What we never knew about mistletoe – and what we got wrong

Mistletoe growing on a cotoneaster
Mistletoe, Viscum album, growing on a cotoneaster in Northamptonshire

I’ve written a piece about mistletoe for the December issue of the Royal Horticultural Society membership magazine The Garden and also talked about it on the award winning Gardening With The RHS podcast (December 16 edition).

I dug up all sorts of interesting material and I must give due credit to a report developed by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity, and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, published in 1999. Called Kissing Goodbye To Mistletoe, it reveals how and where mistletoe spreads, which hosts it prefers and so so much more – including why our plastic mistletoe is entirely wrong (because the design of the plastic mistletoe sold in Britain is based on American mistletoe which is a different plant).

The mistletoe in the picture is growing on a mature cotoneaster, just a few minutes walk from my front door in Northamptonshire. Sadly, it has since been “harvested”.

But the research continues. Anyone in Britain an Ireland can contribute to the continuing scientific study of mistletoe, its distribution and its hosts. Just head over to to check out the results of past surveys, and to review current surveys in which you can participate.

And at the Mistletoe Directory you’ll find links to a vast wealth of other information about mistletoe.

Finally, if you’d like to see some myths debunked, check out this spikey riposte to a piece that Monty Don wrote in the Daily Mail a few years ago.

Christmas came early this year!


Yesterday brought the startling, and humbling, announcement - and I’m honoured to receive the 2021 Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Garden Media Guild is the British professional organisation for garden writers and photographers, bloggers, TV and radio presenters and producers – any communicator who specialises in plants, gardens and gardening.

I thank my peers in the Guild for this recognition of a life of writing about plants and gardens – starting in The Irish Gardener, and what was then Practical Self Sufficiency magazine, almost exactly forty years ago.

I’m humbled to find myself in the company, as a Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award winner, of such greats as Christopher Lloyd, with whom I wrote a book twenty years ago; Peter Seabrook who, since his own Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, has done enough to receive another; Fred Whitsey and Graham Stuart-Thomas, from a very different generation, as well as Beth Chatto, Joy Larkcom, Roy Lancaster, Alan Titchmarsh, Anna Pavord and the other deserving recipients.

None of this would have happened without the legendary Geoff Hamilton. He hired me to my first trainee writer job on Practical Gardening magazine – on condition that I cut off my ponytail which, he insisted, would frighten the readers. I was then allowed on the front cover (above).

Thank you, too, to all but one of the many editors I’ve worked with over the years. It’s been fun, challenging, satisfying (and occasionally exasperating), but never a dull moment. The one exception is the section editor who fired me with a letter - which contained just one line: “You have written your last column for The Observer”. Needless to say: he’d replaced the editor who hired me and who’d long since been promoted. He, himself, was soon replaced!

Finally, I’d to thank all the many many people who’ve helped me along the way: gardeners and plantspeople, propagators and plant breeders, academics and field botanists - as well, of course, as friends, readers and other writers - who’ve generously shared their knowledge, wisdom, and experience over the years. Thank you for helping me ensure that my work has been as accurate and helpful as possible. It was up to me to make it all a good read.

• Please check out all the other winners at the 2021 Garden Media Guild Awards.

My Graham’s Garden blog
My Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog
My Plant Talk blog for Mr Fothergill’s

You’ll also find me regularly in Gardeners’ World magazine, Horticulture Week and The Plant Review, in many issues of Amateur Gardening magazine and Garden News, in the December 2021 issue of The Garden in the 9 December edition of the RHS Podcast - and elsewhere.

You can also check out my folk music radio show The Wagonload of Monkeys.

Videos will be in the next post.

The whistling snowdrop!

Galanthus 'South Hayes' © Alan Street. From the 2016 RHS Daffodil, Snowdrop and Tulip Year Book
Yes, really!! The whistling snowdrop! Let me explain.

Every year since 1929 the Royal Horticultural Society has published the Daffodil, Snowdrop and Tulip Year Book. It began as the Daffodil Yearbook, became the Daffodil and Tulip Yearbook in 1946 and more recently has added snowdrops.

