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February 2011

Online postings in February

Here’s another update of my work that has appeared online in the last month. Just click the links to go to the pages.

Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog
Scaevola Suntastic: New from Jersey Plants Direct
Actaea pachypoda 'Misty Blue': New for 2011
Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’: New from Plants of Distinction
Iris sibirica ‘Scramble’: New from Cotswold Garden Flowers
Uncinia rubra Everflame
: New ornamental sedge
Canna Tropicanna Black: New for 2011

Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit plants
Continuing my choices from plants awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM):
Ten Easy Alpines which have received the AGM.
Be sure to take a look at all my selections of AGM plants.

And continuing my choices of plants recently award the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Amaranthus cruentus 'Oeschberg'
Be sure to take a look at all the recent AGM winners I've written up.

Transatlantic Plantsman blog
Newly redigned and upgraded this month , in new colours and with more posts.
February’s flowers
"Green" gardens can be modern and stylish
Hellebores and snowdrops at East Lambook Manor
Amazing new hellebore hybrid
Our bird count results
Transatlantic Plantsman is now Transatlantic Gardener
Hellebores and snowdrops on Pennylvania
Hellebore season
Gertrude Jekyll’s primroses live on
Growing food is not weird
Is this new iris good enough?
Virus free foliage pelargoniums
Classic geranium disease-fre at last
The ice flows
My apples are treated with beetle goo!
Who mangled my bird feeder?
Hellebore slide show – 168 pictures
Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter
Snowdrop bulb sold for world record £357 ($576)

February's flowers

Graham Rice,february,flowers,hellebores,snowdrops. Image © (all rights reserved)

A few years ago, in the middle of February, I shot this picture of flowers from my British garden (click to enlarge). An encouraging selection, I thought, for what is often the most harsh of the British winter months.

The picture not only shows what is only a selection of February's flowers, but reveals that even in the most icy month of a British winter there are many good plants at their best. It also shows some of the plants that make good companions for hellebores - one the most popular perennials on both sides of the Atlantic and the essential winter and early spring plant.

The plants in the picture are:
Arum italicum ‘White Winter’
Bergenia ‘Eric Smith’
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’
Cyclamen hederifolium
Eranthis hyemalis
Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Rubra’
Galanthus ‘Merlin’,
Galanthus ‘Ophelia’
Galanthus ‘Viridapice’
Helleborus foetidus
Helleborus odorus
Helleborus x hybridus forms
Pulmonaria seedling
Pulmonaria rubra
Ranunculus ficaria ‘Collarette’
Viburnum tinus ‘Gwenllian’

So, even as winter drags on (although this year spring has definitely sprung aleady back in Britain), there are attractive flowers and attractive foliage plants emerging to delight us.

You can buy postcards featuring this picture.


"Green" gardens can be modern and stylish

Graham Rice,Stephen Orr,Tomorrow's Garden,Rodale,review. Image ©Rodale (all rights reserved)It’s always interesting to see what other people do with their gardens. The gardens featured in Tomorrow’s Gardens by Stephen Orr (Rodale) all have an environmental awareness in their background, and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that many are so determinedly modern in style… being “green” doesn’t always mean being green, if you get my drift. Paving, stone, concrete, steel and gravel are everywhere.

The old idea of a garden as a room outside is the other theme that pervades the book, good living made easy with tables and chairs and easy-to-walk surfaces extending the inside to the outside.

There are some intriguing ideas for dealing with unusual spaces, some lovely clean designs allied with sensitive planting, plants are used as architecture more than as individuals (Anne Wareham, author The Bad-Tempered Gardener, will be pleased to see) and chosen to minimize the need for irrigation. Water features are crucial in many designs.

I liked the author’s own idea of planting tiers of different bulbs in large holes in his upstate New York garden to create a long display from different species, especially valuable in a small space. The thoughtful layout of a Texan garden, following the removal of the asphalt driveway, retains storm water and allows it to soak into the soil rather than rush away into the street.

The writing is loose but crisp, the pictures atmospheric or clearly explanatory. But Brits might wonder why we need pictures of the garden owners: “Is this a book or a magazine?” they’ll be thinking.

For this is a book that will appeal more to North American than British readers, I feel. While American readers are more familiar with, and more comfortable with, this magazine-style approach to creating a book, with the gardens’ owners and designers in focus as well as the gardens themselves, I think Brits are still more locked into the distinction between books and magazines – they’d expect the author and the gardens to interact, with the owners and designers as personalities set aside.

