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July 2012

Beware beautiful bugleweed

AjugaWhite_G021707
A neighbor came round to take a look at the garden yesterday, and one of the things she was most impressed by was – bugleweed (or simply bugle, as Brits say).

We have quite a few different forms, none of them in flower of course, not in July, and while she admired the prettily coloured variegated sorts like ‘Burgundy Glow’, she was especially struck by the efficient ground covering prowess of the plant in the picture (above, click to enlarge). And it’s certainly impressive.

From a single root dug up from under the satellite dish at the radio station where I do my music show every week, in five years it’s spread to this dense covering about 5ft x 6ft. The only plants to penetrate are self sown helleborine orchids.

But this is not just any old bugle. The reason I dug up a little piece in the first place was because it looked so dramatic with tall white spikes of flowers, instead of the usual blue. In the shade under our maples and oaks, the tall spikes look wonderful in full flower. And they’re good cut for spring posies, too. AjugaWhiteFlowers

It looks as if the name for this plant is Ajuga reptans f. albiflora ‘Alba’ (right, click to enlarge) but I remember seeing a white-flowered bugle at the Chelsea Flower Show a few years ago under the name of ’John Pierpoint’ which seemed to be more compact, with much shorter flower spikes. White frorms turn up in the wild in its native Britain, occasionally, but I've only seen ever seen one spike - on a farm track near where Cream drummer Ginger Baker used to live years ago...

So, anyway, our neighbor will be receiving a batch of little parcels, small pieces of the various bugles we have around to get her started. And she’s already received a warning about how rapidly they can spread. You should see our “lawn” in the spring… More blue bugle flowers, than green grass.


Burlap, hessian - or what?

Hessian/Burlap bags, used every week for the supermarket shop. Image ©GardenPhotos.com (all rights reserved)
The sleepy teenager on the checkout at my local supermarket looked at the bags I’d brought with me for my groceries (above, click to enlarge). She picked up one of them and said: “What’s this made of?” “It’s burlap” says I. “What’s burlap?” she asked. Hmmm… Good question. And is it the same as hessian – which is the word we use for this rough sacking material in Britain?

This is one of those things that I must have known in my student days – well, I presume I did - but now I can’t even remember whether I never knew it all or have just forgotten. Surely it’s not made of hemp, that seems vaguely familiar…

Anyway, I had a rummage through my thousands of plant books… then I looked a bit harder and I finally came up with the answer.

First off, hessian and burlap are the same thing. Secondly, it’s made from the fibers in the skin of the jute plant (we’ll get to that) although it was once also made from hemp or sisal fibers. Hemp is cannabis sativa, while sisal is Agave sisalana – another species of which brings us tequila! So it has good connections.

Jute is derived from two species of Corchorus (right, click to enlarge), which are loosely related to mallows and hollyhocks. And it Corchorus olitorius, Tossa jute, is related to hollyhocks. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Apple2000turns out that the areas of the world in which it can be grown are limited by the fact that it needs both a tropical climate and standing water. But the amount grown in India and Bangladesh is so huge that it’s second only to cotton as the world most grown fiber plant.

Combining strength with being permeable to air and moisture – says he in text book mode – hessian/burlap sacks have long been used for packing and carrying potatoes, coffee beans and other bulk agricultural crops. In North America, but rarely now in Britain, burlap is also used to wrap the rootballs of field grown trees and shrubs – hence the term B&B – balled and burlapped. In Britain container growing has largely taken over. But burlap/hessian has found a new use in re-useable shopping bags.

And the two bags in the picture? One from Terrain, the stylish American garden store, and one from Marshalls, the British vegetable seed company.  Both bags are in use every week at our local supermarket.


