Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Not just the holly and the ivy

December 20th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Four Christmas Foliage Shrubs - Nandina, Pittosporum, Mahonia, Hebe.

Last year, about this time, I discussed holly and then ivy, the two favourite Christmas evergreens and the traditional evergreens for indoor decorating in the holiday season. But there are more, plenty more. And a quick look round my local garden centre, The Barn in Oundle near Peterborough, reveals some of them. And it’s the colours that are so appealing, not green but red and silver and purple and bronze.

Most are better suited to small arrangements, they just don’t have the vigour, and so the length of stem, of holly and ivy.

More and more varieties of nandina (top left) are now appearing and while some of them are rather dwarf and bushy, not ideal if you want to cut stems to bring indoors, many also have pendulous clusters of bright red berries alongside reddening winter leaves.

Two pittosporums feature purple foliage but one has green tints that let it down and another is short and dumpy. Silver ones (top right) are a better bet as many are vigorous and also respond well to having shoots cut to bring indoors.

Bronze shades always work well as they harmonise with red and contrast with whites and silvers. Some mahonias develop fiery winter tones while M. aquifolium ‘Atropurpureum’ comes in bronzed winter colouring and a bold, holly-like shape.

Most hebes, like ‘Red Edge’ (left, below), are only suitable for small table arrangements but the silvery colouring is invaluable and a the faint red margin to the leaf helps create harmony with red berries.

Elaeagnus and eucalyptus are also good for silvery colours and for background green try sarcococca, osmanthus, and trails of vinca.

It’s definitely time to complement ivy and holly with some new choices. Take a look round your own garden…

What NOT to do in the garden in December

December 13th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

©Jans Canon. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

What should we be doing in the garden in December? Well, the books and magazines have some pretty mad ideas.

“Sow begonias” No. The chance of the tiny seedlings damping off is pretty much 100%. Wait.

“Prune summer flowering shrubs and roses” No. A few mild days will prompt new growth that will be frosted as soon as we get a cold snap. Shorten them to prevent wind rock, yes, but leave the final pruning till later.

“Replace worn turf at the edges of lawns” No. As soon as we get a hard frost the turf will curl up and dry out.

“Protect carnations with black cotton against birds.” What?! Apart from the fact that so much cotton is now synthetic and not actually cotton at all and is too tough for even a big fat pigeon to break if it gets tangled, I’ve never seen a bird do anything to a carnation except eat a few aphids off the buds.

“Treat tulip clumps with a contact weedkiller and then a weed preventative.” Really? How many clumps of tulips do you have? How long will it take to pull out any weeds by hand? And how long will it take you to go to the garden centre, hunt for safe weedkillers and weed preventers, come home and treat the weeds? Need I say more?

“Spray rhododendron buds with bird deterrent”. No. Bird deterrents are for buildings, not buds, and not even the “Buy this item and get 90 days Free Amazon Music Unlimited” will tempt me.

“Cover ground around newly planted camellias and rhododendrons with 12in of straw to prevent roots being frozen.” How’s your straw supply holding up? Got pet rabbits? How long do you intend to spend collecting the straw from the four corners of the garden where the wind has dumped it?

So, take what you read about December jobs with a little scepticism, And, if in doubt as to whether you should do it now or at all: probably – don’t. Except:
“Feed the birds.” Yes. In winter, it’s essential

Super snapdragons for longer flowering

December 6th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Antirrhinum 'Madame Butterfly' (left), 'Twinny Rose' (top right) and 'Antiquity'

We all know the snapdragon flower, the antirrhinum. Squeeze the sides of the tube at the back and the lips at the front part as the flower opens. And when a bumble bee lands on the lip the weight of the bee opens the flower so that the bee can get inside to do its pollination duty.

But as soon as the flower is pollinated, well, its job is done and the flower hastens towards shrivelling up and falling off. Not necessarily… Some snapdragons have flowers in a slightly different shape, a shape that hinders rather than helps pollination and encourages the flowers to last longer. There are two types.

