New plants

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.


Sparkling new dwarf spring irises

Iris 'Eye Catcher'. Image © Alan Mcmurtrie
Reticulata irises are one of the joys of spring, but we seem to have been growing the same varieties for decades. In fact, the ones I used to look after when I worked in the Alpine House at Kew Gardens over thirty years ago are, basically, the ones we still grow. Well, until now.

There’s a fascinating piece in the Royal Horticultural Society’s monthly membership The Garden this month, by Assistant Editor Phil Clayton, about Canadian iris breeder Alan McMurtrie and the amazing varieties he’s developed.

Iris 'Storm'. Image © Alan McmurtrieIt’s been a long haul. Alan began his work many years ago, soon after I was working with the irises at Kew, in fact, but it takes five years for the seed produced by crossing one variety with another to build a big enough bulb to flower. And that’s only the start, because after two or three generations of crosses and selections and a new seedling is finally seen to be good enough to be named – then a large number of bulbs have to propagated so that they can be sold and that takes a long time. Alan has been developing these lovely little plants for thirty years and only now are his new varieties becoming available to gardeners.

He’s been continually expanding the range of colors and color combinations. The white ‘White Caucasus’ and the blue-and-white ‘Eye Catcher’ (top) were amongst the first to be named but Alan also has improved varieties in the familiar blue and purple shades, 'Splish Splash' (below), along with new varieties in vivid yellow, and orange, yellow with navy blue marks and with smokey tints ('Storm', left) or brown speckles…  They’re just amazing.

You can read the article about Alan’s irises from The Garden online, and in next month’s issue of another Royal Horticultural Society magazine, The Plantsman, you can read a more detailed account. Alan McMurtie is refreshingly open about his work and Alan's website includes many pages of details and a huge number of pictures.

Alan is lecturing in Britain this month, so this is a great opportunity to hear about his irises from the man himself. He’ll be speaking at the RHS London Flower Show on 16 February, at a meeting of the Scottish Rock Garden Club in Dunblane on 20 February, and at the Alpine Garden Society’s show at Harlow in Essex, just north of London, on 27 February. At present, he has no North American lectures scheduled.

Iris 'Splish Splash'. Image © Alan McmurtrieLike to buy some bulbs? In Britain take a look at the offerings from Jacques Amand, at Broadleigh Gardens, at Pottertons, and at Rare Plants. In North America you can buy some of Alan’s varieties at McClure & Zimmerman, at White Flower Farm and at Botanus.com. Of course the plants are flowering now, you ill be able to order bulbs later in the year.

Jacques Amand featured Alan’s irises at the Philadelphia Flower Show last year, and will do so again next year, but this year the theme is tulips. This week’s RHS London Flower Show will feature an extensive range, shown by Jacques Amand

Oh, yes… You want to know how to grow them. Here’s what Alan recommends:

“They should be planted 3in (8 cm) deep in well drained soil (a touch deeper is fine). They don't mind snow melt in the spring, but don't like to be near a downpipe in summer. Plant about the same distance apart. Resist the urge to plant too close together. If you've given them the right conditions they will form clumps.

“Remember new bulbs are forming at the base of each leaf. They represent next year's bloom. So don't go ripping them out and wonder why you don't have flowers next year. The longer they stay green, the bigger the bulbs will be.”

Images  © Alan McMurtie Thank you for making details of your work so freely available.


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


New varieties of the easy and elegant primula

746_primula_flamenco-1000x750_0
In recent years, Barnhaven Primroses, originally from Oregon and now in France (via England) have been branching out. Nothing dramatic, but alongside primroses they’ve been expanding their choice of other primulas and also added hellebores to their range.

One exceptional, and much underrated, plant they’ve been championing is Primula sieboldii and they’ve recently announced the availability of some lovely forms from Japan, including the double-flowered ‘Flamenco’ (above). They’ve been quietly been building up stock for some time.

