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March 2008
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April 2008

Most popular new plants in Britain

The latest edition of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Finder came out earlier this month. You know the story: over 70,000 plants, over 700 nurseries, the last word in correct plant names and, for European gardeners, sources for all those 70,000+ plants. It’s indispensable for gardeners across the world – just to help us all get the names right.

Brunnermrmorsewg There are over 4,100 new plants in the 2008/2009 edition and the top two, judged by the number of nurseries stocking the newcomers, are Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr Morse’ and Salvia x jamensis ‘Hot Lips’, than any other newcomers.. More nurseries are stocking these two new introductions than any others.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr Morse’ looks like a white-flowered version of the very popular blue-flowered ‘Jack Frost’. The foliage is the same – brilliant silver with narrow green veins – it’s just the flowers that are different. Great in shade, even dryish shade, and deer resistant too.

‘Mr Morse’ originated with Belgian plant breeder Chris Ghyselen. He crossed his own ‘Inspector Morse’, which is like ‘Jack Frost’ but with a fraction more green in the leaves, and white-flowered ‘Betty Bowring’. The result is ‘Mr Morse’. It’s new in Britain this year and available from eighteen British nurseries. In the US you can get it from Garden Crossings and other suppliers.

Salvia x jamensis ‘Hot Lips’ is amazing, dramatic bicolored flowers on twiggy shrubs broader than their 90cm (3ft) height. Tony Avent, on the Plant Delights website, explains its origin. “This wild selection… was introduced by Richard Turner of California after the plant was shared with him by his maid, who brought it from her home in Mexico.” Salviahotlips Tony lists it as a form of S. microphylla but the RHS considers it a form of S. x jamensis (a hybrid of S. greggii and S. microphylla). Tony also points out that the flowers become more red in high summer when the nights are warm and, as you can see from the picture, the markings can vary from flower to flower.

’Hot Lips’ is available from fifteen British nurseries and Wyevale Garden Centres. In the US you can get it from Plant Delights and many other nurseries.

Sanguinaria - the spring overture

Sanguinariacanadensisusda The Canadian bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is one of those fleeting spring flowers which is such a joy when it’s out but no sooner has its six- to twelve- petaled white flowers, the inner slightly broader than the outer ones,  been enthusiastically admired - than the petals drop. Fortunately, it has bold foliage for months after so continues to catch our attention.

The fully double form, f. multiplex, is a stunner with all its stamens transformed into petals to make a more impressive, though less delicate, display which also lasts a few days longer. And yes, the correct name for this fully double form is, simply, f. multiplex. The flowers seem to vary in size a little as the plant ages – it seems a good idea to lift, split and replant in good soil every few years.Sanguinariadouble500

Here, this is a vigorous plant and has increased from five or six flowers in its first year to about 30 flowers this year, two years on. Tony Avent at Plant Delights reports this form flowering much later than the wild form – not here.

Sanguinariatennessee500 I also grow a semi-double form with 12-16 petals, the outer noticeably broader than the inner, which came from Darrel Probst’s GardenVision nursery under the name of “Tennessee Form” but which seems to be a good match for the correct ‘Flore Pleno’ (aka ‘Plena’). Linc Foster, in his book Cuttings from a Rock Garden, explains in impressive detail why f. multiplex is the correct name for the familiar fully double form while ‘Flore Pleno’ is the correct name for the form with 14-16 petals.

Sanguinariapink600 Also from Garden Vision came “Pink Form”. Interestingly, the Garden Vision catalog describes it as opening light pink and fading to shell pink. My plant, has 12-14 petals whose inner surface is white, with perhaps the faintest blush, while the backs are pink with pale veins. The leaf stalks are slightly more pink tinted than the usual form but the plant seems altogether less pink that the catalog description implies. It’s also a slow developer but is lovely in the evening when the petals close and the pink coloring is revealed.

Other names that are occasionally seen are: ‘Paint Creek Double’,Sanguinariapaintcreekjj500 a semi-double form with very slender petals (more pictures here); ‘Betty Casto’, which looks very similar, I’m still trying to find out what the difference is supposed to be - and I wonder where Paint Creek is; ‘Peter Harrison’, which looks like my pink form; ‘Amy’ and ‘Rosea’ are also pink but it’s unclear how (or if) these pink forms differ.

