Previous month:
January 2007
Next month:
March 2007

February 2007

Ornamental kales on trial

Kalesinopengood600 When I was in England in January, I took a look at the trial of ornamental kales at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, in Surrey about 25 miles south from central London (zone 8). It was a real eye-opener.

Thirty six different varieties, almost all bred in Japan, were grown both in containers in a relatively sheltered location, and also in the open on the nearby trials field (netted against pigeons). Most of those grown in the open were a disaster, you just wouldn’t want to be bothered growing them at all. Only the Peacock types, with their flat heads of unusually lacy leaves really thrived. Most of the rest proved one of the often unappreciated aspects of plant trials – they revealed those which are not worth space in the garden.Kalesinopenbad600

All fared much better in sheltered containers, but even when growing well so many are little more than coloured dishmops that it makes you want to just pull them out and throw them on the compost heap.

Kaleredpeacock500 The stars, both in containers and in the open, were ‘Red Peacock’ and ‘White Peacock’. Their broad flat heads of prettily dissected foliage made attractive specimens and their informal outline suits them well to growing with spring partners like wallflowers or pansies, or bulbs, which can emerge amongst the lacy leaves. Otherwise, don’t bother. Of course, this is just one location, in one season. There’s a report of a 2004 trial at Mississippi State University here.

The RHS trial is continuing, when the final report is published later this year I’ll add the link to this post.

You can buy ‘Red Peacock’, ‘White Peacock’ and a range of other ornamental kales from Nicky’s Nursery in the UK and from Stokes Seed in North America.

Perennial Plant of the Year

Over on Garden Rant Elizabeth Licata has been having a go at the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year award scheme. She complains that, basically, the award-winners are dull. Here’s the list, judge for yourself. I’ve updated the names, and marked those which have also been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

  • 2007 Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’
  • 2006 Dianthus ‘Feuerhexe’ (Firewitch)
  • 2005 Helleborus x hybridus
  • 2004 Athyrium niponicum var. pictum AGM
  • 2003 Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’
  • 2002 Phlox paniculata ‘David’
  • 2001 Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
  • 2000 Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’
  • 1999 Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ AGM
  • 1998 Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ AGM
  • 1997 Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’ (May Night) AGM
  • 1996 Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’
  • 1995 Perovskia atriplicifolia
  • 1994 Astilbe ‘Sprite’ AGM
  • 1993 Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’
  • 1992 Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ AGM
  • 1991 Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’

She right, they’re mainly old favorites or over-publicized newcomers. Phlox paniculata ‘David’, repeatedly touted as mildew-resistant, was plagued with the disease everywhere I saw it last year. And why give the award to Helleborus x hybridus, implying that every single plant of this species is of award standard? No, some are fit for nothing but the compost heap. That’s a cop out. I’d say best plants on the list are the calamagrostis and, as it happens, the AGM winners.

Geraniumrozanne_1 Of course, the 1800 professional nurserypeople, landscape contractors and so on who vote for the PPA Plant of the Year are not going to vote for plants which are difficult to propagate, or difficult to grow or manage in their professional circumstances. Amateur gardeners are not allowed to join as full voting members, and there’s a special membership category for members with a turnover of over $2m a year. You get the idea – which is, basically, to sell plants. A peony or a trillium is never going to get the award, however beautiful, until tissue culture makes these plants widely available at a good price.

But I’m sure the scheme does get people into nurseries and on to websites. They may or may not buy the award winners, but they will surely buy more perennials. Elizabeth suggests an award for the best new plant of the year – great idea. Come on PPA, what about it?

The 2008 Perennial Plant of the Year, by the way, turns out to be a great plant: Geranium 'Rozanne'. Declaration of interest: I’m a PPA member, I voted for it.

Find out more about Geranium 'Rozanne', and the runners up for 2008, at the Walters Gardens 2008 Perennial Plant of the Year page.

Snowdrop (Galanthus) book review

Snowdropcover Snowdrops: A Monograph of the Cultivated Galanthus

This is a spectacular book. Over 350 pages of rich and detailed information on every aspect of wild and cultivated snowdrops are illustrated with hundreds of excellent pictures of snowdrops both in the wild and in gardens with many close-up studio shots.

Some gardeners might be surprised that a book of this size and substance is needed to deal with snowdrops… how many are there, after all? They all have white flowers, there’s single and double, some have broad leaves, some have narrow… Not so fast. Apart from the nineteen species, the book lovingly describes over 500 different cultivars (not all with white flowers…). 500! When I visited the painter, wood engraver and snowdrop fanatic John Morley, who provided the lovely endpapers for the book, he had over 300 different cultivars in his Norfolk garden alone. So there’s more to snowdrops than first appears.

