Posts Tagged ‘graham rice’

Still Discovering Annuals

December 23rd, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Iberis umbellata (candytuft) 'Pink Flash' and Viscaria 'Rose Angel'

Back in the year 2000, I was on the front cover of the Mr F catalogue. My book, Discovering Annuals, had just come out and planting ideas that I’d developed in my garden and which were featured in the book were included in the catalogue. You could even ask for free planting plans and the cover showed one of my annual plantings.

Mr Fothergill's catalogue for 2000The idea of the book was to show how colourful and interesting planting schemes using hardy and half-hardy annuals can be, like bringing together the two easy annuals above, Iberis umbellata (candytuft) ‘Pink Flash’ and Viscaria ‘Rose Angel’. I also wanted to steer gardeners away from the pitfalls of unpredictable mixtures and to focus on choice varieties in individual colours.

Well, in some ways I think I succeeded and in others, not so much. These days, everyone certainly focuses more on individual colours and on grouping different plants together to create a harmonious display. This is especially true when we plant tubs and baskets. But varieties of seed raised annuals in individual colours are being supplanted by patio and container plants raised from cuttings, such as the Surfinia petunia and Temari verbena in similar harmonising colours to the annuals, below.

One reason for this is that there is more profit for the grower in cuttings-raised plants that can be patented than there is in seed of annuals. Mr F, of course, brings you the carefully chosen best of both. And there are still some superb seed-raised annuals being released and next week I’ll be picking my top three seed raised annuals – new and old – from the last year.

Discovering Annuals is still available in hardback from
Discovering Annuals is also still available in paperback from

And click here to request your free 2017 Mr Fothergill catalogue

Surfinia petunia and Temari verbena

Black(ish) beauties

December 11th, 2015 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

The genuinely black flowers of Viola 'Blackjack' are enhanced by a tiny orange eye.

Black flowers always exert a special fascination. Perhaps it’s because they seem so unnatural yet at the same time intriguing? Perhaps it’s because there are so few of them? Perhaps it’s because they just don’t see possible? And anyway, aren’t flowers supposed to attract pollinators? Can black flowers do that?

Most black flowers have been developed by plant breeders so have no need attract pollinators and, anyway, many pollinators are attracted by nectar guides on the flowers which are hidden from us because they’re only visible in ultraviolet light which we can’t see. The few wild plants that have black flowers often have another feature that attracts pollinators, such as smell.

Of course, not all black flowers are a genuine true black. Most are deepest crimson or deepest purple but they certainly appear black until you look closely.

Black flowers associate well with fiery shades and with pastels, if you’d like to try some next year, there are some annuals that I’ve found easy-to-grow, are dependably dark in colour and which fit in well with other plants.

Standing out as the closest to true black is ‘Blackjack’ pansy (above). The flowers are not huge, which ensures that they stand up better to winter weather, and they have an intriguing network of veins that are even more black than the flowers – if you see what I mean. The tiny yellow eye only serves to highlight the richness of the colour. Sow in summer for winter flowers, or in spring for summer flowers.

I’m not sure that plants of Antirrhinum ‘Black Prince’ have been truly black since it was first introduced a hundred years ago! The colour has drifted to a rich, deep crimson and sometimes the leaves seem darker than the flowers. The same is true of Cornflower ‘Black Ball’, it’s closer to crimson, really, but nicely offset by the slightly silvery leaves. But both are lovely.

Scabious ‘Black Knight’ (below) is a good colour, but some of the best blacks come in bicoloured flowers. When I grew Dianthus ‘Chianti’, the scented double flowers opened in a genuine black-and-white combination and ‘Black Magic’ sunflowers are black in the centre and rusty crimson around the edge. Coleus ‘Black Dragon’ even has has dusky black leaves with red centres.

There’s more to choose from than you might expect, you can see some others here. And this intriguing little book, Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden by Paul Bonine, will enhance your interest.

The sultry Scabiosa 'Black Knight' is more deep crimson than true black.


Blue favourites spark white varieties

November 27th, 2015 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cobaea scandens 'Alba' - calamintsWriting about the ‘Marvelette’ calamints last week, it struck me that there are quite a few plants whose flowers are normally blue but from which, as with calamints, attractive white flowered forms have been developed.

That vigorous and long flowering annual climber the cup-and-saucer vine, Cobaea scandens, is a splendid plant for covering a sunny fence reaching up to 3m high or wide. The 50cm blue-purple flowers continue opening well into the autumn.

But there’s also an even more lovely white-flowered form, ‘Alba’ (left). Rarely seen, the flowers are actually a slightly minty white and held away from the foliage on long stems so they show themselves off brightly. (I know it says on the Mr F page that they turn purple – but they don’t, that’s the point!) Sow the seed indoors in February or March for the best results. ‘Lime Sorbet’, the white flowered double form of the wild blue columbine, also comes with a hint of green.

Lobelia is another classic blue-flowered summer flower with some very pretty white flowered varieties (below). These summer annuals for containers and edging flower for months – as long as they never dry out – ‘White Lady’  (below) is the neat bushy one for edging, ‘White Fountain’ is the trailing one for baskets.

Just one thing about these white lobelias. About one in one hundred plants will produce blue flowers instead of white – just pull them out.

Nigellas are also basically blue, but there’s a white form in the ‘Persian Jewels’ mixture and ‘African Bride’ is basically the white form of the blue-flowered Nigella papilosa (aka ‘Midnight’). It’s the same with cornflowers: wild cornflowers are blue, but there’s a white in the ‘Tall Mixed’ and ‘Polka Dot’ mixtures.

Finally the British native meadow sage, Salvia pratensis. This is a hardy perennial increasingly seen on roadside verges now that they are mown less often. The stout upright spikes of bright blue flowers are very impressive.

‘Swan Lake’ is a new white-flowered version that flowers from June to August, later if dead-headed. It will flower in its first year from a March or April sowing, although the first flowers will be a little later in its first season. It also features more stems and more flowers per stem than the usual blue form and is much appreciated by bees. Lobelia 'White Lady'- calamints
There’s more on blue nigellas, and white, in an earlier post here on the Plant Talk blog.