I’ll tell you more about it in a moment but what about this whistling? Well, in the latest issue, there’s a short review of a German book called Schneeglockchen-ABC (The ABC of Snowdrops) by snowdrop wizard Matt Bishop. Here’s what he says:
“There is really only one way to describe Schneeglockchen-ABC: as very curious indeed... The text seems to be formed from a conscious and strange juxtaposition of fact and the wildly fictitious, with no attempt to differentiate them.… This is highlighted very early on, under the entry for a supposed cultivar ‘Alert’ which, translated, claims to be “described by Matt Bishop as the first snowdrop to produce loud whistling tones.”

He goes on to say, with remarkable restraint, it seems to me: “Much of the information… would have benefited from checking at source. The resulting text is marred by so many errors of information and spelling that it cannot be relied upon for accuracy.”

But let’s set that aside and point out the international value of this splendid annual. There’s a really useful summary of the rules governing taking plants to and from the UK, USA, EU and elsewhere; a fascinating piece on the wild daffodils of Morocco together with an overview of fifty years of daffodil breeding by Brian Duncan. Alan Street outlines how to start a snowdrop collection, there are reports from two tulip festivals in Yorkshire as well as from shows in Australia, New Zealand, various parts of Britain as well as the World Daffodil Convention held in St. Louis, Missouri.

There’s science, taxonomy, practicalities, conservation, awards and other info for both the serious expert and the enthusiastic newcomer. And the photography is excellent. And then there’s the whistling snowdrop. A splendid winter read.

* Unfortunately I’m able to provide you with a photograph of the legendary whistling snowdrop. So please enjoy Alan Street’s startling image of the variety ‘South Hayes’.

In the UK you can order the 2016 RHS Daffodil, Snowdrop and Tulip Year Book from the Royal Horticultural Society book store. They will also send copies anywhere in the world.

In North America you order the 2016 RHS Daffodil, Snowdrop and Tulip Year Book from the American Daffodil Society.

And if you should want to order a copy of Schneeglockchen-ABC by Maria Mail-Brandt it's available from and also available from And don't forget it's in German.

Read more from Graham Rice online and in print

My Plant Talk blog for Mr. Fothergill’sIt’s been a long while since I summarized where you can find more of my thoughts and recommendations online – and there are quite now a few options. So here goes.

Here on the Transatlantic Gardener blog
For gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic, a new post goes live every five to seven days.
Transatlantic tomato taste tests 2014
Reviews of books on Dahlias, Snowdrops, Salvias and Sedums
Spoons for escagots - and other whacky plant names
Hostas for late season leaf color

Plant Talk blog for Mr. Fothergill’s
Primarily for British readers, there’s a new post every Friday morning at 9am British time
Wildlife flowers to grow from seed
Time to plant ‘Timeless’ tulips
It’s not too late to plant bulbs

New Plants blog for the Royal Horticultural Society
Primarily for British readers, there are two new posts every month.
A new generation of tasty, healthy, space-saving apples
New giant sunflower
Three new dwarf patio peonies

Ten AGMs for the Royal Horticultural Society
My monthly choice of ten plants that have been awarded the prestigious Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society. Mainly for British readers.
Ten award-winning perennials with autumn foliage or fruit
Ten award-winning conservatory shrubs and climbers
Ten award winning small garden conifers

Plant features for the Royal Horticultural Society
My monthly Royal Horticultural Society plant feature, mainly for British readers
Storing spare seeds
Overwintering exotic plants
Continuing the patio display indoors

Graham Rice @ Organic Gardening Graham Rice @ Organic Gardening
My weekly feature for North American readers on the website of Organic Gardening magazine
Five Plants for Hummingbirds
Longer-Lasting Cut Flowers
Five Multiseason Hostas

Plus, usually in print only and not online
The American Gardener
My occasional pieces for The American Gardener, the membership magazine of the American Horticultural Society, are available online to members only. My most recent was on Foxgloves for American Gardens. They’re not usually available online to everyone, so please become a member.

Gardeners’ World magazine
My Plant For All Seasons feature appears every month and, although intended for British readers, North American readers will also find my recommendations useful. It’s only in the print edition, not available online. So please subscribe. In North America the magazine is available in Barbnes & Noble stores.

