Christmas came early this year!

PG-1983-02-900

Yesterday brought the startling, and humbling, announcement - and I’m honoured to receive the 2021 Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Garden Media Guild is the British professional organisation for garden writers and photographers, bloggers, TV and radio presenters and producers – any communicator who specialises in plants, gardens and gardening.

I thank my peers in the Guild for this recognition of a life of writing about plants and gardens – starting in The Irish Gardener, and what was then Practical Self Sufficiency magazine, almost exactly forty years ago.

I’m humbled to find myself in the company, as a Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award winner, of such greats as Christopher Lloyd, with whom I wrote a book twenty years ago; Peter Seabrook who, since his own Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, has done enough to receive another; Fred Whitsey and Graham Stuart-Thomas, from a very different generation, as well as Beth Chatto, Joy Larkcom, Roy Lancaster, Alan Titchmarsh, Anna Pavord and the other deserving recipients.

None of this would have happened without the legendary Geoff Hamilton. He hired me to my first trainee writer job on Practical Gardening magazine – on condition that I cut off my ponytail which, he insisted, would frighten the readers. I was then allowed on the front cover (above).

Thank you, too, to all but one of the many editors I’ve worked with over the years. It’s been fun, challenging, satisfying (and occasionally exasperating), but never a dull moment. The one exception is the section editor who fired me with a letter - which contained just one line: “You have written your last column for The Observer”. Needless to say: he’d replaced the editor who hired me and who’d long since been promoted. He, himself, was soon replaced!

Finally, I’d to thank all the many many people who’ve helped me along the way: gardeners and plantspeople, propagators and plant breeders, academics and field botanists - as well, of course, as friends, readers and other writers - who’ve generously shared their knowledge, wisdom, and experience over the years. Thank you for helping me ensure that my work has been as accurate and helpful as possible. It was up to me to make it all a good read.

• Please check out all the other winners at the 2021 Garden Media Guild Awards.

My Graham’s Garden blog
My Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog
My Plant Talk blog for Mr Fothergill’s

You’ll also find me regularly in Gardeners’ World magazine, Horticulture Week and The Plant Review, in many issues of Amateur Gardening magazine and Garden News, in the December 2021 issue of The Garden in the 9 December edition of the RHS Podcast - and elsewhere.

You can also check out my folk music radio show The Wagonload of Monkeys.

Videos will be in the next post.


Why is my microwave like a daylily?

Hemerocallis 'Explosion In The Paint Factory ©Strictly Daylilies
Hemerocallis 'Explosion In The Paint Factory' - just like the inside of my microwave!

So. The pasta was bubbling, the tomato and chilli sauce, left from a couple of days ago, was in a bowl in the microwave. Then I inadvertently hit the 10 minute button instead of 1 minute.

‘Explosion In The Paint Factory’!

The whole inside of the microwave is covered in – well, you can work that one out. Very colourful. Just like this ground breaking daylily, which has hemerocallis enthusiasts on the boil.

Now, we know that daylilies stand out for their weird variety names. ‘How Beautiful Heaven Must Be’ – you get the message.

And some breeders have a special talent with names. ‘Explosion In The Paint Factory’ along with ‘Adventures, Love and Shenanigans’, ‘A Convocation of Eagles’ and, oddly, ‘Binders of Women’ were all raised by Connecticut daylily breeder Rich Howard.

‘Explosion In The Paint Factory’ won the 2018 Eugene S. Foster award for best late blooming daylily, the 2019 RW Munson award for the best patterned daylily, and the 2020 Lambert-Webster award for best UFo. Like the hosta people, daylily enthusiasts love their names. And no, I didn’t know what a UFo is either. “Unusual Form”, apparently – and the o is intentionally lower case.

Curt Hansen from Ohio is another breeder known for his, errr, distinctive names. I discussed him here back in 2014. His introductions include: 'Lavender Panties', 'Pink Panties', 'Pantie Raid', 'Panties in a Knot', 'Panties in the Wind', 'Don't Touch Me There', 'Long Legged Lap Dancer', 'Nude Yoga' and 'We Dare to Bare'. I’m not sure these would meet much approval, these days, and daylilies are clearly not his only enthusiasm.

