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December 2009

November 2009

Last ‘mum standing

It’s almost December and until yesterday, before the gales (and the power cuts), there were still two plants flowering well. Both are hardy garden chrysanths – not those horrid things like painted footstools that have been flowering since July. These are the toughies, and they’re taller and more elegant than most modern garden mums.

Chrysanthemum 'Nantyderry Sunshine'. Image:© ‘Country Girl’, in pink with white ring around the eye, looks battered this morning but the star is still ‘Nantyderry Sunshine’. This is one American gardeners may not know but it’s a star in Britain. The most recent in a small group of 24in/60cm, rather twiggy, small-leaved plants with neat little semi-pompom flowers – this one is bright yellow. It’s a sport of the better known ‘Bronze Elegance’ that occurred in the Welsh gardener of plantswoman Rose Clay.

Here in Pennsylvania it’s sported again – back to a single shoot of ‘Mei-Kyo’… which is the plant from which ‘Bronze Elegance’ sported back way in the 1970s. Too gusty to shoot a photo today – so I’ve included one from earlier.

Chrysanthemum 'Color Echo' = 'Will's Wonderful'. Image:© The usual star of this time of year – ‘Will’s Wonderful’ chrysanth – was completely killed by last year’s coldest winter in ten years. Very sad… The fact that the apparently identical 'Color Echo' was also wiped out just tends to confirm that the two are indeed the same. (That's 'NantyderrySunshine' in the background behind 'Color Echo' - click to enlarge.

Two Christmas roses also getting going – Helleborus niger ‘Joshua’ and ‘Josef Lemper’.

Amazing hellebores - doubles and singles

Double hellebores from Northwest Garden Nursery. ©Northwest Garden Nursery This post is simply to highlight the amazing hellebores created by Marietta O’Byrne of Northwest Garden Nursery in Oregon.

Here are links to two sets of galleries on their website, you can click image on this page to get an idea:

Gallery of double flowered hellebores

Gallery of single flowered hellebores

It’s too complicated to explain which varieties are available from which retail nurseries, on each side of the Atlantic, a web search will tell you. Please note that although Northwest Garden Nursery will deliver in their local area, they do not operate a mail order service.

Just thought you’d like to see these gorgeous plants, really.

The leaf problem

Over on the Homestead Gardens blog, Susan Harris again raises the whole issue of what to do with fallen leaves. For many British gardeners this is not a big issue – we Brits cut down most of our tress in the 1800s to build ships for the navy in a doomed attempt to hang on to our colonies – like America.

OakleavesAjuga14948 But it’s an issue in parks and some small gardens over in Britain while in North America what to do with dead leaves is a big issue in many towns, suburbs and rural areas – there are just so many more trees.

This is my simple take: it all depends on what you grow.

1. Get fallen leaves off the lawn. Leave them there and you’ll end up with bare patches – it’s that simple.

2. If you grow mainly shrubs, rake or blow them under the shrubs and forget about them. They’ll slowly rot down and if you usually smother the soil in bought-in cedar mulch you won’t need to bother.

3. If you have the time and energy to put them through a shredder first - or spread them on the lawn, mow them into pieces, and rake them up again - they’ll rot down more quickly and will be less likely to blow back where you raked them from in the first place.

4. If you grow small woodland plants like wood anemones, epimediums, corydalis and the like under and between your shrubs, or in shady borders under trees, do NOT simply dump freshly leaves on top of them. Their delicate shoots just won’t be able to penetrate and they will die. (In fact one of my upcoming jobs – after I’ve cleared the leaves out of the ditch alongside the drive so the rain and snowmelt runs off quickly - is to take the fallen leaves off some of the shade beds.) Even bugle (above, click to enlarge) will suffer is leaves are left to smother its leaves.

5. The best – and, needless to say, the most time consuming – answer is to shred the leaves and make a heap so they rot down; then use them as a mulch anywhere and everywhere or to improve the soil when planting. And the heap will often be a useful source of worms for fishing.

6. Finally, rake or leaf blower?  Clearly, blowers are noisy and emit all sorts of nasties. But if it only gets done if you use a blower there’s no argument really. Raking can just take too long. In densely planted beds use a hand fork or your fingers to get them out.

