Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Sunshine in the rain

August 16th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Rudbeckia Display at Mr Fothergill's

This week, on a day of biblical rain, a large group of the country’s garden writers and photographers and garden radio and TV personalities gathered at the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground in Suffolk.

The idea was to see this year’s new varieties, the potential new varieties for next year and beyond and just about every single variety of flowers and veg in the Mr F range – all growing in tough conditions, with absolutely no pampering.

We stood under our new Mr F fluorescent lime green umbrellas and watched the cornflowers sag down under the onslaught from the heavens. And this is where it got interesting. Nothing, except climbers and a few tall dahlias, was supported and while the direct sown cornflowers fell right over and the annual poppies hung their dripping heads, the direct sown larkspur nearby stood tall and beautiful, in particular the lovely blue-and-white ‘Frosted Skies’. This is the sort of performance that might tempt the powers that be to add it to the range.

The dahlias also shook off the rain impressively but the beat-the-rain stars of the day were the rudbeckias. A spectacular display was the central focus of this year’s planting and, as I stood there with the rain battering on my umbrella and my feet getting muddier by the moment, one or two of them leaned a little.

But they stood firm and created such a sparkle that under the charcoal clouds they were impressive from fifty yards away. And the star of them all was ‘Prairie Sun’ (across the top in the picture) its green eye surrounded by two-tone yellow petals.

A soon as the forecast looks better, I’ll be heading back to the trials on a more comfortable day to bring you more highlights from this year’s trials. And there are some very exciting new varieties to tell you about.

Sow in August? Well yes…

August 9th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cornflower (l-r) 'Classic Fantastic', 'Classic Romantic' & 'Classic Magic'

Am I mad? I’m looking at my cornflowers in full bloom and I’m going to suggest it’s time to sow seed for next year. OK, here’s the thing.

I sowed my cornflowers towards the end of March, this year, and they’re flowering well now. I should also mention that I got my ‘Black Ball’ seed from someone else, not Mr F, and half of them came up other colours. Not good. We know what the lesson is. Anyway.

Although my cornflowers are flowering nicely, the ones that did really really well are over. These are the self sown ones that sprung up last summer from seed that fell from last year’s spring sown varieties.

The plants they made were huge, multibranched, producing thousands of flowers. But they turned up in all sorts of places, including in my bark paths. I know, I could have moved the seedlings to better sites – as I’m about to with my self sown cerinthes – but I forgot.

So I’m going to sow cornflowers this month. And, thinking about posies for next summer, I’m going to sow the three varieties in the Classic Series. These are controlled colour blends in blue shades and white (‘Classic Fantastic’), in purple and lilac shades and white (‘Classic Magic’), and red and pink shades and white (‘Classic Romantic’). Colour themed posies in a packet.

Sow in rows in a sunny place this month. Draw out the drill with the point of a stick then soak the drill with water from the spout of the can. Then sow thinly. Thin the seedlings in stages to 20-25cm apart and they’ll start to flower in late spring next year. The plants will be big, so have some bamboo canes and string at the ready. And stand back and admire your achievement!

Fabulous foxgloves

August 2nd, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Digitalis 'Suttons Apricot'

I got some flack on social media last week, for my post about sowing seed to grow decorations for Christmas. Well, I apologise for any offence caused by mentioning Christmas in July! But, well, this is the time for sowing the seed. And this is also the time for sowing other seeds and, in particular, foxgloves.

In fact, it’s often suggested that we sow foxgloves in June or July but a couple of people said to me last autumn that the plants from outdoor June and July sowings grew so large by planting out time in the autumn that they didn’t establish very well.

I was surprised by this, as their fibrous roots usually hold the soil on well, but this year I’m trying sowing a little later. It will be interesting to see how big the plants are by transplanting time and how well they flower next year.

I’m going to try an old favourite this year, ‘Sutton’s Apricot’. To be honest, I sometimes doubt if “apricot” is the right word, but the one-sided spikes of flowers carry the usual foxglove flowers, hanging down slightly, in pale rose pink – perhaps with a yellowish flush – and dainty spotting in the throat.

That subtle shade – and the plants may vary very slightly in colour – are ideal at the back of the border behind English roses in pinks and creams or rich red. So why not try sowing ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ foxgloves this month?

Christmas is coming (sorry…)

July 26th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Chinese lanterns in the garden and in the house

Sorry… Sorry… Let’s talk about Christmas! No no, not this Christmas, Christmas next year. And let’s talk seed sowing, Chinese lanterns in particular.

The idea is that you sow the seed of Chinese lanterns, Physalis alkekengii, now and by Christmas next year you’ll have a mas of bright orange lanterns to use in your indoor Christmas decorations. And it’s not difficult.

As you may remember, the plants produce small, white and not very showy flowers in summer. These are followed in autumn by the vivid orange papery lanterns and inside each lantern is a red berry. This is an usual plant in that all parts of the plant can cause skin rashes – except for the ripe berries, which are edible. In a way, yew is similar: all parts of the plant are poisonous except for the fleshy red berry around its seed.

Anyway, sow seed outside in pots now. I’d suggest using a 12cm pot, sowing the seeds thinly, covering with half a millimetre of grit and leaving the pot in a sheltered place outside. The seeds will germinate before the winter, die down and then as they start to grow in the spring you can pot them up individually.

Later in the spring you can plant them out. And now comes the warning: Chinese lanterns are very very vigorous. Unless you have a large garden and can plant them in an out of the way corner they will romp into areas where they’re really not wanted.

The other alternative is to grow them in a large – preferably very large – pot. Just make sure the roots don’t escape through the drainage holes.

OK, this all sounds like a lot of trouble. But being able to use those fiery lanterns in Christmas decorations really makes it all worthwhile.

Let’s go with gaillardias

July 19th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Gaillardia 'Arizona Red Shades'

My gaillardias have been flowering for a few weeks, now, so what makes me think that this is a good time to sow gaillardia seed?

Well, modern varieties are very different from the old and straggly types. I’ve been growing those, too, but I’m heaving them out this autumn. ‘Amber Wave’ is a recent variety in the old style and is not only very floppy, but in a couple of years the roots have run so much that shoots are coming up in the path. Not for long.

Modern gaillardias, the Arizona Series in particular, are shorter, bushier, don’t need support, don’t run at the root and come with enthusiastically upward facing daisies. Flowering starts in June or July and continues into the autumn, especially if the plants are deadheaded regularly.

There are three varieties in the Arizona Series: ‘Arizona Apricot’, ‘Arizona Sun’ (a red and yellow bicolour) and ‘Arizona Red Shades’. All are prolific plants for sun and soil that’s not too soggy. And you can sow seed now.

The trick is to raise the seedlings just as if you were sowing in spring: sow the seeds in a 9cm pot, prick the seedlings out into large cells or 7cm pots, grow them on until they’re big enough to plant, get them in and they’ll establish themselves before the winter.

At this time of year the seeds don’t need heat, they don’t even need a cold greenhouse. Simply cover the pots with a clear propagating hood, keep them out of the sun in case they get too hot, and make sure they don’t dry out.

I’ve seen them start to flower in May, they’ll certainly get started in June and if you dead head regularly they’ll just keep on going.

And if you just can’t be bothered with all that, as I write Mr F still has plants of ‘Arizona Apricot’ in 9cm pots and ‘Arizona Apricot’ in 2 litre pots available for planting now. Either way, give them a try.

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.

Archives

Shop Online

Graham’s Books