Some, including ‘Antiquity’ and ‘ReminiScent’ have open flared flowers with no obvious landing point for a bumble bee and no familiar symmetry guiding the bee to land in the right place to pick up pollen to carry off to another flower. The almost-trumpet shape also shows off more colour.

And then there are double flowered forms, and especially the ‘Madame Butterfly’ mixture and ‘Twinny Rose’, where the centre of the flower s full of extra petals. This, again makes pollination difficult, and although it usually works in the end, as it does with all these varieties, the delay gives us a few extra days of colour.

‘Twinny Rose’ and the ‘Antiquity’ mixture are shorter varieties for the edges of sunny patio pots while the lemon-scented ‘ReminiScent’ mixture and the ‘Madame Butterfly’ mixture are taller, for borders, although ‘Madame Butterfly’ is especially good for cutting.

No rush to sow, spring is fine, but it pays to get your seed order in early – just in case…

The right way with roses

November 29th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Rose 'Pompadour' (right) and 'Amelie Nothomb'

Why am I writing about roses in November? Yes, got it in one: planting time. And not planting potted roses from the garden centre but planting bare root roses from Mr F. So, what’s so good about bare root roses?

Firstly, bigger root systems. When nurseries pot up roses they have to cut off half the roots to squeeze them in the pot so by the end of the first season, bare root roses will have overtaken potted roses because of their larger root system.

Secondly, the compost nurseries use in the pots tends to run out of nutrients fairly quickly. Planting bare root plants into soil that you yourself have improved with long lasting soil improver is a better bet.

So. When your plants arrive soak the roots in water with SeaSol organic seaweed concentrate added and then plant them in the usual way – just make sure that you’ve improved the soil with weed-free soil improver, or with traditional well-rotted manure if you can get it.

Varieties? There are thousands. But Mr F are the only people who list all these outstanding French varieties created by the legendary Delbard family in France. They bring together two vital features, fragrance and disease resistance, into a range of roses ideal for small gardens.

I’m not going to rattle through them all, you can check them on the website, but two especially appeal. ‘Pompadour’ (above right) is a super scented pink Floribunda with old fashioned flowers and ‘Amelie Nothomb’ is a neater apricot Floribunda – and both have that mildew and black spot resistance we all crave in our roses.

Order now, if the soil’s still too wet to plant when they arrive just heel them in until the soil is workable – as long as you get them in by the end of February they should be fine.

Bikes in the greenhouse? No, thanks…

November 22nd, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 1 Comment

Chrysanth Pennine Series (left) and Mayford Perfection Series

Things in the garden tend to look a bit bleak at the end of November, especially this year. The rain, yes the rain, not only blighted some people’s lives but kept us out of the garden and off the soil. And there are so few plants that flower naturally at this time of year that – but there are some, my Pennine Series chrysanths (left, above) are still hanging on.

Many of us grow tomatoes in a cold greenhouse, and this last summer proved that outdoor toms don’t always do as well as we’d like, so growing them in an unheated greenhouse is a very good idea. But, when the last toms are picked, do we leave the greenhouse empty till it’s seed sowing time in spring? Do we use it to store the fair weather bicycle? Or do we use it for December flowering chrysanths?

The thing about the Mayford Perfection Series (above) is that they flower late, from about now onwards when we really need some colour, but they don’t need to be under cover until just before the first frost. So we can grow them in pots outside all summer – remembering, of course, to keep them well watered and fed – and when the tomatoes are over we can remove the plants to the compost heap, clean up the greenhouse and move the pots of chrysanths in.

You don’t need a heater, just open everything up on sunny days to let plenty of air through and close things down when it’s cold. Your rooted cuttings will arrive in May, pot them into 7cm or 9cm pots, keep them in the greenhouse for a few weeks and they’ll grow strongly. In June move them into 20cm pots and stand them outside in a sunny place, keep them watered and fed and provide some support. Bring them in when the first frost threatens. Each plant will give you four or five well branched stems of beautiful flowers – and they’ll still be going at Christmas.

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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