Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Off with their heads!

July 12th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Deadheading scabious

Last week I brought you a little wisdom on watering from a book published over a hundred years ago: Annual & Biennial Garden Plants by A. E. Speer from 1911. And wise words they were too.

The other crucial item of summer plant care is dead heading and on this subject the good Mr Speer is more succinct. He tells us:
“Seed-pods should always as far as possible be picked off. This will prevent the plants from weakening themselves, and will prolong the flowering season. They cannot undergo the two operations together successfully.”

Got that? Good.

But different plants need different treatment. No one in their right mind would suggest picking off the fading flowers of lobelia or alyssum one by one – but a snip over with the kitchen scissors followed by a drink of liquid feed usually sets them up for a bright second flush of bloom.

Plants as varied as scabious (above), gaillardia, French marigolds and dahlias can have their faded flowers nipped off individually with a pair of secateurs. With phlox, sweet peas, foxgloves, hollyhocks and other plants that carry their flowers in a spike or cluster – well, you have to balance not allowing pods to develop with not cutting off flowers that are still at their peak. Always err on the side of an early rather than late snip.

Eventually you’ll have removed all the flower spikes of biennials such as hollyhocks and foxgloves and you can pull up and compost the ragged looking remains. Some perennials, especially many hardy geraniums, can be cut back to the ground but re-growth will be poor unless, at the very least, you give them a thorough soak. Ideally, follow that up with a generous dose of liquid feed to encourage attractive fresh new growth.

Roses are always a challenge. First, you need to snip out individual flowers from the clusters as the petals drop; then when the last flower has faded cut off the remains of the cluster at a leaf joint to spark new growth.

Once a week is not enough: Keep a small pair of sharp secateurs or kitchen scissors in your pocket whenever you’re in the garden and use them whenever a faded flower catches your attention. It makes a real difference

Ways with watering

July 5th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet peas appreciate plenty of water

“Watering requires more care than is often given to it.” As we look back over a hundred years, so we read in the introduction to the fine old Annual & Biennial Garden Plants by A. E. Speer published in 1911.

“In dry weather a little sprinkling does more harm very often than good. The roots are attracted to the surface only to be burnt up by the hot rays of the sun. When watering do it thoroughly, so that it may go down to the roots, and not the roots up to the moisture.

“Some annuals, like Sweet Peas, especially if grown for exhibition, require copious watering, and occasionally with a little liquid manure added. Always water after the sun is off the plants; and it may be added, rain-water saved from a tub is preferable to water from a pipe. It is softer and not so cold.”

Good advice. My approach is to enrich the soil with organic matter by mulching and working in weed-free compost when planting so the soil retains as much moisture as possible.

I’m also very keen on spot watering and spot feeding individual plants as they need it. Tomatoes, courgettes, outdoor cucumbers, sweet peas and dahlias in particular appreciate a regular drench and to make this easier, when planting, I create a shallow dip into which the plants are set. This collects water and feed where it’s needed and prevents it running away across the border.

The good Mr Speer is right when he says that “pipe” water can be very cold. But it’s also good to remember that the water in a hose pipe left out in the sun can also get very hot. Some gardeners line up filled watering cans one day for use the next, allowing the water to warm up.

Me? I think it’s more important to do it rather than not, and not to worry too much about the temperature. Either way, you’ll see the difference.

Snap to it for snapdragons

June 28th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Overwintered antirrhinum for cutting

I grew some tall antirrhinums last year. Many of them I cut for the house, and very pretty they were too. Some I left to do their thing in the garden and, I have to say, they were not dead-headed as diligently as I recommend here!

But the result was that seedlings started to pop up – not many, but enough to notice and enough to decide just to leave them to see what happened. And most of them survived the winter… and grew away in spring… and some were infected by rust disease and some not… and they began flowering in May.

So, I thought to myself, why not deliberately sow them in summer? And then I remembered what I’d said in my book on annuals from over thirty years ago, I recommended that antirrhinums be pulled up and prevented from overwintering as part of an approach to combating rust disease.

