Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Foxglove time

June 23rd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Foxglove 'Dalmatian Mixed'

I know, of course, that you can pop down to the garden centre about now and still buy foxglove plants in flower. But foxgloves are biennials or, at best short lived perennials, and what do you think is going to happen to those foxglove plants that you buy (often starved) in flower in pots? After they’ve flowered they’ll probably just fade away.

You know the answer: grow your own. And when you can buy two or three packets of seed for the price of one plant in the last phase of its life – well, why wouldn’t you? And now’s the time.

Foxgloves come in two main groups: those whose packets contain hundreds, or even thousands, of seeds and those whose packet contents are measured more in the tens.

In the first group comes the tall slightly unpredictable ‘Excelsior Mixed’, its shorter cousin ‘Foxy Mixed’, the boldly blotched ‘Pam’s Choice’ and the wild foxglove. These you can sow now, outside, in a seed bed. You’ll find guidance with the details of the individual varieties.

You get far fewer seeds of ‘Dalmatian Mixed’ (above, available at a fat discount, as I write) and the lovely ‘Dalmatian Peach’ because they’re far more expensive to produce. These are best sown in pots where it’s easier to keep an eye on them.

And how do you keep them flowering for an extra year or two? Feeding and watering while they’re developing and very prompt dead-heading followed by a good soak and a liquid feed. Actually, the VERY best way is to cut off the first flowering spikes altogether – but I doubt I can persuade you to do that…

Sweet rocket: easy and super-scented

June 16th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

Sweet rocket is one of the most fragrant plants we can grow and it’s so easy that I’m surprised we don’t see it more often. It has prolific heads of four-petal flowers, like those of wallflowers, but in softer shades of purple, lilac and white.

Plants in these shades are ideal scattered amongst bearded irises, Oriental poppies and other early summer perennials. Although the seed usually comes in a mix of colours, if you pull out plants in colours you’re less happy with then after a few years you’ll only have plants in the shades you prefer.

This is a biennial which may sometimes last an extra year or two if not too much energy goes into producing seed, so prompt deadheading is the way to go if you’d like it to last beyond its first flowering season.

It’s called sweet rocket because it’s related to edible rocket but has a superb evening scent. It also has a large number of other common names including dame’s rocket, night-scented gilliflower, summer lilac, and mother-of-the-evening. This profusion is usually associated with British natives but, although it grows wild over much of the rest of Europe, it’s not native to Britain. It has, however, been grown in British gardens since 1375 and was noticed as an escape from gardens from 1805.

The best seed sowing time is over the next six weeks so order seed now. There are two approaches to sowing. If you garden in an old fashioned, informal cottagey style you can simply scatter some seeds in the borders and enough will come up. You get 500 seeds in a packet so you’ll have plenty and, as I write, Mr F is offering seed at almost 50% off.

Alternatively, if you garden in a more organised way, you may prefer to sow the seed in a seed bed, thin the seedlings to 5cm apart and then, in the autumn, move them to where you’d like them to flower.

Oh. I must also mention that if you ever come across the double white flowered form – snap it up, it’s gorgeous. It’s called ‘Alba Plena’, it never sets seed, is a devil to propagate and will usually only last a few years. But it really is lovely.

Fake facts about chocolate cosmos

June 9th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cosmos 'Eclipse'

The chocolate cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus, is one of the very few plants that have a strong chocolate fragrance and this tempting aroma accompanies chocolate coloured daisy flowers. It’s a summer and autumn perennial with small tubers that sometime makes it through the winter, more often not.

Over the years a certain mystique has developed about the plant, partly because it was thought to be extinct in the wild and partly because it never produced any seed. Well, that all turns out to be fake news.

Seed was sold until the 1940s but since the 1980s the chocolate cosmos has been propagated from cuttings (or by tissue culture in the laboratory) as the form grown in Britain could not set seed. Here in Britain we all thought that this one form was the only form grown anywhere and also that the plant was extinct in the wild. There was even a plan to re-introduce it to Mexico.

Now, I’ve discovered that this is all nonsense. It turns out that C. atrosanguineus has been grown from seed by a geneticist in New Zealand for decades and that a Mexican botanist has seen and photographed the plant in three different counties in Mexico (below).

In New Zealand, Mr F’s favourite sweet pea breeder, Keith Hammett, who’s also developed some superb dahlias and dianthus and other plants, has used cosmos raised from seed to create improved forms, including the large-flowered and super-scented ‘Eclipse’ (above; sold out this year, I’m afraid).

A number of other new varieties, some raised from seed, are starting to become available but Eclipse’, in particular, is worth looking out for. And, happily, with plants happily growing in the wild, re-introduction is unnecessary.

