Annuals and seasonal plants

Cosmos on trial

Cosmos 'Lemonade' ©GardenPhotos.com

I grew some of the new cosmos on my trial ground this summer - with mixed results, I have to say, although some of that was my own fault.

I was especially interested in growing the two new lemony yellow varieties, ‘Xanthos’ and ‘Lemonade’ (above), side by side but also grew ‘Cupcakes’ and ‘Cupcakes White’, ‘Apollo White’ and ‘Capriola’ plus an impressive form of Cosmos atrosanguineus, Eclipse (‘Hamcoec’) which we’ll get to another time.

With ‘Capriola’, I messed up. I put the plants too close to a newly planted, dark-leaved hybrid elder that grew prodigiously, made over 2m high in its first season and bushed out to elbow the cosmos aside.

At the other extreme ‘Cupcakes White’ was superb. It was rather leafy at first, and not as early as ‘Xanthos’, ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Apollo White’, and started flowering at about 90cm with the purest white cups. Some flowers were simply cupped, some had a ring of slim, shorter petals around the golden eye. Lovely.

Cosmos 'Cupcakes White'‘Cupcakes Mixed’ turned out to be mostly white, but with a few flowers in magenta pink or palest rose and one in magenta pink with a crimson center. Not a very effective display, frankly.

‘Apollo White’, and indeed the others in the series, has made its mark in overtaking the Sonata Series as the gold standard in dwarf single cosmos. The whole Apollo Series was superb in the Royal Horticultural Society trial last year. Reaching 50-60cm, ‘Apollo White’ began flowering early but in early October started to collapse for no apparent reason. Still excellent, though.

Now we come to yellow-flowered ‘Xanthos’ and ‘Lemonade’. Basically, they’re the same. OK, British-bred ‘Lemonade’ was a little later into flower, a little leafier at first, perhaps with occasional pink tints slightly more pronounced. But, especially as summer wore on, you’d be hard pressed to say which was which without checking the labels. Both were strong yellow at first, maturing to soft yellow with a white center. Lovely. Dead headed every few days they both flowered well into October.

Next year? 'Cupcakes White' and 'Lemonade' - but I'll have to give them more space, that will be a challenge...

 


Seeds and plants by mail order: It’s not too late!

Cotwold Garden Flowers catalogue with too may plants tagged for ordering! ©GardenPhotos.com
Easy online ordering is a huge boon, but there’s nothing quite like scanning printed catalogs by a winter fire (or in the smallest room in the house) and tagging the tempting plants. And it's too late to order for the coming season.

And you can see from my post-its marking the must-have plants in England’s Cotswold Garden Flowers plant catalog just how many tempting plants there are!

Owner Bob Brown has a fine eye for a good plant, picking out the best of the old favorites, the best newcomers and landing his eye on undeservedly neglected species. Bob also breeds new crocosmias, kniphofias, aconitums, and other plants and his son Ed has some developed some intriguing new Sambucus (elder) varieties.

One of those tags marks a rare hardy (zone 6a) climbing tuberous perennial cucumber I remember from Kew decades ago and have always wanted to grow - Thladiantha dubia. No edible cucumbers unless you have male and female plants, I’m afraid, but well worth growing for its yellow flowers.

And one of Ed’s elders will definitely go on the order: ‘Gate Into Field’ (!) is described as: “A very vigorous elder hybrid, very large heads of pink-flushed deliciously scented flowers later than normal, July – September, dark pink flushed foliage with pale midribs.” OK, it grows to 5m… I’ll just have to knock down the shed to make space, I suppose. Order going in just before I post this – so you don’t grab the last of the plants I’m ordering before I do!

The Whole Seed Catalog for 2017 - with only the flowers tagged! Image ©GardenPhotos.comThe order to Missouri's Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, who produce the extraordinary Whole Seed Catalog, has already arrived. The catalog is focused on its vast VAST array or heirloom edibles with a smaller section of flowers in the back. The tags only mark the flowers that appeal; I’d already taken out all the veg tags.

Have to say, this is the most astonishing catalog that I’ve ever seen. OK, it costs $9.95 (there’s a smaller free version). But there’s over 350 full color pages packed with goodies. Tomatoes, of course, feature strongly but there are also forty nine different lettuce varieties including the superb red leaved cut-and-come-again lettuce ‘Merlot’. I grew this last year and have ordered it again. It’s deep deep red in color, cuts for many weeks, tastes great and didn’t bolt. The three foot long Armenian melon from the 1400s is quite something, too.

I’ve also ordered the tall double America/African marigolds intended for cutting – never seen those before – and they also have some superb cut flower zinnias too.

