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September 2009

August 2009

Smelly sprays – or deer resistant plants?

Deer Out deer deterrents at Richards Tree Farm. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comWe stopped in at (fairly) local nursery, Richards Tree Farm, the other day. To be honest, we happened to be passing the door and the end of season discounts tempted us – don’t you just love a bargain? There were certainly some good bargains to be had but something else struck me. Near the checkout there was a big display of deer deterrents, Deer Out, that sort of thing.

Now. I’m sure they work for a while – if you apply them properly, and it doesn’t rain, and you don’t go on vacation, and the deer aren’t too hungry… And shop-bought is definitely the way to go. I’ll call the cops if I hear you’ve been mixing up home-made sprays of mustard and rotting eggs and lion dung and latex paint (or whatever the lastest recommendation happens to be) – yuk. It’s a public nuisance.

After all, isn’t it better to plant something the deer are less likely to eat in the first place? And not plant dahlias and hibiscus or roses – or whatever the local favorites are – and then plaster them in pongy potions?

Pieris 'Forest Flame', deer resistant in PA. Image: © So – in your garden, what are the plants the deer never ever eat? Let me know by leaving a comment (below) so everyone else can benefit. Here in north east Pennsylvania, it’s Andromeda bush, Pieris. Some of our pieris have been here thirty years and they still have leaves down to the ground.

But deer tastes across the country vary – so leave a note of your British county or your state as well. (Even if it’s a state of despair because they eat absolutely everything!)

Colorful floral cards by mail

Two sweet pea notecards from Images: © I’ve been selling my pretty floral post cards and note cards at lectures for a few years but now you can order them online and we’ll send them to you by mail. Just go to my new site,

These delightful cards focus on either hellebores, sweet peas and seasonal collections – and there’s more on the way. They come in packs of six or twelve, with envelopes, and they feature individual flowers or floral collections.April Flowers postcards from Image: ©

All the varieties are discreetly named, cards are mailed in padded bags – I’m sure you’ll enjoy these beautiful cards. Just order online at and pay securely via PayPal (even if you don’t have a PayPal account).

Royal Horticultural Society Wisley Guide to Hellebores, from Image: © You can also order my invaluable beginners’ hellebore book, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Guide to Hellebores. Just go to

(Sorry, North America only at the moment.)

Lectures this year

Here's a quick run down of my lectures over the next few months. It would be great to see you. As well as lecturing, I'll also have many of my books on sale as well as note cards and postcards. And if you're interested in booking me to speak, just email me.

2009 Britain
September 17

Transatlantic Perennials
Plant Heritage (Norfolk Group)

October 7
Britain's Favourite Perennials
Oundle Horticultural Society

October 9
New Perennials
Hardy Plant Society (West Yorkshire Group)

2009 North America
November 10
Ultimate Plants for Small Gardens
Milford Garden Club (Milford, PA)

November 19
Transatlantic Perennials
Rhododendron Society (Lehigh Valley PA Chapter)

December 12
New Perennials
University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners

2010 Britain

This morning's bear

Black bear on the deck rail. Banana, Coleus. Image: © Just went to make some tea about 9.30 this morning, looked out of the kitchen window - and there's the bear walking along the deck rail heading for the bird feeder. judy rushed in with the camera. Great shot, judy. (Click the picture to enarge it.)

Looks like a youngster, with ear tags. After a few moments of quiet admiration we banged on the window, shouted and, after breaking off a piece of coleus, he/she clambered down the 10ft to the ground and ambled off into the woods.

What a treat!

I say, I say, I say...

After last time’s treatise on the way roses are named - “yawn,” said one reader in an email – I promised “something lighter”.

OK, here goes: gardening jokes. It's back to vaudeville where the comic's iconic intro - "I say, I say, I say..." let's you know there's a terrible joke on the way.

To be honest they’re all pretty corny - like jazz jokes, which are mainly about saxophone players who can’t play in tune - but here are some of the least bad. Be sure you keep going till the end.

