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January 2007

More newcomers from Wayside Gardens

Rosenightowl I skipped over some of the more startling introductions to the new catalog from Wayside Gardens in my last post, so I thought I’d take a look at them now. Their cover plant, the rose Night Owl, is described as a “midnight purple version of the classic climber ‘Sally Holmes’” and it’s certainly a rich and sumptuous shade of purple. Not sure how it relates to the faintly blushed white ‘Sally Holmes’ (with its RHS Award of Garden Merit) though; ‘Sally Holmes’ is a Hybrid Musk of entirely different parentage. Said to be long flowering, disease resistant and clove scented – it sounds gorgeous.

There are two pages new and recent Big Sky echinaceas. We haven’t yet seen the best of these echinaceas in new shades; the coming years will, I’m sure, see them getting better and better. Summer Sky, Echinaceasummersky with pale orange rays shading pinker at the base, is certainly impressive though when I grew it last year I found that it faded as the flowers aged. And at $14.95 for one plant in a 3in pot the latest varieties are not cheap. I’ve news of another stunning new echinacea in a day or two.

Coreopsisjethrotull I grew Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’ last year and it was excellent. This is the best of the new style coreopsis with fluted petals, the edges are rolled together to make a tube. Very pretty, and delightful in small posies, it proved the most stable (others produced a mix of fluted and flat petals) and was long flowering and prolific.

I also like the look of Lonicera nitida ‘Lemon Beauty’, a gold-edged version of the invaluable little evergreen box honeysuckle and there’s nice group of new viburnums, selections of US native species. Viburnum nudum Brandywine, with red fall color and crowded clusters of pink and blue berries looks especially tempting.Loniceraleamonbeauty_1

There’s been discussion of Geranium ‘Sweet Heidy’ on the Wayside Garden Voices blog. This blog is essentially to let all of us in on the internal discussions of the staff at Wayside. They mention that Heidy is misspelled as Heidi in the catalog, that they have very limited supplies of astilbes this year and that the catalog description for Indigofera ‘Rose Carpet’ is a description of a completely different plant! ‘Sweet Heidy’, by the way, looks to be a pink-tinted variety in the Rozanne style – should be great in a large container.

Geraniumsweetheidy Lots more goodies… no more time. Check out all the Wayside newcomers here.

British gardeners should start to look for these plants using the RHS PlantFinder online.

Laburnums and orchids

What does a garden writer do when he’s confined to bed with the mother of all sinus colds - apart from doze through re-runs of Bonanza and Gunsmoke? He reads. And what does he read? Mysteries and plant catalogs. I picked up a mystery last night – I won’t embarrass the author by naming it; let’s just say that when I came to the line “But Cressi was wrong about in whom the blonde was interested” that was enough…. “wrong about in whom”?! Can you compost paperbacks? His editor needs a little extra training, I think. Or a smack on the head,

So I tossed that aside and picked up the latest catalog from Wayside Gardens and amongst all the flash and colorful newcomers my bleary eye fell on two things: laburnums and orchids.

Laburnumfastigiata This year Wayside have added Laburnum anagroides ‘Fastigiata’, an upright form of the very familiar tree known in the US as the Goldenchain Tree and in the UK as the Golden Rain Tree (don’t ask, please). Now an upright laburnum reaching 20ft x 8ft would be great in small gardens or as a street tree and ‘Fastigiata’ is very rarely seen on either side of the pond. Slightly puzzling, though, that in a catalog dazzling with color their picture shows a tree with not a single flower.

Their website features a second, slower growing upright laburnum, Laburnum x watereri ‘Sunspire’, reaching 18ft x 8ft, shown in sparkling color. Laburnumsunspire Not only is this cheaper, $39.95 for a plant in a mysterious “Trade Gallon” pot – a gallon which only contains three quarts! – but this hybrid produces very very few of the poisonous seeds produced by forms of L. anagroides. And ‘Fastigiata’ is listed at $69.95 for a bareroot tree. I know which I’d like to try.