Leaves are valuable free resource – just do your best to make the most of them in the time you have.

Black Plants - all the books reviewed

Black Magic and Purple Passion by Karen Platt. Photo ©Karen Platt What is it about black plants? They not only seem to inspire fierce disagreement amongst gardeners – “What’s the point of a plant with black leaves, you can hardly even see it?”/“Simply sumptuous!” – but with another book on the subject just out competition is flaring between the new book and those already published by the acknowledged expert on black plants.

So. Karen Platt has been popularising black plants since her first book came out in 2000 and she now has three different books on the subject. There’s the latest print edition of Karen’s first book, Black Magic and Purple Passion, from 2004. She also has an eBook update to Black Magic and Purple Passion published just a couple of months ago and she has The Best of Black Plants, another eBook published back in the summer. All self-published by Karen Platt. This fall these are joined by a new title from Timber Press, Black Plants by Paul Bonine. (Ordering links at the end.)

Between the latest print edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion and the eBook update Karen covers an amazing 3,500 black plants. Of course, as her title infers, “black” is not always true black, in fact on the jacket of her book Karen refers to them as “dark plants”. There’s also purple and maroon and indigo. Take another look at our slide show, below, for some of the blackest. (Mouse-hover over the images for captions.)

Black Plants Stock Photos - Images by GardenPhotos .com

The large format 2004 edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion is excellent. And at only about 50% more expensive than the recent arrival, Black Plants by Paul Bonine, which includes only 3% of the plants, it’s excellent value.

The eBook update is a good addition, with 650 more plants, but is generally less successful. One big problem with eBooks supplied in pdf format is that monitors and printers vary so the same true color is difficult for everyone to achieve. Only one low-resolution print-out is allowed and the low-res image quality of the print-out is nowhere near as good as the printed edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion. And it annoyed me that every time I opened the pdf to look at the book I had to re-enter my password. It should remember.

Black Plants by Paul Bonine. Photo ©Timber Press Then there’s the new Paul Bonine book, Black Plants. This is a small book – 6.5inx7in – and covers just 75 plants. And I have to say that this smaller-then-usual format makes the book seem less significant than I’m sure the publishers would like. Each plant has a full page picture and a description opposite. Generally the images are good (Declaration of interest: four of our images are used in this book); the descriptions and cultural info are not generous and that’s because of the small format. The plant choice is at times odd: two ipomeas, no bearded iris – and why include a very blue Agapanthus when there are many much closer to black? But this is a well-designed, instantly appealing little book.

Black Plants looks good, and (depending where you buy) more or less matches the price of Karen Platt’s Best of Black Plants (pdf only) - and a printed copy will beat a pdf any day. Karen’s eBooks are only available as pdfs, not in other eBook formats. But Karen has more and better info. Paul also fails to recognize Karen Platt’s pioneering work in popularizing black plants – even when discussing a plant named after her.

So, where does that leave us?

If you want an attractive and inexpensive gift book - choose Black Plants by Paul Bonine
If you want the best print reference book – choose Black Magic and Purple Passion (Third Edition)
If you want the most comprehensive reference to black plants choose the third (print) and fourth (pdf) editions of Black Magic and Purple Passion
If you’re a fanatic and want everything, add to these three The Best of Black Plants (pdf only).

Here’s how to order these books.

Order Black Plants by Paul Bonine in North America
Order Black Plants by Paul Bonine in Britain
Order Black Magic and Purple Passion (Third Edition, print copy) from the author
Order Black Magic and Purple Passion update (Fourth Edition, pdf only) from the author
Order The Best of Black Plants (pdf only) from the author

Just look out of the window

Over on the Whole Life Gardening blog C. L. Fornari was been musing about the discipline of writing for a blog every single day, and finding things to write about.

EucomisOakhurst4bTerraNova People sometimes ask me if I run out of things to write about. The answer is never – I can always just look out of the window. Although, I have to say, everyone can look out of the window but not everyone sees what’s there. When I was commissioning editor of a monthly garden magazine one famous British TV gardener – who had a monthly slot – would call up and ask: “Got any ideas on what I should write about this month?” Which I always thought was a bit pathetic: what I wanted was three or four of her ideas for me to choose from.

