Previous month:
August 2011
Next month:
October 2011

September 2011

One plant, two names - again

Sweet Pea, Blue Shift', 'Duchy of Cambridge'. Image ©Keith Hammett
It’s confusing, it helps no one – and some people will buy the two varieties thinking they’re different… when they’re actually exactly the same.

One of our foremost creators of fine new sweet pea varieties, Keith Hammett, developed an impressive new variety called ‘Blue Shift’ – the flowers change colour as they mature. This is what he says about it himself: “This is a completely new development where blooms open as mauve shades, but change to a range of turquoise and ultramarine shades, which gives a bunch of flowers a unique “mother of pearl effect”.  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

So what’s this that Unwins Seeds are selling? They call it ‘Duchy of Cambridge’. They say: “The delicately scented blooms open in royal blue shades of turquoise and ultramarine and gradually change to incorporate more feminine pinks and mauves – creating a beautiful ‘mother of pearl’ effect.” And the variety is illustrated… with Keith Hammett’s own picture.

It’s the same thing. Click on the image above to see.

So, basically, it really looks as if what Unwins are doing is selling Keith Hammett's ‘Blue Shift’ – but calling it ‘Duchy of Cambridge’. Ten-Out-of-Ten for creating confusion and Zero-Out-of-Ten for giving the raiser of this variety the credit he deserves. This is the guy, by the way, who’s won more awards than I have space to include.

Now, I must be sure to say… Over the decades that I’ve been interested in sweet peas, and in other seed-raised plants, Unwins were extremely helpful. Their trials were fine examples of how assessing new seed raised plants should be done. Their help was invaluable when I was working on my book on sweet peas, and the thanks I gave in the book were entirely genuine.

But what are they up to now? They even describe ‘Duchy of Cambridge’ as “our delightful new and unusual sweet pea variety.” Hello… “our”? Don’t think so…

This self serving approach to the marketing of plants confuses customers, denies credit to those who deserve it, devalues the extraordinary amount of work that goes into developing new varieties and ends up making gardeners suspicious when they see “new” attached to any plant.

Can’t everyone just stick to the right name and give credit where it’s due?

You can buy Sweet Pea 'Blue Shift' from the man who raised it - along with many other fine varieties.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: My copy of Which? Gardening just arrived. [For North Ameican readers, this is lilke a Cosumer Reports magazine for gardening.]  Best By New Plant this month is a plant they call Lathyrus latifolius 'Mother of Pearl'. "Flowers open purple and gradually darken to deep blue. This sweet pea is also known as 'Blue Shift'," they say. So now we have a third name for 'Blue Shift' - and they say it's a perennial and not a sweet pea!

Which? Gardening say this fictional plant is available from English Sweet Peas - not any more. But English Sweet Peas do list 'Blue Shift' as a sweet pea - "flowers open a rich purple and gradually darken to a deep blue".  Well, they must have listed Lathyrus latifolius 'Mother of Pearl' when Which? Gardening did their fact checking. But no more.

What a mess!


Planting the Dry Shade Garden: news and reviews

Planting in Dry Shade,The American Gardener,Graham Rice. Layout ©American Horticultural Society
Some news about my new book, Planting the Dry Shade Garden.... This month, in The American Gardener, you can read my six page feature entitled Planting in Dry Shade (above, click to enlarge).

The American Gardener is the members’ magazine for The American Horticultural Society. This splendid bi-monthly magazine is available only to AHS members, and as well as its print edition it now comes in an impressive online edition.

Membership of the AHS is incredibly good value for only $35 a year. It’s worth that for The American Gardener alone and there are many many of other benefits. Join now and check out my piece on Planting in Dry Shade in the latest issue.

And there’s more about my latest book Planting the Dry Shade Garden:
•    Interview with Nina A. Koziol for the Chicago Tribune
•    Radio interview with Ken Druse's Real Dirt
•    Feature in The Independent newspaper
•    Radio interview with Adrianne Picciano of Farm & Country for WJFF (plays automatically)
•    And don’t forget the book has its own websites: for British and Irish readers, and for North American readers.

The latest new plants

Heuchera 'Magnum', huge leaves. Images ©Thierry Delabroye.
I’ve been covering some exciting new plants recently over on my Royal Horticultural Society’s New Plants blog. Although some, of course, are already available in the North America these are all plants that have become available in Britain recently. Just click on the links to see the original blog post in a new window.

