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November 2007
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December 2007

Grow something new from seed

2008chilterncover In recent years it’s become more and more difficult to send plants to gardeners around the world and now only a few institutions and nurseries take the time and trouble to deal with customs, plant health inspections, high shipping costs and the rest of the paperwork and expense. However, there is still seed.

Although regulations governing seed are also becoming more stringent, seed companies still send their seed to other countries and every holiday season the distinctive, tall, slim seed catalog from Chiltern Seeds in England arrives. And they send seed anywhere.

Timed to arrive just in time for a few feet-up days by the fire, with seed of over 4,000 plants you need a little time… The catalog lists wild species, old heirlooms, and some of the latest introductions – with excellent descriptions but no pictures. There’s a wonderful array including annuals to sow outside, cacti, trees (including a huge range of eucalyptus), unusual Japanese cut flowers, perennials old and new, climbing plants for indoors and out – I  guarantee you will find plants you just can’t do without as well as things you never knew existed. For pictures you need to go to the website - although the separate veg and herb catalog is, unfortunately, full of pointless cartoons of animated radishes and the like – what a waste.

Anyway, with flat rate airmail shipping to anywhere in the world - and the option of insured, priority shipping as well  - Chiltern Seeds provide a way of getting hold of new, heirloom and elusive plants easily. OK, I know this might sound like a commercial – it’s just that for 33 years Chiltern Seeds have been doing a great job providing new and unusual seeds to gardeners around the world and I think you should give them a try.

More new echinaceas - but not just yet

Echinaceamacandtom_2 I’ve just had news through from Harini Korlipara at plant breeders Terra Nova Nurseries in Portland, Oregon. Two new echinaceas from her breeding program will be released in the new year. From the pictures, they look good – but I’m not so sure about the names: ‘Mac N Cheese’ and ‘Tomato Soup’? Hmmm… I know Terra Nova boss Dan Heims likes food names for his plants, but he may have slipped up here – they just don’t sound very classy, do they? What do you think?

Young plants will be released to growers in a few months time. Give them a year to grow them on into saleable plants - so expect them to be on sale in retail nurseries and garden centers in the spring of 2009. I can’t wait to try them.

Books round up… give a book this holiday!

Flowerconfidential_2I’ve reviewed almost a dozen books this year and as the holiday fast approaches, our friends at amazon can still get you a present for a friend or loved one (or a treat for yourself) before the 24th. You can order from amazon as late as the 22nd (UK and US) for delivery on the 24th.

And don't forget: A book - it's not just for Christmas.

These are the books I reviewed, with an extract from each review. Click on the titles to go to the review page. And don’t forget my own books, click straight through to amazon from the panels on the left.

These two books, along with my RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials, were the books which won awards for 2007.

New Gardening – Gardening in a Changing Climate by Matthew Wilson
“This invaluable book… reveals a different approach for a new age, explaining - and showing with some excellent photography - how to re-invent gardening Newgardening for our new world.”

Garden People by Ursula Buchan
“I started off reading the elegant and accessible text then the pictures become more seductive… then it was back and forth between words and pictures as a fascinating portrait of post war British horticulture unfolds.”

These are some of the other top books for the year.

Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart
“This is a great read, which is all the more impressive considering the wealth of research behind that flowing style.”

Winter-flowering Shrubs by Michael W. Buffin
“The book is so full of good plants and good advice – and some good pictures too – that I’m sure most gardeners will find they want to grow so many of these winter shrubs that drastic changes in their gardens will prove necessary.”

Wintergardenjacket The Winter Garden by Val Bourne
“This is an inspiring book – and one which makes those of us who’ve been looking out at snow in November this year simply want to move!”

Oriental Vegetables by Joy Larkcom
“A triumph of diligent research and practical experience and all expressed in her trademark style in which a vast wealth of information is made easily readable.”

Heucheras and Heucherellas by Dan Heims and Graham Ware & Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella by Charles and Martha Oliver
Reviewed together here.
“So… which is best? Ideally, you need both! But if you need as many descriptions as possible, go for Heims/Ware. If you’re interested in tiarellas, go for the Olivers’.”

Delphiniums by David and Shirley Bassett
“This is an excellent book, which will impress and inform anyone interested in delphiniums.”

Who Does Your Garden Grow? by Alex Pankhurst
“This is both a valuable historical record and an absorbing read.”

HolliescoverHollies for Gardeners by Christopher Bailes
“Thorough treatment of both European and American hollies… Accessible writing style… Great photography… Makes you want to grow more hollies.”

Snowdrops: A Monograph of the Cultivated Galanthus by John Grimshaw
“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.”

