Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Exciting new calendulas

October 13th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Calendula 'Orange Flash', new and exclusive to Mr F

There’s a good reason that the gardening magazines give away free packets of calendula seed in spring. Calendulas are colourful, they’re easy to grow and the seed is inexpensive. Well, the seed of the varieties in the giveaways is cheap – otherwise they couldn’t afford to give it away – and unfortunately that fosters the idea that calendulas are cheerful but cheap and really not very special. Wrong.

In the last year or two I’ve grown, or assessed, all the latest calendula varieties are I have to say that some of them are simply gorgeous.

New colours and colour combinations mark them out from the old style different-shade-of-orange types. Last year’s tall, pale and creamy, almost white, ‘Snow Princess’ is lovely and is well worth sowing now. ‘Oopsy Daisy’ with orange tipped yellow petals is sparky, bushy little plant for edges and containers. And this year sees two more mew calendulas, in very pretty new shades.

We’ve seen varieties with dark backs to the petals before but nothing as delightful as ‘Orange Flash’. Each petal is pale apricot on the top and tipped and lined with chestnut on the back, just take a look at the detail in the picture (above).

‘Orange Flash’ reaches only about 30cm so the stems are not long enough for cutting, except in dainty posies. ‘Sunset Buff’ is a similar colouring, though brighter and more vivid, and with red backs to the petals rather than chestnut. And the plants reach 60cm so are ideal for cutting.

As with ‘Snow Princess’, both ‘Orange Flash’and ‘Sunset Buff’ can be sown outside now but be sure to protect the seedlings from slugs. I prefer to sow them in large cells in a cold and well-ventilated greenhouse where that little extra shelter creates better, bushier plants. Move them out into the garden in March when you would normally be sowing seed outside. They’ll flower weeks ahead of spring sown plants.

New scented sweet pea blend

September 29th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet Pea 'Lady Salisbury' blend

Last year, Mr F launched a new kind of sweet pea mixture. Called ‘Scarlet Tunic’, it was a blend of five different varieties that were all more or less the same colour. I wrote it up on my RHS New Plants blog at the time. The result was a combination of good colours, fine fragrance, and a long season – more than would ever be possible with just one variety

This year sees the introduction of another blend in a similar style, ‘Lady Salisbury’ (above). This is made up of six different varieties: all are long stemmed Modern Grandiflora types, all are white or cream, most with a blue or mauve picotee, and five of the six are very strongly scented.

‘Albutt Blue’ is white with blue picotee; ‘Cream Eggs’ is cream with a mauve-blue picotee and the only one that is less than very strongly scented; ‘More Scent’ is cream with mauve blush and is an improvement even on ‘Hi Scent’, previously the best scented of all sweet peas; ‘Cathy’ is pure cream; ‘Romeo’ is white with mauve picotee; ‘Bramdean’ is white, sometimes with pale pink blush.

Bring all those six fine varieties together into a super-scented harmonious blend and the result is ‘Lady Salisbury’. Named for the patron of Capel Manor College, a British centre of excellence in horticultural education which Mr F has also supported enthusiastically over the years, her garden at Hatfield House is famous the world over.

Sow sweet pea ‘Lady Salisbury’ in Deep Rootrainers in October or late in the winter.

Double choice of double sunflowers

September 22nd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower 'Sun King' and 'Teddy Bear' (inset)

I’ve always been a little dubious about fully double sunflowers but in 2015 and 2016 I grew ‘Goldy’ and was delighted with its large, densely double, golden flowers.

This year ‘Goldy’ disappeared from catalogues and seed racks but for the coming season a replacement has arrived, a replacement that’s better than the original.

‘Sun King’ (above, main picture) has 20-23cm (8-9in) fully double, very tightly packed flowers in rich golden yellow with a few longer and broader petals around the edge. Reaching 1.8-2.2m (6-7ft), the first flower at the top of the stem is followed by three or four slightly smaller flowers on 90cm (3ft) stems.

These side shoots are ideal for cutting and longer than those of ‘Goldy’, whose side shoots could be quite short and unsuitable for arranging. I was very impressed with ‘Sun King’ on the Mr F trials this summer. And it’s only available from Mr F.

Farther along in the trial of forty seven sunflowers, ‘Teddy Bear’ (above, inset) also stood out. This is a much shorter, fully double variety which had deteriorated in recent years, with single flowers appearing amongst the doubles. But on this year’s evidence, it’s back to its original quality. It’s also the proud recipient of an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

The plants reached 60-90cm (2-3ft), the tight heads of green-eyed, golden orange flowers were surrounded by smaller flowers in the same style.

Next season I’m going to grow ‘Sun King’ with ‘Teddy Bear’ in front. Finding the space will be the tricky part.

Super scented new verbena

September 15th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Verbena 'Scentsation'

Fragrance is something we all enjoy. So when a new variety comes along that adds scent to colourful but more or less fragrance-free flowers then we should all take notice. And that’s what happened back in 2014 when Mr F introduced a new verbena, discovered on the trial ground by Trials Manager Brian Talman. I wrote up ‘Talman’s Fragrant Treasure’ on my RHS New Plants blog at the time.

It was lovely, and deliciously scented – but only came in the one colour and was only produced from cuttings. But, looking ahead, Brian said: “I knew that if this plant passed on its colour and fragrance to its offspring, that we would be onto a winner.’ And that’s exactly what’s happened.

Mr F are introducing a seed raised variety derived from ‘Talman’s Fragrant Treasure’. It’s called ‘Scentsation’ and it comes in a blend of white plus a range of soft shades including blushed white, soft purple with a white eye, deep pink, and pale cerise with a white eye.

The plants are bushy and even in height and Brian told me: “Germination is exceptional and, while all verbenas get mildew in the end, this one gets it later than any verbena we grow. And on a sunny summer’s afternoon the scent it lovely.”

It’s easy to grow from seed as a half hardy annual and it retains that delicious perfume.

You can order seed of Verbena ‘Scentsation’ only from Mr Fothergill’s.

Tried and tested: Cosmos ‘Xanthos’

September 8th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cosmos 'Xanthos'

All over the world, seed companies and plant breeders are developing new varieties of cosmos and perhaps the most interesting new introduction has been the new yellow flowered Cosmos ‘Xanthos’, which I grew this year in my new trial garden and also saw on the Mr F trials.

I really liked it and will be growing it again next year.

Of course its most distinctive feature is its pale yellow flowers. Previously, the only yellow flowered cosmos was ‘Yellow Garden’, a monstrous thing that, when I grew it, reached about 2m in height before it opened a single flower and waited until about now to start! Useless.

‘Xanthos’ reached about 75-90cm in height, bushed out well from the start and began to flower in June. The flowers are not large, about 4-7cm across, but they’re a lovely soft primrose-lemon shade, opening from darker buds, with a white zone around the golden eye.

I grew it alongside a similar variety called ‘Lemonade’, new this year, whose flowers were almost identical. But it was striking that ‘Lemonade’ has more foliage and fewer flowers.

As I write this on 8 September, ‘Xanthos’ is still flowering well and has masses of buds still to open. The stem length is getting shorter, however, probably the result of the dry spell that’s just ended. Now it’s had a good soak I’m going to give it a liquid feed to see if that coaxes into flowering well into the autumn and with longer stems.

And next year when I grow it, I’ll space it out at about 30cm, instead of the 23cm I tried this year and will add humus before planting to help it through dry spells.

Next year? Definitely.

You can order seed of Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ or you can order young plants of Cosmos ‘Xanthos’.

  • Essential new sweet peas Essential new sweet peas Take a look at these lovely new scented sweet peas for the coming season.

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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