also ruined the trial in 1998 and again when they tried in 2001and most varieties vanished from catalogues and gardens for almost fifteen years. There was no point growing them as, unless you were isolated from sources of infection, they were simply wiped out in most gardens.

But a plant breeding company in Norfolk has worked diligently to develop attractive varieties that are also tolerant of disease and Mr F now lists the best two of their introductions. With blood from a number of mould-resistant wild species added to the floral impact of traditional types, they developed ‘Whisper’, introduced a few years ago, and now we have another: ‘Babybella’.

Reaching about 90cm in height, the slightly bell-shaped flowers reveal the influence of the old lime-green favourite Nicotiana langsdorfii. But ‘Babybella’ not only comes with flowers in rich crimson but they’re carried on very well branched stems to create a plant that’s ideal in mixed borders with perennials and shrubs and also in large containers.

‘Babybella’ also makes a fine cut flower, the slender but wiry stems supporting the mass of flowers very effectively and the elegant way in which the flowers are held on the stems ensures that the cut stems fit well into large mixed arrangements.

‘Whisper’ is available to grow from seed sown from February to May, ‘Babybella’ is available as young plants to order now for planting in May.

Big Garden Bird Watch

January 18th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Siskin (Spinus spinus) on the bird table

It will soon be time for the annual RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, a nationwide count of the birds in our gardens that runs over the weekend of the 26/27/28 January.

One of the most popular of all citizen science projects, the Big Garden Bird Watch began in 1979 and is now the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. Over half a million people take part every year and because the survey has been exactly the same since it started, it’s easy to see how numbers are changing.

Numbers of blue tits, for example, are up 20% since the survey started and wood pigeons are up an extraordinary 800%! On the other hand house sparrows have declined in numbers, by more than half, although they’re now increasing again, and the number of starlings has dropped by about three quarters.

Last year it became clear that siskins (male, above) are becoming much more common in gardens. Like small greenfinches with forked tails, siskins are now number 24 on the list of garden birds when once they were rarely seen. Goldfinches and long tailed tits have also become more common – and a party of long tailed tits has just twittered through the garden in front of me as I write.

Knowing all this helps the RSPB develop conservation strategies – and it all starts with you looking out of your window. It’s easy to take part in this year’s Big Garden Bird Watch. Just go to the Big Garden Bird Watch webpage and sign up. You can ask for a pack to come in the post or do it all online, it’s up to you.

And now, in the middle of winter, you might also want to think about attracting birds to your garden. Think about nest boxes, bird feeders as well as bird food and don’t forget the RSPB range of seeds from which to raise bird and wildlife friendly plants.

In the meantime, get counting. I’ll be counting next weekend, I hope you will be too.

Siskin image by Simon Eugster. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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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