Two oh-so-very-tempting catalogs. Here are the details.

Cotswold Garden Flowers
Order a fee printed catalog 
Order online
Plants can be sent to most of Europe but not North America

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Order The Whole Seed Catalog
Order a fee printed catalog
Order online
Seed can be sent anywhere in the world but they make it clear that sending seed to Europe is expensive and difficult.


Baby blue (and purple and black and white) eyes

The five nemophilas
I’ve just discovered a nemophila I never knew existed! OK, perhaps that’s not the week’s biggest news. But having grown all the other forms of nemophila that have been available over the years, I was surprised not to have come across this one.

But let’s take a step back. What’s so good about nemophila (baby blue eyes) in the first place? Well, it’s one of the few hardy annual flowers that enjoys shade and also enjoys damp soil. The name comes from the Greek meaning, more or less, liking woodland.

These are low, spreading annuals that germinate in the fall in warmer climates (Britain and zone 8 in the North America) and make lush divided foliage to fuel the upward facing bowl shaped spring and summer flowers. Sown in spring, the plants are less lush but still delightful.  

There are eleven species altogether but we generally only see two and most of the varieties are derived from wild forms of Nemophila menziesii, baby blue eyes. I say “derived from”, it seems to me that they’re nothing more than wild forms, selected for uniformity.

* “Baby blue eyes” is the popular Nemophila menziesii, sky blue with a white center; lovely. (above, bottom right)
UK: from Mr Fothergill's US (plants): from Annies Annuals and Perennials US (seeds): from Swallowtail Garden Seeds
* ‘Pennie Black’, 'Penny Black Eye' and ‘Total Eclipse’ are N. menziesii var. discoidalis, with chocolate-black white-edged flowers.  Purple-centered forms are also seen.  (above, top center)
UK: from Special Plants US: from Swallowtail Garden Seeds
* ‘Snowstorm’, “baby white eyes”, ‘Salt and Pepper’ and ‘Freckles’ are N. menziesii var. atomaria, pure white with delicate black spotting. Sometimes the broken lines of spots reach the edge of the petals, sometimes only half way; sometimes they’re purplish blue. The backs of the petals may be lightly blushed in blue.  (above, top right)
UK: from Chiltern Seeds US: from seedaholic.com
* ‘Five Spot’ is a different species, N. maculata, the white flowers have a bright to inky blue or purple spot on each of their five lobes. (above, bottom center)
UK: from Mr Fothergill's US: from Swallowtail Garden Seeds

The one I’ve just discovered is called ‘Snow White’ (above left, and below) - pure white. It seems to be a form of var. atomaria – but with no spots. Looks lovely.
Just one US plant supplier Annie's Annuals and Perennials. And one American seed supplier Eden Brothers. So far, not available in the UK.

And then, of course, I had a look in some old books on annuals to see if there were any more. In addition to those already mentioned, I found:
var. alba has white flowers (sounds like ‘Snow White’).
var. argentea has “white flowers with blue stripes”. Very tempting…
‘Coelestris’ has “white flowers banded in blue”. Banded?
var. crambeoides has “pale blue flowers veined with purple”.
var. discoidalis is described as having “brownish purple, white bordered flowers”.
var. grandiflora has “much larger flowers”.
var. liniflora has “white or pale blue flowers with a black center”. Black with a blue edge!
var. marginata has “pale blue, white bordered flowers”.
var. oculata has “white flowers with a purple center”.
var. purpurea-rubra has “claret-cultured flowers”.
var. vittata has “velvety-black, white bordered flower”.

Not much consistency in the naming of the dark eyed types, as you can see.

There are more species from the western USA, the Flora of California (The Jepson Manual of the Higher Plants of California to give it its suitably dignified proper title) lists another five, and I also came across a trailing species with deep purple flowers, N. aurita, found in California by David Douglas probably in the early 1830s.  But there are precious few references to it these days. If anyone has seed of that...!

So, an intriguing diversion into the delightful nemophilas… I haven’t grown these for a year or two, I’d better get some seed ordered… How big is my garden? Is that all?!

And don't get me started on pink flowered poached egg flower (Limnanthes)!

Nemophila menziesii 'Snow White'

Images: 'Snowstorm' © Chiltern Seeds. 'Snow White'  © Annie's Annuals and Perennials. Thank you.  Other images © GardenPhotos.com.


Petunias old and new

Green-edged petunias now and then. Pretty Much Picasso image ©provenwinners.com
Recently I’ve been looking at some plants from long ago and seeing if they’re still around or have been re-invented in recent years. I did some posts about this on my Plant Talk blog for Mr. Fothergill’s: one on striped snapdragons and another on frilly pansies and another on 'Ostrich Plume’ asters.

