Archive for the ‘Plant Talk with Graham Rice’ Category

Veg garden classic gets a comprehensive update

May 19th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Salads can be attractive as well as tasty

Do you buy gardening books? Or do you get all the info you need here online? Sales of gardening books have declined in recent years as we look for our information and advice online and many gardeners have simply given up buying books. Which is all a bit mad.

It was once said that newspapers would replace conversation, that radio would replace books and newspapers, that TV would replace radio and that the internet would replace just about everything. But the arrival of a new edition of one the great gardening classics reminds us that some garden books are simply essential and this is one of them.

9780711238701 The Salad Garden by Joy LarkcomThe Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom first appeared in 1984, after Joy, her husband Don and their two young children had spent a year travelling around Europe in a caravan on their Grand Vegetable Tour, studying how people all over Europe grew vegetables and which varieties they grew. (Today’s head teachers would have something to say about that…)

Joy put many of the things she learned into practice in her Norfolk garden where she also grew and assessed many of the varieties whose seed she collected during her tour. And choice of varieties is crucial. Even now, so many people who grow veg (and flowers, for that matter) never get beyond “I’m going to grow some lettuce.” Yes, but which lettuce? There are thousands of varieties, all different and all with their own qualities.

Joy’s experience and insight made the first editition of The Salad Garden so special and enabled her to highlight the best of all the salads for organic gardeners, the best for flavour and the best for yield, the best for disease resistance and – still undervalued – the best for their looks. She couples this advice with guidance on growing techniques to create the best all round advice on growing salads there is.

This is the second comprehensive update of Joy Larkcom’s The Salad Garden. Every shed should have a copy.

The Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom is published by Frances Lincoln at £16.99.

You can order The Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom from

* Next week I’ll be blogging every day from the Chelsea Flower Show, starting on Monday. Please stop by here and take a look.

Versatility in green

May 12th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nicotiana 'Lime Green' Which colour goes with everything? Certainly not orange, or pink or purple. White, perhaps? Not so good with hot colours… The answer, you’ve probably guessed, is green and not just green foliage. Green flowers make attractive associations with flowers of any other colour and with foliage too.

Of course, the problem is that there aren’t all that many plants with green flowers. Zinnia ‘Envy’ is one, but what you get is a mix of a few well-shaped double flowers along with quite a few singles and semi-doubles: not impressive.

Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, on the other hand, is consistently well-coloured and you also have the opportunity to grow it from seed, although it’s getting a little late for that, or buying plants in which case I recommend ordering now in case they sell out.

And it really does look good with a wide variety of flowers. Interplant it between sultry chocolate or purple dahlias, or with scarlet dahlias and fiery crocosmias. ‘Lime Green’ also looks good with pastel blues and pinks and has the enviable quality of calming some of the more lively mixtures of hardy and half hardy annuals such as annual chrysanthemums, petunias and summer sweet William.

It also works very well with foliage plants such as coleus, purple kale grown as an ornamental, rhubarb chard, silver-leaved helichrysums and perennials including salvias, phlox, penstemons, echinaceas and hardy geraniums.

Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ is truly one of the most versatile of summer flowers.

Spectacular bee friendly foxgloves

May 5th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Digitalis Illumination Raspberry (left), Illumination Flame and Illumination ApricotFoxgloves are undergoing a revolution.

Gardeners and nurserypeople and plant breeders have been crossing one foxglove species with another going back many many decades. But although some lovely plants were created, propagation was always a problem. They were often produced no seed, no cuttings and were difficult, if not impossible, to divide.

Propagation by tissue culture, in the laboratory, solved that problem making it relatively straightforward to propagate plants reliably in good quantities. And one of the most striking new foxglove hybrids to benefit from this propagation technique has been the Illumination foxgloves. Without tissue culture we wouldn’t be able to buy them.

The Illumination foxgloves are the result of crossing the golden flowered, slightly woody foxglove that grows in the Canary Islands, Digitalis canariensis, with various forms of our native foxglove, D. purpurea. The result is a series of rather exotic looking perennial foxgloves which, I’ve noticed, attract more bees than just about any other plants in the garden. And reaching 90cm in height, the effect can be very impressive.

They are not, however, completely hardy. Ideal in large well-drained containers, in borders they appreciate full sun, fertile soil – and drainage is crucial, especially during the winter months.