Antirrhinum ‘Eternal’ – variegated snapdragon with pink flowers
Buddleja Miss Ruby (‘NC2003-22’) – new reddest-yet buddleia with no self sown seedlings
Clematis Queen Mother ('Zoqum') and 'Sweetheart' – with intriguing flower shapes
Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Viveleg’ – a dramatic new variegated elaeagnus
Exochorda ‘Niagara’ – more flowers and a better habit
Heuchera ‘Magnum’ (above, click to enlarge) - the biggest leaves yet?
Hosta ‘Captain’s Adventure’ – with tricolored foliage
Pear Hunbug ('Pysanka') Image ©Pomona Fruits Hydrangea ‘Expression’
('Youmesix') – a double-flowered rebloomer
Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit ('Ncha1) – like a pink version of old favorite ‘Annabelle’
Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’ – the first pink-flowered grape hyacinth
Pear ‘Humbug’ ('Pysanka') (left, click to enlarge) – a striped pear from Ukraine
Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ – narrow purple leaved tree
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ – vivid new hybrid salvia for the summer
Sambucus Black Tower (‘Eiffel 1’)– a black-leaved elder with a vertical habit
Viola ‘Bunny Ears’ (below, click to enlarge) – a new flower form in violas

Check out the news on the latest new plants on my Royal Horticultural Society’s New Plants blog.

Viola Bunny Ears, new from Mr Fothergill. Images © Mr Fothergill's Seeds

How to kill a Leyland hedge

Leyland Cypress, hedge. Image ©
Leyland cypress is a really useful hedging evergreen. It grows quickly, it’s a good color for a background to flowers, and it makes an effective screen and windbreak. The problem is that it keeps growing and growing and growing. Even on poor soil it can grow 3ft/90cm a year. The tallest is over 130ft/40m tall and still growing. And so, of course, it has to be trimmed regularly to keep it to a modest size.

With regular trimming you can keep it to very reasonable 6-8ft/1.8-2.4m high. But if you let it go for a few years, and then try to cut it back hard – this is what happens (above, click to enlarge). Not a pretty sight.

Why not plant an Arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ (sometimes known as ‘Emerald Green’), instead? It’s a good colour, less vigorous but not slow, and needs much less trimming to keep it to a manageable height.

Plant name note (deep breath, please): Leyland cypress was for many decades known botanically as xCupressocyparis leylandii – a hybrid between the Californian Cupressus macrocarpa and the Alaskan Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. The hybrid generic name combines of the generic names of the two parent plants, which helps grasp what’s going on. Ah, but then…

Ten years ago botanists decided that Chamaecyparis nootkatensis was so distinct from other species of Chamaecyparis that it needed a genus of its own, so it became Xanthocyparis nootkanensis. Then a few years later, after further botanical brain boiling, another generic name, Callitropsis, was proposed.

If that wasn’t confusing enough, whenever Chamaecyparis nootkatensis is put in a different genus the botanical name of the hybrid, Leyland cypress, must also change. So, if you think Chamaecyparis nootkatensis should really be Xanthocyparis nootkanensis then Leyland cypress becomes ×Cuprocyparis leylandii. But if you think Chamaecyparis nootkatensis should really be Callitropsis nootkatensis, then you probably also think Cupressus macrocarpa should be Callitropsis macrocarpa – which makes the Leyland cypress become Callitropsis x leylandii! Got that? Have I got that right (steam comes out of his ears)?

No no, hold the rotten tomatoes... it’s not my fault... It’s the rules!

Pinesap – an intriguing American and British native

Pinesap, Monotropa hypopitys, Monotropa hypopithys. Image ©
Pottering about in the woods, looking at the downed trees from the hurricane, I came across this little clump of Pinsesap, Monotropa hypopitys. It’s not a rare plant, but I’d never spotted it near the house before. The name, Pinsesap, is said to be derived from the fact that it grows under pine trees and saps its juices. It grows in Britain, too, where its common name is, rather mysteriously, Yellow Bird’s-nest.

Like the entirely white Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, which we have in the garden as well as the woods, Pinesap has no chlorophyll and was always thought to be a saprophyte – getting its nutrients from rotting leaf litter. It was also usually placed in its own family, Monotropaceae.

But the world of the pinesap has been turned upside down! Well, no, the pinesap carries on as it has for thousands of years. It's our understanding of pinesap that has changed dramatically.

First of all, it turns out that rather than using rotting woodland leaf litter for its nutrients, it’s actually parasitic on a group of woodland fungi. Also, the latest thinking is that it belongs, rather surprisingly, in the Erica family with rhododendrons and heathers. Finally, there are some who believe that it needs separating from the Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, into a genus of its own. The genus Hypopitys has been created for it – and in that case what would its new name be? Instead of Monotropa hypopitys it would then be called - Hypopitys monotropa! Oh, those botanists like a joke...

Oh, and there’s another odd thing about the North American form of this plant. It comes in a yellow version that flowers in summer, and also the reddish version seen in the picture (above, click to enlarge) that flowers in the fall.

Anyway, it’s good to have such an intriguing plant turn up in our local woods.

Cape crusaders – the new phygelius

Phygelius 'Candy Drops Ivory', 'CandyDrops Red' and 'CandyDrops Deep Rose'. Images ©Howard Rice
Guest post
Ian Hodgson, Editor of the Royal Horticultural Society's membership magazine The Garden for eighteen years, reports on cutting edge breeding of Phygelius (Cape Fuchsia).

It’s gratifying to find someone seeing potential in breeding an established garden plant in a new and exciting way. For a small scale breeder it's doubly challenging as it's difficult to create consumer demand when the audience hasn’t seen the plants or get buy-in from the supply chain, particularly during a recession when few growers and distributors are willing to gamble.