This is a great selection of mostly British books which will be of interest to both British and American readers.

Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart – book review

FlowerconfidentialYou know how sometimes you think you’ve done something but all you’ve done is thought about doing it? Well, I wrote this review long ago and was convinced that I’d posted it here. But now I find that it’s been sitting around in a more-or-less finished form all that time! Anyway… sorry folks, sorry Amy. Here it is.

Weddings, birthdays, at the party or in sadder times we say it with flowers. From the creation of new cut flower varieties to delivery to the door, Flower Confidential takes us through the whole breeding, growing and selling process that brings cut flowers from an idea in a breeder’s mind to the vase on your table. A friend said that sounded dull. Not if Amy Stewart’s at the controls.

Her sparky style, her humor and her reliance on conversations with people in the trade, make for a lively read. By getting to know these plant breeders, flower growers, people at markets and stores – and rummaging around in the statistics - she’s able to reveal what really goes on; the book is packed with intriguing facts and stories.

Did you know that Americans buy four billion stems a year (and that’s a conservative estimate)? And there’s the story of the “blue” rose, produced by a subsidiary of a Japanese liquor company, that’s really violet. There are the legal battles over the ‘Star Gazer’ lily, and it turns out that Ecuador, which produces some of the finest flowers in the world, has almost no flower shops. Her account of a Valentine’s Day in a city flower shop is a reminder that the emotions that come with giving flowers to a loved one will only blossom if the system that brings them to the door on that hectic day is effortlessly efficient.

This is a great read, which is all the more impressive considering the wealth of research behind that flowing style.

Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart is published by Algonquin Books.

You can order it in North America here.
You can order it in Britain here.

Much more music

Hothouseflowerscc My good friends over at Garden Rant have just mentioned my new venture in radio – and suggested I post here about my favorite music. Craig over at the Ellis Hollow blog does it so, I suppose, I could too. His Best Holiday Song Ever is well worth a look.

Well, I’m steadfastly eschewing horticultural music on my radio show (no Green Green Grass of Home) but if I can put together a whole show of good British bands with horticultural names that would be great! The Hothouse Flowers would head the list, I suppose – they’re Irish, but Ireland counts. Kate Bush…?

New Gardening - Book review

Newgardening This new book from the Royal Horticultural Society is quite difficult to review. It may seem to deal with just one important subject but the title, New Gardening, is a portmanteau for an extraordinarily diverse range of techniques and ideas.

The entirely reasonable premise is that we cannot continue to garden the way we once did (and how many would like to) with lush, regularly irrigated borders around broad sweeping regularly irrigated and regularly shaved lawns; spraying chemicals, piling on the fertilizer, ignoring the consequences.

So Matthew Wilson, Curator of the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire, has brought together a range of both familiar and new techniques: composting, use of grit and gravel, permeable membranes, water and wildlife, attracting insects, mulching, choosing plants, new ideas on pruning and planting... all with one aim, as the subtitle puts it: “How to garden in a changing climate”.

There’s a huge range of excellent practical pictures, including useful step-by-step series on projects like tree planting the right way and how to make a green roof. There are planting ideas with a drier climate in mind. And while espousing and explaining this new approach he never forgets that the point is to create a garden in which to relax and enjoy the plants and their seasons. And while initially written for British gardeners North American gardeners will also find plenty of useful ideas and advice.

This invaluable book, which recently won the 2007 Practical Book of the Year Award from the British Garden Writers’ Guild, reveals a different approach for a new age, explaining - and showing with some excellent photography - how to re-invent gardening for our new world.

RHS New Gardening by Matthew Wilson is published by Mitchell Beazley.

You can buy New Gardening at a discounted price in Britain here.

You can buy New Gardening at a discounted price in North America here.

(Probably) surprising news... My new radio show!

Ginstudio190 My new radio show starts today, Saturday 15 December. And it's not a gardening show, it's a music show. Well, whatever next...?

The BritMix features only British music, from the 1960s up to the latest releases, and airs on Saturdays at 3pm Eastern time in the US (8pm in the UK) on WJFF, a public radio station (hydro-powered no less!) serving the Catskills, North East Pennsylvania and the Upper Delaware Valley Region. (For the benefit of Brits that's like a BBC local station with a broadcasting radius of about 50 miles around Jeffersonville, New York and covering parts of New York state, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and including the old Woodstock festival site - about 80 miles west of New York city).

You can listen online by going to the WJFF website and clicking on Listen Now in the top right corner. And you can find out more about the show and the sort of music I'll be playing - and check the playlist for the latest show - by going to The BritMix website.