‘Nekkid Woman Frying Bacon’ is from a different breeder, Joe Goudeau from Louisiana, and one of its parents is ‘Nekkid Woman on a Tractor’!

And hostas? Well, some are certainly strange but I have to say that they don’t quite match the daylilies: ‘Outhouse Delight’, ‘A Scape Plan’, 'You're So Vein', ‘Pineapple Upside Down Cake’ and ‘Rosedale Tractor Seat’ can’t really compete, can they.

And then, of course, who could forget the Communist lilacs. Bred in the 1950s, ‘40th Anniversary of the Communist Youth League’ is the star – well, the name is, anyway. Although see the comments appended to the Communist lilacs post for more on that name.

I also quite fancy 'Tipsy Imperial Concubine' – if you see what I mean. It’s an old Hybrid Tea rose.

As for 'Explosion In The Paint Factory' - it will be available in the UK from Strictly Daylilies when they've built up stock. Find out more about  it and order it in North Amerca, at Rich Howard's own website.

Meanwhile, where’s the oven cleaner?

You can check out more of my posts on plant names here.

Thank you to Strictly Daylilies for permission to use their picture of Hemerocallis 'Explosion In The Paint Factory'.


Up and down the hedgerow with old man's beard

Delivering foraged old man's beard to Foxtail Lilly for their autumn wreaths.
Delivering foraged old man's beard to Foxtail Lilly for their autumn wreaths.

At this time of year, I’m often out and about foraging for seed heads, conifer cones, dried heads of grasses, teasels and other wild plants plus anything else from the forest, field or hedgerow that looks good at this time of year.

It all goes to my florist friend Tracey Mathieson, who runs Foxtail Lilly, a lovely little barn shop here in Northamptonshire. Last week I was harvesting clematis seed heads from local hedgerows and, looking at them more closely than usual, interesting details are revealed.

Clematis vitalba, old man’s beard, spreads by its wind blown seeds and the different seedling plants scrambling through the local hedges vary in a number of ways. The seedheads of some have longer plumes than others, they vary in the number of seeds in each cluster, some are more grey while others are more silvery. The seed at the base of each plume varies in the depth of its colour and, in a few, the seedheads fall apart much earlier than others which ruins their decorative effect – indoors and out.

The most vigorous of all the three hundred clematis species from around the world, The Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and The Marine reports that the stems grow several metres each year, which is there for us all to see, but also that just one plant can cover an area of 180 square metres.

Seed head production seems to vary from year to year, presumably depending on conditions at flowering time in July and August. But seventeen thousand seeds can be produced in one year from just half a square metre of growth, they report which, I have to say, seems extraordinary – more like a typo than a fact.

A joint Irish/Czech study revealed that hoverflies were the pollinators making the most visits to flowers, with almost half of all pollinator visits; other flies are in second place with bees making up less than 10% of pollinating visits.

It also turns out that this species is eaten by the larvae of a wide range of moths, including many species that are reliant on it as their only foodplant; including the small waved umber, the small emerald, and the delightfully named Haworth's pug. Finches feed on the seeds.

At this time of year, though, the farmer’s flail mower is the enemy of finches and foragers alike. Having, over the years, noted the most productive plants in the local hedgerows, often where there’s a break in the hedge for a gateway, it’s disappointing to fetch up armed with secateurs and find the flail has got there first.

Seed heads of Clematis vitalba as it scrambles through a dog rose in a Northamptonshire hedgerow. ©GrahamRice
Seed heads of Clematis vitalba as it scrambles through a dog rose in a Northamptonshire hedgerow.

