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March 2012

Transatlantic award winners: Hollyhock and chili pepper

Finally, in my last look at award-winning seed-raised plants for 2012, from both sides of the Atlantic, a Fleuroselect Gold Medal winning hollyhock and All-America Selection chili pepper, developed in Britain. For more on All-America Selections and Fleuroselect, see my earlier post.

Hollyhock 'Spring Celebrities Crimson' - Fleuroselect Gold Medal Winner 2012. Image © Fleroselect
Hollyhock ‘Spring Celebrities Crimson’

The Spring Celebrities Series of hollyhocks has been developed in Holland, and represents the latest in dwarf, annual hollyhocks. OK, for many (most?) of us that’s a problem in itself: hollyhocks should be tall and elegant, and so they should be biennial – sow seed one year, flower the next. Right?

The point about their being short, and flowering from a spring sowing, is that they fit better into the growing regimes that growers already have established and so the plants are more likely to find their way into garden centres.

‘Spring Celebrities Crimson’ reaches just 2ft/60cm in height and those rich red, 3-4in/8-10cm double flowers are very pretty. It flowers from a spring sowing because, unlike most hollyhocks, it doesn’t need a period of cold to initiate flowering. Other colours in the series are soft pink, lilac, lemon, carmine rose, purple, and white.

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Chili Pepper 'Cayennetta' - All-America Selection 2012, Image © VegetalisChili pepper ‘Cayennetta’

This is a chili pepper, developed by a British company, that’s an All-America Selection – how’s that for Transatlantic success. And with a plant that until recently hardly anyone in Britain grew.

‘Cayennetta’ produces bright red fruits, green at first, about 3-4in/7.5-10cm long on bushy and well branched, rather upright plants that fill out well and don’t usually need any support. It’s ideal in a container. The fruits are relatively mild, slightly spicy, with an SHU rating of 10-20,000,

What’s more, ‘Cayennetta’ not only thrives at cooler temperatures than most chilies but it’s also good in heat; the dense foliage helps protect the fruits from sun scorch.

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Amazing crop from one cucumber plant

Cucumber 'Socrates' - 129 cucumbers from one plant. Image ©Enza ZadenJust a quick one to tell you about Mrs Anne Byas, a gardener from West Molesey in Surrey on the southern edge of London (and only a few miles from where I grew up).

It's just come to light that last year she had an amazing crop of cucumbers - 129 from one plant. The variety was 'Socrates'. One hundred and twenty nine! The previous year she thought she was doing well with forty but last year...

'Socrates' is a mini-cucumber for the greenhouse with fruits about 7in/17.5cm long, in a very attractive dark green shade. It comes with built-in resistance to the dreaded powdery mildew and also some other cucumber diseases. It thrives in cooler conditions, and produces seedless fruits without pollination. Ideal if you only have space for one plant. 

Anne sowed just three seeds, they all came up, so she gave two away to friends. The first fruits from her remaining plant started cropping in early June and continued until 29 November and she didn't know what to do with them all. "There's a only a certain amount of cucumbers my neighbours and I can eat," she said.

It's also worth mentioning that 'Socrates' is highly rated in the US. In organic trials run by Colorado State University 'Socrates' came out top for yield. "'Socrates' by far, produced the most cucumbers per plant," said their report. Need I say more?

Cucumber 'Socrates' was developed by the independent Dutch company Enza Zaden. 'Socrates' is available in Britain from Johnsons Seeds and in North America from Johnny's Selected Seeds.



It's worth mention

Book Bullet: The Stick Book by Jo Schofield & Fiona Danks

The Stick Book - Loads of things you can make or do with a stick by Jo Schofield and Fiona DanksWhat a brilliant idea! As the subtitle puts it: “Loads of things you can make or do with a stick”. Well; you and your kids, that is.

This book is simply a collection of seventy projects – actually, project is too grand a word for them, really – for parents to do with kids and each one is based on sticks. They vary from making a wizard’s wand or a witch’s broomstick, to how to make a one-string guitar or a rattle based on an African percussion instrument.

