Posts Tagged ‘biennial’

Growing happy hollyhocks

June 7th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Hollyhock (Alcea) 'Chaters Doubles'

So. Hollyhocks. Mine are just about to start opening and now’s the time to sow seed. Sounds odd, doesn’t it, to be sowing seed of biennials at a time of year when plants in the garden have not even started to ripen their seed.

In fact you can sow this month or next and this will give you large, well developed plants to overwinter and which are best placed to survive the almost inevitable attack from hollyhock rust.

For rust will surely strike, covering the shrivelling foliage with rusty coloured blisters. It struck mine so a couple of weeks ago I stripped off all the diseased leaves. If I hadn’t thoughtlessly pulled most of them up when they were tiny, the self sown larkspurs would have hidden the bare stems.

Hollyhocks come in three main types: tall biennials with single flowers (‘Giant Single Mixed’) and tall biennials with double flowers (‘Chaters Double Mixed’) – these are the ones to sow now – and short annuals with double flowers (‘Majorette’) to sow in spring.

Sow the seed thinly this month, in a short row outside, in the veg garden perhaps or in a bright space at the back of the border. Thin the plants to about 20cm apart then in September move them carefully to their final positions.

They can also be sown in pots and then the seedlings moved into individual pots but the plants will become quite large and may well need 12cm pots, or larger, to accommodate the vigorous roots.

If rust shows its ugly self then there are sprays approved for dealing with the problem. The RHS recommends Provanto Fungus Fighter Concentrate, Provanto Fungus Fighter Plus, Toprose Fungus Control & Protect, Scotts Fungus Clear Ultra and Scotts Fungus Clear Ultra Gun. You can find out more about hollyhock rust, and an organic approach, on the RHS website.

But don’t let rust put you off – and be sure to allow your larkspur to self sow in the right spot.

Starting with stocks

May 31st, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Double flowered stock (Matthiola)

Stocks seem to have become unfashionable. It’s all a bit mad, really, because stocks provide some of the most beautiful, most fragrant and longest lasting of cut flowers. But the best of them are tall, they need support and it can be fiddly to work out which of the seedlings produce the beautiful double flowers and which don’t. So they’re hard to find in catalogues.

The ones that you can get hold of with no trouble at all are the shorter ones such as ‘Brompton’ stocks, which are genuine biennials, and even shorter ones (‘Hot Cakes’ and ‘Ten Week’) which are usually grown as half hardy annuals.

Sow the taller, 45cm,‘Brompton’ stocks now or over the next month. There’s enough seed in the packet (150 seeds) that you can sow them in a row outside, thin them to 10-15cm, then either transplant alternate plants and leave the rest in place or move them all and plant them 20cm apart. If your soil is heavy then raise them in pots and plant them out in the spring.

Raise ‘Cinderella’ in the same way or, along with the short ‘Hot Cakes’ and ‘Ten Week’, wait till the spring and treat them as short-term half hardy annuals.

Either way, choose a sunny site for all of them with fertile but well-drained soil. ‘Brompton’ will need support as the flower stems extend in spring, a slim green cane to each one is usually enough. They’re best cut and brought inside where you can enjoy their colour and their wonderful fragrance.

Apricot foxgloves

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

Digitalis 'Sutton's Apricot'

There’s no doubt that one of the loveliest of all foxgloves is ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ – and now’s the time to sow the seed. “But what’s so special about it?” I hear you ask? “There’s so many different foxgloves out there, with more coming out almost every year, why this one?”

Well, it’s the colour. It’s that simple. The mature flowers are a delightful soft pale rosy pink with a hint of yellow but they open from buds that are more determinedly apricot in colour. And, like all the best foxgloves, the plants have the gentle elegance and the arching shoot tips that come from the flowers being held on one side of the stem, not all the way round. And they’re a proper foxglove height, too, not short and squat.

So, seed sowing. You’ll find plenty of seed in the packet so you can sow outside in a row now. Anywhere that’s not too hot and dry (!) will be fine. It pays, after you’ve made a drill with the point of a stick, to fill the drill with water and let it sink in. Then sow thinly. Then cover gently.

Thin the seedlings out to 2-3cm, then 5cm and then 10cm apart and then, in the autumn, transplant them to where you’d like them to flower

So why is it that I feel so comfortable discussing a variety developed by and named for a rival seed company? It’s because if you buy ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ foxgloves from Mr F you’ll get five times as many seeds for 50p less per packet than if you buy it from our friends in Devon!

Honesty: an ancient favourite

July 6th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Lunaria annua var. albiflora

We’ve been growing honesty, Lunaria annua, for a long time. It was first grown in gardens way back in 1570 and first noticed as an escape from gardens in 1597. But the strange thing is that it’s never been found growing naturally in the wild – not anywhere. It’s found outside gardens over much of Britian but it’s always been traced back to cultivated plants.

This is an indispensible plant. A biennial, in spite of its botanical name, and now is the time to sow seed for flowering in spring next year. And the reason that it’s so valuable is that it has two distinct features. First of all, there’s the flowers, large four petalled flowers in purple or in pure white in well-branched sprays on plants up to 75cm high.

Then the flowers are followed by the familiar papery seed heads, flat pods the size of a 10p piece that dry so effectively for the winter.

Some gardeners find the usual form with its purple flowers a little crude in its colouring but grow it for the pods. The pure white form, though, is lovely and universally admired or the mix of the purple and the white is often grown.

In recent years other forms have arrived. Both flower colours are available with brightly splashed variegated leaves but this foliage divides gardeners’ opinions – sometimes fiercely!

A form with purple leaves and very dark flowers has also been seen recently but is not yet easy to find.

But the great thing about the white-flowered form is that it looks good with such a wide variety of other plants – so you can allow it to self sow and it will fit in anywhere. And it has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. So it must be good.