Brilliant summer foliage colour

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey', with wonderful yellow spring and summer foliage. Image ©GardenPhotos.com (all rights reserved)For bright yellow summer colour we tend think about, well… daylilies, dahlias, perennial sunflowers and rudbeckias, verbascums, echinaceas…perhaps even marigolds. But this shrub, shorter growing than many of those perennials, has brought the garden this wonderful rich yellow foliage since the spring. And come fall, it re-invents itself in rich new tones.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’ (left, click to enlarge) has been growing in a well prepared, slightly acid, partially shaded bed for about six or seven years now – I said back in 2007 that I was going to move it, but somehow this failed to happen. It grew slowly at first, more quickly recently, and has reached about 4ft/1.2m across one way, 21/2ft/75cm across the other way and it’s a little over 2ft/60cm high. Very manageable.

With its slightly pink-tinged new shoot tips, it looks good in spring with blue or purple flowered woodland phlox which peep through the spring leaves. In the autumn, the plant is transformed as the foliage turns rich wine red (below, click top enlarge) before leaving us with red winter Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey', in its rich autumn colours. Image ©GardenPhotos.com (all rights reserved)stems.

But there’s something else unusual about this plant. It was found, in 1999, as just one yellow-leaved branch on a plant of H. quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’ growing on a nursery in Washington State. But it was also found the following year, as just one yellow-leaved branch on a plant of H. quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’ growing on a British nursery.

The two plants were compared, found to be identical, and as it happens both parent plants had been propagated by tissue culture in the same American laboratory. So it was agreed that the two-yellow leaved plants could have the same name. Otherwise we would have been in a real muddle.


New Plant Awards at Britain's National Plant Show

Hebe 'Rhubarb and Custard' - Best in Show at the New Plant Awards. Image ©HTA
Britain’s National Plant Show took place last week and with it the New Plant Awards. This is a trade show, for growers and nurseries and garden centres rather than home gardeners, and few of the plants entered in the competition for the best new plant (over 100 of them) are yet available for home gardeners; but they will be soon. So I thought you might like a look.

The judges gave the award for the best new plant in the show to Hebe ‘Rhubarb and Custard' (above, click to enlarge) and David Gilchrist commented: “With such a huge selection of fantastic new plants across all categories the judges were spoilt for choice. Hebe ‘Rhubarb and Custard’ really stands out as an extremely saleable plant with a good shelf life that is easy to grow.  With its striking foliage and lilac flowers it has the ‘wow’ factor and within a plantarea will catch the eye of the gardening public presenting tremendous potential for garden retailers.”

The other Gold Medal winners were;
Annual: Impatiens ‘Sunpatiens Compact Red’ Leucanthemum x superbum 'Freak!' - Best perennial at New Plant Awards. Image ©HTA.
Herbaceous perennial: Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Freak’ (right, click to enlarge)
Climber: Hydrangea petiolaris ‘Summer Snow’
House plant: Kalanchoe Queen RoseFlowers ‘Candice’
Breeder Innovation: Begonia ‘Summerglory’ (below, click to enlarge)

The judges for the New Plant Award, sponsored by ProVar, were: Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries in Portland, Oregon; Neil Fishlock of Dobbies Garden Centres (one of Britain’s largest chains); Anisa Gress, news editor of the RHS magazine The Garden, and horticulturalist and holder of the Plant heritage National Collection of Hamamelis Chris Lane. David Gilchrist, horticultural adviser to the Horticultural Trades Association, which organises the show, chaired the panel.

Begonia 'Summerglory' won the award for Breeder Innovation at the New Plant Awards. Image ©HTADuring the two day show, visitors are also asked to vote and they came up with a very different choice.

The Visitors’ Vote for Best in Show was Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Dark Angel’
Best AnnualPetunia 'Designer Purple Flash’
Best ShrubLavatera ‘Magenta Magic’
Best Herbaceous Perennial: Pennisetum setaceum ‘Vertigo’
Best Houseplant (joint winners): 
Paphiopedilum maudiae ‘Femma’ and Gerbera ’Flori Line Micro Sunrise’

Next year's National Plant Show takes place on 25 and 26 June 2013.