The rafts look fun and there’s a great way to measure the circumference of the earth using two sticks and two pieces of string (and a protractor and a mobile phone!).

I should say that a few of the ideas involve fire – like spit-roasting a fish from the river - and some involve weapons – sword, catapult, bow-and-arrow. So don’t just hand over the book, send them off into the garden or woods and put your feet up and turn on the TV. But there are also some great ideas for wildlife like a bird feeder and bug hotel. And, just in case, there’s even advice on how to make a stretcher!

  • Fun and games in the natural world
  • Great value
  • Some easy projects, some need a little care
  • Lively, colourful design – looks like fun

The Stick Book by Jo Schofield & Fiona Danks is published by Frances Lincoln.



Transatlantic award winners – Viola and watermelon

Continuing my occasional look at this year’s award winning seed varieties – from each side of the Atlantic – a watermelon and a viola. For more on All-America Selections and Fleuroselect, see my earlier post.


Watermelon 'Faerie'

All-America Selections Watermelon 'Faerie' is unusual in watermelons in combining pink flesh with yellow skin – most varieties with pink flesh have dark green skin. And that attractive skin also develops faint pink stripes. The flesh is sweet, with a crisp texture and a high sugar content.

Although growing strongly, the plant spreads less than many varieties, reaching about 10-12ft/3-6.m across and it produces fruits which are a great family size – about 7-8in/18-20cm across and weighing about 4-6lb/1-8-2.7kg. Plants are resilient, and pest and disease tolerant.

Sow seeds in individual pots about four weeks before the last frost date in your area at about 75F/24C. Germination takes 7-14 days, harden off before planting out.

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Viola ‘Sorbet XP Delft Blue’

Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner Viola ‘Sorbet XP Delft Blue’ is the latest in a long series of excellent Sorbet varieties; the Sorbet XP Series, with nineteen colours, is an upgrade on the Sorbet Series with twenty three colours.

The colouring in ‘Sorbet XP Delft Blue’ is delightful, that cheekyViolaSorbetXPDelftBlueFleuro blue and white face (right, click to enlarge) always appeals. The plants are neat and bushy – reaching about 8in/20cm high and the same across - and ideal in window boxes or small containers with dwarf daffodils. What’s also important is that all the plants will be same size and flower at the same time – no tall stragglers and no late flowering plants to spoil the effect.

These are mainly plants for winter and spring, though they can also thrive in summer in cool climates. Sow at 68F/20C, grow on at 60C/15C and harden off before planting out.

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Shamrocks and four-leaf clovers

Four leaf purple clover - Trifolium repens 'Purpurascens Quadrifolium' Image ©GardenPhotos.comJust a quickie for St Patrick’s Day on the four-leaf version of the Shamrock. Got to be extra lucky, right?

The Irish Shamrock is usually what the rest of us call white clover, Trifolium repens, or sometimes lesser clover, T. dubium. But there’s at least one variety that always produces four leaves, and sometimes five.

Trifolium repens 'Purpurascens Quadrifolium' – a bit of a mouthful, I know -not only has almost all its leaves with four divisions, there are sometimes five. What’s more, they’re purple with a slender green rim (left, click to enlarge).  It’s very pretty.

But what about that clover in the top of the picture? That’s ‘Green Ice’, one of a number of attractive varieties that turned up by chance in a project designed to develop better varieties for forage.

These are both great foliage plants, but susceptible to attack from weevils which nip the edges of the leaves – and also attack garden peas.

But hey, seems like cheating, doesn’t it, to actually plant a four-leaf clover? Don’t you have to find them by chance for them to be lucky?

Transatlantic crocosmias

I’ve always had a bit of a thing about crocosmias. At one time I grew about forty different ones, till spider mite took its toll during a couple of long hot dry summers. And although some people worry about how often they turn up in natural habitats in the west of Ireland – well, I still think they’re amongst the most valuable of perennials.

