Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Whiskered wonder

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

Viola 'Network Improved'

I’ve visited the Mr F trials field a couple of times now this season, the first time from under the umbrella and then last week on a scorching morning, and both occasions I was struck by this dainty little viola. It’s called ‘Network Improved’.

To be honest, the plants themselves did not look so very impressive, they’d been suffering in the heat. But the individual flowers are so delightful that I knew I had to recommend it.

And here’s the thing. The plants in the trial were grown from seed sown in plugs in spring and then planted out. So they’d had the heat of a record breaking summer to contend with. And they’re violas, after all, no wonder the plants were looking a bit sad.

But the individual flowers of ‘Network Improved’, with their old gold petals boldly whiskered in black, are just so pretty. Have to grow them somehow…

So what about sowing them now? And instead of putting the plants into a field, or a border, plant them in a patio container? They’d be lovely with dark blue grape hyacinths. And if you site the container near a path or in a porch, you’ll be able to admire the pattern in the flowers every time you pass.

Sow the seed as soon as possible in a plug tray with large cells, perhaps one that you’ve kept after receiving some Mr F plants, or try this plant raising kit. Sow two or three seeds per cell of fresh moist seed compost and cover lightly. Place the tray in a cosy place outside, or indoors on a bright windowsill. Never let them dry out. When they’ve reached planting size they can go in a container for a lovely spring treat.

Delightful double daffodil

August 30th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Narcissus 'Tete Boucle'

Leafing through the Mr F Autumn 2019 Seed and Plant catalogue this morning, I came across a daffodil I’d never heard of – and it looks lovely!

Now I’m not a big fan of many double flowered daffodils, too often they lack that true essence of what really makes a daffodil. But the dainty little ‘Tête Bouclé’ is different. And when I tell you that it’s related to one of the world’s all time favourite daffs, ‘Tête-à-Tête’, you’ll know I’m being serious.

‘Tête Bouclé’ has small double flowers in bright yellow with orange tints towards the centre. It only reaches about 20cm in height and the stems are strong enough to support what, with all those extra petals, is a relatively heavy flower.

It carries one or, less frequently, two flowers per stem. ‘Tête-à-Tête’ tends to produce either one or two flowers per stem – not guaranteed pairs – and ‘Tête Bouclé’ probably produces more stems with just one flower. But the flowers are so pretty that we don’t really care.

‘Tête Bouclé’ was discovered by Dutch amateur daffodil enthusiast Jan de Winter about ten years ago, one his ‘Tête-à-Tête’ bulbs suddenly produced a double flower and he was smart enough to mark it and separate it out, then to bulk it up.

Why not plant ‘Tête Bouclé’ with plants of Viola ‘Sorbet XP Neptune’ for a lively spring display.

Dahlias in the rain

August 23rd, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Dahlia 'Karma Choc'

When I was hiding under my umbrella at the Mr F trials recently, as the rain fell from the sky in lumps, it wasn’t just the rudbeckias that stood out. The dahlias really shone and amongst the ninety one different dahlias being assessed were five picked from the Karma Series.

I’m growing ‘Karma Choc’ this year, from tubers left in the ground through the winter, and one of its impressive features is this. Flowering from July until the frosts, the plant is divided into two zones. The long stemmed flowers, carried on relatively unbranched stems, are all on the top half of the plant. The rich dark foliage is all on the lower part of the plant. On my other dahlias the foliage grows right up amongst the flowers making cutting more difficult.

The Karma Series was developed in Holland specifically for cutting – but that doesn’t mean they’re unsuited to growing in borders. That tendency to display the flowers above the foliage is spread across the series and ensures that the flowers show themselves off well and are not hidden.

Other features of the series are long stems with relatively few side shoots, the stems surging up through the foliage. The different varieties have also been selected for their lasting qualities, the individual flowers last unusually well in water.

