Posts Tagged ‘seed’

Mediterranean must-have

February 23rd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cerinthe major 'Purpurescens'

Cerinthe is relatively new in our gardens. It’s not a flamboyant plant and until about thirty years ago it was very rarely seen. But one particular variety began to catch our attention, Mr F spotted the growing enthusiasm and so it’s listed here, both as seed and as plants.

Cerinthe major is the species with the largest flowers, and is found around the Mediterranean, on both the African and the European sides, often where the soil retains a little moisture. It makes an upright, rather succulent plant whose seed often germinates in the autumn and flowers in spring.

The tubular flowers hang down in clusters and are usually yellow and white but in ‘Purpurascens’, the variety to look for, they’re deep purple and surrounded by smoky purple-tinted bracts. The flowers are very popular with bees, which explains its common name: honeywort..

Seed can be sown in autumn or spring – as usual with Mediterranean plants autumn sowing produces better plants, and they’re happy in any reasonably fertile soil in sun. They’ll flower for months, especially if deadheaded.

The stems also last well when cut, which is perhaps surprising when you see how succulent and juicy they are. Searing the ends in boiling water for twenty seconds will ensure that they last at least a week, and often ten days.

But don’t cut or deadhead all the stems, leave some to make seed and self sow and you’ll never be without this colourful and intriguing flower.

RHS Award Winner: Best Behaved Convolvulus

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

Convolvulus 'Blue Ensign'

I’ve often wondered why so few plant breeders have worked on improving the annual convolvulus, the dwarf morning glory. The wild species, Convolvulus tricolor, grows around the Mediterranean, especially on the African side, as well as in the Balearic Islands and it’s impressively colourful even in its natural wild form.

With blue edges to the bold trumpets, there’s a white ring and a yellow eye and in the spectacular ‘Blue Ensign’, included in the new Mr F range of seeds that have received the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit, the blue is a deep and shining shade.

‘Blue Ensign’ has the neat and restrained growth habit of a semi-trailing petunia with a combination of flower colours never seen in a petunia – and it’s a hardy annual. It’s related to bindweed, yes, but the whole plant dies after flowering.

And here’s the thing. The ‘Flagship’ mixture gives us a glimpse of the potential: so many other colours. Most of the colours have that starry yellow eye with a white zone round it but as well as flowers with deep blue edges there’s red, pink and pale blue edges as well as simpler pale blue and yellow and pale pink and yellow. They’re very pretty.

AGM winning ‘Blue Ensign’ is prolific and good in baskets and the front of sunny borders. ‘Flagship’(not an award-winner) is a little more variable in habit and flower-power, sometimes rather straggly, but I’m sure that with a little work neat and prolific plants could be developed in some lovely colour combinations.

In the meantime,‘Blue Ensign’ is easy to raise from seed sown outside and a packet of a hundred seeds costs only £2.05. I haven’t grown it for years but it’s on the list for this year. I’m going to plant it on the corners of my 1.2m raised veg beds – to hide my less than expert carpentry where the boards join!

  • Please take a look at my article on RHS award-winning lobelia for containers and borders in this week’s Amateur Gardening magazine – print edition only.

RHS Award Winners: Super Sunflowers

January 19th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower ' Valentine' Image ©

Isn’t it a treat to have sunflowers in the garden? And the varieties that come on the market are getting better and better, with new colours, sturdy growth and better branching – the days of stems taller than you are with one flower on the top are long gone.

Last year I grew two that are included in the new RHS range from Mr F, although I had to be careful. The previous autumn I’d left the heads for the finches but they missed some of the seeds so I had self sown seedlings popping up all over the place. And the question then, of course, is this: which are the unpredictable self sown seedlings and which are the seedlings of the carefully chosen varieties I actually wanted to grow.

This year I’m going to solve the problem by raising my chosen sunflowers in 9cm pots in the cold greenhouse, sowing in late March or April. At the same time I’ll be ruthlessly removing any self sown seedlings that pop up in the garden. Then, when I plant my seedlings in May, there’ll be no doubt about which are the sunflowers I really want.

And I’ll be growing two RHS award winners. ‘Claret’ is a lovely deep red, with brighter petal tips and with an almost black centre. When it was grown in the RHS trial the judges summarised its qualities like this: “very dark reddish brown; very good foliage, nice dark stems; flowered well over long period; good cut flower”.

The other AGM winner I’ll again be growing is ‘Valentine’, with dark-eyed flowers in a lovely soft primrose shade. The RHS judges reported: “striking dark centre with pale yellow rays; excellent cut flower, basal branching”.

Apart from removing self sown seedlings, the other lesson from last year was to support them well. A head-high sunflower can be weighed down by summer storms and fall into the plants around it. So support them well with stout stakes set behind the plants so they’re hidden by the fat sunflower stems. Just remember to tie them in as they grow.

First year flowering perennials: prolific penstemons

November 17th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Penstemon 'Mixed Colours'

The penstemons raised from seed were so bright on the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground this summer that they caught my eye from the other side of the field. And this from a plant that’s usually grown from cuttings and bought as plants in pots.

They really dazzled but when you look at the price of the seeds and how easy they are to raise you wonder why they’re not grown from seed more often. Five hundred seeds for £2.29, half the price of a single plant in a garden centre, seems like a bargain to me. And, sown inside in March, they’ll flower prolifically in their first year.

The upright 75cm stems carry pairs of glossy leaves topped with large, flared flowers in a very wide range of colours and bicolours and once they start the flowers just keep coming. Best in a sunny spot in rich but well-drained soil, I’ve found that they respond especially well to regular dead heading and I’ve seen dead-headed plants still flowering well at the end of October in their first year after a July start.

Penstemon 'Scarlet Queen'‘Mixed Colours’ is the aptly descriptive name for the variety with the widest range of shades including a lovely pure white, some pretty pink and white bicolours and others with attractive lacing in the throat. If there’s one from the mix that you especially like, it’s easy to propagate it from cuttings in spring or summer. ‘Scarlet Queen’ (right) is the most striking single colour available, in bright red with a contrasting clean white throat.

‘Humming Bells’ is a much shorter blend so ideal for the front of the border or containers and, while the flowers are smaller than those of ‘Mixed Colours’, they’re tightly packed on 20cm stems.

Sowing? March is the ideal time. Give them some heat to start with then keep move the individual seedlings into cells in April and harden off in May before planting out. The plants are quite vigorous and can also be sown in the open ground in May but probably won’t flower till the following year.

But alert your friends: you’ll probably have more than enough young plants to give away.