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November 2013

Transatlantic flower awards

Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) ‘Sweet Black Cherry’, Petunia ‘Cascadia™ Rim Magenta’, Lobelia ‘Waterfall Blue Ice’. Images ©Ball Colegrave
There’s been a flurry of announcements of awards from both sides of the Atlantic, awards that result from the voting of real gardeners looking at real plants growing in borders and containers rather awards given by committees sitting round a table. So let’s run through some of the awards for summer flowers, I’ll take a look at this year’s tomato taste tests another time.

BallColegrave Visitor’s Favourite (Blue Flag) Award

Chosen by visitors to the summer trials and displays at Ball Colegrave in Oxfordshire, the UK outpost of the Ball Horticultural Company). neither sell retail, you make your choice by sticking a blue flag by your chosen plant, the flags are counted every day, and the numbers tallied. Last year’s results are here.

This year home gardeners picked a new Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William), ‘Sweet Black Cherry’, as their favourite, a first-year-flowering type for borders and cutting in a rich deep red. This was followed by the dramatic white-edged, Petunia ‘Cascadia™ Rim Magenta’ for hanging baskets and in third place Lobelia ‘Waterfall Blue Ice’, from cuttings not seed and very resilient, and a very colourful basket plant. (All above, click to enlarge).

For trade visitors (garden centers, commercial growers etc) Petunia ‘Cascadia™ Rim Magenta’ came top with the big and bushy Begonia F1 ‘Whopper™ Mixed’ second and the vivid orange-and-gold Zinnia ‘Zahara Sunburst’ third. Put all the voting figures together and Petunia ‘Cascadia™ Rim Magenta’ was the winner. Last year Calibrachoa ‘Cabaret™ Bright Red’ came out top overall – not even in the top twenty this year.

American Garden Award
Verbena ‘Lanai® Candy Cane', Zinnia ‘Zahara™ Cherry', Impatiens 'SunPatiens® Compact Electric Orange' Images ©American Garden Award

Across the Atlantic, visitors to thirty one public gardens across the country voted for the American Garden Award – which, in spite of its name, is given to plants. All the top flower breeders around the world pick just four of their new plants to enter – and the visitors vote.

The winner for 2013 was Verbena ‘Lanai® Candy Cane' with its colourful striped florets in long lasting heads. This was followed by Zinnia ‘Zahara™ Cherry', another in the very adaptable Zahara Series but in rich cherry red  and third came Impatiens 'SunPatiens® Compact Electric Orange'. This is a very vivid orange colour, it takes the sun well and of course is tolerant of the mildew which has wiped out do many other impatiens. (All above, click to enlarge).

People's Choice Begonia Award
Begonia 'Peardrops', Begonia 'Volumia Rose Bicolour', Begonia 'Nonstop Golden Orange' Images ©RHS

At the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, just south of London, more than 2000 visitors voted to name their favourite begonia as part of the charity's People's Choice initiative. They were invited to vote for their favourite in three categories.

Amongst the Begonia Semperflorens Cultorum Group (fibrous-rooted begonias) planted in borders, the winner was ‘Volumia Rose Bicolour'. A more vigorous plant than traditional Semperflorens cultivars, it has large white and rose bicolour flowers that vary in colour intensity depending on the temperature.

Favourite Begonia x tuberhybrida (tuberous-rooted begonia) winner, planted in borders, was ‘Nonstop Golden Orange'. Introduced as long ago as 1971 and, as its name implies, it has an extended flowering period that runs from late spring to late autumn.

Finally the favourite begonia of any kind for containers or hanging baskets was ‘Peardrop', a lush rich salmon and golden orange hybrid bred by UK breeder Dennis Need. (All above, click to enlarge).

The Dead Plant Society meets again

Some of this year's members of the Dead Plant Society. Image ©GardenPhotos.comThe autumn foliage has fallen, the first frosts have hit, there’s been a rough-and-ready tidy through the garden – so it’s time for another meeting of the Dead Plant Society. The last formal meeting was back in 2009 but, believe me, a lot of members have gone, come and gone again since then. Especially after the plague of voles a few years back.

Yet again the orphaned labels are all collecting in a coffee can – you’ll notice we’ve upgraded our brand of Cuban coffee since 2009.

The members of the Dead Plants Society fall into three groups: Those we know are frost tender – but which we didn’t get moved inside soon enough; those we hope will survive but don’t; and those you’d think it would be impossible to kill but which still never came back this last summer. Plus there’s also the Denial Of Death Department – the label is in the coffee can, but I can’t quite believe that it’s gone.