I say, I say, I say...: Why do potatoes make good detectives?
I don't know, Why do potatoes make good detectives?
Because they keep their eyes peeled.

What's green and walks through walls?
Casper the friendly cucumber.

What do you call a stolen yam?

A hot potato.

What do you get if you cross a dog with a daisy?
A collie-flower.

What vegetable can tie your stomach in knots?
String beans.

Why did the potatoes get a divorce?
Because they couldn’t see eye to eye.

What did the carrot say to the wheat?

Lettuce rest, I'm feeling beet.

What kind of socks does a gardener wear?

Garden hose.

What was green and a great trick shooter?

Annie Okra

What gets bigger the more you take away?
A hole.

What is a Honeymoon Salad?

Lettuce alone, with no dressing.

What do you call a grumpy and short tempered gardener?

A SnapDragon.

Where did the vegetables go to have a few drinks? 

The Salad Bar.

What do you call a cow who works for a gardener?

A lawn moo-er.

What is green and goes to a summer camp? 

A Brussels' scout.

What do you get when you cross a canary and a lawn mower? 

Shredded tweet.

Why did the tomato turn red? 

Because it saw the salad dressing.

What do you get if you cross a four leaf clover with poison ivy? 

A rash of good luck.

What is small, red and whispers?
A hoarse radish.

How do you stop moles digging in your garden?
Hide their shovels.

Why did the bull rush?

Because he saw the cow slip

How do you hide an elephant in a cherry tree?

Paint his toe nails red

What's red and square?
A banana in disguise

Why did the Golden Delicious go to jail?
He was a rotten apple.

And these two (mainly for UK readers) posted as comments on another blog – from the excellent garden writer Martyn Cox:

What do you get if you cross Ilkley's most famous gardening son with an object of bad taste?

Alan Kitschmarsh

Did you hear the contemporary artist who shocked the art world with his sculpture of Brassica rapa Rapifera Group?

He was awarded the Turnip Prize.

And my four faves:

Why do melons have fancy weddings?
Because they cantaloupe

What's red and invisible?
No tomatoes

If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?


What do you get if you divide the circumference 
of a pumpkin by its diameter?
Pumpkin pi.

All unashamedly stolen from these other websites and blogs. Thank you.
Jokes, Puns, Riddles, One-Liners and Humor for Gardeners
David Hobson's Garden Mumour
The Veg Plotting blog

The garden jokes on the Nest in Style blog blog are just so corny I can’t bring myself to quote any!

Please add any more good gardening jokes as comments. Thank you!

Simplifying rose names

Rose Eden (‘Meiviolin’). Image: ©World Federation of Roses Roses In my last post about the World’s Favorite Rose you’ll have noticed that I listed far more names than there were roses which had received the award. Almost every rose had two names, from this year’s winner Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) to the very first winner in 1976 - Peace (‘Madame A. Meilland’). And I mentioned this same issue in my final Hampton Court Flower Show post as well. Why does this happen?

Well, just think about one of the 2006 World’s Favorite Rose winners, the pink and white climber known in France as Pierre de Ronsard. It was named for one of France’s greatest poets, known in the 16th century France as “prince of poets”. But in modern America, where the French have not been universally held in high regard, and when first The Simpsons (1995) and then the conservative magazine The New Republic (late 1990s) characterized the French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys”- well, a rose with a French name didn’t have much chance of selling well, however good it was. So in The States this rose is sold as Eden or Eden Climber or sometimes Eden ’88 – with its original cultivar name, ‘Meiviolin’, always appended just to eliminate any possible confusion.

This started long ago. ‘Madame A. Meilland’ was all set to be introduced in France in 1939 but held back because of the war. In 1945 when it was released, it was sold around the world under the commemorative name of Peace. The practice of giving roses and other plants a cultivar name, often based on the breeder’s name – ‘Ausmas’ from David Austin or ‘Meiviolin’ from Meilland International – and then also giving the plant selling names for the different countries in which it’s sold is now much more common.