Clematis vitalba comes with two common names that will be familiar to most of us. John Gerard, he of the famous Herball, is responsible for one of them: “esteemed for pleasure by reason of the goodly shadow and the pleasant scent or savour of its flowers,” he reports, “and because of its decking and adorning ways and hedges where people travel, have I named it traveller’s joy." So this common name, that has long entered the vernacular, was invented by Gerard.”

Fifty years earlier, in 1548, William Turner had coined the name “Downi-vine”, which didn’t catch on, also recognising the feathery plumes – which are in fact, the styles of the original flower.

Gerard also notes that it “maketh in winter a goodly show, covering the hedges white all over with his feather-like tops,” and the “feather-like tops” give it another common name: old man’s beard.

We can always trust Wikipedia to come up with a few nuggets of interesting info on subjects such as this: “The French name for old man's beard is 'herbe aux gueux' – the beggar's or rascal's herb. This is a reference to its use by beggars; they used its acrid sap to irritate the skin to give it a sore and ulcerated look - in order to induce sympathy in, and perhaps a donation from, passers by!”

I also read somewhere that it was called traveller’s joy because people on walking journeys used to stuff their shoes with the seed heads to prevent blisters – but now I can’t find the reference. Sorry. And, frankly, the Gerard story seems far more plausible.

Wikipedia also reveals that: “Clematis vitalba was used to make rope during the Stone Age in Switzerland. In Slovenia, the stems of the plant were used for weaving baskets for onions and also for binding crops. It was particularly useful for binding sheaves of grain because mice do not gnaw on it. In Italy, the sprouts are harvested to make omelettes (called "vitalbini" in Tuscany, "visoni" in Veneto).”

You learn all sorts of interesting things on this blog: clematis omelettes, who’d have thought it. And poetry too. Edward Thomas, in his poem The Sign-Post, from 1917, reported that:

“The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.”

And, while I hesitate to disagree with the great man, “hazel tuft”?! I suppose that’s what we might call “poetic license”.

Geoffrey Grigson, of course, has thoughts on the name: old man’s beard. “But observe that the Old Man, as so frequently in English plant names,” he says, “may also be the Devil. This is a devil’s twister, devil’s guts, which can twist and choke trees to death, and turn a south country copse into an Amazonian forest.”

So hesitate before planting it in your garden – after all, there’s plenty in English hedgerows . Although, sadly, much less in Scotland.

A beautiful Foxtail Lily autumn wreath that includes seed heads of both native old man's beard and Clematis tangutica from Kashmir and China.
A beautiful Foxtail Lily autumn wreath that includes seed heads of both native old man's beard and Clematis tangutica from Kashmir and China.

Kew’s dandelions died. Really?

Taraxacum faroense
Taraxacum faroense has this most wonderfully rich dark foliage.

* This blog post is about the different types of dandelion.

What do you mean, different types of dandelion? There’s more than one? You mean that there are red ones and blue ones?

* No, but there are two hundred and thirty nine different dandelion species in Britain alone - even if they do all have yellow flowers.

That’s ridiculous, they all look the same to me.

* That’s because you’re an ignorant buffoon. If you were the legendary dandelion expert Dr John Richards, it would be clear that there really are almost two hundred and fifty species.

How do we know this?

* He has a new book out, it’s called the Field Handbook to British and Irish Dandelions and it covers every single native species.

But they all look the same! Or most of them, anyway.

* That’s true, up to a point. But Dr Richards tells us that digital photography has revolutionised dandelion studies by easily revealing colours and forms not clearly visible in the traditional pressed and dried specimens used by botanists.

John Richards, the name rings a bell…

* Yes, he also wrote The Genus Primula, his uniquely comprehensive botanical monograph on one of our most popular plants. So his interests neatly combine the loved and the despised. He also discovered the black-leaved ‘Ravenswing’ cow parsley.

But if all British dandelions are yellow, what are the pink and white ones in the pictures here?

* When I worked at Kew, long ago, we grew a white-flowered dandelion called Taraxacum mongolicum. No one believed that we had a white one, so we had to take people over to inspect the plants. Until they died.

Hah! Kew couldn’t even grow a dandelion.

