Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Patio sweet pea mysteries

November 1st, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet Pea 'Balcony Mix' and 'Teresa Maureen' (inset)

Something slightly odd has been happening with sweet peas recently. It’s not so very long ago that the genuinely dwarf varieties, especially ‘Cupid’ and varieties like it that only grew about 15cm high, were widely popular. I remember going to visit a wholesale grower a few years back and he had many thousands of potfuls ready to go to garden centres. But they’ve mostly disappeared.

On top of that, the medium height patio varieties reaching about 90cm and ideal for tubs and other containers… Well, they haven’t disappeared altogether but there are far fewer around then there used to be. But there are some.

One of the prettiest of all sweet peas falls into this category. ‘Teresa Maureen’ (inset, above) reaches about 1m in height and although the flowers are small they’re both prolific and strongly scented – and such a lovely combination of purple tints, veins and picotee set against a white background.

The other patio sweet pea to look out for is ‘Balcony Mix’ (background, above). This is a blend featuring fragrant white flowers prettily patterned in a range of stripes and streaks.

The other unexpected thing about these plants, apart from the fact that relatively few varieties are now available, is that they’ve been particularly recommended for sowing later than other sweet peas. Sow now, by all means, but seed can also be sown in January as long as you have a cold frame or even simply a cloche (not to mention a mousetrap and organic slug pellets) to provide protection.

For these shorter varieties that have a less extensive root system as well as shorter top growth, I sow five or six seeds in 12cm pots and plant the whole pot in a container in spring. This is the way to grow sweet peas in small spaces.

Wallflowers the old fashioned way

October 25th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Wallflowers 'Cloth of Gold', 'Purple Prince', Ivory White' and 'Fire King'

It’s wallflower time… No, I don’t mean that it’s flowering time, of course not, but it’s the traditional time for planting wallflowers grown in in the traditional way.

You can buy wallflowers in packs in the garden centre, these days, but the plants tend to be small and the varieties are usually only the dwarf ones; full size wallflower plants are far too big for packs. I’ve also seen wallflower plants sold individually in 9cm pots or in threes in 12cm pots. But that’s a very expensive way of buying them.

The traditional approach is to buy them as bare root plants, plants dug from rows on the nursery and grown from seed sown in summer. They’ve been on sale in my local market for the last few weeks but I’m always concerned about clubroot.

Wallflowers suffer from the same clubroot disease that attacks cabbages and other brassicas but market sellers – how can I put this politely? – are not always aware that they might be selling wallflowers infected with the disease. So I always warn people off market and farm gate wallflowers.

So order your bare root wallflowers from Mr F, they’re specially cultivated to eliminate the possibility of infection and checked carefully before packing – and in fact dispatch has just started. Old fashioned varieties such as ‘Cloth of Gold’, ‘Fire King’, ‘Ivory White’ and ‘Purple Shades’ reach about 45cm and need tall tulips planted amongst them as partners. The 35cm ‘Persian Carpet’ is a sparkling shorter mixture.

There won’t be much soil on the roots when they arrive but soak the roots for an hour or two in SeaSol Organic Seaweed Concentrate to speed up new root growth and plant them straight away. Even if they look a little bedraggled at first they’ll soon settle in and next spring – wow!

Mr Fothergills and the RHS

October 18th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Heirlooms from the new RHS collections: Nemesia 'St George' and Beetroot 'Cylindra'

Mr F is continuing to enrich its relationship with the Royal Horticultural Society. Not only do Mr F have an RHS committee member, former Chelsea Flower Show judge and author of RHS books writing this blog every week(!), but a few years ago Mr F launched two new ranges of varieties that have been awarded the prestigious Award of Garden Merit.

Now, in another step in this developing partnership, Mr F are launching sixteen new RHS seed collections.

