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April 2012

In the family: Lies I Told My Little Sister

Once in a while, I tell you about interesting things that my family is doing - especially if there's on online component. So here's some news: my wife, judywhite, who's a noted garden writer and photographer, is in the midst of something truly awe-inspiring. She decided to break out of the horticultural mode, to write her first screenplay – and it's being turned into a feature film called Lies I Told My Little Sister! Filming starts in three weeks.

The film is a drama-comedy set on Cape Cod, about family dynamics and sibling rivalry, and it’s been fascinating to watch all the behind-the-scenes details that go into the making of a motion picture. It’s being produced and directed by an amazing team straight out of the acclaimed film department at NYU (New York University), who earlier this year swept the New Visions & Voices Film Festival in NYC with their first project, a short film, garnering Best Picture, Best Director, Best Producer, Best Editing. Lies I Told My Little Sister will be their first feature film.

Wonderful actors have been cast, including breakout actress Lucy Walters from the 2011 BAFTA-nominated film Shame and former rocker Ellen Foley – known for her silver sledgehammer of a voice on such iconic songs as Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Read an interview with Lucy that IndieLondon did after they found she’d been cast in Lies.

The primary funding for the film is in place, but there's a way that anyone interested can get involved and help out. For the next 32 days, you can go to IndieGoGo  to make a donation, small or large, that will go toward some incidental costs, and you can be a part of the film! There are lots of perks being offered, such as your name in the onscreen credits, signed screenplays, props from the movie, DVD of the final film, even a part as walk-on extra.

It just goes to prove that you can reinvent yourself at any point, if you just take risks and try. Bravo to my wonderful writer of a wife!

And check out my previous post about my daughter's online business His Emporium.

Multi-season woodland perennial

Caulophyllum thalictroides, blue cohosh, stems against Arum maculatum. Image ©’m a big fan of plants that produce different attractive features at different times of year. They’re double-your-money plants which give you two bursts of color or appeal at different seasons.

The blue cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides, is another of those unexpected members of the Berberis family – think Epimedium, Podophyllum and Jeffersonia – which are valuable shade-loving garden perennials. And this week Caulophyllum thalictroides is presenting us with the first of its four - yes, four – features.

Aren’t these purple shoots amazing (left, click to enlarge)? And against the marbled foliage of Arum maculatum ‘'McClement's Form’, they stand out dramatically. Caulophyllum would be worth growing even if it did nothing else. [Note to self: Must split that arum and spread it out more to make an even better background.]

Soon, those sultry stems expand and that purple coloring is Flowers and foliage of Caulophyllum thalictroides, blue cohosh. Image ©GardenPhotos.comcarried over into slightly bluish foliage, prettily silvered underneath at first. The large leaves seem to vary in the amount of bluish or even purplish coloring they reveal. When growing strongly, each leaflet splits into three towards the tip (right, click to enlarge).

Next on the list are the flowers. Not dramatic, I have to say, but appealing nonetheless, the spikes of small slightly mustard- or bronze-colored flowers are held just above the leaves later in spring. Finally, in early autumn there are often, but not always, clusters of deep blue berries dusted in white bloom.

Few perennials can boast of revealing four interesting features in less than six months.

Caulophyllum has also had many practical uses. In particular this widespread eastern American shade lover has been used by indigenous peoples against a variety of complaints including rheumatism, toothache, indigestion, stomach cramps, fits and hysterics, and especially in relation to preventing conception and childbirth.

And at this time of year, those purple shoots are stretching ever day.

Acres of celandines

As far as the eye can see… Celandines, carpeting the damp woods at Black Brook Park in Union County, New Jersey. We were out there the other day, taking a family stroll.

And after marveling at vast acres of skunk cabbage growing along the muddy stream, we turned a bend in the trail and, on slightly drier ground, were the celandines, like a vast green ballroom carpet scattered with yellow confetti. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place.

Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, is a widespread British native perennial with roots like tiny dahlia tubers. Very early into growth, its waxy green leaves are topped with flowers like buttercups. Later in the season it completely dies away. The whole plant rarely reaches 8in/20cm in height. It’s common wildflower and an irritating garden weed in Britain, spreading by seed but also when the clusters of tiny tubers break up. RanunculusficariaBrazenHussy700

In North America it’s known as the Fig Buttercup – from the shape of its bright green leaves and its yellow flowers - and is becoming widespread in the east and Pacific North West. Its rated as “Invasive, banned” in Connecticut and “Prohibited” in Massachusetts. Looks fantastic, but big big trouble: like the kid you saw at the bus stop on the way to school…

At Black Brook Park it was present in acres of vast drifts although in places spring beauty, Claytonia virginica, was holding its own. But it’s plants exactly like claytonia, the early spring ephemerals, that are smothered by the mass of dense early celandine foliage. However, I was also surprised to see a few patches of snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, looking lush as their foliage stretched after flowering last month.

I could have spent all day examining this huge population of celandines, but a short look indicated that they were very uniform, apart from a few with unusually narrow petals and a few with paler flowers.

Ranunculusficaria-foliage23009In Britain, it’s different. While everywhere at Black Brook Park, New Jersey, the plants had plain green leaves, in Britain the foliage can vary enormously. I picked the leaves in the picture (left, click to enlarge) from a few hundred yards along a quite Sussex lane. The bronze-leaved variety that Christopher Lloyd named ‘Brazen Hussey’ (above, click to enlarge) was found wild in a wood on his property. Other unusual forms, like doubles, also turn up.

But here’s the thing… That sunny carpet of color, disappearing into the distance in that New Jersey park, looked absolutely magical. Is it less beautiful because we know that the plant is not a native?

Bloodroot provides a lesson

Sanguinaria, bloodroot, in need of dividing and replanting. Image ©
, bloodroot, is a fleeting spring treat and this spring the double form of Sanguinaria canadensis, the Canadian bloodroot, reminds us of a greater truth.

Take a look at the picture (above, click to enlarge). The plant has been in place for about five years, and it’s grown steadily. But now the center of the plant is dying out, and all the strong flowering growth is round the edge. The doughnut look is really starting to spoil the effect. So, what’s to be done?

Well, nothing now; it’s too late. By the time the flowers are over the rounded foliage you can see emerging amongst the blooms will be too large; dig it all up, split it and replant at that stage and you’ll do more harm than good. The time to do it is either when the foliage has died down later in the year, or next spring just as growth is stirring.

One thing I suppose I could do is to remove all the old tired soil from the center and replace it with fresh, so that this year the fat rhizomes can grow inwards into rich soil as well as outwards. Then perhaps there’ll be more to split when the time comes

A huge range of other perennials suffer from the same problem: phlox, hardy chrysanthemums, many hardy geraniums, heleniums, and many more. Many of these benefit from being split every three or four years. But hostas and hellebores, in particular, are best left to make ever-fatter clumps; they spread slowly, and even if the centers do become doughnut-ised it doesn’t usually show.

For more on the spring delights of these lovely plants, check out my earlier posts on sanguinarias:
Star of the spring garden
Sanguinaria - the spring overture

The new RHS Plantfinder is out!

The RHS PLantfinder 2012-2013 is out nowIt’s that time of year again. The time when I remind British gardeners of the value of the indispensible Royal Horticultural Society Plantfinder, and prompt North American gardeners to realize that it’s of enormous value to them too. The new issue is out today.

First the basics. A total of 67,603 different plants are listed, and the British or European nurseries that stock them are given for every plant. In all, 541 nurseries included and there are 3,380 new plants in this year’s edition. The book runs to almost 1000 pages.

The part that should interest North American gardeners, as well as British ones, is that this is the most up-to-date record of correct plant names in the world. There are many minor corrections and updates to cultivar names this year - last year's were more significant - while other changes are extremely minor, no dramatic changes to fire up gardeners’ ire although there are small adjustments in Crocus, Cytisus and Prunus while the rarely grown Ledum is now included in Rhododendron.

Of special interest in North America is that the species of Disporum, fairybells, from North America are now separated from the Asian species in the genus Prosartes. For example, Disporummaculatum700Disporum maculatum, the nodding mandarin, is now Prosartes maculata (right, click to enlarge). It’s worth noting that it’s taken the Plantfinder botanists almost twenty years to accept this change to Disporum, it’s been adopted in the US already. So you can see these adjustments are not made lightly.

