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July 2007

Another new variegation

Plectranthussport400 Plectranthus are notorious for sporting to new foliage patterns; the big and bushy, large-leaved, variegated ones seem to do it all the time. But here’s a sport on the white-edged Plectranthus forsteri ‘Marginatus’ which is growing in one of our containers.

I’ve seen this plectranthus revert to plain green, but I’m not sure I can recall it sporting to produce this green form with a paler central splash on each leaf. I’ll be keeping an eye on this summer and taking a cutting or two.

Two books on heucheras

Heucheraheims Four authors working on two books on heucheras at the same time when none had ever been published before? Just shows how popular heucheras have become. And we’re fortunate to have two such good – and very different – books on these invaluable plants.

Heucheras and Heucherella by Dan Heims and Graham Ware, was the first out. Dan Heims has bred and introduced more heuchera and heucherella cultivars than anyone else and his good humored proselytizing on their behalf has been highly influential in their rise in popularity.

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Delphiniums by David and Shirley Bassett

Delphiniumsjacket We’ve been waiting a long time for a good book on delphiniums and at last we have it. Delphiniums, by the English couple David and Shirley Bassett, covers both the familiar flamboyant Elatum Hybrids and many wild species and the various forms of them grown in gardens – and everything in between.

Elegantly designed, and with many mostly excellent photographs, the book begins with an overview of the wild species, mainly from Yunnan and California, enhanced by close up pictures of leaves and individual flowers. The Elatum Group, Belladonna Group, Grandiflorum Group and the wild species are then discussed with the emphasis very much on cultivars and species which are available to gardeners at the present time. There are extensive sections of growing, propagation and breeding with an especially enlightening section on growing border delphiniums in pots.

The book is packed with fascinating detail, history, comparisons of similar cultivars – the many decades of devotion which the Bassetts have given to delphiniums is obvious and we’re fortunate that they finally gave in to years of persuasion and wrote the book. Their writing style is clear and accessible, pictures show mature plants, individual florets, foliage, roots and tubers, propagation and cultural techniques, and problems – rarely have so many parts of the plants been shown in a monograph when so often all we are given is flower shots. In one section the color reproduction is rather watery but their painstaking photography is a treat. And unlike the index found in many monographs, material other than the plants themselves is included (people, places, topics…) which is as it should be.

However… I’m reluctant to mention it, really, but I feel there’s a problem with the book. The many named Elatum Hybrids, and indeed the other delphiniums too, are discussed in color groups. This is very helpful in comparing one with another - but nowhere is there a descriptive list of them. When I first opened the book and saw the discussion I was pleased – because I expected and A-Z descriptive list as well. Unfortunately not. I know this would have added to the price, but descriptions covering height, flowering season, spike length and shape, floret size and color, and so on would have made a book which is excellent as far as it goes truly superb.

But make no mistake, this is an excellent book, which will impress and inform anyone interested in delphiniums.

Click here to by Delphiniums in the UK
Click here to buy Delphiniums in North America and elsewhere

[Declaration of interest: I helped hook up the Bassetts with their publisher.]

Tell us the name!

Garden writers often discuss plant names and how to make sure we use them accurately and according to the International rules that govern their use. Only last month many garden writers were involved in a detailed discussion of the subject.

Lowesannuals500 So there was I in Lowe’s the other day (for British readers: Lowe's is like a monster B&Q), looking over their stock, and they had rows of dahlias, salvias, helichrysums and more - not one of them with a name tag. Every one was labelled with the same generic tag saying “Assorted Annuals”.  The fact that most of them were perennials, although not all hardy up here in zone 5/6… well, that’s another issue.

But how unhelpful could they be? Here are we writers trying to get the names exactly right so that everyone knows precisely which plant we mean – and Lowe’s take the easy way out and don’t even bother to try. What’s more, at $3.58 these plants are too cheap – give us a decent tag, charge $3.98 and they’d still be cheap. Charge $4.58 and they wouldn’t be expensive. Another case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, I’m afraid.

[Sorry for the recent break in transmission, so to speak: busybusybusy… extending the deer fence, building a dock, lots of garden and desk work. Normal service now resumed.]