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May 2011

Today's frog

Northern Leopard Frog,Rana pipiens. Image © (all rights reserved)
Today's intriguing wildlife visitor is the Northern Leopard Frog, Rana pipiens, spotted in a bird bath in the garden by judy (click to enlarge). They can reach over 4in/10cm in length and, apparently, have such large mouths that they can eat garter snakes, and even birds! That would be worth seeing... More usual fare includes flies, crickets, worms, and smaller frogs. Of course the frogs themselves are also at risk from raccoons and snakes.

Apart from the bird baths in the garden, this frog is many a long hop from the water but it's great to see one as it seems acid rain led to a decline from which they're only now recovering.

The Northern Leopard Frog is the State Amphibian of both Vermont and Minnesota! Only in America... Perhaps my home county in England should have a state amphibian as well? Come to think of it, there's probably more different amphibians in our garden here in Pennsylvania than in the whole of Northamptonshire (which has four).

Plants at the Chelsea Flower Show 2011

Chelsea Flower Show,Raymond Evison,Clematis. Image ©RHS (all rights reserved)
Here are links to all my writings about the plants at this year's Chelsea Flower Show.

Chelsea Flower Show 2011: New Plants – Daily Telegraph

New plants, and the not so new? – The Guardian

Anemone ‘Wild Swan’: 2011 Chelsea Plant of the Year  – Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog

New Australian irises at Chelsea – Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog

Unique new hybrid lily - Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog

Chelsea Plant of The Year 2011 finalists – Transatlantic Gardener

Begonias at the Chelsea Flower Show – Transatlantic Gardener

Comprehensive descriptive A-Z of new Chelsea plants – coming soon as part of the RHS Chelsea coverage

Anemone 'Wild Swan' wins Chelsea Plant of the Year

Chelsea,Plant of the Year,Graham Rice
This year's Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year award has been won by Anemone 'Wild Swan' (above left, click to enlarge), bred by Elizabeth MacGregor and eneterd by Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants. Second place went to Saxifraga ‘Anneka Hope’ (above centre) bred by Matthew Ruane and available from Kevock Garden Plants, and Verbascum ‘Blue Lagoon’ (above right) bred and available from Thompson & Morgan was third.

“This year’s competition was extremely interesting with a great range of new plants,” said Raymond Evison, Chairman of the Plant Advisory Committee. “The award has been given to a marvellous performing new perennial plant. Not only does it exhibit a long flowering habit but it is also an exciting flower.”

 “I am absolutely thrilled that ‘Wild Swan’ has been voted plant of the year,” says Jim Gardener, Director of Horticulture RHS. “This plant is going to be a great addition to the boarder with its subtle shades and longevity of flowering.”

I'll be looking at these plants, and some of the other finalists, over on my RHS New Plants blog over the coming weeks.

Thank you to Carol Sheppard/RHS for the pictures.


Chelsea Plant of the Year finalists

Plant of the Year,Anemone,Chelsea Flower Show. Image ©Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants
The finalists for this year’s Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year have just been announced. This is the award for the best new plant not seen at a show before. It’s awarded on a vote of all the members of Royal Horticultural Society plant committees at the show. Here's the list. The winner will be announced tomorrow, read about it here on Transatlantic Gardener.

Anemone 'Wild Swan' (above, click to enlarge) - Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants
Begonia Apricot Fragrant Falls - Class Gardens
Brachyscome 'Magenta Delight' - Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Heucherella 'Brass Lantern' -
Heucherella 'Solar Power' -
Hydrangea macrophylla Avantgarde ('Hedi') - Class Gardens
Lewisia 'Little Mango' - D'Arcy & Everest
Lilium 'Firebolt' - HW Hyde
Lilium 'Julie Fowlis' - HW Hyde
Lilium 'Lankon' - HW Hyde
Lobelia erinus Waterfall Blue Ice (Waterfall Series) - Class Gardens
Nepenthes 'Princess' - Borneo Exotics
Petunia Black Velvet ('Balpevac') - Class Gardens
Rhododendron 'Rabatz' - Millais Nurseries
Sarracenia 'Johnny Marr' - Hampshire Carnivorous Plants
Saxifraga 'Anneka Hope' - Kevock Garden Plants
Streptocarpus 'Sioned' - Dibley's Nurseries
Uncinia rubra 'Belinda's Find' - John Woods Nurseries
Verbascum 'Blue Lagoon' - The British Plant Nursery Guide
Phalaenopsis Ming - Hsing Eagle - Taiwan Orchid Association

Begonias at the Chelsea Flower Show

Rhodes and Rockliffe,Begonia,Chelsea Flower Show. Image ©Rhodes and Rockliffe (all rights reserved)

The Chelsea Flower Show, the most prestigious flower show in the world, opens in London on Tuesday. In the run up to the Show I’ve been working on my survey of all the new plants that are promised for a Chelsea unveiling this year – one hundred and twenty two (yes 122) at my last count. These are mainly plants that have never been seen at a British flower show before and/or which have not been available to gardeners until this spring.