So the cultivar name for that rose sold in France as Pierre de Ronsard is ‘Meiviolin’ while in the USA and other English speaking countries it’s generally sold as Eden or Eden Climber or Eden ’88. The essential point is that whatever the name it’s sold under, the original cultivar name, ‘Meiviolin’, should always be used alongside. And, ideally, the type should be different: Eden (‘Meiviolin’).

As it happens, this is especially necessary with this rose, because Eden is a name that the good people at Meilland International have used before. Eden ‘Meiviolin’ was introduced in France in 1985. But back in 1950 they’d introduced a completely different rose, a deep pink Hybrid Tea, with the cultivar name ‘Eden Rose’. To add to the possible confusion, this sported to produce a climber called ‘Eden Rose, Climbing’. (Pictures of this are hard to find, so I’m showing the page from the very useful Cass’s Garden With Roses site. Click here for her larger image.)

I know you’re probably lost. The point is that the only sure way to guarantee that we all know exactly which roses we’re talking about is to go back to the original cultivar names: the two roses are ‘Eden Rose’ and Eden (‘Meiviolin’)

OK… back to something lighter next time!

World’s favorite rose

Rose Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) - the World's Favorite Rose. Image: ©David Austin Roses Did you know that every three years there’s an award for the World’s Favorite Rose? Me neither. Apparently it’s been going for over thirty years and until now I can’t recall ever receiving  news of the variety that’s won.

And this year’s news doesn’t come from the World Federation of Rose Societies, which organises the award, but from David Austin Roses the raiser of this year’s winning variety – Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’).

I have to say that this is a worthy winner. I have some pictures somewhere of Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) when it was launched at the Chelsea Flower Show back in 1983. It was the same year that another great David Austin variety Mary Rose (‘Ausmary’) was launched and it was these two introductions which shot his varieties into the wider public consciousness. Back then I visited the nursery and interviewed David for Britain’s Practical Gardening (RIP) magazine as he showed me round his rose breeding operation. Impressive, I have to say.

By the way - in case you’ve been on another planet these last few decades, the David Austin Roses are, to put it simply, roses with the flower form and fragrance of the old roses but the long flowering season of modern roses. The perfect match. Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) is a wonderful variety – gorgeous color and form, fragrance, long season. easy to grow. It’s named for Graham Stuart Thomas who did so muchRose Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) - the World's Favorite Rose. Image: ©David Austin Roses to popularize old roses.

The award, it turns out, works like this. Every three years, each of the forty one national rose societies across the world chooses its top three modern varieties. The five varieties with the most votes go on a shortlist, from which each country then chooses just one and the variety with the most votes wins. So the winners should have the ability to perform in countries as different as Bangladesh and Britain, the United States and Uruguay.

Here’s a list of previous winners:
2006    Elina (‘Dicjana’) and Pierre de Ronsard  aka Eden Rose ’88 (‘Meiviolin’)
2003    Bonica (‘Meidomonac’)
2000    Ingrid Bergman (‘Poulman’)
1997    ‘New Dawn’
1994    ‘Just Joey’
1991    Pascali (‘Lenip’)
1988    Papa Meilland (‘Meisar’)
1985    Double Delight’ (‘Andeli’)
1983    Iceberg (‘Korbin’)
1981    Fragrant Cloud (‘Tanellis’)
1979    The Queen Elizabeth
1976    Peace (‘Madame A. Meilland’)

Rose Peace (‘Madame A. Meilland’) - the World's Favorite Rose 1976. Image: ©David Austin Roses Plenty of fine roses there. Interesting to see how fashions change – And next time I’ll be looking again at why these roses have so many names..

You can buy Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) from David Austin Roses in Britain.

You can also buy Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) from David Austin Roses in the United States.

All images ©David Austin Roses.