Frosted and gone
Impatiens 'Fusion Peach Frost': harmonious flower and foliage colors. Image ©
We brought our spectacular Pandorea in along with scented-leaved geraniums and the superb Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ but a few others were, sadly, frosted to pulp.
Impatiens ‘Fusion Peach Frost’ A harmony in flower and foliage colour (above, click to enlarge) but it’s not always easy to find so a few cuttings would have been wise.
Cleome Senorita Series Propagated by cuttings, these long-flowering plants for sun are bushy and upright and without the spines or stickiness of the old big cleomes. The pink Senorita Rosalita is much more effective than the not-quite-white and not-quite-pink Senorita Blanca – but we’ve lost them both.
Begonia Bonfire Choc Red One of the recent B. x boliviensis hybrids, lovely with bronzed foliage and red flowers. Pulped by a surprise light frost, ‘Santa Cruz Scarlet’ is cozily tucked away.

Hopes dashed
We hope, we coddle, we talk to them nicely and play them soft music – and they die.
Lobelia 'Eco Pink Flare': found growing wild in Georgia. Image ©GardenPhotos.comLobelia cardinalis ‘Eco Pink Flare’ (left, click to enlarge) This gorgeous, found-in-the-wild pink form of the local native cardinal flower (which survives the winter happily growing in our little creek) seems to have given up the tussle with more vigorous neighbors.
‘La Crema’ This gorgeous new variegated sage struggled through one winter, died, was replaced, struggled through another winter, died - and I fear it’s now gone for ever. Hates being overwhelmed by its neighbors. But beautiful.
Stokesia laevis ‘Colorwheel’ The flowers open almost white, then mature through pale to lavender, and finally to purple. Should be hardy, the soil was probably too wet in winter. Find out more here.

What? It’s dead?!
These are tough and easy - they should not die. But they have.
Achillea ‘Pineapple Mango’ These achilleas are amongst the toughest of everything we grow, this one opens in rich pink, develops through salmon shades and matures pale primrose yellow. Well, it used to. Perhaps it’s those voles again.
Brunnera ‘King’s Ransom’ We tend to think that all the recent brunneras are tough – but not this one with its gold-edged silver leaves. At its best it’s weak; at its worst, it’s gone.
Heuchera ‘Rave On’ Fantastic flowers and foliage, and another genuine toughie, but representative of the heucheras munched by vine weevil.  ‘Raspberry Chiffon’ and the sail-though-the-winter ‘Citronelle’ are also gone.
Silybum marianum This spectacular plant with the name that never ceases to amuse kids, is a big and bold biennial with brightly spotted rosettes and towers of purple flowers. It should self sow, I blame the chipmunks for eating the seeds.

Denial Of Death department
I just don’t believe these are dead, the label should be in the border and not in the coffee can. Uvularia sessilifolia: a lovely local woodlander. Image ©Thomas G. Barnes @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Helleborus niger ‘HGC Jacob’ Very early, very frost hardy – it must be there somewhere and might well open its first flowers in the next month.
Lilium philadelphicum This lovely tall local native lily is just beautiful but, although it usually emerges through lower perennials, may have been smothered like the Lobelia cardinalis ‘Eco Pink Flare’ farther along the border.
Uvularia sessilifolia (right, click to enlarge) I collected plants of this little local woodland Solomon's seal relation from the woods because the tips of each leaf were creamy yellow. In the garden, they all turned completely green and it set off to colonize with some vigor. Now it’s gone? Let’s give it another year.

Needless to say, this is just a selection from the Dead Plant Society’s members. They’ll continue to meet in the coffee can as long as we gardeners contrive to prevent their survival.

Do you like your plants mingled or clumped?

Aster laevis 'Bluebird' intermingling happily with Miscanthus sinensis 'Kleine Fontaine'. Image ©

Over on the excellent and always provocative thinkinGardens website, there’s been some – how shall we say – strongly felt debate about planting styles. In essence, the dispute is between those who favor “naturalistic” mixed plantings over those who question why this touted as a universal ideal. Though to me, the very notion of an “ideal” way of planting seems perverse.

“Planting design in the last decade has taken a decisive turn toward ecology. One of the interesting by products of this shift is the rise of mixed plantings in many designed projects. Piet Oudolf’s work on The Highline in Lower Manhattan - now one of the most visited tourist sites in New York - is a much celebrated example of this trend…. But intermingling plants is not just a design strategy; it is increasingly an ideology.” So says Thomas Rainier, the landscape architect and writer from Washington DC.

Eryngium giganteum and Veronicastrum ‘Fascination’ making self-contained clumps. Image ©“Intermingling is inspired by natural plant communities, the free, uninhibited way wild plants grow, densely intermeshing, leaning on each other… Compare this with the typical garden border (left: hover for caption, click to enlarge), where about nine plants share a square metre and barely touch each other.” Says Noel Kingsbury, the writer and researcher, lecturer, teacher and long-ago nursery owner from the English/Welsh borders.