Crocosmias do two great jobs: they’re colorful and stylish in the garden, and they’re also really useful cut flowers. What’s more, last week I discovered what looks to be a fine American mail order specialist out in Washington State, Far Reaches Farm, to go with the leading British specialist Trecanna Nursery, in south west England.

But there are two questions which come up. For American gardeners, it’s a question of hardiness. These are South African plants, after all, and we can’t reasonably expect them to thrive in the more frigid parts of North America.

Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson, from Far Reaches Farm, tell me: “We always tell people in colder areas to mulch the heck out of them. We just heard from a new customer in Illinois who grows them successfully in her 6a garden (winters down to −10F/-23.3C). She sent us pictures of her ‘Star of the East’ as proof.”(above, click to enlarge)

‘Distant Planet’, said to be unusually hardy, from the late lamented Seneca Hill Perennials in chilly upstate New York, has vanished here in Pennsylvania (also zone 6a, just) although we didn’t mulch much, just wanting to see how tough some of these plants really are. Now we know.

As for cut flowers, Tracey Mathieson at Foxtail-Lilly, just up the road from our British base in Northamptonshire, finds that her cut flower customers are looking for softer, more pastel shades rather than vivid reds and oranges. Crocosmia-Debutante-6-FarReaches500

Kelly and Sue say: “Pastels. Hmmm. ‘Debutante’ (right, click to enlarge) just enchants us. Small and petite and probably not the first choice for cutting due to her stature but very pleasing open-faced flowers in nice pink tones. ‘Severn Sunrise’ is vigorous and would qualify. ‘Okavango’ would rock for cutting as it is tall with big flowers clustered close together. The flowers go through various color phases in the peachy realm.”

Tracey didn’t approve of my choice of less strident colours from Trecanna Nursery - too vivid. So I’ll get her some ‘Debutante’ and see if her customers like it. And I’ll also be looking out for the double-flowered variety that Trecanna have on the way.

Book Bullet: Colour in the Garden by Val Bourne

Colour in the Garden by Val Bourne - An excellent season-by-season guide. Image © MerrellMany new gardeners have trouble with colour. This is not helped by knucklehead writers enthusing about a “splash” or a “riot” of colour. A riot is the last thing I need outside my front door and British writer Val Bourne agrees.

Here, with the help of excellent pictures from Jonathan Buckley, she presents twelve seasonal, colour inspired overviews of ways to bring colours together effectively and illustrated with real life planting combinations. So often plans seem just too good to be true – because they are. There are soft pastels and bold primary colours; delicate harmonies and vivid contrasts… A tempting range.

But it’s not just a matter of choosing plants that go well together, choosing exactly the right varieties is often crucial and this is something that many gardeners simply don’t think is important. It is, and again Val Bourne agrees; just check her thoughts on crocosmias and kniphofias.

This is a great book for Brits and for American gardeners in Britain-like parts of the country such as the Pacific North West; but it makes no attempt to provide ideas for gardeners in much colder or much hotter areas. Great for Brits, not much good for Texans. Just so you know.

Colour in the Garden by Val Bourne, with photography by Jonathan Buckley, is published by Merrell.

  • Excellent season-by-season guide packed with good planting ideas.
  • Lots of ideas for both large and small plantings.
  • Larger format and better reproduction of the pictures would have made this book even more useful.
  • She's good, she's well known - put her name in larger type on the cover!


Top American botanical artist in British collection

JeanEmmonsArtBack in 1994, I was delighted that the American botanical artist Jean Emmons agreed to illustrate my book, Hardy Perennials. I’m sure that her drawings introducing the four seasonal sections of the book (below right, click to enlarge), and also illustrating individual plants, played a big part in the book winning the Garden Book of the Year Award. Many American readers will also know her work from her illustrations for the front cover of the early Heronswood nursery catalogs .

And just this week I was again so pleased to see that her painting of a Pacific Coast Iris, from the Royal Horticultural Society's own collection, is leading off the gorgeous article on botanical painting (left, click to enlarge) in the RHS magazine The Garden. And they’ve put the whole piece online so anyone anywhere can see it.