Then recently I came across the colored engraving (above left) of green-edged petunias and I thought: Pretty Much Picasso! Nothing new under the sun… The engraving is from a German book, Gartenflora, published in 1855, and Pretty Much Picasso (‘BHTUN31501’) was introduced, what six or seven years ago.

The engraving is captioned “garden variety of Petunia violacea” (P. violacea is now P. integrifolia) and looks to be a group of similar, but far from identical, green-edged seedlings. More variation among seedlings was accepted in Victorian times but, at the same time, plants like petunias were also propagated from cuttings which ensured that all the resulting plants were identical.

A hundred and fifty years ago petunias were often grown in conservatories or orangeries because the flowers were so easily damaged by rain; today’s varieties are far more resilient.

Nineteenth century chocolate veined, coffee and white star petuniaLater, growing petunias from cuttings went out of fashion for many many years until the Surfinia trailing types arrived from Japan twenty plus years ago. Now, petunias from both seed and cuttings are of course widely grown – and one such is Pretty Much Picasso, selected in California back in 2007.

But there are still some old petunias that have not yet re-appeared. The dark-veined form with a chocolate and white star pattern (above left) is captioned simply Petunia violacea in the Belgian book from 1867 in which this engraving appeared. But although some chocolate veined varieties, such as Designer Latte (‘Kerlatte’) and Designer Cappuccino (‘Kercappuccino’) from British breeder David Kerley, are now available the combination of dark veins plus a chocolate and white star seems not to have yet been re-invented.

It’s a different story with the frilly and rufffled petunias that were so popular in Victorian times and were available both from seed (below left) and from cuttings. But then, again, these too went out of fashion but were re-invented a few years ago by the British plant breeders Floranova as the seed-raised Frillytunia Series (‘Frillytunia Pink’, below right) in three colors. When these were first introduced they were often greeted as an innovation rather than a re-invention.

Casting an eye over the catalogs and books of the nineteenth century reveals more different petunia types that will, probably sooner rather than later, be re-invented and re-introduced – but with today’s weather resistance and consistency added in.

Victorian and contemporary frilly petunias


Plants Of The Year 2: The first white calendula

CalendulaSnowPrincess
Making up for my summer break in posting, this is the second of seven daily posts featuring plants that caught my attention this year. Today, the first calendula with white flowers.

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’
The arrival of the PowerDaisy Sunny, the first hybrid between shrubby and annual calendulas, caught everyone’s attention a year or two back and now we have a calendula in a more familiar style but in a new color.

In fact each of the white petals shades into soft yellow towards the base and features a tiny bronze flash at the jagged tip of every petal. The eyes of the large flowers are either gold or deep brown – mine were all dark-eyed but in other plantings I saw they were mixed.

The good people at Thompson & Morgan gave me some advance seed at the end of July, I sowed it in England a few days later and plants were in flower in about nine weeks, bloomed happily through October and they seemed to thrive in spite of a little mildew. When I flew back to the US in November they were looking a little sad but still flowering.

The plants bushed out nicely without pinching and I cut most of the flowers for the house where they lasted well. Next season I’ll be sowing them in March.

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ was developed in Europe by the Dutch subsidiary of Takii, formerly Sahin BV, who specialized in hardy annuals for many years.

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is currently available retail in the UK from many seed companies including Mr. Fothergill’s, and also Suttons and also Thompson & Morgan.

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is currently available retail in North America from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.


Plants Of The Year 1: Unique Argyranthemum hybrids

ArgyranthemumGranDaisyPink
Just because posting here paused for a while this year didn’t mean that impressions of new and old favorite plants failed to penetrate into the brain. Far from it. So, starting today, I switch to the opposite extreme with brief daily thoughts on five plants – new and old - that caught my attention this year plus two or three that I haven’t even seen yet but which look really exciting. Here’s the first.

Argyranthemum GranDaisy Pink
The four plants in the GranDaisy Series are all hybrids between marguerites, Argyranthemum, and annual chrysanthemums (Gledionis coronaria, better known as Chrysanthemum coronarium). Yes, a shrub crossed with an annual in a different genus. The botanists are working on its correct name.

The results are plants with flowers in unusually pure colors in the red, yellow and white varieties and with flowers opening over an exceptionally long season without pauses for breath. But Argyranthemum GranDaisy Pink has also inherited the ring around the eye seen so often in annual chrysanthemums and the effect is exceptional.

These are plants for summer containers and well-drained sunny summer borders, probably hardy in zone 9, perhaps zone 8, and tolerant of summer heat but not happy in high summer humidity.

