Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Double choice of double sunflowers

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

Sunflower 'Sun King' and 'Teddy Bear' (inset)

I’ve always been a little dubious about fully double sunflowers but in 2015 and 2016 I grew ‘Goldy’ and was delighted with its large, densely double, golden flowers.

This year ‘Goldy’ disappeared from catalogues and seed racks but for the coming season a replacement has arrived, a replacement that’s better than the original.

‘Sun King’ (above, main picture) has 20-23cm (8-9in) fully double, very tightly packed flowers in rich golden yellow with a few longer and broader petals around the edge. Reaching 1.8-2.2m (6-7ft), the first flower at the top of the stem is followed by three or four slightly smaller flowers on 90cm (3ft) stems.

These side shoots are ideal for cutting and longer than those of ‘Goldy’, whose side shoots could be quite short and unsuitable for arranging. I was very impressed with ‘Sun King’ on the Mr F trials this summer. And it’s only available from Mr F.

Farther along in the trial of forty seven sunflowers, ‘Teddy Bear’ (above, inset) also stood out. This is a much shorter, fully double variety which had deteriorated in recent years, with single flowers appearing amongst the doubles. But on this year’s evidence, it’s back to its original quality. It’s also the proud recipient of an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

The plants reached 60-90cm (2-3ft), the tight heads of green-eyed, golden orange flowers were surrounded by smaller flowers in the same style.

Next season I’m going to grow ‘Sun King’ with ‘Teddy Bear’ in front. Finding the space will be the tricky part.

Super scented new verbena

September 15th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Verbena 'Scentsation'

Fragrance is something we all enjoy. So when a new variety comes along that adds scent to colourful but more or less fragrance-free flowers then we should all take notice. And that’s what happened back in 2014 when Mr F introduced a new verbena, discovered on the trial ground by Trials Manager Brian Talman. I wrote up ‘Talman’s Fragrant Treasure’ on my RHS New Plants blog at the time.

It was lovely, and deliciously scented – but only came in the one colour and was only produced from cuttings. But, looking ahead, Brian said: “I knew that if this plant passed on its colour and fragrance to its offspring, that we would be onto a winner.’ And that’s exactly what’s happened.

Mr F are introducing a seed raised variety derived from ‘Talman’s Fragrant Treasure’. It’s called ‘Scentsation’ and it comes in a blend of white plus a range of soft shades including blushed white, soft purple with a white eye, deep pink, and pale cerise with a white eye.

The plants are bushy and even in height and Brian told me: “Germination is exceptional and, while all verbenas get mildew in the end, this one gets it later than any verbena we grow. And on a sunny summer’s afternoon the scent it lovely.”

It’s easy to grow from seed as a half hardy annual and it retains that delicious perfume.

You can order seed of Verbena ‘Scentsation’ only from Mr Fothergill’s.

Tried and tested: Cosmos ‘Xanthos’

September 8th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cosmos 'Xanthos'

All over the world, seed companies and plant breeders are developing new varieties of cosmos and perhaps the most interesting new introduction has been the new yellow flowered Cosmos ‘Xanthos’, which I grew this year in my new trial garden and also saw on the Mr F trials.

I really liked it and will be growing it again next year.

Of course its most distinctive feature is its pale yellow flowers. Previously, the only yellow flowered cosmos was ‘Yellow Garden’, a monstrous thing that, when I grew it, reached about 2m in height before it opened a single flower and waited until about now to start! Useless.

‘Xanthos’ reached about 75-90cm in height, bushed out well from the start and began to flower in June. The flowers are not large, about 4-7cm across, but they’re a lovely soft primrose-lemon shade, opening from darker buds, with a white zone around the golden eye.

I grew it alongside a similar variety called ‘Lemonade’, new this year, whose flowers were almost identical. But it was striking that ‘Lemonade’ has more foliage and fewer flowers.