The other issue for Brits is that the gardens are chosen from across the USA so their content is related to the climate of each area in which they’re created. American readers are used to adapting on the fly and will garner great ideas, British readers may be unable to draw useful lessons from the design and planting of a Texas garden.

But hey, this is exactly as it should be. So many publishers still fail to appreciate that few garden books work well on both sides of the Atlantic. They think all that’s required is a change in the spelling. Often it’s better not to try to make it universal and the result is a better book - for one side of the Atlantic, if not the other. This is a valuable book for American gardeners looking for sustainable design ideas.

* Oh, before I forget. This book is from the same publisher as the text-only Grow The Good Life by Michele Owens, which I reviewed here recently. It’s larger in format and packed with color pictures – and it’s same price, $24.99, and discounted on by the same amount. Something wrong here, surely…


Hellebores and snowdrops

Graham Rice,east lambrook,margery fish,hellebores,snowdrops. Image © (all rights reserved)
Hellebores and snowdrops are classic late winter and early spring companions and, as this shot from the garden East Lambrook Manor in Somerset, England, shows they look great together.

East Lambrook Manor is the garden made famous by the pioneering writer and plantsperson Margery Fish, who brought cottage gardening back into fashion. She grew and introduced many fine plants and was especially fond of hellebores and snowdrops. Both have been allowed to self sow all over the garden in the decades since she died; when I was last there some years ago the hellebores were pretty but not special, but choice new snowdrops are still being discovered in the garden.

Allow bees to cross pollinate all the hellebores in their various colours and the resulting seedlings tend to become ever more dull and disappointing, even as the choice parents survive.

Allow snowdrops to do the same and not only does the purity of their colour remain largely untainted, unlike in hellebores, but new and intriguing forms turn up. A number have been sselected and named from amongst the great drifts and clumps of them at East Lambrook in recent years. These include ‘Dodo Norton’,  ‘Lambrook Greensleeves’, ‘Margery Fish’, ‘Sir Henry B-C’ and ‘Walter Fish’.

The lessons?
1. Always dead head your hellebores before they seed if you possibly can, and so prevent the appearance of lots of murky shades.
2. Don’t even bother to think about dead heading your snowdrops, although I know a few people do.
3. Look closely amongst your snowdrops to check if any unusual types have sprung up.
4. If you can, visit East Lambrook Manor and admire both hellebores and snowdrops for yourself.

Images © Graham Rice /

Graham Rice,east lambrook,margery fish,hellebores,snowdrops. Image © (all rights reserved)

Amazing new hellebore hybrid

Graham Rice,hellebores,sahinii,niger,foetidus,sahin,takii,hybrid. Image ©Takii Europe
Now I’ve seen everything… For the first time ever, a hybrid between two very different hellebore species is available to gardeners.

Helleborus x sahinii ‘Winter Bells’ is a hybrid between two well known species, H. foetidus, sometimes known as the stinking hellebore, and the Christmas rose, H. niger. The hybrid looks more or less as you’d expect. Its growth habit is rather like that of H. niger but the plant is a little taller and with pendulous flowers intermediate in size between those of the parents. In color, they open pink on the outside and cream within, then fade towards green.

There have been many attempts to cross these two species, but at K. Sahin Zaden BV, a Dutch seed company better known for creating new annuals, in 2004 two breeders managed to raise just one seedling from one pod of seeds. This plant is the result. It was named for the company’s founder, the late Kees Sahin.

As well as its attractive coloring and pretty pendulous flowers, ‘Winter Bells’ has two other unusual features. It has an erratic flowering period, and has even been known to bloom in August. It also roots from cuttings and the young plants may flower just a few months later. But don't go getting ideas, propagation is prohibited. The plant is also sterile.

This is an altogether extraordinary plant, available now in North America only. I’ll let you know when the plant is available in Britain.

Much of the information in this post comes from John Grimshaw’s article on new hellebore hybrids in the December 2010 issue of the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine, The Plantsman. Unfortunately, it is not available online.

You can order Helleborus x sahinii ‘Winter Bells’ from Heronswood.

Graham Rice,hellebores,sahinii,niger,foetidus,sahin,takii,hybrid. Image ©Takii Europe

Images © Takii Europe

Our bird count results

sharp shinned,hawk,Accipiter striates. Image by Dario Sanches and used here, with thanks, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is now over here in the US. We didn’t set up an armchair in front of the window but we kept our eyes open and a pen and paper handy for the full four days - which also produced 8-9in/20-23cm of fresh snow on Sunday night.