You’ll find my overview of the best in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper (not up yet, link to follow) and my list of them all - good, bad and indifferent - on the RHS website (not up yet, link to follow).

But in gathering information I was especially impressed by the wide range of new begonias to be shown by Rhodes and Rockliffe, who hold Britain’s Plant Heritage National Plant Collection® of Begonia (open by appointment only). Many are of their own raising, some are from others. Twelve are shown in the picture (above, click to enlarge) and most are as yet unnamed although top right is ‘Savannah Pink Parfait’, and bottom left is ‘My Best Friend’ from a collection destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Look out for Rhodes and Rockliffe at the Show (stand GPD17) and in the online, TV and print coverage.

And check out my posts on new Chelsea plants:
New lily hybrid on show for the first time anywahere in the world
New irises from Australia.

For more on the Chelsea Flower Show, start checking out these sites:
Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show coverage
Chelsea Flower Show coverage from Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper
Chelsea Flower Show coverage from the BBC
Show advice from Britain's Guardian newspaper

Thank you to Daviid Rhodes of Rhodes and Rockliffe for the individual images.

Valuable climbing dicentra relative

About ten days ago, here on the Transatlantic Gardener, I was talking about Dicentra spectabilis (as was). Then, after I’d posted that piece, I suddenly remembered one of its wonderful relations, a biennial American native climber called Adlumia fungosa, also known as the Allegheny Vine.

I grew this years ago in one of my earlier British gardens, in my picture (above, click to enlarge) it’s scrambling over an especially good form of Euphorbia characias called ‘Blue Hills’, raised by the great British plant breeder Eric Smith. The euphorbia is noted for its very long, very blue leaves.

The adlumia makes an overwintering rosette of very attractive, lacily divided foliage and then long, long, rather succulent shoots develop carrying strings of flowers in a slightly impure pinkish purple. It clings in the same way as clematis, by curling its leaf stalks round its support.

I was always impressed by the fact that it was shedding its tiny, shiny black seeds towards the base of the stems while there were buds still waiting to open towards the tips. It’s a really valuable climber to grow through shrubs in a sunny place.

It turns out that Adlumia fungosa is native here in Pennsylvania, though not in our county, but it looks like popular deer food to me so it’s surely on the decline. I’ve not seen it in the surrounding counties where it’s said to grow.

Looking it up in the book I mentioned in my last post, Bleeding Hearts, Corydalis, and Their Relatives by Mark Tebbitt, Magnus Lidén, and Henrik Zetterland (Timber Press), I’m reminded that it has an uncommon white-flowered form. I notice that Summerhill Seeds in the USA have a pale pink form, which looks very pretty. And seed of the normal form is available for shipping all over the world from Britain's Chiltern Seeds – which is where I got it many years ago.

But can anyone tell me where I can get seed, or plants, of the white-flowered form?

Top new plants in Britain

Geranium,Midnight,Clouds,Klinkhamer. Image ©
Both the horticultural industry and gardeners are increasingly interested in new plants to fuel profits, enhance gardens and add to collections. I report on many of them over on my Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog. But there are few ways to determine how popular new introductions are. Plant producers tend to view their sales figures as trade secrets and there are no countrywide groups collecting statistics.

In Britain the annual publication of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Finder is a useful guide. All the new introductions are marked and it’s easy to count how many nurseries list each. So one guide to popularity is the number of nurseries that list each new introduction. Here are the top eight for this year.

1. Actaea pachypoda ‘Misty Blue’ Blue-tinted foliage marks out this form of the US native, selected at the Mt Cuba Center in Delaware. Read more on my RHS New Plants blog and also here on Transatlantic Gardener.

2. Geranium ‘Midnight Clouds’ (above, click to enlarge) White flowers set against purple-foliage, an uncommon combination, make this one of the standout plants of the year. Read more on my RHS New Plants blog.

3. Erodium ‘Freedom’ A prolific dwarf hybrid erodium from Holland, with prettily dissected foliage and vivid pink flowers. Read more on my RHS New Plants blog.