Eight vegetable seed collections and eight flower seed collections each consist of six varieties approved by the experts at the RHS. They include Award of Garden Merit varieties and also varieties specially selected to thrive for gardeners with less experience. They include varieties, such as the excellent Cosmos ‘Dazzler’ in the Flowers for Cutting collections and ‘Minibel’ bush tomato in the Vegetables for Containers collection, that have not been available from Mr F up to now.

The Flowers for Drought Resistance and the Flowers For Hanging Baskets collections are especially welcome along with Vegetable Superfoods and Vegetables for Heirloom Crops.

The other thing to keep in mind is that these collections retail at only £4.99, for six packets of seed – the bargain price of 83p per packet, way below the regular Mr F price. And, of course, these RHS collections contain the same high quality, germination tested seed as all the other Mr F packets.

These new collections are great shortcuts to choosing the right varieties and, dare I say it, also make ideal gifts for upcoming the holiday season.

Nasturtium lessons

October 11th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nasturtium 'Bloody Mary'

This year has been the Year of The Nasturtium! We’ve had marigolds and sunflowers and cosmos, most annuals are going to get a turn, and next year it’s rudbeckia. But we learned something important from growing nasturtiums this year.

Well, I say we learned something… It’s more that we were reminded of two things that we knew all along: pests can destroy the display and the leaves tend to hide the flowers.

The best nasturtiums I ever grew were in pots, long ago, when we could buy an insecticide to mix into the compost and which was taken up by the roots. I never saw a blackfly or a caterpillar on my nasturtiums all summer. Now, like so many effective but harmful sprays, it’s no longer available – and quite right too. Organic treatments can be very effective, but you have to keep at it.

Also, at both the Mr F trials and at the display at the RHS Garden at Hyde Hall, the leaves overwhelmed the flowers. This happens when the stalks on the leaves grow longer than the stalks on the flowers, so the leaves are held higher.

In general, modern varieties tend to have shorter leaf stalks than older varieties so the flowers are more likely to be prominent. But the key is to avoid overfeeding, or any feeding at all! Never use Miracle-Gro or other general plant foods as it encourages too much growth. Next year I’m going to try old, exhausted potting compost without any nutrients and, if I feed my nasturtiums at all, I’m going to use tomato food which doesn’t encourage leafy growth.

Varieties? Try this year’s newcomer, ‘Bloody Mary’ (above), and any of the Tip Top Series – they all tend to hold the flowers above the leaves.

New ways with calendulas

October 4th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Calendula 'Porcupine Yellow' (left') and 'Playtime'

Calendulas often feature here. And not just because I like them so much. There’s a quiet but continuing strand of development in calendulas that stretches from Oregon to Holland and to Norfolk and Cambridge and has given us an increasing range of flowers in some lovely, and unexpected colours.

They range from short bushy little plants for edging, and more especially containers, to taller types for borders and cutting. Perennial varieties raised from cuttings have also made a stir recently.

But perhaps the most striking feature of modern calendulas is the range of flowers forms and flower colours that is available compared with traditional types. They now come with single flowers, double flowers, anemone centred flowers, flowers with the fluted petals rolled into tubes and various combinations.

In colour they range from the traditional bright orange shades through to primrose yellow plus an increasing range of peachy tones. Dark colouring on the backs of the petals creates a whole new look and when the young petals are still rolled inwards in the centre provide a dramatic dark eye.

Two new calendulas have arrived this season. I’ve already sown mine and they’re up and thriving but even now its worth sowing.

‘Porcupine Yellow’ is like a yellow version of the old 1930s orange-flowered favourite ‘Radio’. Its mass of quilled petals are a lovely bright but soft yellow. And while ‘Porcupine Yellow’ harks back to the past, ‘Playtime’ is a carefully blended mix of the latest colours with single, semi-double and fully double flowers and includes some of the prettiest shades.

Sow now or sow in March, March sowings will germinate more promptly if sown under cloches or in a cold greenhouse – but we’ll get to that in the spring.

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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