So this morning I thought I’d write about the first things that caught my attention as I looked out of the window. In fact, the ideas started to come while I was still in my PJs.

1. Walking through the kitchen to put the coffee on – still pitch black outside – the eucomis stem in a vase on the kitchen table caught my eye. It snapped off when I moved its heavy pot into a sheltered place about three weeks ago but the seed head still looks great with its fat dark green pods. Lots to say about that. Not to mention the purple-leaved ones like ‘Oakhurst’ (above, click to enlarge).

2. My wife’s new orchid book, a box of which arrived yesterday, was on the counter. Gotta write a proper review.

3. As dawn broke through, I put out the new squirrel proof bird feeder I have on test. So far, the squirrels have eyed it cautiously but not yet even tried to get into to it. More on that will be coming after squirrels have made a few serious attempts.

4. Now it’s light – and it strikes me that while the wisteria leaves look ghastly after the 25F/-4C frost of last week – green and shrivelled and still unhelpfully clinging to the stems – while the leaves on the native elder bushes look amazingly fresh and green and are suddenly valuable when for the rest of the year I always think they’re rather dull.

5. Ah, Physocarpus again. The leaves on Summer Wine have all dropped but those on Coppertina are becoming less purple and more red and still look superb.

ChrysWillsWonderful500 6.Still pink and white flowers on the lovely old ‘Country Girl’ hardy chrysanthemum - but ‘Will’s Wonderful’, which is the latest of all, seems to have been completely killed by last winter which was the coldest in ten years.

7. Just heard Douglas Tallamy interviewed on the Timber Press podcast about his book Bringing Nature Home. He mentions that Colorado blue spruce – which comes, of course, from Colorado where it fits well into the natural web of nature. He points out that here in the north east it only grows when planted by us, and none of the wildlife has a clue what to do with it. (Although I have to say the deer have eaten some those we inherited here).

8. What else? Just looking from the chair at my desk – the eupatoriums (Joe Pye weed) need cutting down now, they’re looking pretty ragged. Which perennials are best cut down in the fall, which are best left for their winter presence? Plenty to say about that.

9. Lia Leendertz of Britain’s Guardian newspaper tweets with a link to a folk song on YouTube. It’s Kate Rusby! Reminds me to mention that I’m hosting a folk music show on WJFF at 11am on Saturday. (That’s my other life – music DJ!) All Irish music. Gotta finish planning it today. Here's the Kate Rusby video.

10. I know – I could write a blog post about all the things I could blog about today!

8.37am – ten blog ideas. Now: I just need pictures… links… 45 minuts later - Sorry, got distracted by the coffee machine again...

Two great new annuals

NicotianaWhisper There are literally hundreds of new annuals launching for the coming season, but they include two which are noticeable steps forward in breeding in two groups which have already developed a lot in recent decades. And both are from British plant breeders rather than the big American and Japanese breeders.

From the plant breeding company Floranova, comes a completely new type of Nicotiana (flowering tobacco). Although smaller than the big Japanese and American breeders, Floranova has consistently created innovative new types of annuals and has led the world in creating new salvias, new geraniums (pelargonium), new pansies and violas, and even a range of patio vegetables.

Having created the best traditional nicotianas in the world, in recent years Nick Bellfield-Smith at Floranova they’ve brought blood in from less familiar Nicotiana species like N. langsdorfii to create ‘Tinkerbell’ and now from the lovely N. mutabilis to create ‘Whisper’ (above, click to enlarge).

‘Whisper’ has two special features. Like N. mutabilis, the flowers open white then become pink tintedNicotianaWhisperCloseUp eventually maturing to rich pink. That makes a very pretty picture. Its other special feature is that it seems resistant to tobacco blue mold (Peronospora tabacina), a fungal disease which has been devastating nicotianas around the world and which wiped out the trial of nicotianas at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley a few years ago.

‘Whisper’ is actually a mix of deep pink, rose shades, and appleblossom – which is the one that fades so delightfully. Well worth growing. 

