Posts Tagged ‘annual’

Easy and invaluable nasturtiums

May 11th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nasturtium 'Empress of India'

Nasturtiums have developed an unfortunate reputation. They’re enjoyed, of course, but somehow they’re dismissed as, I don’t know, too easy perhaps…? Not ordinary, exactly, because they’re far from ordinary… The seeds are large, easy to handle so great for kids. Maybe it’s the fact that when grown in rich soil you get so much foliage that you can’t see the flowers – although, these days, that’s a bit of a myth. So were does that leave us?

It means that we should definitely grow them – but in the right way, in the right place, and using the right varieties. Start now.

I’ve just sown mine, yesterday. I’m growing quite a few different varieties so I’ve sown five pots of each variety, three seeds in each pot – and I expect almost all of them to come up.

I could sow them where they’re flower but I don’t want the mice to dig them up and, frankly, I’m not yet quite sure where they’re going to go! So they’ll sit on the spare room windowsill until they peep through, then I’ll stand the pots in a sheltered spot outside for two or three weeks.

But they must be kept frost free: nasturtium seedlings are very soft and fleshy: one waft of icy air and they’re mush.

When it comes to planting them we’re back to those hidden flowers. What happens is that in rich soil, or if you feed them, the leaves become broader and, more importantly, the leaf stalks become longer but the flowers stems don’t. This stretches the leaf stems beyond the flowers – which are hidden by the lush foliage.

So: choose bushy nasturtiums whose foliage tends to stay compact, choose somewhere sunny and choose just about any soil that’s not rich and fertile. And don’t plant out your seedlings until after the last chance of frost.

Poppies for foliage and flowers

April 27th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Papaver somniferum 'Lauren's Grape'

There was a short time, about thirty years ago, when it looked as if growing ornamental opium poppies was going to be banned as it was thought people would buy seed in garden centres and grow heroin on their allotments! No.

It’s the same basic species but varieties developed for the garden – and to provide seeds for baking – are entirely different from those cultivated in Asia for legal (and illegal) drugs.

So, lest we forget, the increasing range of garden varieties of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, provides some of the most colourful of annuals you can buy.

From soon after they germinate, the plants are making their presence felt with their attractive blue-grey rosettes of glossy foliage. Then, from midsummer, the stiffly vertical stems are topped by large open flowers.

Those impressive flowers come in several forms: four-petaled single flowers, some with impressively frilled edges and some with black or white blotches at the base, and there are also frilly or peony-flowered double flowers.

The colours too range from soft pastel shades (‘Maanzaaad’), rich tones (‘Lauren’s Grape’, above), more vibrant colours (‘Victoria Cross’) and an appealing double flowered mixture (‘Peony Flowered Mix’).

Sow outside where you’d like them to flower, give them the usual hardy annual treatment but I find it often pays to wait until April to sow. Unless you dead head ruthlessly, you’ll have self sown seedlings next ear. And if you grow more than one colour, who knows what colours those self sown seedlings will provide.

Pastel poppies

April 20th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Poppy 'Falling in Love'

There are two main kinds of annual poppies. There are those derived from our native field or corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas, and those derived from the Asian opium poppy, P. somniferum. This week I’m taking a look at field poppies, next week opium poppies.

Papaver rhoeas is the scarlet annual poppy of our cornfields, although these days we only see it when the plough goes a little deeper and long buried dormant seeds come to the surface.

The first named variety was introduced after the Reverend Wilkes of Shirley in Surrey noticed a wild form with a white edge to the petals. From this plant he developed single- and double-flowered varieties in softer colours and without the black blotch at the base. These are still available as ‘Shirley Single Mixed’.

By the 1960s bright reds had crept back in so the Suffolk painter Cedric Morris developed a strain made up of soft misty and smoky shades, picotees and flowers with delicate veining. From these were developed ‘Dawn Chorus’ and ‘Falling in Love’, blends of doubles in softer shades.

There’s also the original wild corn poppy, ideal for annual meadows, and ‘American Legion’, with a white blotch on each petal.

Sow them all now, either by scattering the seed through your borders (some packets contain 2000 seeds, so you’ll have plenty!) or by sowing in patches or rows. You can also sow in the autumn, the flowers will start to open earlier than those of spring sown plants.

You can even cut them for a vase: dip the cut stems in boiling water for 20 seconds then arrange them in tepid water. They’ll last for ages.

Mediterranean must-have

February 23rd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cerinthe major 'Purpurescens'

Cerinthe is relatively new in our gardens. It’s not a flamboyant plant and until about thirty years ago it was very rarely seen. But one particular variety began to catch our attention, Mr F spotted the growing enthusiasm and so it’s listed here, both as seed and as plants.

Cerinthe major is the species with the largest flowers, and is found around the Mediterranean, on both the African and the European sides, often where the soil retains a little moisture. It makes an upright, rather succulent plant whose seed often germinates in the autumn and flowers in spring.

The tubular flowers hang down in clusters and are usually yellow and white but in ‘Purpurascens’, the variety to look for, they’re deep purple and surrounded by smoky purple-tinted bracts. The flowers are very popular with bees, which explains its common name: honeywort..

Seed can be sown in autumn or spring – as usual with Mediterranean plants autumn sowing produces better plants, and they’re happy in any reasonably fertile soil in sun. They’ll flower for months, especially if deadheaded.

The stems also last well when cut, which is perhaps surprising when you see how succulent and juicy they are. Searing the ends in boiling water for twenty seconds will ensure that they last at least a week, and often ten days.

But don’t cut or deadhead all the stems, leave some to make seed and self sow and you’ll never be without this colourful and intriguing flower.

RHS Award Winner: Best Behaved Convolvulus

February 2nd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 1 Comment

Convolvulus 'Blue Ensign'

I’ve often wondered why so few plant breeders have worked on improving the annual convolvulus, the dwarf morning glory. The wild species, Convolvulus tricolor, grows around the Mediterranean, especially on the African side, as well as in the Balearic Islands and it’s impressively colourful even in its natural wild form.

With blue edges to the bold trumpets, there’s a white ring and a yellow eye and in the spectacular ‘Blue Ensign’, included in the new Mr F range of seeds that have received the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit, the blue is a deep and shining shade.

‘Blue Ensign’ has the neat and restrained growth habit of a semi-trailing petunia with a combination of flower colours never seen in a petunia – and it’s a hardy annual. It’s related to bindweed, yes, but the whole plant dies after flowering.

And here’s the thing. The ‘Flagship’ mixture gives us a glimpse of the potential: so many other colours. Most of the colours have that starry yellow eye with a white zone round it but as well as flowers with deep blue edges there’s red, pink and pale blue edges as well as simpler pale blue and yellow and pale pink and yellow. They’re very pretty.

AGM winning ‘Blue Ensign’ is prolific and good in baskets and the front of sunny borders. ‘Flagship’(not an award-winner) is a little more variable in habit and flower-power, sometimes rather straggly, but I’m sure that with a little work neat and prolific plants could be developed in some lovely colour combinations.

In the meantime,‘Blue Ensign’ is easy to raise from seed sown outside and a packet of a hundred seeds costs only £2.05. I haven’t grown it for years but it’s on the list for this year. I’m going to plant it on the corners of my 1.2m raised veg beds – to hide my less than expert carpentry where the boards join!

  • Please take a look at my article on RHS award-winning lobelia for containers and borders in this week’s Amateur Gardening magazine – print edition only.