Ring out the old, Ring in the new

January 1st, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue'As we look back at this strange year, with daffodils in flower in December and the mildest November ever, I’m struck by the value of varieties that are old favourites from years gone by and those that are potential new favourites for the coming year. Three favourite oldies this week, three fine recent newcomers next week.

Ipomoea ‘Heavenly Blue’
“Start the day right with a thrilling smile from the World’s most beautiful Morning Glories.” So says the 1947 catalogue from New York’s R. Henderson & Co who were the leading breeders of morning glories at the time.

But the finest of them all, ‘Heavenly Blue’, is older and was originally known as ‘Clark’s Earliest Heavenly Blue’ when it was introduced in the 1920s. That Henderson’s catalogue says: “This is the earliest flowering variety, making a sparse growth of foliage, heavily covered with sky blue flowers, with a golden throat.”

As I said in my book Discovering Annuals: “no one with a soul can resist it.”

Nemesia 'St George'Nemesia ‘St George’
Sometimes when an old variety becomes popular again it does so with a new name. This was the case with the dainty red-and-white bicoloured Victorian nemesia first known as ‘National Ensign’. When it gained an RHS Award of Merit in the 1950s it had become ‘Aurora’ and then about thirty years ago it was re-launched with a flurry as ‘Mello’ and then as ‘Mello Red and White’ as well as ‘Danish Flag’.

One Dutch seed company claims to have introduced it in 1987 (but uses the Victorian name!) and another calls it ‘St George’ and so do Mr F.

Either way it’s a lovely little plant, easy to grow and with such a sparkle.

Tagetes 'Tall Scotch Pride'Marigold ‘Tall Scotch Prize’
When striped marigolds were revived soon after those red-and-white nemesias, they too were given fancy new names by some seedspeople but in this case the old ones have generally persisted. ‘Tall Scotch Prize’, first seen in 1829, is still going strong.

The Victorians grew single and double flowered striped marigolds, tall and short, some with a single mahogany stripe through each petal, some striped at the edges. They were rarely illustrated in the old catalogues and the simple description “beautifully striped” failed to distinguish ‘Legion of Honour’ from ‘Harlequin’.

But ‘Tall Scotch Prize’, in golden orange with broad mahogany edges, makes an impressive 75cm plant with flower stems long enough to cut.

Copies of my book, Discovering Annuals, are still available.


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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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