Cypripediumreginae And then there are the lady’s slipper orchids, they list two native US native Cypripedium species and they look absolutely gorgeous. But what, exactly, do you get for your $99.95 – apart from one bareroot plant? Well, C. reginae is one of the easiest lady’s slippers to grow and likes rich, damp soil with a little shade from the midday sun. The plants supplied are nursery-grown, from seed, and certified by CITES, the convention that oversees trade in rare species. Excellent.

They also list C. pubescens, correctly C. parviflorum var. pubescens, which is also relatively easy but needs more shade, takes a drier soil and likes good drainage. “None of those suspect field-collected Orchids here” the website says about C. reginae. Not so about C. pubescens. Cypripediumpubescens There’s nothing in the catalog or on the website to say that the plants are nursery grown or certified by CITES – so perhaps these are dug from the wild. If you want to spend a hundred bucks on a lady’s slipper orchid, and they do make spectacular garden plants, you know which one to choose.  British gardeners thinking about trying lady’s slippers should start at the Rare Plants lady’s slipper page.

Vegetables at the Guggenheim

After our early morning stint in the New York studio at Martha Stewart Living Radio, we headed off up Fifth Avenue to the Guggenheim Museum where found an exhibition of Spanish painting from El Greco to Picasso. It could have been an old fashioned chronological plod through the centuries... but instead it was organized in a series of juxtapositions: similar subjects shown painted in the classical style of El Greco or Goya alongside more modern treatments of similar subjects by Picasso or Salvador Dali.

Cotancardoon Of horticultural interest in this often rather startling show were two still lifes by Juan Sanchez Cotan from 1602 and 1604. Both featured a blanched cardoon. Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, seen in the picture here, from about 1604, includes not only the curled head of the cardoon but other vegetables and fruits suspended on strings and laying on the ledge. The simpler, and more effective of the two (no digitized image seems to be available, sorry - found one later, now added) Cotancardoonparsnipswas Still Life with Parsnips, from 1602. It featured a similar setting with the blanched cardoon head and a group four or five roots – in fact I think they’re mixture of carrots and parsnips. At that time carrots were often purple or pale yellow and purple topped as some are in this picture.

The cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, is related to the globe artichoke but instead of the scales in the flowerhead being eaten, the leaf stems are blanched and they turn this lovely pink shade.

PicassostilllifeThese fruits and vegetables, taken from the larder, are organized in a very precise way in the picture shown here and painted in such meticulous detail yet the result not at all like a photograph. It’s far more than simply an exercise in technique and highlights a spiritual connectedness with the everyday necessities of life and a recognition of their transience. Of course Picasso’s Still Life with Newspaper, hung alongside, is even less like a photograph.

Cardoons like a rich soil in full sun. In late summer gather the stems together, tie them with twine and wrap them in 6-8in/15-20cm of black plastic to exclude light or wrap them in paper and then earth them up like celery. About a month later they will be ready to eat and will have turned the lovely pink shade seen in the picture.

New York’s Algonquin Hotel (with two gardening twists)

Into New York City to do Morning Living with Lauren Pressley on Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius satellite radio this morning. For the benefit of Brits, this is a subscription based radio service broadcast by satellite with 198 different stations – and no ads. This is a great show, and Lauren is such an enthusiastic and professional host.

Algonquinfrontdoor But we were booked for 8am and to be safe we’d have to allow two hours to drive in. So we thought: let’s give ourselves a little break. So we drove in yesterday (Thursday) lunch time, visited the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) then checked into the legendary Algonquin Hotel.

Since it opened over 100 years ago, this has been the haunt of many writers and artists. The New Yorker magazine was founded here, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., John Barrymore and H.L. Mencken all loved the place and, unlike most hotels, from the beginning it welcomed female guests traveling alone and these included Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir and Eudora Welty. In 1950 William Faulkner drafted his Nobel Prize acceptance speech at the Algonquin.