Another ridiculous catalog picture

PrimulaVialii73930VM Yes, another one!

Primula vialii is one of the most universally admired perennials we grow. Or, more often than not, don’t manage to grow for very long! Many gardeners find it to be short lived, many plants producing one or two tall spikes and then fading away.

Primula guru John Richards says in his superb monograph, Primula, that the height of the flowering stems is about 2ft/60cm, with the flowering spike taking up about 8in/20cm of this – so there’s about 16in/40cm of bare stem between the rosette of foliage and the flower spike. And usually it produces just one or two spikes on each plant.

So bring on Van Meuwen! Over two dozen spikes sitting tightly on the rosette. And the color is pretty weird, too.

I would suggest that never in the vast history of life on earth, in the stars and in the galaxies beyond has a plant of Primula vialii flowered like this! But it’s certainly an accomplished piece of flower arranging.

PrimulavialiiTT Contrast that ridiculous image with this real-life image (click to enlarge) from the online catalog from Florida-based nursery Top Tropicals. Congratulations for using a realistic image.

You can order Primula vialii from Van Meuwen.

Other examples of ridiculous catalog(ue) pictures welcome.

And check out my earlier examples featuring ligularias and buddeljas.

Blue cedar – trained on a fence!

Blue cedar, trained on fence Also on our recent garden tour, in fact in the same garden as the rare twisted Japanese bitter orange bush I discussed last time, was a very unusual sight. A blue Atlantic cedar trained on a fence. I insisted judy shoot it, even iun the harsh afternoon light.

Now, the blue Atlantic cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’) is a tree which can make an impressive and stately specimen and can reach over 100ft/30m high. Here, in this small town garden, it was trained into parallel tiers on a boundary fence – like an espaliered apple. I’ve never seen such a thing.

Most visitors just passed it by, eager to admire the lush vegetable garden and the great variety of well-tended fruit trees and bushes – including a fig tree (not bad for our icy winter climate). But to see a forest tree trained so carefully was both unexpected and fascinating. Not sure I’ve got the patience to try it myself – but it’s a great thing to see.

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick? Well no...

Our local Secret Garden Tour is always fascinating – eight local private gardens this year and all open in aid of the Milford Garden Club, here in Pennsylvania, which does such an impressive job beautifying our little town with flowers. And this year we found our, rather indistinct, picture in the local paper’s report of the last weekend's event – half the family is in the picture.

PoncirusFlyingDragonCU15013 Well, at one of the gardens open for the tour – the smallest and definitely the most interesting – I spotted a very distinctive plant that not only had I not seen before… but which I didn’t even know it existed. It was a twisted form of the Japanese bitter orange – Poncirus trifoliata, an extremely vicious plant.

 I’ve always liked Poncirus trifoliata. It’s a member of the Citrus family but much hardier than oranges and other fruiting citrus and its unexpectedly large white spring flowers have a lovely fragrance. And the stems feature long curved, sharp and very dangerous spines. Boy, are they nasty. For its hardiness, it’s been used as a rootstock on to which oranges and grapefruits were grafted.

It actually makes fruit under its own steam, and Michael Dirr, in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, says: "Ripe fruits set aside for several weeks become juicy and develop a sprightly, slightly acid flavor. Serves as a substitute for lemon, pulp can be made into marmalade, and peel can be candied. After removing the numerous seeds there is not a whole lot of pulp left over." Hmmm… sounds like fun. There were a couple of unripe fruit on the plant I inspected near the gate to the garden. Doesn’t sound worth sneaking back in the dark of the night to sample.

PoncirusFlyingDragonV15013But this was a form with twisted stems, like the plant known as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, the twisted hazel – Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’. In fact, that was how it was described in the handout - Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. No, it’s far more interesting than that.

Checking around I find it has a name – Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ and that this form, because it’s much slower growing than the usual one we see, is used as a dwarfing rootstock for Citrus.

OK – that’s enough about some obscure plant that it’s almost impossible to buy!