This lovely plant is like an overture to the spring here in PA, and as the petals drop hellebores are at their best and epimediums and wood anemones and the first trillums and the various Lathyrus vernus and the rest are all coming into their own. Lots to see, now.

A new woodland raised bed

Unloadinglogs600 The soil here is not good: leaf mold over clay with rocks and boulders – some of them almost - in fact completely - immovable. So in order to make some better planting areas in the deer-fenced wooded area – I’m building a raised bed.

I’m using logs as edging, less intrusive than bricks, stone or boards in this more or less natural setting, and rather than use the mainly pine and maple that occasionally comes down naturally in the woods - usually at the point where a woodpecker has made a nest and rot has set in – I bought in some long straight pieces of white oak (Quercus alba) from local arboriculture firm Sequoia Tree Service. They’re straight, and the white oak will last much longer than pine or anything already rotting. The only problem is that white oak is incredibly heavy!

Anyway, here are the logs being delivered. I’ll bring you occasional updates as things progress.

Been waiting years for this bear picture!

Bearskunkcabbage2500 When we first came to Pennsylvania, I read somewhere that the emerging skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) was a favorite food of black bears when they first come out of hibernation in spring. I’d found plenty of mangled plants (see below) but never actually seen a bear feasting.

Finally, here’s a picture of a black bear actually eating skunk cabbage by the little creek alongside our garden. Thank you judy.

Her two cubs (not much bigger than our cats) were scampering around, not really paying much attention, the way kids do, while she munched on the emerging foliage. In the past I’ve seen plants pulled up and the fat roots eaten but this bear concentrated on the emerging unrolling leaves – it’s like she bit the heart out of a cabbage.Symplocarpuseaten10658500

Our streamside display of “the American hosta” is going to be a little ragged this summer – but who cares! It was a treat to see – from a distance, with a long lens, of course.

You may have noticed I've posted about skunk cabbage before - here, and here.

Cheap plants – you get what you pay for

Cornuscherokeeprincessmn We stopped in at our local Lowe's today – and the plants there were very cheap. (For British readers, Lowe’s is more or less the equivalent of a vast B&Q.)

Amongst other things we spotted a flowering dogwood, Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’. The lovely specimen in a 5 gallon pot was nearly 2m (6ft) high and priced at just $24.98 – that’s £12.55 in British money. This is too cheap, far too cheap. All the plants at Lowe's are cheap… Tempting at those prices, but actually worth more.Lowescornuslabel400

Now I don’t know which grower supplied Lowe's… But, in general, many people complain about the number of undocumented workers (“illegal aliens”) working in landscaping, horticulture and agriculture in the US yet because they’re on such low wages this is one of the reasons prices are so low. In fact, people complain loudly about undocumented workers in general – but still demand the cheapest possible prices. You can’t have it both ways.

Now, here’s the other side of it all. Low retail prices in any shop or nursery or garden center tends to mean low profit margins which tends to mean limited expense on technical expertise. Coreopsiscremebruleeno500 In the same Lowe's was a batch of coreopsis labelled ‘Crème Brulée’. As you can see, the plants on offer were not ‘Crème Brulée’, the lovely cool, soft yellow form of C. verticillata (needle leaf coreopsis). The plants labeled ‘Crème Brulée’ were a much less special, brash gold form of the broader leaved C. grandiflora, perhaps ‘Elfin Gold’ – perfectly good variety, but not ‘Crème Brulée’.

So, perhaps, in the broad sense, you get what you pay for: a bargain dogwood, the wrong coreopsis – and, by the way, only one single variety of ornamental grass… grasses being just about the most popular of all perennials at the moment. And even that one ornamental grass was frost damaged – as were the acers, pieris and cherries.

What’s that quote about the price of everything and the value of nothing.

OF COURSE, instead, you can, of course, buy Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’ and the genuine Coreopsis ‘Crème Brulée’ in good local nurseries and garden centers.

Alternatively, order Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’ by mail order from Meadowbrook Nursery in North Carolina or from these four British nurseries. You can buy the genuine Coreopsis ‘Crème Brulée’ by mail order from White Flower Farm in Connecticut or from these twenty British nurseries.

