Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Good Victorian watering advice

July 13th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mignonette (Reseda odorata)

I know, it’s been hot. And dry. Scorching. And everything has needed watering. Here’s what our old friend Joseph Harrison, “conductor” of the Floricultural Cabinet magazine had to say on the subject in 1852.

“It will be highly necessary,” he says, “during the continuance of dry weather, to administer copious supplies of water. This should be done towards the evening of each day, because the plants have then time to absorb water gradually and appropriate such portion as contributes to their well being. It is only in extreme cases that water should be given in the morning, because it is then so quickly exhaled from the soil, as well as the leaves, that its refreshing and nutrimental properties are almost wholly wasted.

“A few annuals, such as Mignionette,” he continues tangentially, “may now be sown to bloom in the autumn.”

“appropriate such portion as contributes to their well being” – they certainly have a way with words, these Victorians.

So, water in the evening. Use seephose, also known as soaker hose, rather than an overhead sprinkler. It’s more expensive to set up but saves a lot of water.

And what about those mignonettes – as we spell them these days (we’ve lost the i), which he slips in at the last minute? As you can see from the picture they’re not the most colourful of annuals, but it’s the scent. Used in high end perfumes a hundred years ago (synthetic versions are now used) the scent is hard to describe: “ambrosial” and “vibrant green-floral” and “very sweet-smelling and pleasant Mediterranean flower with violet-like and fruity nuances”. None the wiser, are we, really…

But a patch in a corner where early annuals have become scorched or in a pot by the door, mignonette is delightful. Water first, sow into the damp soil and your mignonette will be flowering in six or eight weeks time. I know you’ll enjoy it.

Honesty: an ancient favourite

July 6th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Lunaria annua var. albiflora

We’ve been growing honesty, Lunaria annua, for a long time. It was first grown in gardens way back in 1570 and first noticed as an escape from gardens in 1597. But the strange thing is that it’s never been found growing naturally in the wild – not anywhere. It’s found outside gardens over much of Britian but it’s always been traced back to cultivated plants.

This is an indispensible plant. A biennial, in spite of its botanical name, and now is the time to sow seed for flowering in spring next year. And the reason that it’s so valuable is that it has two distinct features. First of all, there’s the flowers, large four petalled flowers in purple or in pure white in well-branched sprays on plants up to 75cm high.

Then the flowers are followed by the familiar papery seed heads, flat pods the size of a 10p piece that dry so effectively for the winter.

Some gardeners find the usual form with its purple flowers a little crude in its colouring but grow it for the pods. The pure white form, though, is lovely and universally admired or the mix of the purple and the white is often grown.

In recent years other forms have arrived. Both flower colours are available with brightly splashed variegated leaves but this foliage divides gardeners’ opinions – sometimes fiercely!

A form with purple leaves and very dark flowers has also been seen recently but is not yet easy to find.

But the great thing about the white-flowered form is that it looks good with such a wide variety of other plants – so you can allow it to self sow and it will fit in anywhere. And it has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. So it must be good.

Longer lasting cut flowers

June 29th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mixed rudbeckias cut for the table

We all cut flowers from our gardens. I often cut them from mine, and I have ‘Hi Scent’ sweet peas in front of me on the table as I write as well a vase full of mixed sweet Williams. The rudbeckias (above) will be opening any day mow. But how do we make them last as long as possible?

Every summer I bring up this issue of making cut flowers last because, after all the time and effort and imagination you’ve spent looking after your flowers in the garden, it really pays to give a few thoughts to making them last. And a few simple tricks can make a huge difference. So here goes.

1. Cut them first thing in the morning, when they’ve had a cool night to take on moisture. By evening, the sun has been sucking up water from the flowers and foliage all day.
2. Cut flowers at the right stage, usually this is just as they’re opening. Don’t cut flowers that have been open for a few days, it’s obvious that they won’t last well.
3. Take a bucket or a jug filled with water with you into the garden and put the flowers in it as soon as you cut them.
4. Before arranging them, cut at least a half an inch from the base of the stem.
5. Change the water every day.

Adding flower food to the water is the ideal approach as flower food inhibits the growth of the bacteria that block the stems and prevent water uptake. But I know that relatively few people actually do this – so change the water every day instead. If you ignore all the other advice, at least change the water daily. You’ll be so pleased you did.

Plant associations the 19th century way

June 22nd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

"harmony of colouring" 19th century style

So, the other day I was browsing through the June 1852 issue of the Floricultural Cabinet magazine – the way you do – and I came across some interesting observations about plant associations.

“We have frequently called attention of our young readers,” says Joseph Harrison who “conducted” the magazine, “to the desirability of paying strict attention to the judicious arrangements of flowering plants, as regards height and harmony of colouring.

“It is true,” he goes on,” that, of late years, this subject has become a matter of study amongst gardeners and great changes for the better have taken place in this respect; still we are far from supposing that we have arrived at perfection.

“Always bear in mind – if beauty, order and effect are desired – that attention to this, next to a well laid-out flower-garden, is essential to their full development.

“In producing well-arranged contrasts, the different shades of colour must be as distinct from each other as possible: for instance, white should never be placed in contact with yellow, or deep blue with crimson; but white forms a good contrast with blue or red, blue to orange, yellow to purple or violet, dark crimson to light blue, and scarlet should be placed near those which have profuse green foliage, as red and green form the best contrast. Orange and violet do well. Greenish-yellow and rose contrast well.”

This is what I’ve referred to in the past as the “right between the eyes” style of plant association: the bolder and brighter the contrast the better. And it works.

Of course, not everyone enjoys that approach. For many of us, a calmer and more harmonious arrangement of pastels is preferable – but this was clearly not in vogue in 1852.

Ferns come out of the shade

June 15th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Athyrium otophorum var. okanum

We tend to think of ferns as plants for shady places and it’s true that for many of them full shade is essential. But some thrive in full sun or partial shade with just one proviso – they must have wet soil.

This makes them ideal plants for pond margins, those areas around the edges of the pond that are sunny but where the soil is always damp.

The royal fern, Osmunda regalis, is a tall and impressive plant – stately, almost – that can reach 2m in height when happy. It grows wild in Britain and you’ll see it mostly in the west and south where it grows on river banks and lakesides, in wet ditches and around the edges of wet woods.

The erect, pale green fronds often turn yellow or orange in the autumn and surround vertical stems topped with bold rusty tufts that look a little like brown flowers, but which are in fact packed with dusty spores.

Although less tolerant of sun than the royal fern, there’s another much smaller and more manageable waterside fern that will grow in a combination of sun for part of the day and moisture. This is a very pretty form of lady fern, Athyrium otophorum var. okanum. It’s often suggested that it demands full shade, but I’ve found that it’s happy in some sun if the roots are never allowed to become dry.

What marks this plant out is the creamy colour of the young fronds and the rich red colouring of the stems and veins which becomes more intense as the fronds mature.

Rarely reaching more than about 60cm, this Asian species also makes a fine specimen for a cool corner of the patio, stand its pot in a saucer to collect moisture and keep the roots damp.

In fact, I’ve also seen the royal fern grown in a pot – but you’ll need a very large one.

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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