Amongst the nineteen varieties in the series there’s a wide range of colours and flower shapes and Tom Stimpson, Mr F’s dahlia guru, has picked out the very best. Alongside the sultry chocolate maroon of ‘Karma Choc’, with dark chocolate centres and rich red outer petals plus dark dark foliage, the varieties being checked in the trials this year were:
‘Karma Bon Bini’, an orange and yellow cactus type.
‘Karma Fiesta’, an orange and yellow decorative type that won the visitors’ vote at RHS Wisley for the most popular dahlia.
‘Karma Lagoon’, a vivid purple-blue decorative with dark-tinted foliage.
‘Karma Prospero’, a soft lilac-pink waterlily type.
‘Karma Red Corona’, a glowing red cactus dahlia that, even in the rain, stood out from the other side of the field.

Keep the Karma dahlias in mind for next year. Apart from everything else, they look great in the rain!

Mr Fothergills dahlia trial

Sunshine in the rain

August 16th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Rudbeckia Display at Mr Fothergill's

This week, on a day of biblical rain, a large group of the country’s garden writers and photographers and garden radio and TV personalities gathered at the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground in Suffolk.

The idea was to see this year’s new varieties, the potential new varieties for next year and beyond and just about every single variety of flowers and veg in the Mr F range – all growing in tough conditions, with absolutely no pampering.

We stood under our new Mr F fluorescent lime green umbrellas and watched the cornflowers sag down under the onslaught from the heavens. And this is where it got interesting. Nothing, except climbers and a few tall dahlias, was supported and while the direct sown cornflowers fell right over and the annual poppies hung their dripping heads, the direct sown larkspur nearby stood tall and beautiful, in particular the lovely blue-and-white ‘Frosted Skies’. This is the sort of performance that might tempt the powers that be to add it to the range.

The dahlias also shook off the rain impressively but the beat-the-rain stars of the day were the rudbeckias. A spectacular display was the central focus of this year’s planting and, as I stood there with the rain battering on my umbrella and my feet getting muddier by the moment, one or two of them leaned a little.

But they stood firm and created such a sparkle that under the charcoal clouds they were impressive from fifty yards away. And the star of them all was ‘Prairie Sun’ (across the top in the picture) its green eye surrounded by two-tone yellow petals.

A soon as the forecast looks better, I’ll be heading back to the trials on a more comfortable day to bring you more highlights from this year’s trials. And there are some very exciting new varieties to tell you about.

Sow in August? Well yes…

August 9th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cornflower (l-r) 'Classic Fantastic', 'Classic Romantic' & 'Classic Magic'

Am I mad? I’m looking at my cornflowers in full bloom and I’m going to suggest it’s time to sow seed for next year. OK, here’s the thing.

I sowed my cornflowers towards the end of March, this year, and they’re flowering well now. I should also mention that I got my ‘Black Ball’ seed from someone else, not Mr F, and half of them came up other colours. Not good. We know what the lesson is. Anyway.

Although my cornflowers are flowering nicely, the ones that did really really well are over. These are the self sown ones that sprung up last summer from seed that fell from last year’s spring sown varieties.

The plants they made were huge, multibranched, producing thousands of flowers. But they turned up in all sorts of places, including in my bark paths. I know, I could have moved the seedlings to better sites – as I’m about to with my self sown cerinthes – but I forgot.

So I’m going to sow cornflowers this month. And, thinking about posies for next summer, I’m going to sow the three varieties in the Classic Series. These are controlled colour blends in blue shades and white (‘Classic Fantastic’), in purple and lilac shades and white (‘Classic Magic’), and red and pink shades and white (‘Classic Romantic’). Colour themed posies in a packet.

Sow in rows in a sunny place this month. Draw out the drill with the point of a stick then soak the drill with water from the spout of the can. Then sow thinly. Thin the seedlings in stages to 20-25cm apart and they’ll start to flower in late spring next year. The plants will be big, so have some bamboo canes and string at the ready. And stand back and admire your achievement!

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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