Posts Tagged ‘hardy annual’

‘Teddy Bear’ is back in favour

November 2nd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower 'Teddy Bear'

The new ‘Sun King’ sunflower was one of the hits of this summer in my garden. Its densely double, rich yellow flowers stood out for months, both in the garden and when cut.

But it’s tall, mine all reached at least 2m in height which in many of today’s gardens is rather awkward. They also needed stout support and while the flowers repay close inspection, you wouldn’t really want to grow them on a patio or a balcony. But there’s a shorter version.

I’ve been uncomplimentary about ‘Teddy Bear’ in the past, it’s a variety that’s been around for a while but a few years ago I found that my plants were not all double and were also all different heights, 60cm or 1.2m is a big difference. So I stopped growing it.

But in the 2017 Mr F trials I noticed that it was back to its original quality. It’s also recently received an AGM for use in containers and the RHS assessors commented: “striking double, large heads, rich yellow-orange, floriferous, performing well over a long period.” Fair enough.

My point is now that its quality is back and that the RHS has awarded ‘Teddy Bear’ the much coveted Award of Garden Merit, it’s been added to the Mr Fothergill’s AGM seed range for the coming season. So it’s available on the special Mr F AGM garden centre seed rack, on the Mr F website and in the Mr F seed catalogue.

Next year I’m going to grow ‘Sun King’ and the back of the border and ‘Teddy Bear’ in front where it will hide the bare stems of its taller cousin. I’m already looking forward to it.

Happy cornflower harmonies

October 12th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cornflower 'Classic Fantastic'

One of the easiest ways to ensure harmonious colour co-ordination in our borders is to choose plants whose flowers come in different shades of the same colour. Mahogany, gold, yellow and primrose, for example.

But it can take a lot of chasing round and picking varieties from different catalogue and nurseries to get the blend right. Fortunately, this spring sees the introduction of three rather cleverly formulated cornflower mixtures that do the choosing for you.

The Classic Series of cornflowers comes in three different colour formulations, all of which are made up of tallish plants reaching about 75cm in height, ideal both for borders and for cutting.

‘Classic Fantastic’ (above) comes in dark blue, mid blue, pale blue and a white with a blue eye. ‘Classic Magic’ comes in deep red shades, various pink tones and a white with a pink eye. In the ‘Classic Romantic’ blend the flowers are plummy purple, some almost black, dark purple with white tips to the petals, various purplish and lilac shades and white with a purple eye.

All three blends will look good sown in clumps between roses, especially between English Roses or long flowering shrub roses. Sow in a few short rows to create a patch to fill the space and thin the plants to about 15cm apart. Don’t thin too severely or you might end up with an unbalanced range of colours.

I’d be tempted to sow a few now, if you’ve got your borders all tidied, although I’d usually prefer to get the seed in by the end of September. Otherwise leave it till March. For cutting, a few rows of cornflowers can transform your veg garden. And the harmonious colouring is all there in the packet.

August seed bargain

August 24th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 2 Comments

California poppies (Eschscholzia) to sow in August

Heading to the garden centre over the Bank Holiday weekend? Well, here’s an idea.

For many gardeners, sowing seeds in August seems a bit odd: don’t you sow seeds in the spring? Yes, of course, but the end of August is a great time to sow California poppies and I’ll be doing just that. And the seeds are in the garden centre.

I live in an old cottage that’s right on the street, there’s no front garden. So I’m going to sow ‘Appleblossom Pink’ California poppies in the crack between the house wall and the pavement. I’m stealing the idea from a similar house nearby where for years orange California poppies made quite a show.

I’m going to sow the pink ones but you can also try mixtures if you refer. One good thing about ‘Appleblossom Pink’ is that it has very pretty silver foliage so it looks good even before it flowers – which should be early next spring, perhaps with a few winter flowers if the season is mild. Also, it’s naturally dwarf so as it leans away from the wall towards the light it’s less likely to fall over.

In the past I’ve sown California poppies in the gravel garden where, as they self sowed from year to year, eventually there was hardly a month when there were no flowers. They’re also good at the edges of gravel drives. The trick is to pull out any plant with flowers in colours you don’t like so that only the ones you really enjoy get to shed their seed for the following year.

So for a little over £2, you can pick up a packet of California poppy seed this weekend and get started with years of colour is any sunny place you have. Why wouldn’t you?

Sun survivor

August 10th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Amaranthus 'Velvet Curtains'Visiting the Mr F trial ground this week, it was clear that some plants had suffered badly in the heat while some had enjoyed it.

One that clearly loved the hot weather was Amaranthus ‘Velvet Curtains’, the RHS AGM winning hardy annual sown direct into the light and sandy soil of the trials field.

This dramatic relative of the familiar love-lies-bleeding is attractive from when the first richly coloured, reddish purple shoots emerge soon after sowing. The handsome foliage becomes more striking as it develops and I’ve seen it looking very dramatic emerging through a carpet of white alyssum. The white gypsophila that was also doing well in the heat would also make a taller and longer lasting partner.

Now, in August, the bold upright plumes of ‘Velvet Curtains’ are at their peak. I’ve grown them interplanted amongst orange dahlias and cannas to bring a softer look to the more structured dahlia and canna plants. If that’s the plan, raise the seedlings individually in pots from seed sown in a cold greenhouse, be sure not to let the plants dry out or suffer any shocks as this may spark them into flower prematurely.

‘Velvet Curtains’ is also splendid for drying, especially as the colour fades hardly at all. Cut the stems when the flowers are at their peak – about now! Strip off the lower leaves, tie the stems in bunches of half a dozen then hang them upside down in a cool and dry and well ventilated place. Drying in cool conditions (which is at last possible as everything cools down) helps preserve the richness of the colour.

Leave the plumes on the plants into the autumn and they will shed their seeds. This can be double-edged as you may end up with far more self sown seedlings than you need. The best compromise is to cut some for drying, cut back most of the rest to prevent self sowing and just leave a stem or two to shed seed. And if seedlings come up in inconvenient places next spring – well, you can always move them.

King of the sun

August 3rd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower 'Sun King'

One of the great things about being able to visit the trial ground at Mr F is that it’s possible to see all the varieties of a single plant growing side by side. This year, it’s nasturtiums (more on them another time) and last year I paid special attention to the sunflowers. This one, ‘Sun King’, really stood out.

I used to grow a double flowered variety called ‘Teddy Bear’ but I found that it had become less and less consistent, especially in terms of its height: It’s supposed to be relatively short, about 60cm, but some were noticeably taller than the others and that sometimes made for a very odd looking group.

‘Sun King’ reaches 2m and they’re all consistent at about that height. The flowers are larger too – and don’t they look spectacular, packed with petals around that vivid green eye.

I raised them by sowing three seeds in 9cm pots, in April, and keeping the pots in the cold greenhouse. They were soon through – well, the ones the mice didn’t get were soon through – and by that time the greenhouse door and all the vents were open and so hardening off wasn’t really necessary.

I planted the whole potful of seedlings when they were about 10cm high, watered them in with liquid feed and away they went. When they were about 60cm tall I supported them with a 1.2m bamboo cane to each group of plants intending to add a stout dahlia stake later but that never happened. And they stood tall and upright through the hammering rain and the wild wind without the extra support.

I haven’t picked any yet, I should have sown a few more potfuls after the episode with the mice so there’d be plenty. But they’re branching well and just one head, in a heavy vase on the kitchen table, will be just the thing.