* Hmmm… But moving right along… The white one here is the Korean dandelion, T. coreanum, with grey green leaves and these beautiful white flowers. The honey and pink one, below, is T. pseudoroseum, from Central Asia. The one with the beetroot-coloured leaves, at the top, is T. faroense.

Taraxacum coreanum
The Korean dandelion, Taraxacum coreanum

Have to day, they’re quite pretty. But no one would be mad enough to try to sell seeds. Gardeners would never stand for it.

* On the contrary, Growild Nursery in Ayrshire, in south west Scotland, sell seed of all three – plus three more. And they offered two species as plants this year and sold out. People really like unusual dandelions.

Growild? It sounds as if the whole place is covered in weeds.

* Not at all. It’s just that they prefer to offer wild species rather than fancy hybrid cultivars and they specialise in growing rare and unusual species, in particular hardy perennials, from Japan, China and the Himalayas. They’re clearly highly principled, and say that “no peat-based products are used in the nursery. Neither chemicals nor animal derived products are used on our plants and only seaweed fertilizer is used.”

You know, Growild Nursery sounds alright. And those pink and white dandelions sure look pretty.

* Well, you can check their seeds and plants on the Growild website at https://www.growildnursery.co.uk/.

Not sure I need a three hundred page book on British dandelions, though.

* If you change your mind, the Field Handbook to British and Irish Dandelions by A. J. Richards is available from NHBS, the Natural History Book Service.

And find out more about dandelions here.

Images ©Growild Nursery. Thank you.

Taraxacum pseudoroseum
An Asian dandelion, Taraxacum pseudoroseum

Book Review: Lathyrus - The Complete Guide

Lathyrus latfolius 'Blushing Bride'
Lathyrus latifolius is one of the most popular of hardy perennial Lathyrus species. This is 'Blushing Bride'.

This is the first book to cover the whole of the genus Lathyrus, and not focus only on sweet peas. And a very fine piece of work it is.

Lathyrus: The Complete Guide, by Greg Kenicer and Roger Parsons, Plant Heritage National Collection holders, is indeed comprehensive. It covers all 150 Lathyrus species, 1,200 cultivars, and there’s also a directory of 450 breeders and companies associated with Lathyrus and this fat 500 page book is gloriously illustrated throughout.

Everything from the evolutionary origins of Lathyrus to recent taxonomic revisions are discussed, and the latest classification is clearly set out with the genus presented in its constituent groups so that relationships between species are easy to understand.

Many unfamiliar species are included, those of horticultural interest or potential being given more space than the less noteworthy species. Following the latest research, the garden pea, formerly Pisum sativum, is now included in Lathyrus as L. oleraceus. However, with differences in opinion between the botanic community and the agricultural community this may not prove to be the last word on the subject. However, the authors have taken the wise decision not to list or illustrate the many many garden pea cultivars.

Lathyrus-The-Complete-Guide-FullCover900As with other books in this impressive series, discussion of the cultivars is separated from descriptions of the parent species and there is also an extensive table usefully summarising the features of all the cultivars discussed – as well as a separate descriptive list of almost all the cultivars offered for sale in the last five years. This results in entries for many cultivars in three different places. Personally, I find this irritating but I can see that this approach combines comprehensiveness with an economy of space.

The book is, of course, dominated by the sweet pea with detailed discussions on its origins and recent development and with hints of interesting hybrids on the way. The whole story is clearly set out, bringing in detail of developments around the world to provide a full picture.

In spite of the technical nature of some of the material the book is an easy read, elegantly laid out and the photography ensures that even the less flamboyant species look tempting.

This impressive new work clearly relegates my own book on sweet peas to a dusty corner of the bookshelf!

“An elegantly presented, comprehensive and accessible presentation of everything you’d want to know about sweet peas and their annual and perennial relations.”

Lathyrus: The Complete Guide by Greg Kenicer and Roger Parsons is a Royal Horticultural Society Monograph. £40.