Written by Ian Hodgson, formerly editor of The Garden and one of the great garden magazine editors of his generation, the piece shows us an impressive range of plant studies chosen from the RHS’s 30,000 strong collection. From tulips painted in 1630 to rhubarb roots from 2011, the range is astonishing. Winter Into Spring by Jean Emmons from Hardy Perennials by Graham Rice

And these superlative paintings really do bring out the character of the plants: the auricula, the hydrangea and even the red cabbage.

Anyway… It’s great to see features like this one from The Garden made available online to everyone. The RHS is a charity and making material like this available to the wider world - and not just to its paid-up members - is part of its raison d’être. Check back at the magazine’s website every month for more.

And be sure to take a look at Jean Emmons’s website where, as well as gallery of her breathtaking work, you can discover just how many awards she’s won! And you can also order my book, Hardy Perennials, with her lovely pen-and-ink illustrations (right, click to enlarge), from in North America and from in Britain.

Transatlantic award winners – Two new Salvias

OK, continuing my quick look at award winning seed-raised plants from both sides of the Atlantic, we continue with two different varieties of Hummingbird Sage, or Texas Sage, Salvia coccinea.

The Summer Jewel Series of varieties of Salvia coccinea have won awards on both sides of the Atlantic this year. ‘Summer Jewel Red’ is a Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner in Europe, while  'Summer Jewel Pink' is an All-America Selection.

Salvia coccinea varieties combine elegance and color; they’re altogether more relaxed in the way they grow than the traditional dumpy bedding salvias and are ideal in large containers and in sunny mixed borders.

In general, the Summer Jewel Series is more compact that earlier varieties, but not at all short and squat; they reach about 18in/45cm high and as the season develops bushes out broadly to as much as 24in/60cm across. They also flower earlier, with longer spikes and so combine color and style. Both are very appealing to bees and hummingbirds and in mild climates (zone 7b and above), both may behave as perennials.

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’
Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner ‘Summer Jewel Red’ (above, click to enlarge) features long scarlet spikes which are dramatic without being crudely garish and bring a little X to bright contrasting plantings. (The plants in the picture may have been treated with a growth regulator but will soon stretch.) It flowers about Salvia_SummerJewelPink-3AASthree weeks earlier than the taller ‘Lady in Red’.

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Salvia 'Summer Jewel Pink
All-America Selection 'Summer Jewel Pink' (right, click to enlarge) is a much softer shade, a pink and white bicolor, which is lovely in pastel combinations and which is shorter and flowers about two weeks earlier than the more familiar ‘Coral Nymph’.

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For more on All-America Selections and Fleuroselect, see my earlier post.

Recent posts on new plants

Hibiscus: New huge-flowered perennial varieties. Images © Walters Gardens
Over on my Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog, I post about a plant that's new to British gardeners about every five days.
Some of them have not yet arrived in North America, some of them originate in North America and may be familiar to American gardeners. But here are links to the all posts on new plants from January and February.

Ageratum: New cut flowers from seed or plants 

Hibiscus: New huge-flowered perennial varieties (above, click to enlarge)

Alstroemeria Rock ‘n’ Roll: New from Thompson & Morgan

Canna ‘Tropical Bronze Scarlet’: new from Plants of Distinction

Magnolia Fairy Magnolia Blush: new evergreen spring magnolia

Dessert Series scabious: ‘Blackberry Fool’ (lilac pink), ‘Blueberry Muffin’ (lilac blue), ‘Cherry Pie’ (red), ‘Plum Pudding’ (purple) and ‘Rhubarb Crumble’ (pink). Images © Pro-Veg

Chilli pepper ‘Basket of Fire’: prolific container variety

Physalis Halloween Series: New compact varieties

Lettuce ‘Lettony’: New from Thompson & Morgan 

Scabiosa Dessert Series: New from Hayloft Plants (right, click to enlarge)

Petunia 'Belinda': New from Mr Fothergill

Digitalis 'Illumination': New from Thompson & Morgan

Achimenes from Europe: New from Chiltern Seeds