Top Ten New Perennials - US sources

Geraniumlaurapfe At the end of March I posted a link to my piece on the Top Ten New Perennials on the website of Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. The article gives UK sources of these plants but I’ve been asked, in comments to the post and by email, for US sources. So here goes. Not all these plants may be new to the US, of course, and some have not yet crossed the water. I’ve added a few short quotes from my Telegraph piece. Don’t forget you can read the original piece here.

Rather naughtily, I'm tempting you with pictures of two for which I cannot, yet, find US mail order sources! - Geranium pratense 'Laura' (above) and Sedum 'Marchant's Best Red' (below).

Cenolophium denudatum
“resembles a large flowered, perennial version of the annual Bishop's weed (Ammi majus)”
From Thompson and Morgan Seeds

Cortaderia selloana 'Evita'
“superb dwarf introduction from Germany I spotted last year”
Described by Sugar Creek Gardens website, but not yet for sale from them - or anyone else as far as I can see.

Echinacea purpurea 'Green Envy'
“this newcomer from the garden of Mark Veeder in New York State is absolutely unique”
Wayside Gardens
White Flower Farm

Eryngium planum 'Jade Frost'
“dramatic for three seasons of the year”
Wayside Gardens

Euphorbia 'Helena's Blush'
“ideal in permanently planted containers and for sunny corners in good soil”
Garden Crossings

Geranium pratense 'Laura'
“lovely double white form of…  meadow cranesbill”
No US source, yet, that I can find. Please let me know if you find a mail order nursery selling this plant.

Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Ivory Prince'
“a superb plant for both flowers and foliage”
White Flower Farm

Heuchera 'Rave On'
“for its combination of sparkling foliage and colourful flowers, 'Rave On'… is definitely the pick.’
Great Garden Plants
White Flower Farm

Iris 'Brown Lasso'
“The colouring is exquisite”
Schreiner’s Iris Gardens

Sedum 'Marchant's Best Red
“the best dark-leaved sedum for all-season foliage colour”
No US source, yet, that I can find. Please let me know if you find a mail order nursery selling this plant.

Profile of the veg queen - Joy Larkcom

Joygraham500 Today (a day before it appears in print) my profile in the Daily Telegraph of the most influential writer on vegetables of our times - Joy Larkcom - is available online. You can read it here.

Joydongray500 You can also read my choice of the Top Ten New Perennials from last week's Daily Telegraph here. Be sure to click on the In Pictures: Top 10 new perennials link at the top of the page to see a slide show of all ten of my picks.

You can also read my previous article on Clematis cirrhosa here

And my piece for the Telegraph on hellebores here

And my piece for them on winter arums here

And my piece for them on bergenias here

And my piece on winter flowering pansies here

And another piece, on growing your own mistletoe, here

The Daily Telegraph is one of Britain's best-selling daily newspapers and winner of the 2007 Garden Media Guild award for the Gardening Newspaper of the Year.


Deer? They'll eat anything - even hellebores.

Hnigereatenbydeer0104915600 So… deer are not supposed to eat hellebores. Right? Wrong.

Visiting Seneca Hill Perennials on Sunday. Ellen hornig pointed out to me two clumps of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, in the garden with the leaves eaten off by deer. It's often said hellebores are deer resistant; this proves they're not - deer will eat them.

I have to say, however, that there are many other clumps of hellebores in the garden, mostly forms of H. x hybridus, and most of those are untouched… with the foliage mostly looking green and healthy as the snow melts and with fat clusters flower buds starting to stretch

In my experience, deer will eat just about anything if they’re hungry enough. We have a lot of deer in our woods, and outside the fence the only two things they never ever seem to eat are Pieris and hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula). I’ve seen them eat the flowers off daffodils, they eat skunk cabbage foliage, they munch through the startling spiky needles of the blue spruces in the depths of a snowy winter.Cyclamencoumsilver010546400

And now it seems they eat hellebores – though I wonder how they felt afterwards.

Oh - and there were some wonderful Arum italicum forms from Ellen Hornig’s own breeding work at Seneca Hill, masses of sparkling cyclamen (like those on the right) and some very very pretty hepaticas – and a whole nursery coming to life after the winter. Check it out here.