Amateur Gardening magazine
My regular pieces in Britain’s Amateur Gardening magazine are rarely made available online. So why not subscribe?

The Garden magazine
I write two or three times a year for The Garden, the monthly members’ magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society, most recently on new plants for containers and plants that come true from seed. You need to be a member to receive the magazine. So please join.

The Plantsman magazine
Once or twice a year I write for The Plantsman, the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine for more knowledgeable gardeners around the world, most recently on the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show Plant Of The Year. Please subscribe (scroll down). If you’re a Royal Horticultural Society member you’ll receive a discount.

And finally… There are also these non-horticultural ventures
Wagonload Of Monkeys
My new radio music show featuring folk and roots music from Britain and Ireland
Lies I Told My Little Sister
The multiple award-winning feature film written by my wife judywhite in which I have a small role

New! Graham Rice @ Organic Gardening

Graham Rice @ Organic Gardening - new series starts today
Great news today! I’m delighted to announce that today sees the start of another new venture for me, my own pages on the Organic Gardening magazine websiteGraham Rice @ Organic Gardening. Every week I’ll be writing about perennials or annuals, trees or shrubs or vines or ground covers, and even the occasional ornamental edible.

Native plants will, of course, feature and my special themes will include choosing attractive and dependable plants for different situations around the yard and around country; I’ll be highlighting gorgeous plant combinations; I’ll also be recommending plants that give far more than just a few weeks of color; and, in the great tradition of Organic Gardening magazine, I’ll be discussing plants that are inherently resistant to pests and diseases – ideal for no-spray gardeners like us.

The print edition of Organic Gardening magazine was founded way back in 1942 and circulates mainly in North America, selling about 300,000 copies an issue. The website is popular in America and around the world with the number of pageviews fast approaching four million in February this year, with the number of unique visitors up almost 70% at over a million. Just shows how this long-established old favorite has adapted to the digital world bringing more great - organic - information to gardeners everywhere.

Graham Rice @ Organic Gardening all launches today with pieces on spring plant combos, the hardiest of all perennials, blue-flowered bulbs, plants for a summer prairie and much more. There’ll be a new piece, with plenty of great pictures, to check out every Thursday at Graham Rice @ Organic Gardening. Please take a look.

Free online magazine for rock gardeners

The cover of the January 2013 International Rock Gardener features Galanthus 'Grake's Gold'For most readers of Transatlantic Gardener, spring is here or it’s on the way – and, in spring, a gardener’s attention turns to… rock plants. And for the serious alpine plant nut, there’s nowhere more interesting to go than the International Rock Gardener magazine.

This free – yes, free (but donations welcome) – monthly online-only magazine is published jointly by the Scottish Rock Garden Club and the Czech Prague Rock Garden Club and features authoritative yet very readable articles about rock plants and alpines of all kinds.

I was especially struck by the issue from January this year which is entirely given over to a review of Eranthis – the best known of which is the winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, an invaluable early bulb. What a revelation to see so many lovely forms! You may be surprised to see that some are white (below, click to enlarge).

Recent issues have featured the orchids of Crete, rock garden White-flowered Eranthis pinnatifida featured in the January 2014 issue of The International Rock Gardenerconstruction, plant hunting in China and in Turkey and in other intriguing locations, botanical issues are explored, and bulbs are frequently featured. And everything is presented in way that suits readers all over the world.

It’s also very important to say that the photography is outstanding – and there’s plenty of it.

It’s only realistic to say that International Rock Gardener is not for real newcomers to rock gardening; it assumes a little knowledge of the subject and some of the plants discussed are not easy to obtain - although those tempting pictures will excite even the most basic novice. But this is a valuable window on the serious world of alpines and features many fine plants that most gardeners don’t even know exist.

And all you have to do is go to the International Rock Gardener page where you can download pdfs of every monthly issue going back to January 2010. And why not make a donation while you’re there?

* The snowdrop on the cover, by the way, is ‘Grake’s Gold’, the aconite is Eranthis pinnatifida.

Recently published online…

Sweet Pea 'Northern Lights', a unique dwarf variety. Image ©Mark Rowland

Time for another quick recap on my work which has been published online over the last few weeks.

