A new blushed lavatera

September 27th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Lavatera 'Dwarf Pink Blush'

I’ve always liked lavateras (annual mallows). They feature on the cover of my first book about annuals from over thirty years ago and I’ve been growing them on and off ever since. They’re just so easy, and so colourful, without being garish. A winning combination.

True the colour range is limited – basically, it’s pink or white – and they can grow quite tall and fall over in gales but this newcomer to the Mr F range addresses both these issues.

OK, it’s not blue or yellow, but it’s a very pretty combination of the two lavatera colours – plus an extra shade. The flowers are white, with pink veins in the throat fading as they run out into the petals – and with a deep crimson, blood red zone deep in the throat.

The feature that addresses the other slight drawback of most lavateras is that ‘Dwarf Pink Blush’ is exactly that, it’s dwarf. Not so dumpy and squat that it’s ugly, no. It makes about 60cm, is self supporting and bushes out nicely.

You can sow seed now in a cold greenhouse and move the seedlings on into 9cm pots then plant out in March. Keep them cool or they’ll grow soft and floppy. The plants will flower earlier than usual, but finish sooner too. Alternatively you can treat ‘Dwarf Pink Blush’ as a hardy annual and sow direct in March. Not your everyday lavatera…

Exclusive new sweet pea for Mr F

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

Sweet Pea 'Mayflower 400' and 'Our Harry'

Mr Fothergill’s have a fine reputation for sweet peas, with an astonishing seventy four varieties in the mail order catalogue and every one graded for the strength of its fragrance.

Every year Mr F checks in with sweet pea breeders around the world, trials possible new introductions and selects the very best new varieties to add to the range. This autumn sees the introduction of two new sweet peas, including another – an exclusive from New Zealand’s Keith Hammett, the world’s most innovative sweet pea breeder.

His latest new variety is ‘Mayflower 400’. This is a prolific variety with prettily ruffled cream flowers overlaid in pale pastel pink – “pink flake” is the classification. It is, of course, well scented.

‘Mayflower 400’ is launched to mark the 400th anniversary of the departure of the Mayflower from Plymouth carrying the first English puritans, now known as the pilgrims, for the new world in 1620.

“We are delighted to have a great relationship with breeder Keith Hammett and to obtain this wonderful new sweet pea ‘Mayflower 400’ so that gardeners can celebrate in the anniversary year,” said David Turner of Mr F.

But it’s not only new sweet peas from the other side of the world that have caught the eye. ‘Our Harry’ has been around for a while and over the years it’s been increasingly recognised as one of the best blues around. The gently waved standards, the upper petals, are rich lavender blue, slightly paler at the edges, while the lower petals, the wings, are slightly darker and folded down strongly. The stems are long and strong and especially good for cutting and the scent is good.

Next month is the prime time for sowing sweet peas, so get your order in soon for ‘Mayflower 400’ and ‘Our Harry’, not to mention your pick of the other seventy two varieties in the Mr F range.

Growing Radishes from Sowing to Harvest

September 18th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Growing Radishes from Sowing to Harvest

What’s the most opportunistic crop you could possibly grow? For us it’s the humble, lowly radish – or rather the rousing, ravishing radish! Squeeze a sneaky row or two between larger vegetables. Sow them around crops that are about to finish. Grow them in pots, or squeeze in an extravagantly early or late harvest of these peppery roots. They’re super fast, super flexible – oh, and super yummy! So let’s crack on and sow some! Read on or watch the video to find out how.

Where to Grow Radishes

Because of their size and speed, radishes may be grown just about anywhere. Ready to enjoy in as little as four weeks and taking up minimal space, perhaps their best use is as a fill-in crop, either between or within rows of slow-to-germinate vegetables such as parsnip, or as a quick in-and-out crop right at the start or end of the growing season.

Radishes prefer full sun but grow well in part shade too and in hot climates will prefer full shade in the height of summer. Keep the soil moist and you’ll be rewarded with clusters of mildly peppery roots in next to no time.

Sowing Early Season Radishes

Seeds sown into a plug tray with modules filled with potting mixBegin sowing under cover from late winter, either direct into containers of potting soil or into greenhouse borders, or into plug trays of general purpose potting mix.

Fill plug trays with potting mix, firm down then sow a pinch of three to five seeds per module. Cover with a little more of the potting mix then water. If it’s especially cold, you’ll need to germinate them indoors then move them back into a greenhouse or cold frame as soon as the seedlings appear. After a couple of weeks of sheltered growth, and once the seedlings have filled out their modules, they’ll be ready to plant out under row covers or hoop houses.

Plant into soil earlier enriched with well-rotted compost or manure and raked to a fine tilth. Remove the clusters of seedlings from their modules then make a hole for each plug. Drop in the plug and firm it into position so each cluster is about 6in or 15cm apart in both directions. Cover the seedlings with row cover or horticultural fleece, secured at the edges, until the weather warms up.