You can find out more about Nicotiana 'Whisper' over on my RHS New Plants blog.

ViolaAllspiceT&M Also from Britain, Charles Valin at Thompson & Morgan has been mentioned here before. He works on a wide range of species – you can read about his work in The Plantsman magazine from the Royal Horticultural Society. For the coming season he has a new viola mixture – in five colours – each colour with a different fragrance. How about that – a few years ago there were more or less no scented pansies and now we have different scents matched to different colours.

You can find out more about Viola 'Allspice' over on my RHS New Plants blog.

Unfortunately this season it seems to be available just about all over the world - except the USA and Canada. Come on T&M, what’s holding you back?

You can order Nicotiana ‘Whisper Mix’ in North America from Michells.

You can order seed of Nicotiana ‘Whisper’ in Britain from Mr Fothergill and Plants of Distinction.

You can order young plants of Nicotiana ‘Whisper’ in Britain from Dobies.

You can order Viola ‘Allspice’ seed in Britain from Thompson & Morgan

You can order young plants of Viola ‘Allspice’ seed in Britain from Thompson & Morgan

You can order seed of Viola 'Allspice' in the rest of the world except North America, from Thompson & Morgan Worldwide.

(Floranova do not sell seed to home gardeners.) 

Two fine Physocarpus (Ninebarks to American readers)

Physocarpus Coppertina ('Mindia') and Summer Wine ('Seward'). Image:© Physocarpus is not a plant that often features on gardeners’ lists of favorite shrubs, on either side of the Atlantic, but the recent arrival of Summer Wine here in the US and the appearance of Lady in Red at London’s Chelsea Flower Show a couple of years back seem to have woken people up to what great shrubs they are – for foliage, flowers and sometimes fruits too.

Here in Pennsylvania we just grow the two in the picture (click to enlarge) – Coppertina, on the left, and Summer Wine. I hope we’ll be adding more. The leaves were picked just a couple of days ago. Coppertina has been a perfect background for Athyrium otophorum with its upright silvery green leaves and red stems while right now the old pink and white single Chrysanthemum ‘Country Girl’ is lovely in front of Summer Wine.

But let’s just clear up the names, for they’re a little confusing as both have been given marketing names (technically called Trade Designations) as well as their cultivar names.Physocarpus Summer Wine ('Seward'). Photo courtesy of Proven Winners -

The cultivar name of Coppertina - which, just to confuse matters, is known as Diable d’Or in Europe – is ‘Mindia’ so its correct full name is, in the USA, Physocarpus opulifolius Coppertina (‘Mindia’) while in Europe it’s Physocarpus opulifolius Diable d’Or (‘Mindia’). (Yes, the Trade Designation has to be in a different typeface, too!) Of course here in the US where the species is a widespread native known as Ninebark it’s often just called Coppertina Ninebark.

Either way, it’s a hybrid between ‘Dart’s Gold’ and Diablo (‘Monlo’) rasied in France.

Summer Wine (‘Seward’) is a hybrid between the rarely seen Nana’ and Diablo (‘Monlo’) created by Tim Wood of Spring Meadow Nursery (no retail sales), who’s raised and introduced so many good shrubs, from a cross made in 2000.

Physocarpus Coppertina ('Mindia'). Photo courtesy of Proven Winners - And why is it called Ninebark? Well, over at Consider the Lilies where there are some superb pictures of the wild species, Harold Hanson says: “The derivation of the common name is interesting: As it matures Ninebark bark continually splits, leaving ragged pieces hanging from the branches as if it is continuing to reveal new bark—perhaps "nine" times—thus the common name, Ninebark.”

In Britain you can buy Physocarpus Diable d’Or from these RHS PlantFinder nurseries. And you can buy Physocarpus Summer Wine from these RHS PlantFinder nurseries.

In North America Rare Find Nursery list both Coppertina and Summer Wine as well as two new introductions 'Barberone' and 'Center Glow'.

November poem

by Thomas Hood


No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--

No road--no street--
No "t'other side the way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--

No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!

No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No park--no ring--no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,