Chasmanthium,River Mist,Plant Finder,RHS. Image ©ItSaul Plants 4. Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’ (left, click to enlarge) From the Georgia raiser of the Big Sky™ echinaceas, a lovely variegated form of a popular ornamental grass. Read more on my RHS New Plants blog.

5. Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus Superior' The upgrade on the excellent ‘Magus’, the best seed-raised echinacea just got better. Read more on my RHS New Plants blog.

6. Filipendula 'Red Umbrellas' With brightly divided green foliage blazed with deep red, this is attractive from when the leaves first unfurl. Read more on my RHS New Plants blog.

7. Geranium 'Fay Anna' An astonishing combination of red and orange foliage and purple-veined pink flowers.

8. Heuchera 'Magnum' Imposing plant with huge burgundy red leaves up to 10in/25cm across. From Thierry Delabroye.

By the way, notice anything about these eight? They're all perennials... No shrubs, no climbers, no container plants... just perennials.

In all there are 3,508 new entries in the 2011/2012 RHS Plant Finder (up from 3,434 last year) including 237 new irises (199 last year), 210 new primulas (111 last year), most of which are auriculas, 149 new hostas (71 last year) and 131 new dahlias (55 last year). Last year’s leader was hemerocallis with an amazing 400 new arrivals (just 74 this year).


“The elephant in the garden”

Bad Tempered Gardener,Anne Wareham,Charles Hawes,Veddw. Image © (all rights reserved)
At first I thought that this image might itself might be my review. No words, just this image making clear how many passages in The Bad Tempered Gardener by Anne Wareham (Frances Lincoln) I’d singled out and marked. But this could be ambiguous – had I marked passages because they were outstandingly good... or the other thing?

Well, I marked those that were especially funny, pithily sharp, were wildly hyperbolic, or impressively wise – plus one or two that were startlingly contradictory, that I especially agreed with, that were daft ill-considered, or were just very well written. But I started to mark so many that I had to become more rigorous, otherwise I’d have burst the binding with so many tags.

She’s sharp, perceptive and funny (that’s the line for the publisher to quote, or the next bit) and skewers traditional horticultural views with delight. She sounds off about nurseries (“the nursery habit is at the bottom of the abysmal British garden”), plant collections, sloppy garden writing, “‘King Edward’-type daffodils” (deliberately misnaming them after a potato). She champions ground covers of preposterous invasiveness, wood chip mulch, Erigeron ‘Profusion’, honest plant descriptions, garden centers, and black water-coloring dye. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or not, like the best garden writing it makes you think.

In particular, she quite rightly complains that all commentary on gardens is positive, sometimes exuberantly and untruthfully so. She’s right, and this is pretty much unique to gardens. Reviews of movies, plumbers, restaurants, political campaigns, exhibitions, cars, even mothers… all just say it as the author sees it. And, often, dislike of the subject inspires fine and entertaining writing. But not gardens and, oddly, not reviews of garden books. When I helped run Plants & Gardens magazine (RIP) long ago, we were praised for our honest book reviews. But no else has been prepared to say that a garden book gives bad advice or recommends poor plants. It’s just not reviewed. Mustn't upset potential advertisers.

Bad Tempered Gardener,Anne Wareham,Charles Hawes,Veddw. Image ©Charles Hawes/ (all rights reserved)

And on gardening itself: “Gardening is boring. It is repetitious, mind-blowingly boring, just like housework. All of it – sowing seeds, mowing, cutting hedges, potting up, propagating is boring, and all of it requires doing over and over again….” Again, she’s right, mostly - I quite like sowing seeds. What’s odd is that her garden in Wales seems to have miles of hedges and acres of grass – two features which require endless hours of the most boring jobs of all. Presumably, as she says, “they’re mostly enjoyable for the result and not the process.” I have to say the garden at Veddw (above, click to enlarge) is wonderful (see pages 39/40 of the book – on writers who review gardens without visiting...).

I should say that while not all North American readers will understand the targets, many will enjoy the attitude and the style. Christopher Lloyd is very popular in the States and admired writers like Allen Lacy and Wayne Winterrowd are in a similar tradition. But, although her targets and assumptions are Brit-centric, North American readers will enjoy the ride.

All we need now is a weekly newspaper column of honest garden, plant and garden book reviews. Wanna share it, Anne?

Book points:

  • Some wobbly editing: someone can’t decide if contractions are OK or if they are not.
  • With great respect to Anne's husband/photographer Charles Hawes, the designer is absolutely right to use the pictures relatively small, making it clear this is a book for reading and that the images illustrate the text. The text is not just the squiggly stuff round the pictures.