‘Illumination Flame’ (above, centre), winner of the Chelsea Plant of The Year award in 2012, was the first to appear, a lovely variety whose flowers are vivid pink on the outside and apricot within. ‘Illumination Raspberry’ is richer and darker, raspberry pink on the outside and peachy within. The latest is ‘Illumination Apricot’ in shining apricot inside and out with golden overtones. All are prettily speckled. All you can order a collection of all three.

These are some of the loveliest recently introduced perennials – but be sure to give them the conditions they need. They’re worth it. Order soon, before they sell out.

Colourful new container plants

April 28th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Argyranthemum 'GranDaisy Pink Halo'

There are more people around the world working to develop new plants for containers and patios than on any other kind of garden flowers. Most of these are intended to be raised from cuttings as cuttings-raised plants give a better return to the breeder and this funds continuing developments.

Some of the best of these newcomers are available now, but it pays to get your order in as soon as possible. Sooner or later they’ll sell out.

One plant stands out as the star this spring and is an unexpected hybrid between an Argyranthemum (marguerite), a slightly tender woody perennial, and a hardy annual chrysanthemum, C. carinatum.

The result is ‘Grandaisy Pink Halo’ which has masses of rose pink daisy flowers with a neat red ring around the eye. The blood of annual chrysanthemums adds the pretty colour rings into the long flowering argyranthemums. Plants develop in to rounded specimens about 45cm wide and high which are ideal as specimens in 38-45cm pots.

I saw this in two or three different places last summer and it was superb.

The other plants that I’m very pleased to see offered are a type of Ipomoea with which you may not be familiar. The Ipomoea most of us grow is the exquisite ‘Heavenly Blue’ with its sky blue trumpets. These newcomers are very different, they’re trailing foliage plants for pots and baskets: Ipomoea ‘Sweet Georgia Deep Purple’ and Ipomoea ‘Sweet Georgia Light Green’. In fact, these are colourful foliage varieties of the sweet potato! (Don’t worry, they come as bushy young plants, not as seed potatoes!)

The lobed foliage is held on compact, semi trailing plants ideal to plant at the edge of tubs and baskets and mingle with flowers. Ipomoea ‘Sweet Georgia Deep Purple’ has purple-black leaves, and would be good around the edge of pots of Argyranthemum ‘Grandaisy Pink Halo’, while Ipomoea ‘Sweet Georgia Light Green’ has lime green foliage.

Give them all a try.

Ipomoea 'Sweet Georgia Deep Purple' and 'Sweet Georgia Light Green'

Always start with the latest zinnias

April 21st, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

2016 Zinnia Trial at Mr Fothergill'sThe bushy, small flowered zinnias I discussed here last week, marking this year as The Year Of The Zinnia, are complimented by the taller, larger flowered varieties.

OK, they have far fewer flowers. But the flowers are larger – twice the size, or more, of those on the dwarf types. Most are fully double, and there’s a huge range of colours and colour combinations.

Sourced from around the world, last summer Mr F grew every notable variety around (above). And, looking them over two or three times over the season, one of the things that struck me was this: recently introduced varieties were, in general, significantly better than older ones.

Of course, we expect plant breeders to steadily improve plants and they do. But in French marigolds, for example – with the honourable exception of ‘Alumia Vanilla Cream’ – you’d still be happy with the varieties introduced twenty years ago. Not so with tall zinnias for borders and cut flower.

In the last couple of years we’ve seen ‘Purple Prince’ introduced along with the two colours in the Zinderella Series and ‘Solmar’. I’d definitely start with these.

Bold and impressive both in the border and in the vase, ‘Purple Prince’ has large, clean and vivid purple flowers and, unlike some older varieties, every plant should have fully double flowers.

The anemone-centred Zinderella Series, in peach and in lilac pink, stood out in the Mr F trial. At the end of the season I cut some stems to bring home and not only were they universally admired by visitors but, with a change of water every day, they lasted longer than just about every flower I cut all summer.

And ‘Solmar’, developed by a British company in Britain and in India, comes in four vivid colours with good branching and good tolerance to disease.

Growing them from seed? I’ll be growing some in cells, sowing any day now, and planting them out after frosts. And I’ll also be sowing some outdoors where they’re to flower. Keeping the roots undisturbed is key.

Zinnia 'Solmar Mixed'

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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