Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

‘Teddy Bear’ is back in favour

November 2nd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower 'Teddy Bear'

The new ‘Sun King’ sunflower was one of the hits of this summer in my garden. Its densely double, rich yellow flowers stood out for months, both in the garden and when cut.

But it’s tall, mine all reached at least 2m in height which in many of today’s gardens is rather awkward. They also needed stout support and while the flowers repay close inspection, you wouldn’t really want to grow them on a patio or a balcony. But there’s a shorter version.

I’ve been uncomplimentary about ‘Teddy Bear’ in the past, it’s a variety that’s been around for a while but a few years ago I found that my plants were not all double and were also all different heights, 60cm or 1.2m is a big difference. So I stopped growing it.

But in the 2017 Mr F trials I noticed that it was back to its original quality. It’s also recently received an AGM for use in containers and the RHS assessors commented: “striking double, large heads, rich yellow-orange, floriferous, performing well over a long period.” Fair enough.

My point is now that its quality is back and that the RHS has awarded ‘Teddy Bear’ the much coveted Award of Garden Merit, it’s been added to the Mr Fothergill’s AGM seed range for the coming season. So it’s available on the special Mr F AGM garden centre seed rack, on the Mr F website and in the Mr F seed catalogue.

Next year I’m going to grow ‘Sun King’ and the back of the border and ‘Teddy Bear’ in front where it will hide the bare stems of its taller cousin. I’m already looking forward to it.

Still time for alliums

October 26th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Allium christophii

When we think about spring bulbs we think of daffodils and tulips and crocuses – all the old favourites. But what about alliums? They tend to be forgotten. In fact, I forgot about them myself, this year, and will finally be planting mine this morning.

It’s true, alliums tend to flower a little later than other spring bulbs, in May and June. Some flower later still, in July or even August, but they still need planting now. And while all bring us masses of tiny flowers gathered into flower heads at the tops of their stems, those flower heads come in large and medium and small.

The largest and most dramatic flower heads belong to Allium schubertii, with 30cm flower heads like exploding fireworks on stems 50cm high. They even have a sweet fragrance, and can be cut for dramatic flower arrangements and for drying.

Less wildly exuberant in its look, but with dramatic 20cm flower heads packed with purple stars, is A. christophii. Lovely planted amongst low penstemons such as ‘Carillo Purple’, as its flower heads turn to straw they break away and roll around the borders, lodging unpredictably amongst border plants.

More like drumsticks, the taller ‘Purple Sensation’ makes smaller heads on 70cm stems, ideal growing through early summer perennials, they look amazing amongst lupins!

Finally, perhaps my favourite, with the smallest flowers in the darkest purple on tall 50-60cm stems at the latest season – and at the best bargain price: A. sphaerocephalon. At £5.95 for fifty bulbs, I’m going to plant them in a row for cutting and also amongst my shasta daisies. I have some new yellow flowered varieties on trial – sounds like a good combination to me. Get your order in today.

Garden centres, catalogues and websites

October 19th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mr Fothergill's Plants A-Z

I went to the garden centre yesterday to buy some shrubs and perennials for a new border in a friend’s garden. I had my list, I had my cart, I was all set. But where are they?

I know it was naive, I can’t get out of the habit, but I still expected to find the shrubs, well, in the Shrubs section, lined up A-Z. But there was no Shrubs section. There was a large A-Z choice of Ornamental Trees but no displays devoted to shrubs or perennials or ground cover.

Instead, the shrubs and perennials were all mixed together and presented under headings such as Sun, Shade, and Foliage. So I trailed round looking for caryopteris and perovskia in the Sun display – no. I found a yellow-leaved caryopteris in the Foliage collection but that was not the one I wanted. In the end, I became so irritated that I went home.

Compare with the Mr F seed rack in that same garden centre, or the Mr F catalogue or the seeds and plants on the Mr F website. Seeds start with Abutilon, end with Zinnia. Plants start with Achillea, end with Zinnia. Want some busy lizzie seed? You don’t have to wonder if it’ll be presented in the Sun or Shade department. There it is between Begonia and Calendula.

OK, you might quibble and suggest that busy lizzie seed should go under its Latin name: Impatiens. I had a botanical training so that’s where I started but reality long since took over!

Have to say… There is something that Mr F could learn from that garden centre. A-Z is great, but sometimes we do need help: Seeds for Sun, Seeds for Scent – that sort of thing. Hit the Flower Seeds button on the front page of the website and a list appears on the left that includes some of these categories. More would be good.

Happy cornflower harmonies

October 12th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cornflower 'Classic Fantastic'

One of the easiest ways to ensure harmonious colour co-ordination in our borders is to choose plants whose flowers come in different shades of the same colour. Mahogany, gold, yellow and primrose, for example.

But it can take a lot of chasing round and picking varieties from different catalogue and nurseries to get the blend right. Fortunately, this spring sees the introduction of three rather cleverly formulated cornflower mixtures that do the choosing for you.

The Classic Series of cornflowers comes in three different colour formulations, all of which are made up of tallish plants reaching about 75cm in height, ideal both for borders and for cutting.

‘Classic Fantastic’ (above) comes in dark blue, mid blue, pale blue and a white with a blue eye. ‘Classic Magic’ comes in deep red shades, various pink tones and a white with a pink eye. In the ‘Classic Romantic’ blend the flowers are plummy purple, some almost black, dark purple with white tips to the petals, various purplish and lilac shades and white with a purple eye.

All three blends will look good sown in clumps between roses, especially between English Roses or long flowering shrub roses. Sow in a few short rows to create a patch to fill the space and thin the plants to about 15cm apart. Don’t thin too severely or you might end up with an unbalanced range of colours.

I’d be tempted to sow a few now, if you’ve got your borders all tidied, although I’d usually prefer to get the seed in by the end of September. Otherwise leave it till March. For cutting, a few rows of cornflowers can transform your veg garden. And the harmonious colouring is all there in the packet.

Tough new long flowering perennial

October 5th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Heliopsis 'Burning Hearts'

This is a great year for new perennials. I discussed Echinacea ‘Green Twister’ here a week or two back, now here’s another superb new easy seed-raised perennial that flowers for months: Heliopsis ‘Burning Hearts’.

This tough perennial has two main features. The bronze foliage shows off its rich colouring from the moment it peeps through the soil in spring and still retains its dark tones now, in October.

Then from early summer onwards, the flowers open. Each bloom features, two or three rows of narrow, slightly twisted, slightly rolled back petals that are yellow changing to orange at the base around the reddish-orange eye.

Each stems carries opposite pairs of leaves, and two flowering shoots develop from the leaf joint. Then each leaf joint on each flowering stem also produces two flowering shoots and the result is a long succession of flowers giving a striking display. Dead heading is easy and makes a huge difference, prompting more branching and so more and more flowers.

I planted some small trial plants in the spring of last year and in their first summer they were superb. They all came back strongly after the winter, with the addition of a few self sown seedlings scattered around the garden. This summer they took the heat very well and I was still dead heading them yesterday and new flowers are still developing.

Heliopsis ‘Burning Hearts’ is one of the best new perennials I’ve seen for years.

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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