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August 2012
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October 2012

September 2012

One hydrangea – two very misleading names

HydrangeaFlairs&FlavoursTwoOK, two new reblooming lacecap hydrangeas. Reblooming lacecaps? Great. One is pink, the other is blue. Ideal. They’re called Hydrangea macrophylla (Flair&Flavours) Cotton Candy ('MAK20'), that’s the pink one, and Hydrangea macrophylla (Flair&Flavours) Blueberry Cheesecake ('MAK20'), that’s the blue one. (Left, click to enlarge.) OK, their names are a little heavy going but it sounds as if they’d make a very pretty pairing in the garden, they tend to be semi-double, too. Both are offered by the top-rated UK mail order nursery Crocus.

The problem is: THEY'RE THE SAME PLANT! One has been treated in its pot to make the flowers blue, and the other has not so its flowers are pink. Once they settle down in your garden they’ll both end up the same colour – which will depend on the acidity or alkalinity of your own soil. Not surprising since they’re the same variety. That’s a bit of a con, don’t you think?

The clue is in the way the names are presented. (Flair&Flavours) Cotton Candy and (Flair&Flavours) Blueberry Cheesecake are selling names, Trade Designations as the botanists have it (which have to be presented in a different typeface). BUT both have ‘MAK20’ in brackets and this is the plant breeder’s cultivar name. I only found out about this because I contacted Crocus to say that I thought they’d got their text wrong, giving the name ‘MAK20’ to both plants. But, as they told me, they’re selling the one plant under two completely different names!

In North America the same plant is offered by Proven Winners, they call it Tuff Stuff because by American standards it’s unusually hardy. Fair enough. And they only offer it once.

But I really think Crocus need to think again. They have some excellent new plants available this autumn, and I’ll be featuring some of them over on my RHS New Plants blog; I’ve written up their new spine-free mahonia already. But not these hydrangeas – sorry, THIS hydrangea. [The fact that they're almost certainly forms of Hydrangea serrata, and not Hydrangea macrophylla, hardly comes into it...]

British gardeners can order Hydrangea macrophylla (Flair&Flavours) Cotton Candy ('MAK20') from Crocus. They can also order the same plant as  Hydrangea macrophylla (Flair&Flavours) Blueberry Cheesecake ('MAK20') from Crocus. North American gardeners can order what they call Hydrangea serrata Tuff Stuff ('MAK20') from a number of North American suppliers.

Popular US ferns rare in UK

Hay-scented fern, Dennstaedtia punctilobula, coloring in fall. Image © (all rights reserved)
Writing a piece on planting on slopes for the weekly British magazine Amateur Gardening*, I checked the availability of two exceptional creeping ferns which are ideal for shady slopes. And I found a problem.

A creeping fern that binds the soil so that heavy rain does not wash it away is the ideal ground cover on a shady slope so I immediately thought of the American native hay-scented fern on a bank outside our side door.

Hay-scented fern, Dennstaedtia punctilobula (above, click to enlarge), is a tough and attractive fern which grows wild up and down the eastern USA from Quebec to Georgia – so it’s certainly adaptable. Reaching 18-20in/45-50cm high, the steadily creeping root throws up individual, rather long and narrow, pointed arching fronds up to 30in/75cm long in bright fresh green. In autumn the fronds turn buttery yellow and then straw-coloured. When dry, the fronds smell of hay.

Happy under deciduous trees or in partial shade, it creeps steadily but steadfastly - on flat ground or on a slope - and once established it will also take almost full sun. It also tolerates drought so is ideal on a slope where drainage tends to be brisk and it also seems to be avoided by browsing deer.

Thelypteris noveboracensis, New York fern, Image © (all rights reserved)The New York fern, Thelypteris noveboracensis (right, click to enlarge), is very similar but the fronds are a different shape. In the hay scented fern, the frond is pointed at the tip and cut off square at the base – so it’s pointed like an arrowhead. New York fern is pointed at both ends – “think of a New Yorker, burning the candle at both ends,” someone once told me.

