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March 2009
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May 2009

April 2009

In print and online

OliversAG Just bringing you news of some recent articles and blog posts…

The April/May issue of American Gardener, the members’ magazine of The American Horticultural Society, includes my profile of Charles and Martha Oliver of The Primrose Path nursery, native plant enthusiasts and pioneer heuchera breeders.

The April issue of The Garden, the members’ magazine of The Royal HorticulturalAnnualsTG Society, includes my article about herbaceous perennial potentillas while the May issue includes my piece about unusual summer bedding plants and annuals.

Over on my Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog I’ve been posting about the new varieties which are most popular amongst nurseries as seen in the new RHS Plant Finder, just out. These include a fiery mountain ash, a beautifully patterned heucherella, a delightful patio clematis, hot new echinacea and sedum plus the most popular of all - Gaura lindheimeri 'Rosyjane'.

DelphiniumRHSNewPlants While over on my RHS Trials and Awards blog I’ve been posting about a dazzling delphinium raised in New Zealand, how bergenias dealt with a spring frost, late maturing leeks and late cauliflowers, spectacular marigolds from last summer's trial and British gardeners’ favorite crocus.

It’s been a busy month…

Join the American Horticultural Society and receive a bi-monthly print copy of The American Gardener and read it online.

Join the Royal Horticultural Society and receive a monthly print copy of The Garden.

Upcoming events

Just to let you know... I have a special series of blog posts featuring all (and I mean ALL) the new plants seen at this year's world famous Chelsea Flower Show starting soon, as well as lectures in Michigan and Pennsylvania. I'll also be judging at Chelsea in May and will report from the show here on Transatlantic Plantsman.

RHSChelseaGreatPavilion001 May 1
New Plants at the Chelsea Flower Show

Special series of blog posts from until the last day of the Chelsea Flower Show (May 23)
Starts here on 1 May

May 2
Two lecture presentations: Transatlantic Perennials + New Perennials
A double session on perennials
Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan

May 8 and May 9
Lecture presentation: Ultimate Plants for Small Gardens

Two presentations each day (The event also features RosalindCreasey)
Heronswood Nursery

I hope to meet you at one of these events.

Spring fixations

At this time of year, I always seem to have a burst of indulging my pre-occupations. Already I’ve posted about roadside blackthorn, roadside daffodils, winter survivors, the new RHS Plant Finder – all of which have been mentioned (not to say discussed at length) in previous years. So let’s get the rest of this stuff covered here and now and then we can move on to something new.

So what else do I tend to bash on about at this time of year? Let’s knock them all off.

Arum italicum 'White Winter'. Image © Arum italicum Unexpectedly tough evergreen perennial with a vast variety of leaf forms and patterns. Invasive in some areas but I’ve never seen a seedling here in north east PA. This one is ‘White Winter. Invaluable.

Hellebores Plants from Pine Knot Farms, Don Jacobs, David Culp, Russell Graham, Joseph Heuger in Germany and others have mainly been in place a few years now and are clumping up well. The taller ones have been battered by heavy rain. ‘Silvermoon’, with attractive evergreen foliage and pink and green flowers is one of the best of recent arrivals.

Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, eaten by black bear. Image © Skunk cabbage The plant the bear tears up at this time of year and whose leaves are now being freely munched. I’m hoping for sudden snow so I can get a better picture of how the heat generated by the flowers melts the snow around them. Doesn’t look very likely (see below).

Sanguinarias The native bloodroot has opened in its many forms – double, semi-double, pink flowered, cut-leaved and so on. The variation in just this one familiar native is fascinating… The flowers are fleeting so I’m looking for really good foliage forms. Recent temperatures of almost 90F/32C have truncated their flowering season even more than usual.

Primroses in the cemetery

Primroses, Primula vulgaris, in a Northamptonshire cemetery. Image © After Cowslips by the roadside, it’s primroses in the cemetery.

Here in this cemetery in Northamptonshire which has been in use since the 1800s, wild primroses, Primula vulgaris, have slowly moved from the nearby woods down amongst the ancient graves.

A sympathetic mowing regime has ensured that they thrive and spread, and a stern sign at the gate banning plastic flowers encourages visitors to bring fresh flowers and pot plants to place on the graves – including coloured primroses and polyanthus from nearby nurseries.

These occasionally hybridise with the wild primroses resulting in a scattering of primroses in pink shades and a few plants with their flowers held polyanthus-style on tall stems.