This labor of love from three of the most devoted and knowledgeable snowdrop enthusiasts, Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis and John Grimshaw, is a veritable treasure trove of descriptions, histories and every sort of esoteric background information as well as sound and detailed cultivation and propagation advice.

The problem is that it costs, by the time it gets to your door, over £40 in the UK, $108 in the US! It may be a wonderful book but that’s a lot of money. It's available in the UK and USA direct from the publishers, Griffin Press.

For some years I’ve been trying to get other publishers interested in a more modest book on snowdrops, at a more accessible price and concentrating on those that are widely available. A book for gardeners who love snowdrops but for whom £40 or $108 is just too much. But the publishers all say that while there’s this book, and the out-of-print botanical monograph The Genus Galanthus by Aaron Davis (available on at $169.34, as I write, and available on at £69.99), there’s no room for another snowdrop book. Not even at £20? I think they’re wrong, but unless they commission the book there is no book.

So, this is the ultimate snowdrop book. There’s so much good information and so many good pictures that it’s worth every cent or every penny. But that’s still a lot of dollars or pounds.

The Wrong Reasons to Plant a Tree

The March/April issue of America’s Backyard Living magazine has just arrived and, to mark Arbor Day on April 27 (two and half months away!), it includes a list of the Top Five Reasons to Plant a Tree. And their Number One reason to plant a tree? I kid you not: “Trees boost the market value of your home.”

Oh please… Isn’t the Number One reason to plant a tree the fact that trees look beautiful? Strangely, this most obvious reasons doesn’t appear in the Top Five list at all. This is their list.

These are:

  • 1. Trees boost the market value of your home.
  • 2. One young tree has the cooling effect of 20 air conditioners.
  • 3. Trees can cut your heating costs by 20 percent to 50 percent, and cooling costs by 30 percent.
  • 4. In lab tests, a tree-filled scene reduced test subjects’ stress within 5 minutes.
  • 5. One acre of trees absorbs 6 tons of carbon dioxide and produces 4 tons of oxygen. That’s enough fresh air to sustain 18 people for a year!

The fact that economics dominates, and aesthetic and spiritual considerations don’t even get a mention, seems especially depressing. I need to look out of the window into the woods just to relieve the stress created by reading this list.

Temperature hits zero (F)

Half an hour ago at 7.21am this morning, according to our friendly local online weather station here in Pennsylvania, the temperature hit -0.2F. That’s about -18C for you Brits. (Yes, just about everywhere in the world has switched over to Celsius except the US which sticks to Fahrenheit - and feet and inches, gallons, pounds and ounces etc).

Thermometerminus5400 Nothing wrong with a cold night like this here in USDA zone 5, of course, (Britain, by the way, is mostly in zone 8) where the record low for this time on this day is -16F (-26C)  – except that we have no snow.

A foot or two or more of snow provides that insulating blanket to keeps plants a littler cosier than the icy air around them and reduce temperature fluctuations but a combination of El Ninho and global climate change seems to have eliminated all but about 3in of snow so far this winter. The recent United Nations report on climate change reveals how bad things are and The Independent newspaper in the UK laid out clearly what we’re in for as temperatures rise. With rainforest turning to desert we might end up being thankful for the resilience of Japanese knotweed.

One interesting sideline – thermometers vary. I’m sure our local online weather station is accurate, the thermometer outside our kitchen window reads -1F, and  the electronic thermometer with its sensor outside agrees. But the thermometer outside our bedroom window reads -11F and the big thermometer on a tree in the woods, which I can see from where I’m sitting writing this, reads -5F.

Either way, the plants will not be happy.

Own-trumpet blowing time!

I'm delighted to say that my Encyclopedia of Perennials has been very well received. Thank you to everyone who's reviewed it, here's just a selection of those easily accessible online. Just click on the jacket on the left to order a copy of either the American or the British edition.

“The book is very well put together, fully and lavishly illustrated with numerous photographs of a very high quality and reproduced to a size sufficient to clearly see flower detail…

"Touted as ‘the definitive illustrated reference guide’ this certainly meets the description and surpassed my expectations, taking encyclopedic works to a new level.”
Royal Horticultural Society's Plantsman magazine

"Along with its clarity, the book is enhanced by boxes on everything from the invasive peril of purple loose- strife to how and when to move peonies. Graham is not afraid to confront an evil-doer when he sees one, and the encyclopedia takes Lythrum head on. "Purple loosestrife spreads extensively both by seeds and with its creeping roots; it should not be sold or planted." To which I can only say, "Amen."...