The star of the show was Sunday’s visit from a sharp-shinned hawk (above, click to enlarge). It’s not a rare bird, but we hadn’t seen one here before so it was a treat to see it swooping past the feeders and perching in the nearby birch tree. It caught nothing, though it might have been enjoying the mice I've been catching in the attic and leaving outside on a rock these last few weeks (about 25 in all so far!).

In all we saw fifteen species, here’s the list.

Black-capped chickadee - 4
Blue jay - 6
Cardinal - 2
Carolina wren - 1
Crow - 6
Junco - 6
Red-winged blackbird - 1
Sharp-shinned hawk - 1
Tufted titmouse - 4
Turkey - 1
White-breasted nuthatch - 3
Woodpecker, downy - 2
Woodpecker, hairy - 1
Woodpecker, pileated -1
Woodpecker, red bellied – 1

Missing regulars included goldfinch, various sparrows, purple finch and house finch. Unusual to see just one turkey. It was probably the last of the group, the others out of sight round the corner of the house.

Visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website to check results anywhere from the USA and Canada.

The image of the sharp-shinned hawk is by Dario Sanches and used here, with thanks, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. 

Hellebores and snowdrops in Pennsylvania

Graham Rice,snowdrop,hellebore,snow. Image © (all rights reserved)
Rotten day, so not much of a picture – but here are some of the snowdrops and hellebores in our garden here in Pennsylvania. Not much to see, is there?! (even if you click and enlarge)

Underneath, of course, the ground is frozen solid to a depth I cannot determine without some form of mechanical digger. So instead of admiring the plants or doing a little gardening, as we would across the water in England, we’re counting birds in the Great Backyard Bird Count – from the cozy comfort of an indoor vantage point.

But you can see many of our hellebores, at least, in this earlier post.

Hellebore season

hellebore,picotee,torquatus,strangman,washfield. Image © (all rights reserved)
Hellebore season is in full swing back in Britain. Here in Pennsylvania – not so much, as you’ll see tomorrow.

But in the spirit of winter passing and spring awakening, here’s a picture of one of my all time favorite hellebores (click to enlarge). Photographed long ago in the garden at Elizabeth Strangman’s legendary Washfield Nursery in Kent, from where so very many fine hellebores sprung, this gorgeous plant is derived from H. torquatus and ‘Early Purple’ by way of some inspired pollination from Elizabeth. It was probably the first picotee created.

I wish I had a plant, I’m not sure it was ever distributed. In the years since then, of course, breeders like Roger Harvey in Britain, Dick & Judith Tyler in the US have created similar plants. I must look out for one.

I have packs of greetings cards featuring this image, as well as other hellebore cards (for North American customers only at the monent). Just hop on over and take a look at my hellebore postcards and notecards. Or email for more information.

Gertrude Jekyll’s primroses live on

The latest issue of Primroses, the quarterly magazine of the American Primrose Society, arrived the other day and includes a most interesting article about Gertrude Jekyll’s “bunch primroses”. These days we call them polyanthus  – although whether we mean precisely the same thing is an interesting question which I’ll return to another time.

The 8 April 1905 issue of the British weekly magazine Country Life, in its In The Garden column, later occupied for decades by Christopher Lloyd, discusses these plants: “The bunch Primrose is one of the most effective of garden flowers in spring.... The stem rises strong and straight from the whorl of vigorous leaves and supports a crown of flowers which for variety of colouring and bold size are unrivalled among the many families of plants which we use to adorn the garden. A faint perfume comes from this grouping of Primrose…

“We have recently received many varieties of the bunch Primrose, each grower claiming his selection to be the best but none is so pure in colour especially in the shades of yellow and orange as the bunch Primroses we have seen on many spring days in Miss Jekyll's garden at Munstead.”

The origins of Miss Jekyll’s bunch primroses are discussed by Susan Schnare of Mountain Brook Primroses for the American Primrose Society. And for the extremely modest annual Society membership of just $25 you can receive the journal and also read it online.

The successors to Miss Jekyll’s plants, in a pure line, having traveled from England to Oregon back to England and now to France, are the ‘Harvest Yellows’ and ‘Winter White’ of Barnhaven Primroses. And Barnhaven now send plants, yes plants not seed, to the USA as well as to Britain and the rest of Europe. The shipping charge to the USA is just 15 Euros (about $20 today), with a minimum order of six plants. Sounds like a bargain to me, two bargains, in fact - American Primrose Society membership and shipping Barnhaven Primroses from France to the USA.

Image © Jason Ingram Photography. Thank you.