So - why is  “ecological” intermingling (at the top: hover for caption, click to enlarge) thought to be somehow superior? Bye bye Gertrude Jekyll. But hey, we’re talking about gardens – it’s all artificial, none of it’s natural. As Germaine Greer put it years ago, gardening is an inherently fascistic activity – gardeners impose order on nature, that's what gardening is. But is one form of order inherently superior to another? No. It’s a garden. It’s a matter of aesthetics, of taste.

Gardening (even, to some extent, growing food) is about the gardener creating what s/he believes is beautiful. You think it looks too clumpy or too messy? Fine - you do what you like in your garden and I’ll do what I like in  mine.

One of the things that struck me when I first visited Holland decades ago was the way that clumps of plants were set out in front gardens with bare soil between them – as they were grown in physic gardens in Britain hundreds of years ago. This is what Noel Kingsbury seems to be alluding to (above) but in reality no one plants like this any more – though, I have to say, it has its appeal. So I can understand why Piet Oudolf’s beautiful interconnected plantings are based on the opposite approach.

Thomas Rainer points to what are almost monocultures in nature as an example of a natural planting that can inspire a very different style of gardening from the intermingling promoted by Noel Kingsbury - who responds that with the many mosses and lichens growing down at ground level they are not actually monocultures at all. So what about this Japanese planting of an American native, Nemophila menziesii?
The American native Nemophila menziesii making a fine display at Japan's Hitachi Seaside Park. Image ©Luc Klinkhamer

I’ve heard gardeners say that they’re inspired by the South Downs in Britain with their flower-rich grassland cropped by sheep, and heard others say they’re inspired by the deciduous forests of the eastern United States where the chestnuts that once comprised a quarter of the trees are gone owing to disease brought from Asia – but as the ecology of both these man-made habitats settles into its new stability let’s remember that neither is really natural. It’s fine to be inspired by them, of course, but both habitats have been transformed by mankind - as has so much of the so-called natural world in developed and developing countries.

Me? I’m a mingler. I like to see the visual interactions between plants – those four different yellow daisies in the picture on the right were all grown individually pots and planted to achieve exactly that effect. But how many people have the time, energy or inclination to go to so much trouble?

Four different annual yellow daisies planted to mingle together. Image © here’s the thing: What you plant, and how you group the plants, is up to you. If you like, and have the time and expertise to maintain, the masterfully integrated intermingled plantings such as those created by Piet Oudolf, fine. If you prefer the more traditional approach of clumps of plants mingling only at the edges, fine. If you like to show off individual specimens in their own space, fine. If you like marigolds planted in white-painted car tires – that’s fine too. And, I should say, they can all appeal to insects and other wildlife as well as the eye.

None of these approaches is inherently superior - however much anyone of us dislikes any one of them – and no one should be telling us that it is. We should plant what we like, in the way we like it – whatever anyone else says. But we should also keep up with the discussion over at thinkinGardens.

Noel Kingsbury's latest book is Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury (Timber Press) available from and also from Check out his blog at Noel's Garden Blog

And please take a look at Thomas Rainier's blog at Grounded Design

Too much spam here - sorry

There’s been a big uptick in the number of spam comments on Transatlantic Gardener recently, and I apologize for that. In spite of using Captcha, which asks readers to type in some randomly generated characters before posting, it’s got worse and worse with one comment made up of 3000 words of gibberish getting through since yesterday. Typepad, who host this blog, tell me they’re working on it but I’m not at all satisfied.

So until they get their act together, commenters will have to sign in. I know this is a pain, and I know it puts people off posting comments. Using Captcha puts people off too. But it’s better than twenty or thirty batches of nonsense appearing every day.

Although, I have to say – spam can be funny. Here’s a few recent examples:

“Affinity often is the Coptis groenlandica that may scarves our hearts and minds with the marketplace”

“Will I get travelling expenses?”

“The other two cats were able to make the leap with the grace of gazelles”

“In 1829 he made a considerable success with a fantastic volume entitled A Journey on Foot from Holman’s Canal to the East Point of Amager, and he published in the same season a farce and a book of poems.”

But there’s been far too much spam recently, even though I go through every morning and delete all the new stuff. Rest assured, we’re working on it.

UPDATE: The only way to stop it seems to be for me to check comments individually before they're posted. This creates a delay before they appear, for which I apologise, but at least you're not confronted by waves of gibberish.
SECOND UPDATE Well, Typepad now say they're improved things so I'm relaxing everything again. We'll see...