"And there are lots of marvelous photos, but none are scrunched into the pages like the postage-size variety that many encyclopedias tease us with."
New York Newsday

“I'm happy to report that the American Horticultural Society's Encyclopedia of Perennials is considerably livelier than most other reference works. The text is well-written and accessible…. Most significantly, someone on the editorial team saw the usefulness of sidebars and boxes containing information on companion plantings, flower structure, cultivation advice, and other odds and ends. The sidebars are often illustrated and help create the dynamic, information-packed look of the publication. Oh, and the photography is beautiful. I was impressed by the vibrancy of the colors, especially in the close-ups.”
Gardening While Intoxicated blog

"...this encyclopedia inspires - with its gee-orgeous photos, of single plants and of whole beds and everything in between.  Nothing like those abominable extreme close-ups we see in catalogs that show us nothing about what the plant actually looks like.  And there are terrific sidebars - listing sun-proof  hostas, even slug-resistant hostas, or suggesting ways to design with various perennials, like turning us on to the to-die-for combo of blue hostas and ferns - in drifts.  Even the dark side of perennials is revealed - think powdery mildew on Monarda - so this is not the usual advertising copy put out by growers."
Garden Rant blog

"What distinguishes this volume from other plant encyclopedias is its careful attention to detail.  There's a short description of each genus, along with notes on cultivation, propagation, and special problems -- the diseases and pests that afflict each one.

"Throughout the book, there are special "notes" on a wide variety of subjects: how the plants were named, their origins, how to combine them with other plants, and much more.  You'll learn about noctural daylilies, many of which are fragrant; which irises are dependable re-bloomers; the Barhaven strains of primroses developed by Florence Bellis in Oregon.

"Every designer and dedicated gardener will value this book for its wealth of information and the many beautiful images showing different cultivars.  The book is filled with photos of plants in successful combination -- colors, shapes, and textures that work together particularly well."
Garden Design Online blog

"Sometimes you come across a book you know will be one of the most useful books you possess, constantly off the bookshelf and in your hands, one you will enjoy for years to come. The Encyclopedia of Perennials is such a book....

"Unusually, this encyclopedia not only gives detailed information, but it is also a good read."
THE Gardening Website

"Editors selected perennials of quality and endurance, new plants that are expected to endure, plants with long-term availability, hard-to-find noteworthies that should be made more available, and obscure gems that need to be brought to light.

"The A to Z Directory, arranged by genus name, includes scientific and common names, full descriptions of cultivation, propagation, problems, and cultivars, color photography, and informative sidebars about plant history, flower structure, and design tips – many on companion planting....

"No doubt about it, give yourself the gift of this book. Grab it, curl up, get comfy, start planning. The Encyclopedia of Perennials will give you winters of pleasure. While you’re at it, give one to your favorite gardener. You can’t miss."
Dig-It magazine

Two exciting new echinaceas

Just wanted to bring you quick look at two dramatic new echinaceas.

Echinaceagreenenvy25912 Green Envy is a breakthrough bicolor – the picture says it all – from event organizer and passionate plantsperson Mark Veeder. This is his first plant introduction, he assessed it in his New York State garden after it turned up in the nearby garden of a friend of his. A dramatic cut flower, and also an intriguing border perennial, I saw it in his garden last year and can’t wait to see it flowering in mine this summer. It’s available from White Flower Farm in the US, though at $29.95 for one plant in a 3in pot the price is a bit steep. In the UK Cotswold Garden Flowers have listed it, along with a large range of other echinaceas, but unfortunately they’re sold out as I write this. I'm sure they, and other nurseries, will have it soon.

Echinaceatikitorch Tiki Torch is the first in this color range from the breeding of Dan Heims at TerraNova Nurseries in Oregon. Derived in part from the tough and impressive ‘Ruby Giant’, it holds its bright orange rays out almost horizontally, and then they fall just slightly creating impact from a sideways view as well as from above.

I haven’t seen the plant in flower yet, just this picture, and I know pictures can sometimes be (how shall I put it) overoptimistic. But Tiki Torch looks as if it might prove to be the best in this color range yet. And Dan was bubbling with enthusiasm for it when I met him last week. So look out for it. Please note that TerraNova Nurseries are wholesale only and do not sell to home gardeners, so please don’t ask them to send you a plant. It should available to home gardeners later this year.