But it just shows how completely unfounded “facts” can take hold and distort our views of the plants we grow. Fortunately, in this case, the news turns out to be much better than the “facts” suggested.

Cosmos atrosanguineus growing wild in Mexico © Universidad de Guadalajara

Wallflowers: Grow Your Own and Avoid Disease

June 2nd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Wallflower 'Scarlet Bedder' and 'Dwarf Bedding Mixed'

Why on earth would you grow your own wallflowers? You can buy plants in every garden centre and wallflower plants are still regulars on markets around the country. OK, two reasons to grow your own.

Firstly, garden centre plants are often small and sold in packs in the same way as pansies and marigolds. The problem with that is that they have no root space – and wallflowers make a lot of root.

And the trouble with the plants sold on markets is that they’re dug up from the open ground, the soil is knocked off, they’re tied in bundles and then they’re stood in buckets of water. So they slowly deteriorate while they sit there in increasingly stagnant water. Even more important, there’s always the risk that they’ll come infected with clubroot disease which will soon start to wipe out your brassicas.

So, here’s the answer. Grow your own. Here’s what the great plantsman Christopher Lloyd had to say about wallflowers, in the book I wrote with him called Garden Flowers From Seed.

“No grower could afford to market decent-sized wallflower plants at the meagre price which customers expect to pay. They get what they deserve. The only satisfactory way is to grow your own.

“The time to sow wallflowers is when you’re hoiking out last year’s plants. A row of them can join the brassica seed bed. When lining them out individually in July, be sure to allow a foot between plants.” If you haven’t hoiked out last year’s plants and sown next year’s, get on with it!

And here’s another good thing about wallflowers. The single colours,  ‘Scarlet Bedder’ for example, are superb. But also, unlike many other annuals and biennials, the mixtures such as ‘Dwarf Bedding Mixed’ are made up of shades that harmonise well together.

So, all in all… I suggest you grow some!

Chelsea 2017: Trends and themes

May 27th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Intermingling meadow style planting at Chelsea 2017

Every year at Chelsea, themes emerge and different design and planting ideas become popular and this year is no exception.

Gone, almost entirely in the gardens, is the traditional planting style: a clump of one thing alongside a clump of another. Instead, meadow planting was everywhere, plants mixed together in informal interminglings. Peonies and incarvilleas and primulas on The Chengdu Silk Road Garden; white ragged robin, white verbena, astrantia and white alliums on David Harber’s sculpture garden; salvias ,euphorbias , asphodel and thrift on the Greening Grey Britain Garden (above).

Although I have to say that mixing red campion with ragged robin, as was seen on the James Doran-Webb’s sculpture garden, gives the impression that they can be grown together at home when, in fact, ragged robin enjoys moisture and red campion prefers drier conditions.

Living walls featured on a number of gardens. Two, one entirely of edibles, featured on 40 Sunbury Road; a wildflower wall was included on the Greening Grey Britain garden; hostas, ferns and ragged robin, with a splashing waterfall, backed the driftwood sculpture on James Doran-Webb’s garden.

And that familiar waterside British native ragged robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi, was the plant of the show, turning up all over the place, in both the usual pink and also the uncommon pure white form. It even featured as the backdrop to the Great Pavilion exhibit of vegetables from Pennard Plants.

On the Mr Fothergill exhibit at the Show, David Turner has spent the week chatting to visitors, passing on his wisdom and selling seeds. I caught up with him on Friday afternoon and he told me which seeds he’d been asked for the most this year.

Chilli peppers have been popular this year,” he told me, “after all the publicity for the world’s hottest chilli. Although why anyone would want to grow a chilli that’s too hot to eat is a mystery. But the regular Jalapenos and Habaneros have gone well. Sweet corn has been popular and, this year, a strange one was scorzonera which quite a few people have asked for.

“In flowers, nasturtiums are always Chelsea favourites and lupins have also gone well; they’re featured on a number of stands. California poppies (below, at an earlier Chelsea), we’ve seen a resurgence of those; they thrive in poor soil so you’d expect them to be popular but there’s been a lot more interest this year.”

And while it’s a little late to sow chillies and sweet corn for this season, you can still sow California poppies , I’ve sown some myself today, and lupins sown in summer will make splendid plants for next year.

Orange California poppies at an earlier Chelsea show.

* OK, that’s it for my daily updates from the Chelsea Flower Show, I hope you’ve enjoyed them. Back to normal next Friday with my thoughts (and those of Christopher Lloyd) on why you should grow your own wallflowers.

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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