Why not give it a listen, and if there's somethng British you'd like me to play, then email me.

Garden People – Book review

Gardenpeoplejacket This is a unique book. Based on fifty years of wonderful photography by British gardening legend Valerie Finnis, it records the people (and the plants) of a vibrant period of horticultural history. Ursula Buchan tells the story while Brent Elliott, Librarian and Archivist at the Royal Horticultural Society, provides crisp biographies of the people. The book was the worthy winner of the 2007 Enthusiasts’ Book of the Year Award from the British Garden Writers’ Guild.

Valerie was one of the great plantspeople of her era and a fine and influential photographer. She knew everyone, everyone made the pilgrimage to her garden: E. B. Anderson, Ken Aslett, Margery Fish, Harold Hillier, Will Ingwersen, Maurice Mason, Cedric Morris, Roald Dahl, Miriam Rothschild, Vita Sackville-West, George Sherriff, Patrick Synge, George Taylor, Graham Stuart Thomas… and so many more. If some of these names are unfamiliar, the book will reveal why they should not be.

I started off reading the elegant and accessible text then the pictures become more seductive… then it was back and forth between words and pictures as a fascinating portrait of post war British horticulture unfolds.

I spoke to Valerie on the ‘phone about the history of her mother’s famous ‘Constance Finnis’ poppies not long before she died. “Ah, Rice…” she said (her usual greeting). “Are you in America?” And then she gave me the proper history of the famous poppies.

I remember visiting her in her garden and having my snapshot taken for her huge leather bound albums in which I, and everyone who visited, was also required – required, mind you, not requested – to record an impression of my visit.

Valerie Finnis was an extraordinary woman who knew and photographed the great gardeners or post war Britain – and the great plants too.

Her friend Ursula Buchan, together with photographer Howard Sooley who worked with Valerie to choose thee pictures, have created an insistently fascinating book which is also an invaluable record of Valerie’s work and times.

Garden People by Ursula Buchan is published by Thames and Hudson.

You can buy Garden People at a discounted price in Britain here.

You can buy Garden People at a discounted price in North America here.

New variegated eryngium

Eryngiumjadefrost500 Variegated eryngiums are few and far between – in fact only one is listed by nurseries these days and it looks as if it’s well worth growing.

‘Jade Frost’ turned up in the Cornwall (far south west of England) garden of James and Megan Cave and is a sport of the familiar E. planum. So it has the same masses of small, spiny blue flower heads. But it’s the foliage which is outstanding.

Blue-green in colour, each leaf is edged in white but unlike the only other variegated eryngium I know, ‘Calypso’, the edges turn pink in the cooler conditions of spring and autumn. The coloring is most dramatic in the rosette, but is also seen in the smaller leaves higher up the flowering stems. So it brings intriguing colouring to flower arrangements.

This plant has a fat, carrot-like taproot so is not easy to propagate by traditional means. However, as is the case with so many new plants, propagation by tissue culture is making it easier to find in nurseries. It’s perfectly hardy in Britain, down to zone 5 in the US, and enjoys a well-drained soil in full sun.

I’ve only seen it in nurseries, at Cottage Garden Flowers for example, and not had the chance to grow it yet. But it looks great… I can’t wait to grow it.

Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’ is available in North America from Wayside Gardens

Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’ is available in Britain from Stillingfleet Lodge Nurseries

Winter-flowering Shrubs - book review

Winterfloweringshrubsjacket Shrubs are the most fundamental flowering plants of the winter garden and with so many also carrying a powerful fragrance, they bring double value to the colder months. So advice on those to choose for the most effective winter display and advice on how to get the best out of them is invaluable.

Arranged alphabetically, but with each entry written in an accessible discursive style, the book strikes a good balance between being authoritative and selective. Highlighting the differences, for example, between the various winter mahonias in terms of habit and flowering time helps us choose exactly the right one for our own situation. And it’s good to see some rare, but easy-to-grow plants, like the variegated Persian ironwood Parrotia persica ‘Lamplighter’, included.

The sections on cultivation that accompany each plant help ensure that you know how to encourage each plant to give its best and, unusually for a book by a British writer, good advice for American gardeners is included all the way through.

The index, I have to say, is not very satisfactory – only plants are included (no gardens or people) and there no cultivars listed, only species. But the book is so full of good plants and good advice – and some good pictures too – that I’m sure most gardeners will find they want to grow so many of these winter shrubs that drastic changes in their gardens will prove necessary.

Winter-flowering Shrubs by Michael W. Buffin is published by Timber Press.

You can buy Winter-flowering Shrubs in Britain here

You can buy Winter-flowering Shrubs in North America here