Transatlantic Gardener

Be smart when choosing Dill, Cilantro and Chervil

Wasps’ nest over the water

Powerhouse Plant For All Seasons: Clethra 'Ruby Spice'

Unique British sweet pea - also available in the US (That would be the dwarf 'Northern Lights', above clck to enlarge)

"Don't buy seed of perennials," says British expert!

Hitler rants on taxonomists who change plant names

Four, long season foliage plants

American tomatoes for British gardeners

The Telegraph
Sow now for sweet pea success

The Guardian
A perennial problem: Is plantsman Bob Brown wrong to claim buying seed of perennials is a waste of money? Yes, says me
This is a revised version of my "Don't buy seed of perennials," says British expert! post that was published here on Transatlantic Gardener.

The Plantsman
Chelsea Plant Of The Year 2013 Winners and finalists reviewed. The winnner is seen below (click to enlarge)

Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog
Lavatera ‘Dwarf Pink Blush’: new colour from Thompson & Morgan

New sweet peas to sow this autumn

Sweet Pea 'Sir Henry Cecil': New from Mr Fothergill's Seeds

Rose Lady Marmalade: Rose Of The Year for 2014

Royal Hortcultural Society website
Ten award-winning autumn grasses

Exotic and unusual climbers

Chelsea Plant Of The Year 2013: Mahonia 'Soft Caress'. Image ©

Variegated euphorbias

Euphorbia 'Glacier Blue': good in containers and the open ground. Image©
I recently took on the unexpectedly difficult task of writing a piece about variegated euphorbias. The piece is published in the March 2013 issue of The Plantsman, the Royal Horticultural Society magazine for serious plant nuts. The problem with these undeniably dramatic forms of Euphorbia characias is - not to put too fine a point on it - that it's hard to tell one from another. It’s not quite that “they all look the same” - but the fact is that a lot of them do.

So I appealed here on my blog for some help on how to sort them out, and on their origins, and I was delighted that quite a few people, from both sides of the Atlantic, responded; some of them I quote in the piece. Plantspeople are unfailingly helpful – you just have to ask. There wasn’t enough space in the magazine to list everyone who helped, so I’ll do so at the end of this post. Thank you.

The RHS trial of forms of Euphorbia characias and its hybrids, that I mention in my article, includes some variegated types. It is to be planted this spring and then assessed over the following years by an expert panel. Should be very interesting...

My favorite is probably ‘Glacier Blue’ (above, click to enlarge). At about 18in/45cm it’s manageable in most gardens and its bright, blue grey foliage is edged in creamy white. I also like the rarely seen ‘Silver Shadow’ (below, click to enlarge) with its spiral of growth; its slender variegation allows it good vigor. The hard-to-find Euphorbia 'Silver Shadow' was raised by photographer John Fielding. Image ©

The other problem with these plants (in  addition to identifying them correctly) is that often they’re rather short lived. Here in north east Pennsylvania, they’re summer container plants; the winter is just too cold. They’re Mediterranean in origin, and it never gets down to -20C/-5F in Portugal as it has here this winter. So they’re wiped out. (The dependably hardy ‘First Blush’ is a form of E. epithymoides and so not covered by the article.) But, even in Britain or the Pacific North West, wet soil, strong winds, pruning at the wrong time and other problems often restricts their life to a year or two.

But Gina Falcetti, New Products Grower at Skagit Gardens (wholesale only, no retail) in Washington state, where ‘Glacier Blue’ arose, may have the answer. I quote her in the article:
“I think improper pruning is responsible for many lost plants. Most people seem to want to let them go all season and prune after winter, or to whack them back directly after bloom. I find it necessary to be patient, wait after bloom is past until new shoots are visible at the base and are about 1in/2.5cm long, then to cut back all the way down to these new shoots.

“This often means there is an awkward month or two when you really want to cut them back, but shouldn’t. If they are cut when there are no new buds emerging they will often just die, or produce a lot of shoots that revert. This needs to be done annually, not after the plants have been let go for a couple of seasons, or the stems get too thick and woody and re-break is weak or uneven.”

Seems like good advice to me.

