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June 2017

September 2017

Outstanding new perennial

Heliopsis Burning Hearts_G022907
 The outstanding new perennial I grew this year was in the garden only by chance. Heliopsis ‘Burning Hearts’ was a trade from Ian Hodgson, Editor-at-Large for the UK weekly magazine Garden News, and it’s been exceptional. I passed him some new heucheras, he gave me the heliopsis.

This hardy bronze-leaved perennial is a form of the North American native H. helianthoides var. scabra which grows in much of the east and south of the USA as well as in Canada. A number of things impressed me about ‘Burning Hearts’.

I planted three young plants, raised from seed Ian had sown earlier in the spring, in mid May. The purple-bronze foliage was impressive straight away, the plants grew away well and in June they were in flower. They’re still flowering today at about 90cm/3ft, in spite of being partially shaded by the unexpected vigour of a new physocarpus (not to mention some rampageous climbing beans).

The bright, slightly golden yellow petals are rolled back gently from the dark eye, each one stained red-orange at the base, and are perfectly shown off by those dark leaves although the red centres fades as the individual flowers age. The plants have been dead-headed regularly and a long succession of stems have been cut for fiery bouquets. They’ve been amazingly productive.

Jelitto Perennial Seeds, who developed ‘Burning Hearts’, point out this is like a supercharged version of ‘Summer Nights’ with darker leaves and flowers in more dramatically contrasting colours. They say it’s been in the works in Germany since 2004 when, the catalogue from Jelitto reveals, “the idea for ‘Burning Hearts’ came in a dream”. Hmmm…

Gardeners in both Britain and North America can order seed of H. helianthoides var. scabra 'Burning Hearts' from Jelitto Perennial Seeds.


Testing new varieties in my trial garden

Part of my new Northamptonshire trial garden.  Image ©GardenPhotos.com

Back in March, I started to create a trial garden, a test garden if you like, in Northamptonshire. The idea was to grow new, recent and upcoming varieties so I can report on them from experience as well as grow cut flowers and vegetables. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

During winter, my friend and helper (and artist) Carol Parfitt made a start by digging out bindweed and just about everything else that was growing in the plot leaving me a clear canvas. Then I made a series of rectangular raised beds using 15cm (6in) pressure treated boards, each bed is 1.2m (4ft) wide with 60cm (2ft) paths between.

The soil is good: old English cottage garden soil that has been improved with soot and compost for generations (not to mention, in earlier days) enrichment from pigs and chickens. Most of the new beds had soil improver added.

Things were a little late getting going, after all I was making beds long after planting and sowing time for many varieties. But as soon as each bed was ready, plants and seeds went in. Then I’d make the next bed, and more plants went in.

Weeding has been a big issue, the tiniest slivers of bindweed root will grow, after all, and moving soil around exposed the seeds of annual weeds which soon germinated. But regular weeding has kept them down and only what Brits call the Duke of Argyll’s Tea Plant (Lycium barbarum) has proved a lasting problem. More about that another time.

The trials of leucanthemums and cosmos and clematis and calendula have been fascinating. Leucanthemum ‘Real Glory’ (below) has been a real star. We’ve had more cucumbers and tomatoes and zucchini than we could cope with (though not enough lettuces). Cut flowers have filled our tables and windowsills and been given away and there’ve been successes and failures amongst the American varieties I’ve been growing in Britain for the first time.

Through the autumn I’ll be discussing some of the results of this year’s trials here and also on my Plant Talk blog for Mr Fothergill’s. Please check back and take a look.

Leucanthemum 'Real 'Glory'. Image ©GardenPhotos.com