It’s also famous for its Round Table around which, in the 1920s, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and many others (especially writers from Vanity Fair magazine whose office was nearby) gathered for lunch and repartée every day. Indeed there are quotations from Dorothy Parker on the doors to the rooms. HorticultureparkerOn the door immediately opposite ours was this: Embodying words in sentences, a game frequently played by members of the Round Table – “You can take a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

BarbAfter meeting our good friends, photographers Alan and Linda Detrick, for an early dinner at the hotel (wonderful halibut) we were off to W 22nd St to catch the opening night of our friend from England singer Barb Jungr’s run at the Metropolitan Room. Her program of Bob Dylan material, both familiar and obscure, presented Dylan in a new hue – interpreted by this supremely expressive, and at times hilarious, singer. If you can’t catch this run, catch her when you can - UK or US. New York’s Village Voice says: “Devoted to Bob Dylan, this Manchester-raised and London-based dark lark does his songs as well as he and also vastly differently. She knows where all the darkest corners of his lyrics are on the psychological map and explores each one. The patter in between is also profoundly intelligent and broadly funny.”

Back at the Algonquin, where you can enjoy a delightful leisurely breakfast even if you’re not booked in, there were some impressive flower arrangements in the lobby. They combined plants which are amongst the hardiest of shrubs, forsythia, and the most tender, protea. (Please excuse the below-par flash photo.) And all set off by variegated Swiss cheese plant - Monstera deliciosa ‘Variegata’. And if you click on the picture, and look in the bottom right hand corner you’ll see Matilda, the Algonquin cat.Forsythiaprotea500_1

To quote the Algonquin website: “In the late 1930s a rather disheveled feline wandered into the hotel searching for food and shelter. Ever the quintessential host, owner Frank Case (the owner at that time) welcomed the furry traveler into the Algonquin and a tradition was born.

“Matilda, the current resident, is very popular with our guests. She has the run of the house (except in dining areas and kitchen) but prefers to oversee the comings and goings of the many guests who cross her threshold.

“Matilda receives mail weekly from friends around the world and has been the subject of countless stories. On one occasion, when her collar was stolen, the “Algonquin Cat-Burglary” was the talk of the town.

Algonquinmatilda “Each year Matilda is given a birthday party, as befits a New York celebrity. A memorable one occurred in 2002 when, while celebrating her seventh birthday with 150 of her closest friends, she jumped on her cake and ran out of the room, leaving a trail of paw prints.”

Then, in the morning, off on foot up 5th Avenue in 9F (-13C) and with a piercing wind. Brass monkey weather, as they say in England. It’s just as well it was only a few blocks. We had a great time with Lauren Pressley, then headed off to the Guggenheim for a few hours (more on that, with a horticultural slant, next time) before heading home to Pennsylvania. Where I find that at 7.07am this morning the temperature hit 1.2F (-17.1C) – and with no snow to provide an insulating blanket. Oh dear. Some plants, I’m afraid, just won’t make it through.

Plants at the CENTS trade show

I don’t do many horticultural trade shows. There’s only so much professional lawn care equipment (seeding machines the size of tanks, that sort of thing) that I can take – well, none really.

But I’ve spent this morning at CENTS (the Central Environmental Nursery and Trade Show) here in Columbus, Ohio. This is a huge show, hundreds and hundreds of exhibitors, with plenty of big toys for the boys and a great opportunity for the nursery and landscape professional. And there are plants too, of course. January in snowy Columbus is not the best time to be showing plants and I had to double check with the exhibitor that the rose pink bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis, that I spotted was not a new color break – it had been forced in poor light and had lost its true color.

Pineknotcolumbus500 Hellebores from Dick and Judith Tyler at Pine Knot Farms are a standout, and their booth featured this lovely bowl of floating flowers. There was also news that plants from another of America’s great hellebore breeders, Marietta O’Byrne, would now be available more widely through the TerraNova Nurseries. TerraNova don’t sell to home gardeners, but look out for them in mail order catalogs.