Thank you for images to:

Book and tags:
Veddw garden: Charles Hawes

Chinese plants at a “native plant” sale

Hemerocallis,vulva,Corydalis,Blue Panda,native. Images © (left) & (all rights reserved)
Yesterday we went to the annual Native Plant Sale at the Pocono Environmental Education Center here in north east Pennsylvania. Back in 2008 I wrote about one of our earlier visits, noting the remarkable number of plants from around the world being sold as natives. These included Aquilegia ‘Biedermeier Mixed’ and Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’.

Well, this year we went again to support their educational work by buying a few plants. And, frankly, I was keen to see if they now had a clearer idea of what constitutes a native plant. But three years later it's the same old story. They may have a huge sparkling new building in which to hold the sale but, again, there were some remarkable "natives" on sale.

The top prize goes to the plants labeled "native orange daylily". Step forward, all the way from China - Hemerocallis fulva (above, click to enlarge). This is often seen on roadsides as well as in wilder areas in these parts, sometimes in its double form. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has a Fact Sheet on the plant headed Invasive Exotic Plant Tutorial for Natural Lands Managers. It reports that these daylilies "… infest natural areas where they pose the greatest threat to meadows, floodplains, moist woods and forest edges." Not exactly the sort of “native” that an environmental education center should have on sale.

The second “native” that stood out at this “native plant sale”, apart from the ‘Victoria’ rhubarb, was Corydalis flexuosa ‘Blue Panda’ (above, click to enlarge). This was collected in China in 1985 by American horticulturalist Reuben Hatch. A lovely plant, well worth growing, but not many of those scattered through Pennsylvania’s forests.

Now, just in case you think I’m being unnecessarily harsh, there were quite a few genuine native plants on sale as well. We bought a few natives, as well as a 'Blue Panda'. Also, I wrote to them about this issue years ago, after our first visit. When I blogged about them in 2008 I didn’t mention their name, but I sent them a link to my post and invited comment. But they didn't comment.

They specialize in environmental education for kids – I wonder what they’re teaching them about native plants?

Thank you for images to:
Corydalis: Terra Nova Nurseries

Beautiful bleeding hearts

Bleeding Heart,Dicentra,Valentine,Gold Leaf. Image © (all rights reserved)
While we were out and about plant buying the other day, I was delighted to see that the Fair Acres Farm nursery in New Jersey, which unfortunately had plants of variegated Japanese knotweed for sale, also had plants of all four forms of the bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis.

We already have the white, ‘Alba’, a simply beautiful plant which is a highlight of spring and which seeds itself around handily. Fair Acres Farm also had two others: ‘Gold Heart’ and the recently introduced ‘Valentine’. They had good specimens, we bought both (above, click to enlarge).

‘Gold Heart’ is a golden-leaved form of the species with the usual pink, heart-like lockets above foliage which for once really is more gold than the yellow coloring often seen in most plants with “gold” in their name. Spotted by Nori Pope at Hadspen House in Somerset back in 1993, its leaf color is at its richest in a little more shade than you might usually grow this plant.

Bleeding Heart,Dicentra,Valentine. Image © (all rights reserved) Now, ‘Valentine’ (left, click to enlarge) is a stunner. Dusky red flowers, burgundy stems, slightly bronze-tinted green foliage. Gorgeous. I'm still having trouble tracking down its origins, though, so if anyone can help…

We decided against buying the ordinary form, which they also had, in the hope that these three others will cross with each other and produce something special - or at least interesting. This species tends to self-pollinate, though, so the chances are slim.

The note about pollination I found in a splendid book on these plants, Bleeding Hearts, Corydalis, and Their Relatives by Mark Tebbitt, Magnus Lidén, and Henrik Zetterland (Timber Press). With so many valuable spring plants in this group, this is a really useful book for gardeners with shade, where so many of the dicentras and corydalis belong.

It’s for the more dedicated gardener, I should say, but gives comprehensive descriptions and fascinating background as well as some excellent pictures. It really makes clear how valuable not only Dicentra, but more particularly Corydalis are in the spring garden, with many lovely forms discussed and illustrated.

This is also the place where the relatively recent break up of the genus Dicentra was brought to a wider world. Dicentra spectabilis, is now (gulp) Laprocapnos spectabilis. There are very good reasons, but it’s still unfortunate. I can hear the groans from all over the horticultural world…