Fortunately, genes from the prolific wild primroses are dominant so this extraordinary proliferation of one of Britain’s favourite wild flowers continues almost untainted.

Cowslips by the roadside

When I first arrived back in Britain on my recent trip, I complained here about the thoughtless planting of regimented rows of fat gaudy daffodils by the side of the road. Well, just before leaving I came across another roadside not far from those daffs where adding some colour had been done more thoughtfully.

The rain was pelting down as I got out of the car to take a few pictures, but these cowslips by a roadside in Northamptonshire (in the East Midlands of Britain) were a real joy. I’d passed them a few times, noticing their buds emerge and then the flowers slowly open, but they were at their peak on this my last pass of the trip so a few snaps were necessary. I struggled to keep the torrents off the camera.

Cowslips, Primula veris, by the roadside. Image © This native primula, Primula veris, is a classic limestone plant. After the road had been improved and new banks made, seed was sown and the plants more or less left to themselves. The bank is mowed later in the year to prevent scrub moving in and shading them out (as well as blocking sightlines for drivers) and the result is long colourful patches of cowslips over a couple of miles. And twenty miles farther on those daffodils had faded and were hardly noticeable.

Blackthorn by the roadsides

Prunusspinosa12572 One of the great treats of driving around England for the last couple of weeks has been the snowy clouds of blackthorn by the roadsides. This is Prunus spinosa, a viciously spiny relative of the cherry and with snowy white flowers in spring and blue fruits in the autumn.

It’s a staple component of traditional farm hedges, a great host for nesting birds, its leaves feed the caterpillars of many moths as well as the brown hairstreak butterfly, its fruits (called sloes) go to make sloe gin. The wood is also used to make the traditional Irish shillelagh. Blackthorn is also a traditional forecaster of a cold snap. Often we get a sharp frost as the blackthorn is in flower and this is known as a Blackthorn winter. It’s a valuable and versatile plant. I posted about it while I was here a couple of years ago (with the recipe for slow gin). But a reminder is surely welcome.

But, unlike hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna and C. oxycantha) with which it often grows in hedges and which has thrown many variants in red or pink or with double flowers, it never seems to vary – except in one respect.

Blackthorn flowers for quite a few weeks – but it’s not that individual plants flower for a long time. As I write some plants have dropped all their flowers while others are at their peak. For the plants flower in succession – a protection against them all being wiped out by a severe frost - and that’s what gives blackthorn its extended season.

The flowers have been incredibly prolific this year – and this means plenty of fruits for the sloe gin later in the season.

Alpines and bulbs but not blogs

BulbLogpage597 We’re overrun with blogs these days. A few of the best are listed on the right but a couple which do not, perhaps, get the notice they deserve are hosted by the Scottish Rock Garden Club (SRGC).

The Bulb Log Diary is written by Ian Young, the President of the SGRC, and he posts on bulbs in detail and with superb photography about every two weeks. He grows an extraordinary range of small bulbs, and writes about them and photographs them with care and thoughtfulness.

Also, from the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in Surrey comes the Wisley Alpine Log written by Paul Cumbleton who runs the Alpine Department there. This provides a fascinating insight into the work and development of Wisley’s alpines and is well worth following.

Ian’s most recent entries are on tulips and especially on fritillarias, and then on corydalis revealing their extraordinary variety. Paul’s recent additions have been on the creation of new planting areas on the Wisley rock garden for hardy (zone 8) carnivorous plants and on hepaticas and other mid-March alpines.

They’re always interesting, always a good read – even for gardeners who never grow alpines or dwarf bulbs - and some of the photography is spectacular.

HepaticaHarlowCarrpage But here’s the problem: they’re not actually blogs. For some reason they’re formatted as pdf files so there’s none of the interactivity we expet from blogs. They display in the web browser and can easily be downloaded but you can’t comment about them on the spot, you have to go to a separate forum to which there is no link. In fact it’s impossible to go anywhere else except back to the contents list. There are no links on the pages at all.

This is such a shame, the unusual format is a definite deterrent going back regularly and to posting comments. We’re all so used to RSS feeds and just clicking on the Comment link at the end of a post to add our thoughts that I’m sure the SRGC miss out on many readers by using this approach.

However, in spite of all this, my recommendation is to go take a look. Regularly.

Go to Ian Young’s Bulb Log Diary

Go to Paul Cumbleton’s Wisley Alpine Log