Plants Of The Year 4: Harmonious shrub for small spaces

Hibiscus Sugar Tip ('America Irene Scott') Courtesy of Proven Winners - www.provenwinners.com
Continuing with the fourth of seven daily posts about plants that grabbed my attention over the last year, next up is a variegated shrub for small gardens with long lasting double pink flowers.

Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip (‘America Irene Scott’).
Basically, this is a prettily variegated hardy hibiscus with prolific soft pink double flowers and it has four main features going for it.

Firstly, the variegated foliage is neat and soft greyish green in color with an irregular, but neat, creamy white margin so even if the plant never flowered it would still be attractive.

Secondly, the soft rosy pink flowers, each with a crimson stain at the base of the petals, are double and don’t set seed so they last longer than single-flowered varieties.

Thirdly, unlike ‘Purpurea Variegata’, it actually flowers and, unlike ‘Meehanii’, also variegated, the flowers and foliage make a prettily harmonious combination.

Finally we’ve had our plant in the garden here in Pennsylvania for about ten years and it’s reached about 10ft/3m in height. But its narrow, upright growth means that it’s only about 5ft/1/5m wide at most – so it doesn’t cast too much shade on the plants around it and fits well into a small space. I’ll have to get one for our British garden.

Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip (‘America Irene Scott’) is a variegated sport of the old classic ‘Lady Stanley’ (introduced in 1861) and was found by Sharon Gerlt on her nursery in Independence, MO in 2001.

Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip is currently available by mail order in the UK only from Gardening Express.

Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip is currently available retail in North America in the Proven Winners and Monrovia retail ranges and by mail order from Garden Crossings and from Nature Hills.

Image courtesy of Proven Winners - www.provenwinners.com


Plants Of The Year 3: Unique foliage perennial

HeucherellaSolarEclipse
Continuing with the third of seven daily posts about the plants that caught my eye last year, we come to a fine perennial that I noted thriving in a number of different situations.

xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’
With so many heucherellas on the market, its important to take a deep breath before pronouncing one as “unique” – but here goes: xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is unique.

This distinctive clump-forming variety has slightly ruffled, prettily scalloped, reddish brown, almost chocolate brown, leaves with a neat minty green margin. It keeps its color well and matures into a clump about 20cm high and 40cm wide. The flowers are white – but not really the point. The cut leaves last quite well in water, too.

Lovely in a terracotta pot, it also looked unexpectedly good in a blue pot and at the front of border in dappled shade. In cool areas with water retentive soil it will grow happily in full sun but is general happier in some shade.

‘Solar Eclipse’ is sport of ‘Solar Power’ (which has yellow leaves with a red central pattern) and was developed by Janet Egger and Chuck Pavlich at specialist perennial breeders Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon.

xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is currently available retail in the UK from these Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder nurseries.

xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is currently available retail in North America from many suppliers including Bluestone Perennials and Plant Delights.


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.


New kind of Christmas tree

Canaan Fir Christmas Tree
A few days ago we went out to buy our Christmas tree. After five stops at different places we finally found one we were happy with and were told it was a Canaan Fir, a hybrid between the balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri). I’d never heard of it so when we got home I looked it up.

It turns out that there’s a good reason that I’d never heard of this hybrid – it doesn’t exist. And the name Canaan Fir doesn’t mean that it’s found in Canaan (as in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan).

The Canaan Fir is actually a variety of the balsam fir, A. balsamea var. phanerolepis, which is distinguished from the regular balsam fir in details of the shape of parts of the cone. Not only that, it’s actually a local ecotype, a specific regional variant.

Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis grows wild from Labrador south to Ontario, and continuing south along the coast of Maine all the way to the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. But some that grow in a small area of West Virginia, known locally as the Canaan Valley (with the weight on the second syllable of Canaan) are slightly different and it is from seed of these, collected at elevations over 3000ft, that cultivated Canaan Fir Christmas trees are derived.

The Canaan Fir has become popular as a Christmas Tree in recent years because it’s especially long lasting when cut, it retains its needles well and also retains the fragrance of the balsam fir. At first I thought its branches seemed rather weak but now, after a couple of days fully laden with ornaments and lights (nine hundred of them!), it’s actually holding up very well. I’ll add an update to this post around Twelfth Night/Little Christmas/Women’s Christmas (6 January, when we take the tree down) and report on how it’s doing.

Also, on a related topic (deep breath, please)… When we unpacked our nine strings of red and gold Christmas tree lights it turned out that after a year in a box in the basement only three of them still worked. So off I dashed to Lowes (Brits: = B&Q) to buy more.

And I was amazed at the price. Amazed! The price was absolutely outrageous! Each box of 100 minilights cost me $1.44 (including sales tax). Yes, $1.44.

