Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

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.

Two more old favourites return

November 9th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Omphalodes ‘Little Snow White’ and Silene ‘Blue Angel’

Our attention often strays from colourful and dependable hardy annuals that have been around for years towards brighter and brasher new introductions. And it’s not just we gardeners.

Seed companies, too, and the companies that produce the seed they sell, can let their focus wander and the result is that good varieties either deteriorate so they become much less appealing or they vanish from catalogues altogether.

Well, last week I brought you news of a dwarf double sunflower that Mr F have bright back, and this week I’ve news of two more. These are two hardy annuals that I haven’t grown for years but which I always used to enjoy self seeding around the garden.

Omphalodes ‘Little Snow White’ is a dainty hardy annual related to forget-me-nots with narrow greyish leaves and small clear white flowers. Growing about 35-40cm in height, it can sown in spring or in autumn (though it’s probably a little late now) and will flower for two or three months from May (autumn sowing) or July (spring sowing).

I’m going to grow it again next year, sowing a row for cutting and then transplanting the thinnings wherever I think they’ll look the part. It’ll be good to have it back.

Silene (Viscaria) ‘Blue Angel’ is also back and that too will be on my seedlist, especially as there are relatively few low hardy annuals with such lovely blue blooms. Reaching only 20-25cm in height, the slender stems carry flat-faced, dark-eyed flowers

Sow from March to June and expect flowers about three months after sowing. As with the omphalodes, self sown seedlings will pop up for next year. The fact is that it’s impractical to deadhead either of them so don’t even try – just allow them to cast their seed and enjoy them wherever they pop up.

‘Teddy Bear’ is back in favour

November 2nd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower 'Teddy Bear'

The new ‘Sun King’ sunflower was one of the hits of this summer in my garden. Its densely double, rich yellow flowers stood out for months, both in the garden and when cut.

But it’s tall, mine all reached at least 2m in height which in many of today’s gardens is rather awkward. They also needed stout support and while the flowers repay close inspection, you wouldn’t really want to grow them on a patio or a balcony. But there’s a shorter version.

I’ve been uncomplimentary about ‘Teddy Bear’ in the past, it’s a variety that’s been around for a while but a few years ago I found that my plants were not all double and were also all different heights, 60cm or 1.2m is a big difference. So I stopped growing it.

But in the 2017 Mr F trials I noticed that it was back to its original quality. It’s also recently received an AGM for use in containers and the RHS assessors commented: “striking double, large heads, rich yellow-orange, floriferous, performing well over a long period.” Fair enough.

My point is now that its quality is back and that the RHS has awarded ‘Teddy Bear’ the much coveted Award of Garden Merit, it’s been added to the Mr Fothergill’s AGM seed range for the coming season. So it’s available on the special Mr F AGM garden centre seed rack, on the Mr F website and in the Mr F seed catalogue.

Next year I’m going to grow ‘Sun King’ and the back of the border and ‘Teddy Bear’ in front where it will hide the bare stems of its taller cousin. I’m already looking forward to it.

Still time for alliums

October 26th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Allium christophii

When we think about spring bulbs we think of daffodils and tulips and crocuses – all the old favourites. But what about alliums? They tend to be forgotten. In fact, I forgot about them myself, this year, and will finally be planting mine this morning.

It’s true, alliums tend to flower a little later than other spring bulbs, in May and June. Some flower later still, in July or even August, but they still need planting now. And while all bring us masses of tiny flowers gathered into flower heads at the tops of their stems, those flower heads come in large and medium and small.

The largest and most dramatic flower heads belong to Allium schubertii, with 30cm flower heads like exploding fireworks on stems 50cm high. They even have a sweet fragrance, and can be cut for dramatic flower arrangements and for drying.

Less wildly exuberant in its look, but with dramatic 20cm flower heads packed with purple stars, is A. christophii. Lovely planted amongst low penstemons such as ‘Carillo Purple’, as its flower heads turn to straw they break away and roll around the borders, lodging unpredictably amongst border plants.

More like drumsticks, the taller ‘Purple Sensation’ makes smaller heads on 70cm stems, ideal growing through early summer perennials, they look amazing amongst lupins!

Finally, perhaps my favourite, with the smallest flowers in the darkest purple on tall 50-60cm stems at the latest season – and at the best bargain price: A. sphaerocephalon. At £5.95 for fifty bulbs, I’m going to plant them in a row for cutting and also amongst my shasta daisies. I have some new yellow flowered varieties on trial – sounds like a good combination to me. Get your order in today.

Garden centres, catalogues and websites

October 19th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mr Fothergill's Plants A-Z

I went to the garden centre yesterday to buy some shrubs and perennials for a new border in a friend’s garden. I had my list, I had my cart, I was all set. But where are they?

I know it was naive, I can’t get out of the habit, but I still expected to find the shrubs, well, in the Shrubs section, lined up A-Z. But there was no Shrubs section. There was a large A-Z choice of Ornamental Trees but no displays devoted to shrubs or perennials or ground cover.

Instead, the shrubs and perennials were all mixed together and presented under headings such as Sun, Shade, and Foliage. So I trailed round looking for caryopteris and perovskia in the Sun display – no. I found a yellow-leaved caryopteris in the Foliage collection but that was not the one I wanted. In the end, I became so irritated that I went home.

Compare with the Mr F seed rack in that same garden centre, or the Mr F catalogue or the seeds and plants on the Mr F website. Seeds start with Abutilon, end with Zinnia. Plants start with Achillea, end with Zinnia. Want some busy lizzie seed? You don’t have to wonder if it’ll be presented in the Sun or Shade department. There it is between Begonia and Calendula.

OK, you might quibble and suggest that busy lizzie seed should go under its Latin name: Impatiens. I had a botanical training so that’s where I started but reality long since took over!

Have to say… There is something that Mr F could learn from that garden centre. A-Z is great, but sometimes we do need help: Seeds for Sun, Seeds for Scent – that sort of thing. Hit the Flower Seeds button on the front page of the website and a list appears on the left that includes some of these categories. More would be good.

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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