TerraNova are also showing a new variegated bergenia, ‘Solar Flare’. It features an irregular white or cream edge to the leaf, becoming pink in winter. The older leaves turn green in late summer and this ensures that the plants have good vigor. And also a new variegated acanthus, ‘Tasmanian Angel’, with its leaves splashed in white. And there's advance news of purple-leaved, yes purple, hostas in a few years time!Bergeniasolarflare500

Pinuscolumbus500 I also came across a variegated pine which I’d not seen before. I don’t usually like variegated conifers and there were one or two others around that were too horrid even to name. But Pinus densiflora 'Oculus-draconis’, with a bright yellow base to the needles, was surprisingly effective.

I also spotted a great slogan (though my wife tells me she's seen it before) on the banner on the Moo-Nure stand (you can guess what they make). They say they're "Number 1 in the Number 2 Business"! A great line. And certainly more memorable than what the Great Western Bag Co has to say about itself: "Manufacturers of the Superior Wire Basket"!

But finally the feet gave out and a beer and a rest were called for. Next: off to the airport and home.

Perennials seminar

Great day at the seminar, Exploring the World of Perennials, here in Columbus, Ohio yesterday. And it’s good to be able to recommend every single one of the other speakers. So if you’re ever thinking of going to hear any of these speakers – please do so.

  • Dan Heims – master plant breeder and hunter out of wonderful new plants.
  • Denise Adams – heirloom expert with a great sense of the value of heirloom plants today.
  • Stephanie Cohen – always sparky and forthright  in revealing both the good plants and the bad.
  • Melinda Myers – creative ideas for making the most of small garden spaces.
  • Steven Still – wise and authoritative with a rich knowledge of plants, and the creator of this great event.
  • Laura Deeter – no chance of a nap as she excitedly tells it exactly like it is.

And put 20 January 2008 in your diary for next year's event. Check with the Perennial Plant Association in the fall for details.

The first London Flower Show of the year

Dibleys070116 This week saw the first Royal Horticultural Society London Flower Show of the year. Staging a flower show in the middle of winter might seem rather a gamble but this has always been an interesting event revealing an unexpectedly wide range of plants to provide winter interest. With botanical paintings plus the temptation to add to your library from the huge stock of second hand books from Mike Park (no website, yet… email to go on his mailing list) my visit really brightened a wet and windy winter’s day.

My judging committee did not give any Gold Medals this time, but the overall standard was certainly good. Dibleys showed some superb begonias and streptocarpus, beautifully grown plants staged to both create a spectacle and show off the individual specimens. Look out for their new Streptocarpus ‘Seren’ in rich yellow with a purple picotee.

A couple of other plants caught my eye. Long Acre Plants showed an early form of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, in full flower, with masses of buds still to come. It’s a hybrid of their own. Nursery owner Nigel Rowland told me that it had not been forced and had already been in flower for some time.

Avon Bulbs showed two forms of current winter favourites Arum italicum I’d not seen before. Alan Street told me that ‘Splish Splash’ came from East Lambrook Manor in Somerset, the wonderful modern cottage garden created by the late Margery Fish. It features foliage randomly speckled in white. ‘Miss Janay Hall’ has smaller leaves with bright yellow variegation; sometimes half of a leaf comes bright yellow. Both are distinct and look to be valuable addition to the winter foliage display.

There are seven more RHS London Flower Shows this year, all are well worth a visit. You can find out more here. The venue in central London, ten minutes walk from Victoria station.

Brambles as bedding!

Rubusbiflorus500 Visiting the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in a gale this week, I came across some novel bedding. Amongst a planting of polyanthus in the Walled Garden East at the end of the Canal, white-stemmed brambles, the Himalayan Rubus biflorus, had been used as a centrepiece in each bed. They’re substantial plants, set out from large pots I’m sure, but they look superb against the background of the yew hedges and unobtrusively supported on black steel frames. Great idea!

Sunny, the rock garden cat

Sunnythecat500Every garden should have a cat that who catches mice and never sleeps on the choice alpines.

This is Sunny, the resident in the Rock Garden Department at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in Surrey. He is the welcome successor to the much loved Tommy, who has passed away. A winter flowering tree or shrub is to be planted in his honour. Sunny was on patrol in the Alpine House yesterday and was much admired by visitors.