Posts Tagged ‘plant talk’

Rosemary is now sage!

December 27th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Botanically speaking, rosemary is now a Salvia


Yes, you may have heard about this, it even featured on the Radio 4 news: the botanists have decided that rosemary is actually sage. No no, don’t panic. We can all still call it rosemary, of course, and still cook it with the roast lamb. But botanically speaking sage was Salvia and rosemary was Rosmarinus – not any more. Here’s why.

Botanists have been taking a close look at rosemary, and also Russian sage (Perovskia), for some time. It was back in the 1830s that it was realised how similar, botanically, sage and rosemary are and even then it was proposed that the scientific name for rosemary should be Salvia rosmarinus. But the name never stuck.

There are almost a thousand different Salvia species growing wild around the world and botanists have now agreed that Rosmarinus and Perovskia are more similar, botanically, to many Salvia species than some other Salvia species are to each other.

When new science turns up things like this, the botanical names have to change to reflect the new understanding and there were two options. Keep the names Rosmarinus and Perovskia, and also give new names to about seven hundred plants previously known as Salvia. Or change Rosmarinus and Perovskia (and a few other genera neither you nor I have ever heard of) to Salvia. And that’s what’s happened – with just fifteen name changes. Fifteen is better than seven hundred: job done.

So botanically rosemary is now Salvia rosmarinus; Russian sage is now Salvia yangii.

But when the recipe says rosemary – you know they don’t mean sage, right?

Bikes in the greenhouse? No, thanks…

November 22nd, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 1 Comment

Chrysanth Pennine Series (left) and Mayford Perfection Series

Things in the garden tend to look a bit bleak at the end of November, especially this year. The rain, yes the rain, not only blighted some people’s lives but kept us out of the garden and off the soil. And there are so few plants that flower naturally at this time of year that – but there are some, my Pennine Series chrysanths (left, above) are still hanging on.

Many of us grow tomatoes in a cold greenhouse, and this last summer proved that outdoor toms don’t always do as well as we’d like, so growing them in an unheated greenhouse is a very good idea. But, when the last toms are picked, do we leave the greenhouse empty till it’s seed sowing time in spring? Do we use it to store the fair weather bicycle? Or do we use it for December flowering chrysanths?

The thing about the Mayford Perfection Series (above) is that they flower late, from about now onwards when we really need some colour, but they don’t need to be under cover until just before the first frost. So we can grow them in pots outside all summer – remembering, of course, to keep them well watered and fed – and when the tomatoes are over we can remove the plants to the compost heap, clean up the greenhouse and move the pots of chrysanths in.

You don’t need a heater, just open everything up on sunny days to let plenty of air through and close things down when it’s cold. Your rooted cuttings will arrive in May, pot them into 7cm or 9cm pots, keep them in the greenhouse for a few weeks and they’ll grow strongly. In June move them into 20cm pots and stand them outside in a sunny place, keep them watered and fed and provide some support. Bring them in when the first frost threatens. Each plant will give you four or five well branched stems of beautiful flowers – and they’ll still be going at Christmas.

Victorian varieties revived

July 22nd, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 1 Comment

Frilly Pansies from 1900 and 2016The Victorians were great ones for developing new forms of old favourites. This was often driven by the enthusiasm of factory, mill and mine workers, often first or second generation city dwellers, for exhibiting auriculas, pinks and other plants including even gooseberries and rhubarb.

Some of the types grown a hundred and fifty years ago are still with us, others have disappeared and are lost forever while some have recently been upgraded. Two of plants which have benefited from recent improvements are frilly pansies and laced polyanthus.

'Victoriana Dark Red Gold Lace' polyanthusFrilly pansies had almost disappeared. But since seed was rediscovered about thirty years ago they’ve been brought back and although the flowers of ‘Fizzy Fruit Salad’ are less frilly than the old types (‘Fizzy Fruit Salad’ and ‘Fairy Queen’ from 1900 – above, click to enlarge), the straggly growth of the old types has been eliminated, plants produce more flowers for longer, and there are no plants without the waved petals.

Laced polyanthus, in which each petal is edged in silver or gold, were special favourites but with so many men away at the two world wars – many, of course, never to return – stocks declined and varieties were lost.

In the last thirty or forty years members of the National Primula and Auricula Society worked hard to bring laced polyanthus back and now commercial plant breeders have added contemporary qualities.

The ‘Victoriana’ polyanthus come in red edged in gold, and in black edged in silver. The plants are compact, the stems are stout, the heads are full of flowers, the lacing is neat and consistent, and the plants produce more stems than older types. Grow them in containers where you can admire the flowers close up or cut them for posies.

Plants of both these updated Victorian favourites – ‘Fizzy Fruit Salad’ and ‘Victoriana’ polyanthus – can be ordered now for planting in September. Expect a mass of flowers in spring.

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.

Bred in Britain

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

The plants we grow today originate from all over the world. A few grow naturally in wild places – the Alps or the Himalayas, perhaps – but most have been developed in gardens, nurseries and by specialist plant breeders.

Geranium 'Divas Orange Ice'Developing new varieties of plants is an international business, and a very competitive one. In the United States, Japan and in many European countries in particular creative scientists are developing everything from new petunias to new Brussels sprouts.

A hundred and fifty years ago Britain was the world leader but times change and we now have relatively few plant breeding companies. But one of the world’s leading creators of new vegetable varieties is in Surrey, one of the world’s top petunia breeders is in Cambridgeshire – as is the world’s leading developer of new snowdrops! And in Norfolk is a company which, since the early 1980s, has developed a wide range of popular annual flowers and container plants. [You can’t buy seeds or plants from them, they sell through companies like Mr Fothergill’s.]

Geraniums have been a particular speciality of theirs with a succession of sparkling new colours and new flower patterns being developed over the years. I especially like the Divas Series and ‘Divas Orange Ice’ (above, click to enlarge), with the orange colouring on the backs of the petals seeping through to the white front of the petals, is gorgeous. Look out too for their tough and prolific classic scarlet geranium, ‘Moulin Rouge’.

Nicotianas, tobacco plants, have been another speciality and as well as using wild species that had never been used before to develop completely new types, they’ve created the ‘Perfume Mix’ which combines rich colours with the fragrance that so many colourful tobacco plants had lost.

And then there’s mimulus, monkey flower. Hardly anyone is developing new mimulus varieties but I like them for their lovely cheerful colours and flower patterns. ‘Magic Blotch Mixed’ (below, click to enlarge) is simply irresistible. And  they’re so amazingly quick to flower. Sow the seed in early April, for example, and plants should be in flower at the end of May. You can’t beat that.

So although Brits no longer rule the world of plant breeding, we still produce some superb varieties.

British bred Mimulus 'Magic Blotch Mixed'