Best new plant of the year: Pink Trumpet Vine

Podranea ricasoliana ‘Pink Delight’. Image ©GardenPhotos.comGuest post from judywhite

This year the clear best new plant of the year winner is something we’d never even heard of before. At my favorite local garden center, Fair Acres Farms in Sussex County, NJ , there are always interesting and tempting unfamiliar plants amid the wonderful collection of more recognizable varieties. As the owner, Richard Kaweske, says, “If I can’t try something totally new every year, what’s the point of gardening!” He had brought in plants of Podranea ricasoliana ‘Pink Delight’ (aka Pandorea*) (left, click to enlarge) which he’d never seen or grown before either, but had heard great reports of the big pink trumpet-like flowers. So I bought one. A bargain at about $8. That was early May.

It was about 8in/20cm high at the time, and I planted it in an old cement urn in mostly sun, not realizing that this tropical South African plant was actually a tall, vigorous, rambling shrubby vine with strong long woody stems that arch all over the place. Despite its tight pot (or maybe because of it; Podranea apparently does best well-drained, which the cement planter definitely was), it immediately began to romp away, with beautiful glossy green compound foliage on gracefully open weeping branches. By early June the first of the spectacular candy-pink 3.5in/9cm flowers appeared, and I was hooked for life.

The papery flower buds appear at the very ends of the branches, and stay in bud a long time before the big pink trumpets start opening, which they do sequentially, then stay in bloom an even longer time. They’re supposed to be fragrant, but I never did discern any scent. Didn’t matter in the least.

Each of our branches eventually reached 10ft (3m) or so, and arched all over another wonderful vine, the variegated Ampelopsis brevipedunculata var. maximowiczii 'Elegans' (below, click to enlarge).

Flower color deepens as the weather gets colder. We left it outside until the temperatures dropped to about 36F/2C, which it tolerated fine, flowers and all, then dug it out of the planter, stuck it in a bigger plastic pot and brought it inside to drape all over the hot tub solarium. It’s still solidly in bloom, and didn’t seem to mind all the ruckus. Advice says to prune it back hard after flowering. Next year I think I’ll train it up a trellis against the house.

* In a strange twist, this plant has been known by two names - one of which is an anagram of the other: Podranea (the correct name) and Pandorea.

You can find more details of this fine plant on the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden website.
You can order Podranea ricasoliana ‘Pink Delight’ in North America from Stokes Tropicals.

You can order Podranea ricasoliana ‘Pink Delight’ in Britain from these Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder nurseries.
Podranea ricasoliana ‘Pink Delight’Ampelopsis brevipedunculata var. maximowiczii 'Elegans' and perennials. Image ©

Chinese hosta flowering on an American roadside

Hosta ventricosa growing on a Pennsylvania roadside. Image ©
It was an odd thing, to be driving along in rural Pennsylvania and spy a hosta growing by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I was reminded of this yesterday when I again drove past the spot - and found that the roadside had been scoured bald by machinery, for no apparent reason other than a mad burst of pseudosuburban tidiness.

But it was s urpise, back in the summer, rather like coming across those Mediterranean euphorbias growing by Heathrow Airport. But there they were, quite a few plants of Hosta ventricosa, flowering happily about half a mile from the soapwort I featured here back in early summer. And it turns out to be an unexpectedly interesting plant, and not just another hosta.

Hosta ventricosa grows wild in China and North Korea. It arrived in Britain in 1790, had reached France by 1800 and was grown by Josephine Bonaparte at Malmaison and painted there by Redouté in about 1802 (below left, click to enlarge) – although I’d say he’s done the ealy 19th century equivalent of a Photoshop job on it and made it look even better than it actually is. Anyway, it soon made its way to North America and became widely grown for its purple-striped flowers as well as for its broad, glossy ground covering foliage.

Hosta ventricosa as painted by Redoute in 180But here’s the thing. It’s the only natural tetraploid hosta there is, with twice the usual number of chromosomes, and this brings it extra robustness and thickness of foliage. It also produces seed without pollination and fertilization, and those seedlings are always exactly the same as the parent (a process called apomixis) – it’s as if the plants had simply been divided. So when it spreads by seed, the new plants are always the same as the parent.

And in North America, “spread” is exactly what it’s done – to sixteen north eastern states as far south as North Carolina, although the Pennsylvania Flora Project says it does not grow in our area of PA at all. Hmmm...

In Britain, the New Atlas of The British Flora – the usually infallible reference on plant distribution – says, surprisingly, that no hostas have ever been found in the wild anywhere in Britain. But with Hosta lancifolia also settling down in the north east US, along with H. plantaginea which has even taken up residence in Canada, I’m sure it won’t be long before we see hostas on British roadsides too.