Experts all over the world are consulted before the team of horticultural botanists make changes, so it’s not just a load of Brits making pronouncements. And in recent years, as you can see, they’ve become quite conservative although the mass of new genetic evidence gives them a great deal of fresh information.

It’s unfortunate, of course, that under the system of naming devised by Carl Linnaeus, when new evidence reveals unexpected relationships between plants their names have to be changed to reflect that. But that’s just how it is.

What’s more puzzling is this. After an ill advised decision made long long ago, when perennial chrysanthemums were moved into a new genus Dendranthema, there was a huge outcry. They were rapidly moved back, Dendranthema was abolished. That was in 1999. So why, almost 20 years later, have some American nurseries gone off at a tangent and continue to use Dendranthema – but only for some unusually tough varietiess and not all the rest? Baffling.


The RHS Plantfinder is not yet available to order in North America, but amazon will email you and tell you when it's in stock.

More on plants and gardening

It's time for another update on my online appearances elsewhere over the last few weeks. Lots of posts on new plants, a bear in the garden, and the launch of my brand new gardening blog for Brits. You can check recent posts here at Transatlantic Gardener in the panel on the right.

Simply Blogging with Graham Rice
My brand new blog for British gardeners hosted by the good people at Simply Seeds and Plants, one of Britain’s most exciting young mail order nurseries. There are even discounts for blog readers… Better check it out.
Tips to Beat The Great British Drought
Grow sweet peas - from plants

The Plantsman (the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine for serious plant nuts)
The Flowering of Symplocarpus (skunk cabbage) With a picture of a black bear eating skunk cabbage at the edge our American garden.

Find out more about The Plantsman

Daily Telegraph
Looking ahead to the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen this summer:
Red, white and blue floral tributes
Plant a tree in celebration
Plant for a sense of occasion

Royal Horticultural Society website
Ten award-winning cherry tomatoes
Latest Award of Garden Merit winner – Iris ‘Starwoman’

Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog
Miscanthus ‘Starlight’: New from Knoll Gardens

Runner bean ‘Firestorm’: New self-fertile bean from Marshalls

Skimmia ‘Temptation': new self-fertile variety

Top plants in the new RHS Plantfinder

Courgette 'Sunstripe': New attractive yellow striped variety

Irish primroses: New from Cotswold Garden Flowers

Strawberry Toscana: Colourful flowers and tasty fruit

Hydrangea Beautensia™ Spike: New ruffled hydrangea from Crocus

The Guardian
The Guardian also published my Tips to Beat The Great British Drought which originally appeared on Simply Blogging with Graham Rice

Coltsfoot: the bad and the good

Coltsfoot by a Pennsylvania roadside, with cigarette butt. Image ©Garden
This week, here in Pennsylvania, the roadsides are bright with a colorful wildflower at its peak. OK, of course, it’s not actually a Pennsylvania native, or even an American native, but it sure looks sunny.

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara (above, click to enlarge), is a widespread British plant which presumably came over with colonists. In Britain it grows in many sunny places, often on heavy soils, and it’s been a difficult agricultural weed; its white runners are certainly very resilient.

In the US, it’s now found in much of the east and north east, and in the Pacific North West, while in Pennsylvania the USDA distribution map reveals that our county, Pike County, in the east of PA, is one of the few where it’s not found. Don’t think so: see pictures.

Pennsylvania roadside population of coltsfoot, with beer can. Image ©GardenPhotos.comHere in the US, I’ve only ever seen it on roadsides (left, click to enlarge) and in roadside parking areas although the Flora of Pennsylvania reports it “on roadsides, railroad rights-of-way, stream banks, and waste places” – which is pretty much exactly the language used to describe the distribution of Japanese knotweed. The implication being that man’s activities spread it along roads and where road meets river the river takes a hand. In Alabama it’s noted as “Class A noxious weed”; in Connecticut as “Invasive, banned”; in Massachusetts it’s “Prohibited” while in Oregon it’s an “"A" designated weed”. Sounds like it can be a bit of a beast.

But why “coltsfoot”? Well, this more or less describes the hoof-shaped leaves which emerge when the flowers are done. So it’s also been known as horse-hoof, and foal’s foot.