Others in the Royal Horticultural Society Monograph are: Colchicum, Hedera, Kniphofia and Wisteria.

Order Lathyrus: The Complete Guide for delivery in Britain from the RHS.

Order Lathyrus: The Complete Guide for delivery in Britain and around the world from the Natural History Book Service.

Order Lathyrus: The Complete Guide for delivery in Britain and around the world from Summerfield Books.


Future Gold Medal Winners?

Green flowered echinacea in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial
Green flowered echinacea in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial


Fleuroselect is the across-Europe organisation that grows new seed-raised flowers in eleven countries, compares them with existing similar varieties and gives Gold Medals to those that really are better than what’s already around.

The Mr Fothergill’s trial ground in Suffolk is one of two British sites where trials are held and I’ve looked them over twice this year and picked out the most promising. None of them have yet been given names.

My first visit was on a scorching day and the second was in a downpour, so I got see them in both extremes and there were three that really stood out.

Space-alien Helianthus, sunflower, in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial
Space-alien Helianthus, sunflower, in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial

First, one that I admired but didn’t really like. It was a short wild-looking, space alien sunflower in a pretty pale yellow with flowers that – well, you can see above.

One that I did like was a dwarf perovskia (now reclassified as a Salvia – don’t ask!). It was half the height of ‘Blue Steel’ growing alongside, with growth that was more dense and spikes on which the flowers were more tightly packed.

There was also a green-flowered echinacea (above) which I did like. I’ve grown ‘Green Twister’, with green petals tipped in purple, for a few years now but this one was completely green. The flowers were also smaller than those of ‘Green Twister’ which are sometimes too large to be elegant.

Seed-raised sedum in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial
Seed-raised sedum in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial

Finally, the pick of them all was a seed-raised form of Sedum spectabile (above). At first I wondered why anyone would want to grow this plant from seed, but there are growers who like to raise all their plants from seed so I suppose it fits into their programme.

Tight, extraordinarily compact, very prolific, early flowering on very short stems, the new flowers were a little slow to overtop the older ones and many of us will prefer one of the increasing number of varieties raised from cuttings, rather than seed. But it’s certainly impressive.

The echinacea, I’ll definitely be growing – when it finally comes on the market. And perhaps it will be awarded a Gold Medal?


News from northern travels

Dahlias protected from earwigs with organza bags
Dahlias protected from earwigs with organza bags at Cloudberry Flowers.

I’ve been on a little jaunt. A week in the Scottish borders and in Northumberland making horticultural stops – not to mention startling fellow drivers by singing sea shanties as we were stuck in traffic.

I stayed with my old friend, the award-winning botanist Phil Lusby, author of Scottish Wild Plants: Their History Ecology and Conservation, and his weaver wife Ellie. Sadly, amazon has priced his splendid book more than a little high (£77.99), although they also say that it was published in 1679 so what do they know! Oh, wait. There's a revised edition at a proper price: £11.43. That's more like it.

I learned some very interesting background on the genetics of native roses, which I’ll come back to here another time, and we found a puzzling variegated honeysuckle in a hedgerow. Puzzling, because there was so much of it: not just a single shoot or a single plant – there was masses of it. I suspect virus.

Lonicera periclymenum with mysterious variegation
Lonicera periclymenum with a mysterious variegation growing in a Scottish hedgerow

We had a lovely visit to Cloudberry Flowers in Peebles, one of the new breed of cut flower growers supplying fresh, locally grown, sustainably produced flowers for local customers. Catherine Duncan’s cutting gardens seem steadily to be taking up more of the acre of garden that surrounds the house, encroaching on the lawn.

I was especially taken with the ghostly dahlias (at the top): organza bags keeping out the dreaded earwigs.

In Northumberland I visited Halls of Heddon, celebrating their centenary this year, and from whom I and my friends order dahlias and chrysanthemums. Apart from the fine quality of their plants, customers who’ve had occasion to use their customer service cannot speak too highly of the response.