Sowing Radishes Direct

Of course, sowing radishes directly where they are to grow is the easiest way to start them off. As cool-season crops, some radishes can germinate at temperatures as low as 41 Fahrenheit or 5 degrees Celsius. Sow from very early spring, initially under row covers or hoop houses, spacing rows about 8in or 20cm apart. Sow thinly along the row – ideally so seeds end up spaced around half an inch or one centimeter apart. Water if it’s dry then, about a week after germination, thin the seedlings to leave them an inch or 2cm apart within the row.

Sow a row or two every couple of weeks during the growing season to maintain a steady supply of roots, fitting them in wherever there’s space.

Grow Some Radishes for Winter

Close up of leafy white daikon mooli radishes in the groundMany hardy radishes can be sown towards the end of summer to give an autumn or early winter harvest of roots. Sowing regular red, round or white-tipped radishes into containers is a great way to extend the season – by simply bringing pots under cover when the weather turns cold.

Another option is to grow bigger winter or Asian varieties of radish, which naturally prefer cooler temperatures. Most popular is the daikon or Japanese mooli radish. Look out for Chinese and Korean varieties too – all with a mild flavour ideal for salads but also great in soups and stews. Then there’s the stunning watermelon radish, or the chunky, spicy Spanish Black radish whose peppery tang holds up well in stir-fries.

Winter radishes are leafier than their summer cousins. The spicy leaves may be used like spinach, wilted into hot dishes or even whizzed up in a pesto.

Sow winter radishes a little further apart, so rows are at least a foot or 30cm distant, then thin the seedlings to leave at least a couple of inches or 5cm between each plant.

Caring for Radishes

Keep on top of weeds because radishes don’t like competition. Thinning seedlings and harvesting the first A close up of two flea beetles on a leafroots are good opportunities to hoik out weeds at the same time. And make sure to water thoroughly once or twice a week in dry weather to stop the roots from becoming woody and unbearably peppery.

Radishes may attract flea beetles from spring to midsummer. You’ll probably not see the flea beetles themselves but you’ll know they are there by the numerous tiny holes pitted into the leaves. Avoid this damage by covering radishes with row covers or fine insect mesh, or by simply delay sowing till the second half of summer.

How to Harvest Radishes

Harvest roots as soon as they have reached their final size. Don’t delay, as they can go from crisp and crunchy to woody and excessively spicy within a matter or days. Lift the biggest roots each time you harvest, so the remainder can continue to swell.

Winter radishes take up to ten weeks to mature but once ready can be left where they are to lift as needed, so long as the ground doesn’t freeze solid. Or lift them, cut off the foliage then store in the refrigerator, where they should keep for up to a month.

If you’re looking for something both trouble-free and a genuine pleasure to grow, radishes should be right up your street. Root out your radish anecdotes – how do you fit them into your garden? Have you tried growing winter radishes? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page, we’d love to know.

Larkspur with a flying start

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

Larkspur 'Giant Imperial Mixed'

This summer, my larkspur grew as tall as my delphiniums. They were amazing. And the reason for so much vigorous growth? They were self sown seedlings that germinated in August and September.

Germinating in warm soil, they soon got their roots down, developed plenty of attractive divided foliage through the autumn and winter and then surged into flower in late May and June.

So, learning the lesson, I’ve already sown some larkspur seed and the seedlings were through in just a few days. Of course, you can simply scatter the seed around as if it was self sown but there’s a better way.

Choose somewhere sunny and sheltered. If the soil is heavy, work in some old potting compost to open it up a little. Use the point of a stick, or your finger, to draw a drill (a shallow furrow) in the soil. Take the rose off the watering can then gently pour a stream of water along the drill, put your thumb over the spout to limit the flow. Gentle is good.

Sow the seed thinly along the drill. A packet of ‘Giant Imperial Mixed’ larkspur contains three hundred seeds. Don’t sow them all! In a 1.2m/4ft row you’ll only need fifty seeds. At this time of year the soil is warm and, with the moisture you’ve provided, the seeds should be peeping through in a week. Beware of slugs.

Sowing in rows makes it clear which seedlings are the larkspur and which are the weeds. Pull out the weeds.

In a 1.2m/4ft row you’ll only need about eight or ten seedlings, so remove some as they develop to ensure that they don’t become too crowded. If you grow ‘White King’ you’ll need fewer than if you grow ‘Giant Imperial Mixed’, you’ll need more seedlings of ‘Giant Imperial Mixed’ to be sure you get flowers from all the colours.

Keep them protected from slugs through the winter and late next spring you’ll be glad you sowed seeds now.

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.