The series has its own website, but the text needs more information and less whimsy: “GranDaisy is an uncomplicated, unassuming and understated plant that will give you summer every day” the site tells us and “GranDaisy is more than a plant, it's an experience”. Hmmm…

The GranDaisy Series of Argyranthemum hybrids was developed in Japan by Suntory, who also developed the Surfinia trailing petunias.

Argyranthemum GranDaisy Pink is currently available retail in the UK, in a collection with the red and yellow forms, from Thompson & Morgan.

Argyranthemum GranDaisy Pink will be available soon in North America.

I blogged about these plants on my Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog back in September.


The coleus revival

'Rustic Orange' coleus, curly Kale, 'Pineapple Beauty' coleus and Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'. Image ©GardenPhotos.comColeus are enjoying a spectacular - and well deserved - revival. And while Dibleys in the UK and Glasshouse Works in the USA have kept the old favorites available for many years, amazing new varieties of coleus in even more colors and color combinations, from seed and from cuttings, are now being introduced at an astonishing rate. There are even coleus for hanging baskets.

A fine new book on coleus appeared about five years ago (forty years after the previous one), three years ago almost a hundred were trialed outside by the Royal Horticultural Society and so coleus are now again getting the recognition they deserve. Those startling colors just keep tempting us and they look so good with some many other foliage plants and flowers.

In North America coleus (and of course their botanical name is Solenostemon) have remained popular as outdoor summer foliage plants for borders and containers. In Britain, they were relegated to conservatories and greenhouses because of the strange belief that they didn’t perform well outside. But I remember back in the 1980s – yes, yes, I know – that one of the star plants of the summer plantings along the Broad Walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew was coleus. Two old varieties in particular, ‘Sunset’ and 'Picturatus', were often used to edge the beds.

'Chocolate Mint' coleus. Image ©GardenPhotos.comAs I write Glasshouse Works in the US are listing 132 different coleus, Dibleys are listing twenty four coleus, fifty three coleus are promoted by the Proven Winners brand in the US but in the UK Proven Winners don’t feature any at all. But in just two years Terra Nova Nurseries (famous for the vast number of heucheras they’ve developed over the years) has introduced thirty seven new coleus in seven different series - in just two years! And their 2016 introductions have not yet been announced.

Terra Nova have spent eight years developing coleus and their introductions vary from tight and compact to big and bushy with two series (Color Clouds, below, and Color Carpet) intended for ground cover and hanging baskets. You can check out their series and all the individual coleus varieties at the Terra Nova home gardeners website.

At the moment, on both sides of the Atlantic, you’re probably most likely to see seed-raised varieties such as the monster-leaved Kong Series and ‘Chocolate Mint’ (above). But look out for these new series from Terra Nova and give them a try.

RHS Award of Garden Merit
These eleven coleus were awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit, or had earlier awards reconfirmed, after being trialed the RHS Garden at Wisley and also on the Victoria Embankment in central London: ‘Black Prince’, ‘China Rose’, ‘Gay’s Delight’, Henna (‘Balcenna’), ‘Juliet Quartermain’, ‘Pineapple Beauty’, ‘Pink Chaos’, Redhead (‘Uf0646’), Trusty Rusty (‘Ufo6419’), Versa Crimson Gold (‘Pas733805’), ‘Winsome’.

Download the report on the RHS coleus trial.

Here are some more colorful examples of coleus from our image library at GardenPhotos.com


Coleus 'Color Clouds Honey Pie' Image ©Terra Nova Nurseries


Not yet winter in Pennsylvania

Geranium phaeum 'Samobor' seedling with startling fall leaf color. Image ©GardenPhotos.com
National Public Radio reported this week that lilacs were in bloom in Washington, DC. A friend near here in Pennsylvania reports picking salad leaves from the open garden just a few days ago while anther says her spring crocuses are in bloom. It’s been mild back in Britain too.

Here in our garden the mild season has ensured that some plants developing late fall color have lasted and lasted. One young seedling of Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’ has produced some spectacular leaves (above, click to enlarge); the original plant and other seedlings are more of a blotchy yellow.

Hydrangea-quercifolia-Little-Honey-_J037665-700One of my favorite shrubs, Hydrangea Little Honey (‘Brihon’) (right, click to enlarge), a dwarf yellow-leaved form of the oak-leaved hydrangea, always turns burgundy red in the fall but often a couple of sharp frosts reduces the plant to bare stems. Not this year, the leaves have been wine red for weeks with a few just starting to develop fierier tones as they prepare to drop.