I always enjoy seeing plants on trial, lined up in rows, side by side, and that’s what you’ll find at Halls. It makes it so easy to compare varieties and I guarantee you’ll be delighted when come across a treasure that you didn’t know. I was very taken with ‘Blyton Everest’, a very tight, white small decorative with lavender tints in the centre.

Of course, we can’t all get to visit but their website is easy to use and comprehensive.

Halls of Heddon display garden
The Halls of Heddon display garden

In Northumberland I also paid a visit to another cut flower grower, Kate Norris at Northumbrian Flowers https://northumbrianflowers.co.uk/ near Hexham. Busy with weddings, there’s a flurry of brides desperate for flowers as all the pandemic-postponed weddings are back on the calendar, the cutting garden was nevertheless looking very prolific.

Rudbeckia 'Sahara' at Northumbrian Flowers
Rudbeckia 'Sahara' at Northumbrian Flowers

Her bed of Rudbeckia ‘Sahara’ was impressive – such lovely tones – and there was bed after bed of helichrysums in separate colours. Kate had also recently planted more woody plants for cutting, especially hypericums, so I was able to recommend some physocarpus and point her to me my earlier blog post.

And finally, apart from enjoying the magical Borders scenery, I also got to spend a couple of evenings in a delightful little shopfront pub in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea on the Northumberland coast. The Ink Spot is only open a few hours a day, three or four dys a week, there’s no loud music, no food – just cheerful locals and their dogs enjoying drink and conversation. Seats, at a guess, eighteen. Marvellous. I’ll be back.

TheInkSpot


Book Review: RHS Weeds

RHSWeedsFixed

We all know about weeds. We pull them out, we throw them on the compost – and then we do it all over again. And again. But weeds are far far more than never ending irritation and fodder for the compost heap as this elegant little book reveals. They’re simply fascinating, as RHS Weeds by Gareth Richards proves.

Looking closely at fifty plants that most of us would rather not have in the garden, we learn why they succeed, why they’re difficult to eradicate and also why we should admire them.

I have to say, though, that throughout this book there’s a definite feeling of support for the underdog. The more that Japanese knotweed or Himalayan balsam or ragwort is added to lists of banned weeds, the more Gareth feels the urge to remind us of the plants’ good qualities and the intriguing associated stories.

He airs his respect for Japanese knotweed, pointing out that bees love its generous late season nectar supply; he explains how the toxins that make ragwort so unpalatable, indeed poisonous, to cattle are passed on to the luridly striped cinnabar moth caterpillars that feed on its leaves; he notes the irony of Spanish bluebells being weeds in native bluebell woods, while native bluebells can be weeds in the garden.

Setting the tone for the whole book, in the very first entry, Gareth sets out his admiration for the sycamore, explaining how it behaves in the same way as native forest trees and fits well, visually, into the British landscape. Rather than be derided, sycamore should be welcomed as a replacement for the elm and ash that have been laid low by disease. What’s more, it turns out, sycamores support a greater mass of insects than oaks.

Clearly, Gareth has a rich understanding of what he calls these “vagabond plants”, these plants in the wrong place, yet this impressive appreciation is passed on to us in a very readable style, helped along by the beautiful historic botanical illustrations. So, when we’re finished heaving out brambles, we can relax with a cup of pineapple weed tea, and nurse our wounds as we discover why it is, exactly, that the bramble stems, and even the backs of the leaves, come with so very many vicious thorns.

I know it’s a cliché to say it, but in this case it’s actually true: this is a book that all gardeners will enjoy.

RHS Weeds by Gareth Richards is published by Welbeck.

Declaration of interest: the author is a friend and the book was supplied free of charge by the publisher.


Double pink sunflowers? Not really...

Sunflowers: Fake double pink and what the seed produced
Sunflowers: Fake double pink and what the seed actually produced

Back in the spring I saw an ad on Facebook for pink sunflowers. The variety was said to be ‘Pink Pooh’ and, at first sight, the fully double pink flowers looked quite convincing. If it was a Photoshop job then it was well done. And that, of course, was exactly right – it was a well done Photoshop job. You can see it above.