This is an exceptional species, with fresh looking, bright, divided leaves and a flurry of up to ten spring flowers held on upright stems. Sound like a polyanthus? Yes, but so much more delicate and stylish.

In the wild, it’s a woodlander creeping through wet woods in Japan, Korea, China, Russia and, as the canopy closes, the foliage fades away. In summer I find it will take drought, although it’s worth remembering that the plants dislike lime. And it’s very hardy: USDA Z4, RHS H7.

The only problem is that with no sign of it above ground from late summer until mid or late spring, it’s easy to forget precisely where you planted it and attempt to plant something else in its space.

Our plants here in Pennsylvania came from the late and much lamented Seneca Hill Nursery in upstate NY and I always pick a few stems to bring indoors from the expanding clumps. Some of the clumps have expanded so much that they’ve escaped the borders, meandered under the boards supporting the raised bed and emerged on the path.

764-sieboldii-Trade-Winds-1000x750_0Lazy’s Farm now seems to have the best choice in the US but, in Europe, always start at Barnhaven. They have seventeen varieties of their own raising, including ‘Trade Winds’ (right, click to enlarge) and twelve Japanese varieties available as plants, including the lovely ‘Flamenco’ (top) and some delightful forms with white picotee edges to the flowers. Nine more varieties are available as seed. 

Barnhaven will send seeds, and also plants, to the US, with a phytosanitary certificate at a cost of 11.43 euros. If customers have a small seed lots permit there is no phyto charge for sending seeds. [After six months I'm still waiting for my small seed lots permit...]

Perhaps people are disconcerted by the fact that the plants disappear for much of the year, or perhaps the intolerance of too much lime puts people off. But considering how easy they are to grow, we really don’t see them enough. They’re much easier to keep over the long term than the special varieties of primroses and polyanthus which so often seem to fade away after a few years.

In Japan, the heyday of Primula sieboldii was from the beginning of the 17th century to the mid 19th century but now Barnhaven and others are re-inventing them after so many varieties have been lost over the centuries. And it’s not as if they need careful cossetting and conditions it’s tough to provide. They’re easy… give them a go.


New heuchera that's quietly different

Heuchera 'Berry Timeless' is a container in partial shade. Image © GardenPhotos.comIn the first waves of enthusiasm for heucheras, back in the 1930s and then the 1950s, it was the flowers that were key and in fact many varieties were developed specifically as commercial cut flowers.

More recently, of course, foliage has been the thing and an astonishing range of foliage colors and patterns has been developed although many have poor flowers which are best snipped away.

So, obviously, the next thing was to bring the two features together. ‘Rave On’ is pretty good in combining good foliage with good flowers, but flowering tails off as spring passes. But, so far, ‘Berry Timeless’ (left, click to enlarge) really does look the part - even if the name is a bit corny.

OK, this is its first season on trial here but it’s clear that its bright silver foliage with minty green veins makes a lovely low dense mound. The flowers open in pale pink and fade to richer tones and, unlike the flowers many heucheras, they don’t fall off. Even while the little green seed capsules are developing the dusky reddish pink flowers are still colorful.

Old and new flowers on Heuchera 'Berry Timeless'. Image © GardenPhotos.comIt’s now August and there’s plenty of old flowers, new flowers and buds still on the plants (right, click to enlarge). And there’s another thing about the flowers: the length of bare stem below the flowers is relatively short so the flowers sit just above the leaves without a long length of bare stem in between. That’s a feature that really improves the look of the plant.

Developed by Walters Gardens in Michigan rather than the heuchera hatchery that is Terra Nova Nurseries, where most new heucheras originate; look out for more from them in the future.

Heuchera ‘Berry Timeless' is available in Canada from Canning Perennials and in the USA from Garden Crossings. It’s not yet available in Britain, but should be soon.