In Britain it turns out that the one mail order supplier of hay scented fern has temporarily dropped it – so it’s not available at all but Longacre Plants tell me they expect to have it next spring. In North America, there are quite a few mail order suppliers and it’s even available on eBay. New York fern is available in Britain only from Shady Plants but, again, there’s a choice of North American suppliers.

But it’s a shame that while these two such useful garden plants are not hard to find in North America, in Britain it’s completely the opposite - while the continuing flood of new perennials includes so many that arrive with a fanfare and soon disappear unnoticed. But these two ferns really are useful. OK, they're not exactly flamboyant but that's not the point. And while Americans seem to appreciate them, they deserve to be more widely available in Britain.

* British readers will find my article on planting on slopes in the current print edition of Amateur Gardening magazine (issue dated 22 September).

Single-flowered dahlias on the rise

Single dahlias from cuttings: Happy Single Flame (‘HS Flame’) (top left), Happy Single First Love (‘HS First Love’) (top right), Happy Single Party (‘HS Party’) (lower left), Happy Single Date (‘HS Date’) (lower right). Images © (all rights reserved)In the gardening section of Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper this week, I’ve written a piece about the growth in the popularity of single-flowered dahlias. They fit into borders with other plants so much more comfortably than the huge and gaudy types promoted so relentlessly simply because they are so large. They may be multi-colored marvels but they overdominate other plants in the border. And they’re so big that when cut for the house they look out of place in all but the most enormous arrangements. So singles are on the rise.

I’ve also done a piece on heirloom dahlias and their modern equivalents, many of them singles, in the current issue of America’s Organic Gardening magazine. So I’ve been thinking about dahlias a lot recently.

And I realized that while some of best single-flowered dahlias including the Mystic Series, developed by Keith Hammett in New Zealand and the Happy Single Series developed in The Netherlands (above, click to enlarge), really are impressive there are almost no mail order sources that list all the colors in any one series and finding them in garden centers can be a little hit or miss.

So what about single-flowered dahlias from seed, from the mail order seed companies? Finding those is much much easier. However, almost all come only in mixtures and when you buy any seed mixtures you can never be quite sure what, exactly, you’re going to get. But with plenty of seeds in a packet, almost every one of which will come up, you can keep some and pass on the rest to a local plant sale.

Here’s a few suggestions:

Bishop’s Children’ Descended from the legendary ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, with bronzed foliage and flowers in red, orange and yellow shades with some pinks and bicolor. 39in/1m. Buy in Britain Buy in North America
Single dahlias from seed: 'Fireworks'. Image © Thompson & Morgan
‘Black Beauty’ A dwarf variety with small single flowers in deepest red, almost black. Intriguing in containers. 18in/45cm. Buy in Britain Buy in North America

‘Fireworks’ (right, click to enlarge) Sparkling mixture of striped single flowers in combinations of purple, red, orange, yellow and white – all striped. 16in/40cm. Buy in Britain Buy in North America

‘Redskin’ Long establish mixture of dark-leaved plants with single flowers, features a huge range of flower colors but especially unpredictable in its balance of colors and the richness of its foliage. 14in/35cm. Buy in Britain Buy in North America

‘Victoriana’/Dahlia coccinea 'Species Mixed' Tall plants with mases of elegant single flowers in a wide range of colours and bicolours. 5ft/1.5m. Buy in Britain Buy in North America

Single dahlias from seed: 'Victoriana'/Species Mixed'. Image © Thompson & Morgan

New primroses: Worth a little extra

Primrose 'Claddagh' (left) and 'Avondale' Images ©Pat Fitzgerald.
I had a bit of a shock recently. I was exchanging emails with Pat Fitzgerald, the Irish grower who’s taken on the production and marketing of a whole new range of hardy garden primroses developed in Ireland by Joe Kennedy: Kennedy’s Irish Primroses. There are some gorgeous colors amongst his nine varieties and in many of them the flowers are set against rich bronze-purple foliage. They’re lovely. And they’re hardy. But he’s having trouble selling them at a price which justifies the many long years of work that has gone into producing these gems. Above are 'Cladagh' (left, click to enlarge) and 'Avondale' (right).

