Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Poppies for winter and summer

August 17th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Flowers and foliage of 'Victoria Cross' poppies

This summer, I’ve really come to appreciate the value of opium poppies. I wrote about them here back in the spring but now I have another take on them.

Oh, but just to be clear: it’s called the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, but you’d be hard pressed to extract any opium from it. You won’t find the special varieties used for opium production down at the garden centre!

In the garden, opium poppies bring us wonderful summer flowers in an increasing range of shades, single and double. These are followed by fat pods which can easily be dried for winter decoration. But the feature that I’ve especially noticed this year is the foliage.

From when the plants are small the slightly shiny greyish-bluish-green foliage stands out and, as it develops, it makes an increasingly eye-catching contribution. This year, I started off leaving all the self sown seedlings that came up – wherever they emerged. Then, if necessary, I simply removed those that turned out to be in the way. The result was bright bluish sparks of colour all over the garden.

But now I’m looking for both larger rosettes of foliage for winter and also flowers in colours I choose, not in colours that the unpredictability of self sown seedlings provide.

So I’m all set with some ‘Victoria Cross’, with its dramatic white splashed scarlet flowers. Mr F donates 25p from the cost of each packet of ‘Victoria Cross’ (above) to the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the other day presented the with a cheque for an amazing £73,399.25! So give it a try. And I’ll also be sowing the rich purple ‘Lauren’s Grape’. I thought that ‘Maanzaad’, new this spring, was rather watery in colour so I don’t think I’ll bother with that one.

I’m going to sow them this week in patches amongst shrubs and roses and summer perennials for the pleasure of their winter rosettes – with the flowers to come next summer. And at Christmas I’ll be spraying this year’s dried pods silver. Foliage, flowers and pods – these must be the best value annuals you can grow.

Sun survivor

August 10th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Amaranthus 'Velvet Curtains'Visiting the Mr F trial ground this week, it was clear that some plants had suffered badly in the heat while some had enjoyed it.

One that clearly loved the hot weather was Amaranthus ‘Velvet Curtains’, the RHS AGM winning hardy annual sown direct into the light and sandy soil of the trials field.

This dramatic relative of the familiar love-lies-bleeding is attractive from when the first richly coloured, reddish purple shoots emerge soon after sowing. The handsome foliage becomes more striking as it develops and I’ve seen it looking very dramatic emerging through a carpet of white alyssum. The white gypsophila that was also doing well in the heat would also make a taller and longer lasting partner.

Now, in August, the bold upright plumes of ‘Velvet Curtains’ are at their peak. I’ve grown them interplanted amongst orange dahlias and cannas to bring a softer look to the more structured dahlia and canna plants. If that’s the plan, raise the seedlings individually in pots from seed sown in a cold greenhouse, be sure not to let the plants dry out or suffer any shocks as this may spark them into flower prematurely.

‘Velvet Curtains’ is also splendid for drying, especially as the colour fades hardly at all. Cut the stems when the flowers are at their peak – about now! Strip off the lower leaves, tie the stems in bunches of half a dozen then hang them upside down in a cool and dry and well ventilated place. Drying in cool conditions (which is at last possible as everything cools down) helps preserve the richness of the colour.

Leave the plumes on the plants into the autumn and they will shed their seeds. This can be double-edged as you may end up with far more self sown seedlings than you need. The best compromise is to cut some for drying, cut back most of the rest to prevent self sowing and just leave a stem or two to shed seed. And if seedlings come up in inconvenient places next spring – well, you can always move them.

King of the sun

August 3rd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower 'Sun King'

One of the great things about being able to visit the trial ground at Mr F is that it’s possible to see all the varieties of a single plant growing side by side. This year, it’s nasturtiums (more on them another time) and last year I paid special attention to the sunflowers. This one, ‘Sun King’, really stood out.

I used to grow a double flowered variety called ‘Teddy Bear’ but I found that it had become less and less consistent, especially in terms of its height: It’s supposed to be relatively short, about 60cm, but some were noticeably taller than the others and that sometimes made for a very odd looking group.

‘Sun King’ reaches 2m and they’re all consistent at about that height. The flowers are larger too – and don’t they look spectacular, packed with petals around that vivid green eye.

I raised them by sowing three seeds in 9cm pots, in April, and keeping the pots in the cold greenhouse. They were soon through – well, the ones the mice didn’t get were soon through – and by that time the greenhouse door and all the vents were open and so hardening off wasn’t really necessary.

I planted the whole potful of seedlings when they were about 10cm high, watered them in with liquid feed and away they went. When they were about 60cm tall I supported them with a 1.2m bamboo cane to each group of plants intending to add a stout dahlia stake later but that never happened. And they stood tall and upright through the hammering rain and the wild wind without the extra support.

I haven’t picked any yet, I should have sown a few more potfuls after the episode with the mice so there’d be plenty. But they’re branching well and just one head, in a heavy vase on the kitchen table, will be just the thing.

Gorgeous gaillardia

July 27th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Gaillardia 'Fanfare'

I’m a big fan of gaillardias. I ordered ‘Fanfare’ from Mr F last year and was pleasantly surprised when last year’s plants came happily through the winter to dazzle the eyes again this year. And they certainly love the sun.

Found as self sown seedling in 1997 by former garden centre manager Richard Read, who went on to develop a huge range of gaillardias and also Shasta daisies, the extraordinary colouring and the lovely structure of the petals made it an instant success. In effect, it’s a version of the well known, and long popular ‘Goblin’, but with the lower half of each petal is rolled into a tube and then flared like a trumpet at the tip.

Unlike the first-year-flowering gaillardias I wrote about here back in the winter,‘Fanfare’ is not raised from seed but from cuttings. It makes neat, compact but not unnaturally squat plants and flowers for months, each new flowers overtopping the fading ones.

It makes a splendid specimen in a terracotta pot, three plants in a 40-45cm pot works fine, and it helps continuity from one year to the next not to use a compost that’s all peat or all peat-substitute. Good drainage is definitely beneficial in taking the plants through the winter.

But the great thing about ‘Fanfare’ gaillardia is that, yes, it loves the sun. But in last year’s rather less exceptional summer, it flowered prolifically too. Give it a try next year.

Apricot foxgloves

July 20th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Digitalis 'Sutton's Apricot'

There’s no doubt that one of the loveliest of all foxgloves is ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ – and now’s the time to sow the seed. “But what’s so special about it?” I hear you ask? “There’s so many different foxgloves out there, with more coming out almost every year, why this one?”

Well, it’s the colour. It’s that simple. The mature flowers are a delightful soft pale rosy pink with a hint of yellow but they open from buds that are more determinedly apricot in colour. And, like all the best foxgloves, the plants have the gentle elegance and the arching shoot tips that come from the flowers being held on one side of the stem, not all the way round. And they’re a proper foxglove height, too, not short and squat.

So, seed sowing. You’ll find plenty of seed in the packet so you can sow outside in a row now. Anywhere that’s not too hot and dry (!) will be fine. It pays, after you’ve made a drill with the point of a stick, to fill the drill with water and let it sink in. Then sow thinly. Then cover gently.

Thin the seedlings out to 2-3cm, then 5cm and then 10cm apart and then, in the autumn, transplant them to where you’d like them to flower

So why is it that I feel so comfortable discussing a variety developed by and named for a rival seed company? It’s because if you buy ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ foxgloves from Mr F you’ll get five times as many seeds for 50p less per packet than if you buy it from our friends in Devon!

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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