As I write this on 8 September, ‘Xanthos’ is still flowering well and has masses of buds still to open. The stem length is getting shorter, however, probably the result of the dry spell that’s just ended. Now it’s had a good soak I’m going to give it a liquid feed to see if that coaxes into flowering well into the autumn and with longer stems.

And next year when I grow it, I’ll space it out at about 30cm, instead of the 23cm I tried this year and will add humus before planting to help it through dry spells.

Next year? Definitely.

You can order seed of Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ or you can order young plants of Cosmos ‘Xanthos’.

On trial at Mr F

September 1st, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mr Fothergill's Trial Field

Yesterday, I visited the Mr F trial ground in Suffolk. I took a look earlier in the season and I’ll probably be going again soon. After all, there’s about 2000 different varieties, all grown in rows, side by side – it’s not only an invaluable resource, it’s an astonishing sight.

Years ago, all the seed companies had a trial ground where they grew everything they sold, to check that what went into the seed packets was exactly what it should be and that the quality was up to par. New varieties were also assessed to determine if they were worthy of being added to the range.

And, to cap it all, garden writers from all over the country were invited to take a look and make up their own minds about what they saw. Mr F saw a record turn out for its press day last month but Mr F is the last of the seed companies to grow such extensive trials and open them up for independent scrutiny.

I’ll be discussing the highlights and the standout varieties here over the next few weeks and months. The perennials grown from seed sown in the spring of this year were especially impressive as was the huge selection of marigolds. Next year is The Year of The Marigold so Mr F is getting prepared.

The zinnias were impressive, I spotted a couple of outstanding new sunflowers, some double cosmos caught my eye and there were some intriguing new calendulas. And more, much more.

With a top temperature of 31.3C (88F) this summer, and a low of 6C (43F) and with soil so dry in spring that, for the first time, it had to be watered before Trial Ground Manager Brian Talman could sow the seed of the hardy annuals – well, it’s been a challenging year. But Brian’s decades of experience allowed him to adapt to this unique season and the trials looked superb.

Please check back here over the next few months as I reveal this year’s highlights.

Dainty dwarf daffodils – and they’re scented too

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

Narcissus 'Minnow'

You can often buy a sack of mixed – sometimes very mixed – daffodils on the market at this time of year and in spring you can buy a bunches of classic yellow daffs at the market, the supermarket and even by the side of the road. But are these what you really want? Same old, same old…Why not opt for something altogether more subtle, more stylish even? And with a delightful fragrance.

Dwarf daffodils are as tough as the big and blowsy types, but their dainty look and the intriguing colours and bicolours of so many mark them out as ideal to grow in clumps in spring borders or in rows for cutting. And they won’t blow over.

I’m going to plant a whole 1.2m row of ‘Minnow’ (above) and a whole row of ‘Hawera’ next month so that I’ll have plenty to cut. They’re lovely in spring posies with forget-me-nots. Both are dainty multiheaded types, ‘Minnow’ with white flowers with yellow cups and ‘Hawera’, invaluable for extending the season into May, with soft yellow flowers. Both reach about 20cm, both are beautifully scented.

Sensing a theme here? Yes: multiheaded varieties with clusters of small fragrant flowers. They’re my favourites. They never overdominate, they go with so many other flowers – and there’s the scent. ‘Baby Boomer’, a brighter multiheaded yellow jonquil reaching 25cm, is another you might like to try.

So, how to plant them? In borders, plant in clumps of six to a dozen, fifteen even, depending on the scale of the planting Set each bulb two bulb widths from its neighbour, this will tell you how wide a hole to dig. Remove soil to five times the depth of the bulb, fork in soil improver to bring the depth to three times the bulb depth when firmed.

Set the bulbs in place (point end up, please…), cover them, firm gently and mark the area with short pointed sticks – so you don’t dig them up by mistake. If you’re planting a row, use the same basic approach staggering the bulbs in a double row.

Then sit back and wait for spring. But get your order in soon before stocks run out.

Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
Read more.

Shop Online

Graham’s Books