The other effect of these unseasonably mild weeks has been that after the first few, relatively gentle, frosts turned everything in the riverside meadows tawny brown – that’s how they stayed. The foxtail grass in the fields where the rudbeckias are such summer stars, I think this is Setaria viridis, has neither been crippled by frost nor battered by rain or snow and still stands out against the leafless escarpment. Lovely.

We’ve gentle frosts forecast for the weekend, with a high of 57F and a low of 39F forecast for Christmas Day. The snowdrops are in bud, but check out the Snowdrops In American Gardens Facebook group for news of plenty of snowdrops blooming merrily all over the country.

Oh, and a friend in Downeast Maine reports that the grass is growing and needs a trim. But I don’t care how long it gets here we’re not cutting the grass in December.

Foxtail grass, Setaria, still looking lovely on the Delaware River flood plain. Image ©GardenPhotos.com


Warmest ever fall in Britain

Viburnum tinus 'Lisarose' and 'Purpureum'. Image ©GardenPhotos.com
Just back in Pennsylvania, after a trip to England, and it’s been an unusually mild late fall and early winter on both sides of the water. Britain saw its warmest November day ever when the temperature reached 72.3F (22.4C) in mid Wales - “Remarkably mild for the time of year,” said the BBC radio weather man - and here in PA a friend told me last night that he’d just been out harvesting mesclun and baby greens from the open garden. Not bad.

Back in Britain the thing that especially struck me was the amazingly prolific flowering on Viburnum tinus, laurustinus as it’s sometimes called. Front gardens were full of their billowing flowers last week.

This is one of my favorite shrubs, with neat evergreen foliage, pink buds, clusters of white flowers and blue-black berries. The only problem, for American gardeners anyway, is that it’s not as hardy as we’d like. At USDA Zone 8 (perhaps 7) it’s fine in our English garden but wouldn’t survive even a relatively mild winter here in PA.

In his classic monograph on viburnums (still available on UK amazon and on US amazon), Michael Dirr describes twenty forms although almost twenty years later the RHS Plant Finder lists over thirty. My favorite variety is ‘Gwenllian’ with pink buds, blushed white flowers and reliably prolific berries that often last so long that they sit next to the following year’s flowers. But ‘Lisarose’ (inset left, above), with almost scarlet buds, Linaria 'Fairy Bouquet'. Image ©GardenPhotos.comcertainly looks tempting and the pure white flowers of ‘Purpureum’ (inset right, above), with their white buds have a very clean look and in spring there’s purple-flushed new growth.

The other thing about the mild autumn in England has been now long the annuals have been flowering. In some parts of the London suburbs, the roundabouts and roadsides were planted not with geraniums and petunias and marigolds for the summer, but with direct sown hardy annuals such as Linaria ‘Fairy Bouquet’ (left) in mixtures with Cosmidium ‘Brunette’ and the blue bracts of Salvia viridis. They were still attracting attention when I left a few days ago.

Next time: What’s striking about the late fall and early winter back here in PA.


Anniversary pansies span the years and the river

160 baskets of Viola 'Waterfall' on a bridge in Suffolk. Images © Thompson & Morgan

Now here’s a way to celebrate!

British seed and plant company Thompson & Morgan celebrates its 160th anniversary this year and to mark the occasion they’ve done something rather amazing. They’ve hung 320 hanging baskets from a bridge over the river near their headquarters in Suffolk, 160 on each side (click the picture to enlarge). And they’re all planted with T&M’s brand new, own-bred, fragrant, trailing viola mixture – ‘Waterfall’ (Brits will be able to order it in May).

First, they hired specialist highway contractors to fix the 320 heavy-duty hanging brackets in place, 8m (26ft) apart along the 1287m (4200ft) bridge, and then the baskets were hung. The teams worked from 12-4am over the last three nights. of March in liaison with local authorities. to cause minimal disruption to traffic. All be revealed today, 1 April.

A total of 5,760 violas have been planted in 3,200 liters (845 US gallons) of T&M’s own Incredicompost (yes, that’s what it’s called!) with 9.6kg (21 ponds) of their Incredibloom plant food added to keep them going till 1 June when they’ll be removed.

Of course, once they’re all in place, watering is the big challenge. But they’ve installed an automatic desalinating system that draws water from the brackish River Orwell below the bridge and doses the baskets with 2200 liters (580 US gallons) of water every day.

Well, I think this is pretty amazing. And I especially like the fact that they’re watered with desalinated water from the river below.

T&M say that “depending on public support” they’ll replace them all with summer flowers in June. So why not check in with Thompson & Morgan on the T&M Facebook page or follow T&M on Twitter and tell them what a great idea it is?