Primrose 'Belarina Cream'. Image © (all rights reserved)As it happens, I’d just had a similar exchange with David Kerley, who created the new generation of double flowered primroses, the Belarina Series. And he told me he liked to downplay the very idea that they were primroses because garden centers and commercial growers equated primroses with cheap and gaudy seed raised varieties and were reluctant to pay the premium that his exceptional doubles deserved. hese include 'Belarina Cream' (left, click to enlarge) and 'Belarina Nectarine' (below, click to enlarge)

I’d always thought that the word “primrose” had this romantic association with the English cultural plant heritage. For me, the word conjures up an idealistic reverie of a lost pastoral age… Like the old English traditional folk song: The Banks of The Sweet Primroses. Not for everyone, it seems.

For commercial growers the word “primrose” makes them think of a cheap and cheerful commodity plant for Primrose 'Belarina Nectarine'. Image © (all rights reserved)Easter in a range of clashing colors to be churned out in bulk for garden centers and markets – and then thrown away by the gardener when the flowers fade. [No picture, they're just too horrible - here's a link, though, if you have your sunglasses on.] The result is that it can be tough for really special primroses to make their mark.

So, here’s the thing. It’s like comparing a burger with a sirloin steak. They both contain beef, but they’re entirely and utterly different. You pay for a good steak and it’s nothing remotely like a burger; you pay for a burger – and a burger is what you get.

It’s the same with primroses. You pay for a Belarina or a Kennedy’s Irish Primrose and you get something really special that will last for years. Nothing remotely like the primrose plants, in clashing colors, that you find stacked outside the supermarket and which fade away after their first spring. Good plants are worth paying extra for.

* British readers can catch my piece about new primroses and polyanthus – along with another piece about cortaderias, pampas grass - in this week’s print edition of Amateur Gardening magazine  (issue dated 15 September).

Help with variegated euphorbias, please

Euphorbia characias 'Kestrel' (G023156): a dramatic variegated form. Image © All rights reserved.
Hello everyone, I need your help. I’m working on an article about variegated forms of the Mediterranean spurge, Euphorbia characias, as well as variegated varieties of the related Euphorbia amygdaloides and the hybrid between the two, Euphorbia x martini.

They can look very dramatic, but many gardeners have trouble keeping them for more than a year or two. So I’d appreciate it if you share your experiences. Which variegated varieties have you grown? Did they thrive or sulk? What conditions produced plants that grew well from year to year? Open ground, or containers? Which varieties did well, and which failed?

The varieties I have in mind include: ‘Ascot Rainbow’, ‘Burrow Silver’ (aka ‘Benger’s Silver’, ‘Silver Sunbeam’, ‘Honiton Lace’), ‘Emmer Green’, ‘Frosted Flame’, ‘Glacier Blue’, Helena's Blush ('Inneuphhel'), ‘Kestrel’ (above, click to enlarge), ‘Silver Shadow’, Silver Swan ('Wilcott'), ‘Tasmanian Tiger', ‘Vanilla Swirl’ and ‘Variegata’.

Please add your thoughts in the comment box below or, if you’d prefer, email me your thoughts.

Many thanks, in advance, for your help. The piece will be published in the RHS magazine The Plantsman in December. I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s available.

Chelsea Plant Of The Year – full report and pictures now online

Plantsman-CPOTY-2012Back in June, I discussed the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show Plant Of the Year winners for 2012. I know, that the name of the award… well, it’s all a bit of a mouthful. But the competition is rapidly becoming the launchpad for the top new varieties from around the world as they become available in Britain.

There’s one winner, two runners up – and another seventeen didn’t-quite-get-an-award plants chosen from all those submitted and well worth growing. There are perennials, shrubs, tropicals, climbers and more. In my piece for the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine The Plantsman I discuss them all, and their origins, and they’re all beautifully illustrated as well.

And it’s now available online now for everyone to read.

Of course, this is not only a public service from the RHS it’s also by way of temptation to entice you to subscribe to the magazine. And, if you’re serious about plants, a subscription to The Plantsman is absolutely indispensible.