Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Daffodils with perfume

September 7th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Narcissus 'Actaea'

Many people love daffodils. A few people hate daffodils. But most of us like some daffodils and not others.

I’m a big fan but there are some daffodils that drive me mad. The ones whose trumpets look as if they’ve been hit by a brick, for example, and also the big blowsy yellow ones, like good old ‘King Alfred’ – when they’re planted in the grass along a country lane. They just look so out of place! In a container, or in a clump on a colourful spring border, ‘King Alfred’ looks great. But please, if you want to plant some daffs by your village name sign, choose a variety that looks a little more natural – best of all, our native British wild daffodil.

The other thing about our wild daffodil is that it has a lovely fragrance and that’s a daffodil feature that we tend to forget. Some are scented, some are not. Wouldn’t you choose a fragrant variety if you could? And for a container, where it’s easier to get your nose close to the blooms, or when you want to cut some for the house, fragrance is a huge bonus.

The strongly scented ‘Actaea’ (above) is one of my favourites in pure white with a tiny yellow trumpet edged in red plus a neat white zone between. ‘Geranium’, with its vivid orange cup, is similar. The dainty, and usefully late flowering ‘Hawera’ in primrose yellow is lovely crowding a terracotta pot as is ‘W. P. Milner’, with its straw coloured flowers that fade to white. And all with that lovely daffodil fragrance.

September is planting time, better get those bulbs ordered.

Victorian delights

August 31st, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Primula 'Victoriana'

Laced polyanthus were one of the horticultural treasures of Victorian Britain. Originally in shades of deepest red and chocolate brown, each petal edged in gold, these treasures are available from specialists but good quality plants have been hard to come by.

‘Victoriana’ is a mix of rich to bright red shades, plus what used to be called Hollywood cerise, that combines that captivating colouring, consistent laced edging with prolific flowering, a neat growth and a reliable perennial habit.

Developed by a specialist plant breeder in Norfolk, production of seed of ‘Victoriana’ has now been discontinued so this may be your last chance to order these delightful little plants.

Reaching about 30cm high, with neat rich green foliage, set the plants at the front of a sunny border or, better still, in a container where the plants are raised closer to the eye the better to appreciate their pretty markings.

Expect flowers from February to May, I also like to pot up a few plants and keep them in a cold greenhouse or porch for an early display that’s protected from the weather. The stems of ‘Victoriana’ can also be cut for pretty little spring posies, a delightful spring treat.

August seed bargain

August 24th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 2 Comments

California poppies (Eschscholzia) to sow in August

Heading to the garden centre over the Bank Holiday weekend? Well, here’s an idea.

For many gardeners, sowing seeds in August seems a bit odd: don’t you sow seeds in the spring? Yes, of course, but the end of August is a great time to sow California poppies and I’ll be doing just that. And the seeds are in the garden centre.

I live in an old cottage that’s right on the street, there’s no front garden. So I’m going to sow ‘Appleblossom Pink’ California poppies in the crack between the house wall and the pavement. I’m stealing the idea from a similar house nearby where for years orange California poppies made quite a show.

I’m going to sow the pink ones but you can also try mixtures if you refer. One good thing about ‘Appleblossom Pink’ is that it has very pretty silver foliage so it looks good even before it flowers – which should be early next spring, perhaps with a few winter flowers if the season is mild. Also, it’s naturally dwarf so as it leans away from the wall towards the light it’s less likely to fall over.

In the past I’ve sown California poppies in the gravel garden where, as they self sowed from year to year, eventually there was hardly a month when there were no flowers. They’re also good at the edges of gravel drives. The trick is to pull out any plant with flowers in colours you don’t like so that only the ones you really enjoy get to shed their seed for the following year.

So for a little over £2, you can pick up a packet of California poppy seed this weekend and get started with years of colour is any sunny place you have. Why wouldn’t you?

Poppies for winter and summer

August 17th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Flowers and foliage of 'Victoria Cross' poppies

This summer, I’ve really come to appreciate the value of opium poppies. I wrote about them here back in the spring but now I have another take on them.

Oh, but just to be clear: it’s called the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, but you’d be hard pressed to extract any opium from it. You won’t find the special varieties used for opium production down at the garden centre!

In the garden, opium poppies bring us wonderful summer flowers in an increasing range of shades, single and double. These are followed by fat pods which can easily be dried for winter decoration. But the feature that I’ve especially noticed this year is the foliage.

From when the plants are small the slightly shiny greyish-bluish-green foliage stands out and, as it develops, it makes an increasingly eye-catching contribution. This year, I started off leaving all the self sown seedlings that came up – wherever they emerged. Then, if necessary, I simply removed those that turned out to be in the way. The result was bright bluish sparks of colour all over the garden.

But now I’m looking for both larger rosettes of foliage for winter and also flowers in colours I choose, not in colours that the unpredictability of self sown seedlings provide.

So I’m all set with some ‘Victoria Cross’, with its dramatic white splashed scarlet flowers. Mr F donates 25p from the cost of each packet of ‘Victoria Cross’ (above) to the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the other day presented the with a cheque for an amazing £73,399.25! So give it a try. And I’ll also be sowing the rich purple ‘Lauren’s Grape’. I thought that ‘Maanzaad’, new this spring, was rather watery in colour so I don’t think I’ll bother with that one.

I’m going to sow them this week in patches amongst shrubs and roses and summer perennials for the pleasure of their winter rosettes – with the flowers to come next summer. And at Christmas I’ll be spraying this year’s dried pods silver. Foliage, flowers and pods – these must be the best value annuals you can grow.

Sun survivor

August 10th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Amaranthus 'Velvet Curtains'Visiting the Mr F trial ground this week, it was clear that some plants had suffered badly in the heat while some had enjoyed it.

One that clearly loved the hot weather was Amaranthus ‘Velvet Curtains’, the RHS AGM winning hardy annual sown direct into the light and sandy soil of the trials field.

This dramatic relative of the familiar love-lies-bleeding is attractive from when the first richly coloured, reddish purple shoots emerge soon after sowing. The handsome foliage becomes more striking as it develops and I’ve seen it looking very dramatic emerging through a carpet of white alyssum. The white gypsophila that was also doing well in the heat would also make a taller and longer lasting partner.

Now, in August, the bold upright plumes of ‘Velvet Curtains’ are at their peak. I’ve grown them interplanted amongst orange dahlias and cannas to bring a softer look to the more structured dahlia and canna plants. If that’s the plan, raise the seedlings individually in pots from seed sown in a cold greenhouse, be sure not to let the plants dry out or suffer any shocks as this may spark them into flower prematurely.

‘Velvet Curtains’ is also splendid for drying, especially as the colour fades hardly at all. Cut the stems when the flowers are at their peak – about now! Strip off the lower leaves, tie the stems in bunches of half a dozen then hang them upside down in a cool and dry and well ventilated place. Drying in cool conditions (which is at last possible as everything cools down) helps preserve the richness of the colour.

Leave the plumes on the plants into the autumn and they will shed their seeds. This can be double-edged as you may end up with far more self sown seedlings than you need. The best compromise is to cut some for drying, cut back most of the rest to prevent self sowing and just leave a stem or two to shed seed. And if seedlings come up in inconvenient places next spring – well, you can always move them.

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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