Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

My new trial garden

July 28th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Part of Graham Rice's trial garden

This spring I set up a new trial garden in Northamptonshire. It’s modest in scale compared to the colourful and productive acres Mr F runs at its Suffolk HQ, but it’s already proving invaluable in assessing new varieties, as well providing cut flowers for the house and food for the table.

Most of the area is organised in 1.2m (4ft) rectangular beds with 60cm (2ft) paths, the paths just wide enough to take the legs of the wheelbarrow. The boards are edged with 15cm (6in) pressure treated boards.

I’m growing new shrubs, perennials and annuals; also veggies and salads, new varieties and old favourites; plus flowers for cutting including a few for my friend at Foxtail Lilly, the boutique florist and vintage store, to consider for her customers.

And I’m not segregating the different types of plant in different beds. Zinnias are growing between the tomatoes, new poppies in front of the baptisias and plants of a new cosmos between a collection of new Shasta daisy varieties.

Unfortunately, this has led to a few close calls when I’ve tried to cram too much in! The ‘Jazzy’ early potatoes (tasty and prolific) made so much growth that they started to smother the yellow Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ on one side and the new kniphofias on the other! But now I’m lifting the spuds the cosmos and pokers are getting more light and recovering fast.

The stars so far? ‘Amaze’ red baby cos lettuce is good even as it starts to bolt. The ‘Hi Scent’ sweet peas with their pretty colouring and super scent have proved why they’re now essential growing although my old favourite ‘Gwendoline’ has some disappointing off-types. The crop of ‘Socrates’ mini-cucumbers has been spectacular – and there’s nothing quite like visiting a friend with a gift of tasty little cukes.

Some new calendulas from the USA are superb (can’t tell you any more at the moment), I’m also trying three hardy gladioli (one of them scented!) and they’re lovely although the rainstorms did them no favours.

I’ll keep you posted with occasional updates.

Hardy annuals to sow in summer

July 21st, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Calendula 'Snow Princess'

Back in November, I told you about my plants of the new Calendula ‘Snow Princess’. Sown at the end of July, they were still going strong a month before Christmas and were still producing flowers for cutting as well as a very pretty garden display. So I thought I’d remind you to try the idea this year.

What I did was use a plastic six-pack that I’d bought in the spring filled with violas. I washed it out well, filled it with moist seed compost and sowed three seeds, spaced out, in each cell. I covered them with just a little compost and put them on the kitchen windowsill.

I just thought that a little protection, both from hot sun and from slugs on cool nights, might be worthwhile. They were soon up, every one germinated, I turned the pack every day then planted them out as the roots started to emerge through the holes in the bottom.

I’m going to try the same thing again this year with ‘Snow Princess’ and perhaps also try ‘Indian Prince’ and ‘Princess Orange Black’ as well.

But then I wondered: what about other annuals? Zinnias perhaps? But annuals that will take a first light frost or two might be a better bet. Short sunflowers such as the top-branching ‘Soleo’ might be worth a try, or the golden ‘Hello’. And I wouldn’t be surprised if plants like ‘Summer Fruits’ scabious flower well, but on shorter plants than usual.

I think I’d raise them in the same way as last year’s calendulas. The question is: do I have enough space to try them all? Hmmm…

Making larger (and smaller) flowers

July 14th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Dahlia 'Kenora Sunset'

Exhibitors have a way of increasing the size of dahlia and chrysanthemum flowers for their shows, and we can use the same technique in our gardens. We can also adapt it to provide more flowers that are a little smaller, rather than larger, and more effective in the garden.

Increasing the size of dahlia and chrysanthemum flowers is not difficult. Simply snip off the buds immediately below the main bud on a stem and all the energy will go into producing one large flower instead of a number of smaller ones. Use sharp secateurs or sharp kitchen scissors as the stems are soft and juicy and blunt secateurs will simply squash them and let in disease.

The result will be larger flowers that look more dramatic in the garden and in large arrangements but which mingle less well with their neighbours.

With both chrysanthemums and dahlias, some varieties have been developed to provide fewer, larger flowers and some to develop more flowers that are smaller. So it pays to start with varieties that suit your intentions.

The opposite approach is to snip out the main bud to encourage more buds to develop lower down the stem. These will produce smaller flowers, better suited to mixed borders and mixed arrangements on the kitchen table.

The same technique can be applied, depending on the variety, to leucanthemums, asters, tall calendulas and sunflowers – anything with branching flower heads with a single flower at the end of each branch.

OK, I can’t guarantee how it will work with all these other flowers, it will vary with the different varieties. But it’s definitely worth a try.


Off with its head! Keep flowers blooming…

July 7th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Dead heading Scabiosa 'Kudos Blue'

What, more than any other one thing, keeps flowers blooming? Watering – yes; feeding – yes. But top of the list is deadheading.

When seeds begin to form, hormones are produced in the plant that inhibit the development of more flowers. It’s a matter of biology: the point of flowers is to produce seeds, when the seeds begin to develop no more flowers are needed, flower bud development is suppressed and resources can go into ensuring there are plentiful food reserves in each and every seed.

If the developing seed heads are removed, the flowers keep coming. And the more promptly the fading flowers are cut off the less chance of flower bud development being inhibited.

So we cut off the fading flowers as soon as they no longer contribute to the display. But how?

Well, large individual flowers (calendulas, cornflowers, dahlias etc.) are cut off individually – not at the top of the stem but at the base, where a newer shoot is usually developing. For plants with spikes of smaller flowers (delphiniums, lupins, penstemons etc.), cut off the whole spike when it gets to the stage that the dying flowers are too distracting from the few that still look good. Again, cut the whole spike off just above a newer shoot.

Plants with large numbers of smaller flowers (alyssum, limnanthes, lobelia etc.) need a different approach. These can be clipped using sharp – very sharp – shears or, perhaps more effectively, kitchen scissors. Simply snip over the whole plant. You’ll often snip off good flowers as well as dead ones but, as long as the soil is moist, they’ll soon produce plenty more.

But, basically, there’s just one thing to remember about deadheading: do it.

Rice’s Rules for longer lasting cut flowers

June 30th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Phlox 'Moody Blues' and more six days after cutting

With the garden overflowing with flowers, I’m always cutting posies or billowing bouquets to bring into the house. I try to have flowers and foliage on the kitchen table every day of the year and although in the winter it can be tough, at this time of year – not a problem.

My “arrangements” are far more in the style of whatever-I’ve-picked-organised-in-a-beer-glass than anything more supposedly artistic: like the annual ‘Moody Blues’ phlox in the picture (after six days in water). But the question is: how to make them last as long as possible. These are the rules.

1. If possible cut flowers in the morning. Try not to cut them in the heat of the day.
2. Carry a jug of water round with you and place the cut stems straight into it.
3. Be sure that you keep plants with spikes of flowers, such as antirrhinums, upright because if the stems lean the tips will turn upwards and will never be straight again.
4. When you start to organise the flowers in your beer glass (or vase) snip a quarter of an inch off the bottom of each stem.
5. Change the water every day.
6. Snip a quarter to half an inch of the base of the stems every day.

In a perfect world, you’d add flower food to the water that you use to refresh your arrangement but the fact is that we don’t always bother. And you have to be a little careful about how much you snip off or the stems will end up the length of your finger!

The most important of these rules are: change the water every day and snip the base of the stems every day. And if you can’t snip the stems, at least change the water. You’ll be amazed at the difference.

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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