Powerhouse Plant wins Chelsea Plant Of The Year award

Viburnum Kilimanjaro Sunset: Chelsea Plant Of The Year Image ©GardenPhotos.com
A couple of years ago I published a book called Powerhouse Plants. It was my choice of individual plants that have two, three or even four different features that bring colour and interest to our gardens at different seasons of the year. Now, a Powerhouse Plant has won the sixth Chelsea Plant of The Year award.

Announced recently at the Chelsea Flower Show, Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum Kilimanjaro Sunrise (‘Jww5’) (above, click to enlarge) won this year’s award, its four seasons of interest marking it out from the other entries.

The white lacecap spring flowers, developing pink tints as they age, are followed by red berries maturing to black, then a second flush of flowers opens later in the year which is rounded off by a fiery burst of autumn leaf colour. This form develops into a slightly smaller shrub than previous varieties but is as tough and easy to grow.

Salpiglossis 'Polka-Dot Purple' Image ©GardenPhotos.comIn second place was a very different plant, a streptocarpus called ‘Polka-Dot Purple’ (left, click to enlarge), from Dibleys, the world’s leading streptocarpus breeder and the same breeder that created the first winner of this award back in 2010. The prettily purple patterned white flowers caught everyone’s eye. This is an ideal windowsill house plant that flowers for ten months of the year.

In third place, Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ (below, click to enlarge) is a richly coloured half-hardy perennial developed in Australia. This long-flowering plant is hardy in warm gardens and is superb for summer patio containers everywhere else.

It’s a great to see a plant to that so completely fulfils the Powerhouse Plants ideal of multiseason interest winning this prestigious award.

Viiburnum plicatum f. tomentosum Kilimanjaro Sunrise (‘Jww5’) is available in Britain from Crocus but is not yet available in North America.

Streptocarpus ‘Polka-Dot Purple’ is available in Britain from Dibleys and will be available in North America in a year or two.

Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ is available in Britain from Dysons Nurseries. The plant has its very own website and in North America is part of the Southern Living Plant Collection.

Find out more about Powerhouse Plants.
Salvia 'Love And Wishes' Image ©GardenPhotos.com


New plants on the Royal Horticultural Society website

As we approach the mass launch of new varieties at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, I just thought you might like to see the new plants I've been writing up over the last few months on my New Plants blog on the Royal Horticultural Society website. Lots of goodies... And news of the newcomers at Chelsea will be here soon.

HelleborusSnowFrills

'Black Truffle': a superb new dark-leaved perennial lobelia

Heavenly (more or less) hardy begonias

A new star Is born: Clematis Astra Nova

New blue-and-white flowered brunnera

New double-flowered Christmas rose (left)

The first golden-leaved pyracantha

Nandina Blush Pink: new for its colourful foliage

World’s first 100% blight resistant tomato

Unique new pastel French marigold (below)

   MarigoldAlumia


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?


Developments in sweet peas

Lathyrus belinensis, discovered in Turkey in 1987A couple of interesting sweet pea developments to tell you about.

First of all, the hybrid made by Keith Hammett between the familiar sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, and L. belinensis (click to enlarge), discovered in Turkey in 1987, has been formally named by RHS botanist Dawn Edwards – Lathyrus x hammettii.

Keith worked for many years using L. belinensis with its yellow and orange flowers, to create a yellow flowered sweet pea – he started by crossing it with ‘Mrs Collier’ - and that work continues. But along the way it has, rather surprisingly, led to the development of some impressive reverse bicolours, sweet peas with the standard paler than the dark wings; ‘Erewhon’, which I discussed here a couple of years ago, is perhaps the best example so far. A full account of these hybrid and their origins was recently published in the Royal Horticultural Society magazine The Plantsman.

The other, perhaps even more startling development, relates to sweet peas as cut flowers. As you can see Long stemmed sweet peas from Japandfrom the picture (click to enlarge), a Japanese grower has managed to create sweet peas with extraordinarily long stems. I’ve yet to find out quite how they did it – not being fluent in Japanese is, of course, an impediment. But whether it’s new breeding or new growing techniques it would be interesting to know quite how they did it.