In addition to Gina Falcetti, I’d like to thank the following growers and breeders and gardeners for their help with this piece: Judy Barker, Mary Benger, Bob Brown, Brian Dockerill, Gary Doerr, Gary Dunlop, Janet Egger, David Glenn, Paul Gooderham, Chris Kelleher, Andrew Mikolajski, John Notton, John Fielding, Pat Hockey, Jo Howe, Geri Laufer, Paul Picton, Lita Sollisch, Graham Spencer, Tim Walker, Don Witton and the many people in whose gardens I’ve inspected these plants over the years. I apologize if I’ve left anyone out, and for the fact that there was not space to include every piece of information received.

I must be mad, now I’m working on a piece on Nepeta (catmints) – another group where “they all look the same”!

True from seed?

Pulmonaria 'Dark Vader' (thrum eyed, left, Image © Terra Nova Nurseries) and 'Cleeton Red' (right, Image ©
In this month’s issue of The American Gardener, the membership magazine of The American Horticultural Society, I’ve written a piece about plants that come true from seed – and those that don’t. And, in particular, it set me thinking about pulmonarias.

Many of us know that individual Primula plants have flowers that come in one of two forms: some have “pin” flowers, some have “thrum” flowers. The difference is that in pin flowers, the stigma (which is the female part of the flower where the pollen needs to land) is on a long stalk and so visible in the center of the flower. The anthers, which carry the pollen, are on short stalks low down in the throat of the flower. In thrum flowers, it’s the other way round.

Pollen that a bee picks up on its body from the anthers of a pin flower buried down the tube of the flower is in precisely the right position to pollinate a thrum flower – which has its stigma positioned back down in the tube in exactly the right spot. So when seed is set, the pollen almost always comes from a flower of a different plant. So the seed is the result of hybridization. Who knows where the pollen came from? The only thing that’s almost certain is that the pollen did not come from the plant setting the seed – so the resulting seedlings will be different from the plant that produces the seed.

This is true of primulas - but it’s also true of pulmonarias. You can see it clearly in the pictures at the top. The thrum-eyed American-bred ‘Dark Vader’ (left) with the ring of five anthers clearly visible; and the pin-eyed British-bred ‘Cleeton Red’ (right), with the stigma plain to see, on the right (click to enlarge).

So, the lesson. Pulmonarias tend to shed their seed and often quite a lot of it germinates. But the seedlings The American Gardener - January -February 2013 are likely to be all hybrids and not identical to the seed parent. So please don’t pass the seedlings to friends with the parent plant ’s name on. If you’d like to pass on the plant, pass on a division.

There's more about a whole range of plants, and whether or not they come true from seed, in the latest issue of The American Gardener. So why not join the American Horticultural Society (Brits can join too) and receive every issue of The American Gardener as well as many other benefits? If you’re already a member, you can read the current issue of The American Gardener, including my article True To Seed, on the AHS website.

Fat discount on award-winning plants magazine

You could save more than 35% on a subscription to Britain’s award-winning magazine for people who love plants.

You’ll have noticed that I mention The Plantsman here every now and again. This is the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine that takes a deeper look at ornamental plants and how to grow them. Published four times a year, it features plant profiles, discusses developments in horticultural techniques and botanical research, brings news of plant name changes (and the reason why), profiles eminent horticulturalists... and more. Not long ago it won the British award for the best gardening magazine.

In just the last couple of years the plant profiles have featured: Acer, Actinidia, Amorphophallus, Arum, Blechnum, Bletilla, Calanthe, Canna, Clerodendron, Corylopsis, Crocus, Disporum, Enkianthus, Eucryphia, Gladiolus, Helleborus, Hoya, Lonicera, Magnolia, Mahonia, Ornithogalum, Rafflesia and Roscoea – and many more. Take a look at The Plantsman’s webpage for more details.

The Plantsman is not available on the news stands, it’s subscription only, and the reason I’m mentioning all this now is that the RHS is offering an attractive discount on new subscriptions. Something it doesn’t do very often, in fact I can’t remember them ever offering a discount like this. You can save from 17% to over 35%!

To subscribe at these discount rates call the RHS on 020 7821 3000 (44 20 7821 3000 from outside the UK) and quote the reference: PLSO. Or download the application form. Don't you just love a bargain?