Yes, those antirrhinums of mine that overwintered were infected by rust, but not severely. One died, I think, and the rest grew out of it in spring.

The problem with sowing outside in the garden during July or August is finding a sunny place that’s not already occupied. If you have such a spot, sow thinly, thin to about 10-15cm, and transplant alternate seedlings elsewhere in the autumn.

But sowing in large cells is a better bet. You can use the plug trays that your mail order seedlings came in, wash them thoroughly and sow a few seeds in each. Keep them cool and moist, move them into a brighter place when they’ve emerged, thin the seedlings to one or two and plant when their roots start to fill the cells. Choose one of the taller varieties such as ‘Tootsie’ with flowers in pure white and rich pink or medium height varieties such as ‘Night And Day’. I think it’s well worth a try.

Rainbow columbines

June 21st, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Multicoloured Aquilegia

If you’re from my generation, you were probably taught Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. Younger readers may know Really Offensive Youtube Games Built Into Videos. It’s the colours of the rainbow, and why is this of interest here today? Because columbines (aquilegias) are one of the few plants whose flowers come in all the rainbow colours: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

OK, you’re right, we don’t often come across orange columbines, the green is more of a green-tinted white and the options down at the violet end are a little thin. But the compensation is that so many of the flowers are bicolours, the outer petals in one colour and the inner petals in another. There are also some unexpected intermediate shades including chocolate brown.

And why are we talking about this as the flowers are starting to go over? Because it’s seed sowing time. In fact we’re getting towards the end of the optimal sowing period for flowering late next spring and early next summer. So let’s get to it.

All aquilegias are grown from seed, but they can be divided into two types according to how we go about it: there are those with a lot of seeds in a packet, such as ‘McKana Giant Mixed’ with 150 or those with fewer seeds in a packet such as ‘Lime Sorbet’ with 25.

We can sow those with plenty of seeds in a row outside in the garden, thin them out and transplant them to their final flowering sites in the autumn. Those with fewer seeds are better sown in pots and pricked out individually into 7cm or 9cm pots for autumn planting.

Me? I raise them all in pots, partly because at this time of year there’s hardly a bare piece of soil in the garden in which to sow them and also because I probably only want three plants of one variety and it’s just easier. Either way, if you haven’t got your columbine seeds in – get a move on.

Cosmos time – yes, really!

June 14th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cosmos 'Xanthos' and 'Sea Shells'

Well, it’s been raining hasn’t it… The problem is that everything is now growing like mad and spilling out into the spaces I’d set aside to sow cosmos.

Yes, I know. Cosmos are half hardy annuals and they’re often sown under cover in April. But both shorter varieties like ‘Xanthos’ (above left) and taller ones such as ‘Sea Shells’ (above right) do really well sown outside in June, sown outside where they’re going to flower.

The seeds are long and slender and easy to handle, the soil is moist, so all you need to do is draw a drill (a shallow furrow) in the soil with the point of a stick – or even your finger. About half an inch deep is fine and then you can place the seeds an inch apart and then just knock the soil in from the edges to cover the seeds and pat it all down with your hand.

Put a label in at the end of the row and another label or a piece of stick in at the other end, to mark the row and ensure that you don’t sow something else in the same space! The seeds will soon be up, they’ll grow strongly and you can thin them out, in stages, till they’re 15-20cm apart.

The problem is all those floppy plants that the rain has beaten down – in spite of the fact that you supported them (or perhaps because you didn’t!).

Well, they can be rescued, propped up, and space for those cosmos revealed. If you’re fortunate enough to have some flat sprays of hazel twigs, these are ideal for gently raising shoots back into position. But the simple device of two short bamboo canes with a length of string run between can also lift leaning stems back close to vertical. And snipping off any wayward shoots won’t do the plants any harm.

So, wait for a break in the rain, heave those floppy plants out of the way and get some cosmos seed in.

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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