But this is actually quite a useful plant. It turns out – courtesy of Geoffrey Grigson’s wonderful book The Englishman’s Flora – that not only were the dried leaves once smoked to alleviate asthma, but that it’s still an ingredient of herbal tobacco. And, in the long gone days of tinder-boxes, the silver down on the backs of the leaves was collected as tinder. (What a job that must have been.) So perhaps plants were brought to the new world because they were so useful. It seems, in the US at least, they’re now becoming rather the opposite.

But, here in Pennsylvania, I like to see them brightening up the roadsides in spring. Just warming us up for the dandelions - of which more another time.

New blog launches today

My new blog - Simply Blogging with Graham RiceToday, I start a completely new blog. The idea is to give British gardeners friendly, practical advice on growing and planting. It’s called Simply Blogging with Graham Rice and is hosted by my friends at the Norfolk mail order nursery Simply Seeds and Plants.

I’m starting off with some tips on how to deal with the Great British Drought – the use of sprinklers and hand held hosepipes is banned across the southern and eastern England from 5 April. Of course, it turned out that posting a blog about drought instantly produced a deluge. But I’ll also be talking about growing plants, suggesting planting ideas and occasionally sounding off about things that get me excited or drive me mad.

Simply Seeds and Plants are expert growers of sweet peas – they grow 30 million sweet pea plants a year… 30 million! - but they also grow patio and vegetable plants, chrysanthemums, fuchsias, and perennials. So hosting my new blog on the Simply Seeds and Plants site allows their customers find on-the-spot advice.

And let’s be clear – I’ll be blogging about what I think will help, interest and entertain gardeners. And the nursery will be offering discounts to blog readers. Sounds like a good deal to me.

So please take a look at Simply Blogging with Graham Rice. Why not subscribe to its feed, or you can sign up to get the posts by email.

* By the way... Owing to the wonders of online communication I was able to switch on the new blog at 9.45am from the back room of Joe's Bar in Union, New Jersey - just before taking my place as an extra in my nephew's latest movie...

Fleuroselect Gold Medal Winners for 2013 – already!

Well, no sooner do I finish my round up of the All-America Selections and Fleuroselect Gold Medal winners for 2012 than Fleuroselect announces its winners for 2013! And, what’s more, Fleursoselect has abandoned its policy of only giving medals to seed-raised plants, the dahlia is raised from cuttings. For more on All-America Selections and Fleuroselect, see my earlier post.

So, the three 2013 Fleuroselect Gold Medal winners are: Lewisia 'Elise', Dahlia ‘Dalaya Yogi’ and Celosia 'Arrabona'.

Lewisia cotyledon 'Elise' - Fleuroselect Gold Medal Winner 2013

Lewisia 'Elise'

This new lewisia (above, click to enlarge) has three main points of interest. The mixture of colors is lovely – soft and vivid pinks, salmon, orange, white, yellow and almost purple plus some lovely bicolors.

Also, unlike other lewisias, it does not need a cold spell to initiate flowering so it will bloom in its first year. And, finally, its seed has a higher rate of germination that other lewisias, about 80%, so you’ll get more plants for your money. Sow in January or February to flower in summer.

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Celosia 'Arrabona' - Fleuroselect Gold Medal Winner 2013Celosia 'Arrabona'

Developed in Hungary, the feathery plumes of Celosia 'Arrabona' (left, click to enlarge) come in a shade of orange red that the Fleuroselect judges thought was unique. Reaching about 14in/35cm in height, 'Arrabona' can be used as a garden annual, in containers, or as a cut flower. It also enjoys summer heat, is drought tolerant once established, and is very prolific.

In Britain, the recent trial of celosias at the RHS Garden at Wisley revealed how well these plants do in the contemporary British summer climate. And it enjoys that hot summers across much of North America. Sow in February from flowering from July to October.

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Dahlia ‘Dalaya Yogi’

This new dahlia is the second in the series of medium sized dahlias for containers and summer borders. Dahlia 'Dalaya Yogi' - Fleuroselect Gold Medal Winner 2013 The bushy plants develop these attractive, dark-eyed, semi-double flowers (right, click to enlarge) which open early and continue until the frosts. And they open continuously right through the season, not in flushes with quiet periods in between as some dahlias of this type do.

Plants are also tolerant of powdery mildew and at about 16in/40cm in height are small enough for containers, but not so dwarf as to lack elegance.

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