British plant breeder David Kerley, who has forged a sizeable international reputation with his Tumbelina and other petunias (Graham wrote them up two years ago), has been busy since 2000 perfecting the Phygelius CandyDrops Series for use in containers. On a recent visit to his nursery near Cambridge I saw a range of Phygelius (Cape Fuchsia) that stand out from the crowd and yet retain their own individual character.

I'm sure there's a need for a compact range of summer flowering container plants like these Phygelius. Phygelius, CandyDrops Tangerine. Image ©Howard RiceSummer containers often run out of steam after the main flush of flower is over and garden centres are have few container plants to put in front of people at that stage of the summer. The CandyDrops Series, which produce flushes of flowers through summer to the first frosts of autumn, could fill the gap.

David began with the most distinctive of the existing cultivars raised from crossing P. aequalis with P. capensis; these included ‘Salmon Leap’, ‘African Queen’, ‘Trewidden Pink’, ‘Devils Tears’, ‘Winchester Fanfare’ and ‘Yellow Trumpet’. Then he made his own crosses and looked for earliness and continuity of  flowering, tufted growth habit, compactness and distinctive flower colour in his seedlings. The result is the CandyDrops Series, in nine colours to date: cream, deep rose, ivory, peach, purple, red, salmon-orange, and tangerine (right, click to enlarge) plus the yellow-leaved ‘Midas Touch’, with reddish-purple flowers.

Standout cultivars for me were ‘CandyDrops Ivory’, ‘CandyDrops Red’ and  ‘CandyDrops Deep Rose’ (all above, click to enlarge) all of which have the genetic traits of the series, yet exhibit their own individuality. The cool creamy-white semi-pendant flowers of ‘CandyDrops Ivory’ are held on a compact plant that retained great poise and elegance. It would really stand out against a shaded back-drop and would be good either on its own or in mixed plantings. I love it.

Phygelius, 'CandyDrops Red. Image ©Howard Rice ‘CandyDrops Red’ (left, click to enlarge) has glowing flowers which are more compact, combined with a good tufted habit making for a plant with broad appeal. ‘CandyDrops Deep Rose’ is quite different. The outside of the flower tube is a lovely diffuse lilac-purple set off with purple petals and yellow throat. It would look good where it can be admired from below such as atop a low wall, in a taller container or larger hanging basket. In the novelty stakes ‘Midas Touch’ has golden foliage and red flowers – a striking combination.

They would also make striking plants for the middle or front of a summer border, but David has not tried them for this purpose and so has not evaluated the degree to which they might produce irritating suckers. These plants deserve wider recognition by the trade and if tested in open ground and among other plantings I think their potential could embrace wider garden use as well as the containers they were initially bred for.

In Britain Two colours in the series are currently available by mail order from Victoriana Nursery Gardens. Expect to see the CandyDrops Series in garden centres, and listed by other mail order suppliers, next year. Commercial growers and propagators should contact David Kerley.

In North America The CandyDrops Series is not yet available in garden centres and nurseries, look out for them next spring. Four colours in the series are being grown and distributed to nurseries and garden centres by Skagit Gardens.

Graham adds: These phygelius are rated zone 8 for North America, but I’m confident they’d be OK in zone 7. Other varieties survive some winters here in PA in zone 5, but not others.

Ian Hodgson was Editor of The Garden for 18 years and Editor-in-Chief of RHS Journals. He is now a freelance garden writer, editor and horticultural consultant.

All photos are ©Howard Rice. Thank you.

Hurricane, voles and the gas pipeline

Before the Hurricane. Image © (all rights reserved)
I was up on the roof, not long before Hurricane Irene raged through, adding some extra sealant around the weak spots on the skylights where the rain sometimes seeps in when we have a thunderstorm. Seemed like a wise precaution… After the storm the local weather station reported 6in/15cm of rain, just on Sunday morning, and although a few drips came through the black goo seems to have mostly done the job.

While I was up there I took a few snaps of what I could see of the garden (above, click to enlarge). It looks a little different now… judy's been out tidying up and, anyway, I haven’t the heart to show you the battered coleus (it was completely flattened) and the broken phlox – not to mention the gaps where most of the hostas used to be before the voles ate them.

Which reminds me… The pest control service that comes to give the place a prevention treatment against carpenter ants told us that we're not the only ones with dramatic vole problems. But he put it down to, what seems to me, a rather unlikely cause. There's a huge gas pipeline going in four miles away, slicing dramatically through the woods (below, click to enlarge). The pest guy says there have been so many vole problems this year because so many animals have been displaced by the project.

Can't see it myself. Is he saying that these mouse-sized creatures have plodded four miles through the woods to get to our garden? Don't think so…

OK, we'll get back to plants next time with a guest post on new Phygelius, Cape fuchsia, from Ian Hodgson who was Editor of the Royal Horticultural Society's membership magazine The Garden for 18 years and Editor-in-Chief of RHS Journals.

Gas Pipeline. Image © (all rights reserved)