My friend Alison Levey over at The Blackberry Garden blog checked the same Facebook ad and we decided to do a little test. Alison ordered some seed, sowed it, potted up the seedlings and then passed three of them on to me.

A few days ago Alison reported what she discovered and just over a week ago the first buds on my three plants opened. As you can see, above, each plant produced a perfectly nice, yellow flowered, single sunflower: an unbranched stem with just one flower at the top – it’s probably one of those varieties grown increasingly on a farm scale for bird seed.

But not a double pink. Are we surprised? Not really.

And it’s not just pink sunflowers. There are “rainbow” tomatoes (below) with blue, purple, puce and buttercup yellow fruits all on the same truss not to mention multicoloured tulips (also below) seen nowhere on the planet outside websites trying to sell us the doctored images.

So, in the words of every shopping and consumer rights expert across the world: “If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.” In these cases, we can scratch out the “probably”. Don’t waste your money.

Rainbow Tomatoes
'Rainbow' Tomatoes: offered on Facebook with this image, doctored clumsily in Photoshop.
An image of fake 'Rainbow' tulips
An image of fake 'Rainbow' tulips offered for sale.

Trialling New Zealand sweet peas

Sweet peas (l-r) 'Bix', 'Pink Nines' and ‘Enchanté’
Sweet peas (l-r) 'Bix', 'Pink Nines' and ‘Enchanté’

Dr. Keith Hammett is the world’s leading sweet pea breeder. I’ve always been a big fan of his varieties, and he’s made so many important steps forward including integrating the most recently discovered species – the red and yellow Lathyrus belinensis - into his breeding work.

This year I trialled seven of his varieties, some of which I’ve never grown before, and I was especially pleased with four of them. Just to be clear, seed was sown in late winter, they were grown in ordinary garden conditions, on a wigwam of bamboo canes, in a corner of the cutting garden just round the corner from here at boutique florist Foxtail Lilly.

‘Bix’
This has been outstanding, not so much for its productivity but for its wonderful cream colouring with the strong rose pink picotee.

‘Enchanté’
One of the few tri-coloured sweet peas, with pale cherry red standards, white at the base, and pale mauve-blue wings opening from yellow buds. A delightful soft combination.

‘Enigma’
I was really looking forward to the vertical magenta-pink stripe through each pale pink standard but found it much less clear than I expected. I’ll give it another try next year, in better conditions.

‘Nuance’
This is a two-tone pink with darker standard and paler wings, very pretty but not as striking as I’d expected.

‘Pink Nines’
Nine flowers per stem – yes really! I loved this for the long life of each stem, provided by its eight or nine flowers. We need this in other colours.

‘Route 66’
Gorgeous, nicely frilled, pink and white bicolour that was taller and more vigorous than any other sweet pea in the cutting garden. ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is similar, but bright red and white.

‘Turquoise Lagoon’
An extraordinary combination of pinkish mauve maturing into soft turquoise blue. Very pretty in posies with pinks.

I’ll definitely be growing ‘Bix', ‘Enchanté’, 'Pink Nines’ and ‘Route 66’ again, and I suspect that the others would be more effective with better treatment.

Sadly, since Brexit, Keith is unable to send seed from New Zealand to the UK. However, many of his varieties are available in the UK from English Sweet Peas and from Mr Fothergill’s. In North America try Sweet Pea Gardens.

And you can find out more about Keith’s sweet peas here.

Over at the award-winning Blackberry Garden blog, my friend Alison Levey has also been growing these sweet peas from New Zealand. Check out her report here.

I’m still waiting for my copy of the new RHS monograph on Lathyrus by Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, botanist Greg Kenicer and Plant Heritage National Collection holder Roger Parsons. Of course, it includes sweet peas. When it finally arrives, I’ll be discussing it here… It's arrived! It looks stupendous. Review coming...