Of course, they were made in China. And they were so cheap because wages there are so low. So if Mr. Trump brings these jobs back to America and pays American workers an American wage to make them, how much do you think those lights will cost? $15? $20? Will you buy them at that price? And, if you do, what will you do when they pack up after spending a year tucked away in a big brown box? You’ll be back to Lowes raising hell. And, if you want better lights that last for years, how much are you prepared to pay? It’s not as simple as Mr. Trump would have us believe.


1001 Plants...

1001-both
I recently contributed a foreword, and discussed some of the plants, in a big fat new book called, in Britain, 1001 Plants You Must Grow Before You Die and called, in North America, 1001 Plants To Dream Of Growing. Perhaps the publishers thought that the sensibilities of American readers are a little more delicate that those of the Brits and that they’d be discouraged from buying the book by the reminder of the fact that, one day, they’ll be pushing up daisies. Anyway, both titles give you idea.

The book runs to 960 pages – yes, really!, weighs in at 4lb 9.4oz/2.08kg, and every one of the 1001 plant choices is, of course, handsomely illustrated in color. Editor Liz Dobbs did a great job. The book is split into sections – annuals, perennials, shrubs, climbers, edibles and so on – and each chosen plant is discussed by an expert who reveals interesting insights into the plant, its origins, its habits, its associations and why it deserves to be chosen. It really is a good read.

I’m delighted to say that the book has been well-received. To pick just two reviews, The New York Journal Of Books said: "This gorgeous book is meant for anyone who is an aspiring gardener or an expert horticulturist, regardless of green-thumb abilities or current state of a reader’s yard or window box.". And an enthusiastic reviewer on amazon.co.uk said: “Brilliant book and when it's laying out on the counter even the non gardeners in the family pick it up for a browse though and read aloud the plants that they find interesting or unusual.”

Now, here’s my advice. If you’d like to send a friend a plant book for the holidays, this is the book. But here’s the thing. It’s so heavy that it will cost you a fortune to send it. But if you order through amazon and have it sent direct to the friend then the shipping can be free if you’re not in a rush – and think about having them gift wrap it too. Don’t you just love a bargain?!

 

          


Impressive new Kniphofia book

Kniphofia_Orange_Vanilla_Popsicle_4b-700
Not so long ago I talked to the commissioning editor at one of the top garden book publishers who said they weren’t commissioning any more books about plants because people could get all the information on plants they needed online. Well, not so fast. This gold standard of plant books proves them wrong.

Kniphofias are – as we say these days – trending, so the appearance of Kniphofia: The Complete Guide by Christopher Whitehouse is very timely. In the last six years one American breeder alone has introduced thirteen new varieties (including 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle', above) and the trial at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley that ended in 2009 revealed some fine older cultivars.

This book does everything a monograph should: in its 456 pages it classifies and describes the seventy species thoroughly and with insight; over a thousand cultivars are covered, 160 that are grown today are described in detail and illustrated - grouped by the color of their flowers so we can more easily distinguish one from another. We gain a valuable understanding of how and where kniphofias grow in the wild, courtesy of a botanist who’s studied them in their native habitats. And if you want to know how to grow them… well, look no further.

Kniphofia-Book-1907057670That’s all well and good, but if this wealth of information is not provided in an attractive and accessible way then why bother? Fortunately, the design is elegant and stylish yet straightforward and accessible; the color reproduction is excellent and whatever I need to know about kniphofias, this is where I turn.

And, in some ways, that’s the most important feature of all. There’s no room in the gardening book market for more than one book on kniphofias, so the one that appears has to cover, well, everything. In recent years a number of plant books have appeared that have not been comprehensive but which have, by their very existence, prevented another book taking up the slack.

This is the first in a series of plant monographs from the Royal Horticultural Society, with books on some popular and important plants in the pipeline. It’s not cheap, but even so I’m sure it won't make the RHS or its author much money. But it’s part of the role of the world’s largest and most prestigious gardening society to make fundamental information about plants available for the gardening and botanical community across the world. Count this as a job very well done.

Kniphofia: The Complete Guide by Christopher Whitehouse is published by the Royal Horticultural Society at £40.00/c$50.00.

                 

 

* Disclosure: I was paid for a fee for a small contribution to this book.


Transatlantic Gardener is back!



NewHouseFront-2
It’s been quiet around here recently, hasn’t it. Sorry about that: lyme disease, new grandchild, selling an apartment, buying a house, renovating a house… Lots of stuff going on. Not enough hours (or energy) in the day.

But here we are again, and we’re appreciating the perennial advice that when we move into a new home we should take a year assessing the garden before we make any changes. One of the few old garden maxims that actually makes sense.

We looked over our new English cottage (above), just round the corner from the previous one, two or three times in the spring and summer before buying it and noticed the mature specimen of the yellow-leaved form of the pheasant berry, Leycesteria formosa Golden Lanterns (‘Notbrue’) (below), with its supposedly golden leaves and purple late summer and autumn flowers. Have to MalusGoldenHornet_GJR0025-700say… the leaves look a little more bleached than gold. But I don't think it will be for the chop, I know its color will be better in spring: unlike the hideous pink and white variegated willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) which I just can't bear to illustrate – where's the saw?

