Posts Tagged ‘flower’

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.

Get ahead with spring sowing

February 16th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Calendula 'Snow Princess'

Well, last week I was talking about seeds not to sow this month, so this time I’m reversing the idea – what can we sow now that we should have sown in the autumn?

I’m always bashing on about how autumn is a really good time to sow a number of popular annuals, especially those that grow naturally in the Mediterranean region where they germinate at the end of summer and in autumn as the rains begin. Sweet peas, nigellas, cornflowers, cerinthe, calendulas, and annual chrysanthemums all produce superb plants from an autumn sowing. But we don’t always get round to it. So can we sow them now and still get ahead of the usual March or April sowing? Yes, we can.

The problem is that in February the soil is so cold that germination is very slow and slugs and rots of all kinds can kill seedlings before they get anywhere. But if we can get them to start to grow in February they’ll make better plants than if they’re sown a month later. Here’s what I suggest.

If you have a cold greenhouse, then you’re all set. Sow sweet peas in Rootrainers and the others in regular modules, sow them and grow them on in the cold greenhouse and plant out in April.

But, if you don’t have a greenhouse, here’s what to do. Sow the seeds in Rootrainers or other modules and keep them in the house, anywhere warm. The seeds need more warmth for speedy germination than they do for growing. Then, as soon as the seeds show signs of emerging, move them outside. Don’t wait until their leaves unfurl and the stems start to stretch. Where, exactly, you move them is important.

Choose somewhere warm and cosy, a position that benefits from as much low late winter sun as possible. Ensure that surplus moisture can drain away and, crucially, protect the emerging seedlings from slugs. I use organic SlugClear™ Ultra³  slug pellets which I find work very well.

I used this method with sweet peas and with calendulas last year, I’m expecting to prove the point with other annuals this this year. Why not give it a try?

RHS award winners: Essential climbers

January 5th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue' and Mina lobata

The new collaboration between Mr F and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) features seeds of flowers and veggies that have been awarded the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM). I discussed these new ranges briefly here last year but I thought, as seed sowing season approaches, I’d take a closer look at some of the floral highlights. And the ipomoeas are especially interesting.

There are two AGM ipomoeas in the Mr F catalogue and, at first sight, they look completely unrelated.

Mina lobata (above right) features in the RHS range and, although long known by that name, it’s now been recognised as so similar to ipomoeas that it needs to be classified as one: so it’s now known, botanically, as Ipomoea lobata.

Fiery orange buds are held along arching stems, maturing to yellow and then cream but even as they pass their peak the new flare and the flowers stay tubular. It makes a great deal of growth, reaches 1-8-2.4m depending on the richness of the soil and the watering, and needs stout support. It flowers for months. Sow in frost free conditions from April.

The closely related Ipomoea ‘Heavenly Blue’ (above left) is also an AGM variety but has been listed for years so is not in the new RHS range. It’s very different, with large flared sky blue flowers that open early in the day and close by afternoon – which is why it’s called morning glory. It reaches the same height as Mina lobata but its growth is less bushy and dense. It’s one of the most beautiful of garden climbers, no garden should be without it.

Just to emphasise how varied the ipomoeas are, Mr F also lists two special varieties of sweet potato grown for their coloured foliage; they’re ideal in sunny containers and trail neatly. These foliage varieties of Ipomoea batatas do not have AGMs – but I suspect this is only because the RHS has not yet held a trial.

I think these varied ipomoeas deserve a try, don’t you? I’ll be growing them all this year.