Back in the summer, we had no idea that we had pink and white hardy cyclamen because they were dormant. Now, they’re  lovely. Nor that the huge upright holly in the neighboring garden would prove to be a ‘Camelliifolia’, now heavily laden with scarlet berries. Or that there was a ‘Golden Hornet’ crab apple (above) on the other side also dripping in fruit: there should be plenty of birds enjoying the bounty.

And it turns out that we also have two large and mature (so far unidentified) viburnums, also developing berries. And I know there are snowdrops because some irritating creature had dug them up and scattered them about. The feeders are up, and the birds quickly found them. And the red kites continue to keep an eye on it all from overhead.

Anyway, I'm very pleased to say that postings from the Transatlantic Gardener have resumed. Thank you for your patience – and for checking in today. There'll be a little flurry of catch-ups before things settle down again.

Leycesteria-Golden-Lanterns-_G019533-700


After the Chelsea Flower Show

The Diamond Jubilee Award for the best exhibit in the Great Pavilion was awarded to Ashwood Nurseries Image ©Ashwood Nurseries

I wrote about the Philadelphia Flower Show here last year, and ran a guest blog earlier this year about the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. Now, I’m just back from the granddaddy of them all, the Chelsea Flower Show.

Well, I remarked on the poor light in the exhibition center at Philadelphia, the shortage of actual flowers was a feature at San Francisco and the surfeit of irrelevant trade stands was noted at both – no such problems at Chelsea.

Chelsea is about plants and gardens and the trade stands reflect that pre-occupation. There were seventeen outdoor show gardens (and the minimum size is 10m x 10m), thirteen smaller outdoor show gardens, and a generous helping of outdoor trade stands designed as gardens as well as garden-related sales booths. No booths promoting river cruises or kitchen gadgets or miracle cures.

In the three acre Great Pavilion, a bright, modern structure that replaced the vast canvas tent a few years ago, were one hundred and three floral exhibits staged by nurseries, growers, florists, specialist societies, horticultural colleges and scientific institutions.

Vast billows of roses, walls of phalaenopsis, cottage style perennial plantings, cacti, a whole stand of perhaps a hundred different miniature hostas (I lost count, I’m afraid), fragrant hyacinths, luscious strawberries ready to pick, strings of tempting cherry tomatoes and so much more. Daffodils were at their peak, dahlias were in full flower - a surprising duo and neither looked forced.

The Diamond Jubilee Award for the best exhibit in the Great Pavilion was awarded to Ashwood Nurseries for their stunning exhibit of hepaticas (above), they showed all twelve species together with a range of hybrids including some developed at Ashwood.

It’s a lot to take in but you can see the plants and gardens at the Show (and see how the show comes together in the three weeks running up to the opening) from home, check out this page of videos on the Royal Horticultural Society website.

I wrote about the Chelsea Plant of The Year competition in The Telegraph and blogged every day for my Plant Talk blog for Mr. Fothergill’s.

I’ll also again be writing up the Chelsea Plant of The Year competition for the RHS magazine The Plantsman.

And I'll be discussing the Chelsea Plant of The Year winners here soon.


Roadside surprises

EuphorbiaCharaciasHeathrowGP
Driving around Pennsylvania or Northamptonshire, while keeping my eyes on the road, my peripheral vision always takes in what’s growing by the roadside. And there’s plenty to see.

One of the very first posts on this blog, way back in 2007, was about unexpected roadside plants and here we are almost ten years later and over the last few days I’ve spotted some more.

First, let’s revisit the Heathrow euphorbias (above). Having driven round the exit from London’s orbital motorway, the M25, for Heathrow every few months for more than fifteen years – about four years ago I spotted Mediterranean euphorbias bursting through the barrier. Driving my wife judy to the airport last week she snapped this picture on her phone through the car window as we whizzed by. Those euphorbias are still going strong.
SmyrniumOlusratum
Later, on the way home to Northamptonshire, I spotted something interesting as I turned off the northbound M1 motorway to head home. And it turned out to be a strange mixture of plants: stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) (below) scattered by the side of the road along with Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, grape hyacinths (Muscari), jonquil daffodils, flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and more: a strange mix of garden plants at an exit that’s a long way from a garden.

And then just yesterday, on the way back from the recycling centre, doing very nicely by the roadside – two or three patches of another Mediterranean plant: Alexanders (Smyrnium olustratum) (above right). The Flora of Northamptonshire tells me that it: “originates from it formerly being grown as a medicinal herb”.

Now that our roadsides are not treated like lawns and mown every two or three weeks, there’s more and more interesting plants to see.

  HelleborusFoetidusGP