New plants

Future Gold Medal Winners?

Green flowered echinacea in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial
Green flowered echinacea in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial


Fleuroselect is the across-Europe organisation that grows new seed-raised flowers in eleven countries, compares them with existing similar varieties and gives Gold Medals to those that really are better than what’s already around.

The Mr Fothergill’s trial ground in Suffolk is one of two British sites where trials are held and I’ve looked them over twice this year and picked out the most promising. None of them have yet been given names.

My first visit was on a scorching day and the second was in a downpour, so I got see them in both extremes and there were three that really stood out.

Space-alien Helianthus, sunflower, in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial
Space-alien Helianthus, sunflower, in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial

First, one that I admired but didn’t really like. It was a short wild-looking, space alien sunflower in a pretty pale yellow with flowers that – well, you can see above.

One that I did like was a dwarf perovskia (now reclassified as a Salvia – don’t ask!). It was half the height of ‘Blue Steel’ growing alongside, with growth that was more dense and spikes on which the flowers were more tightly packed.

There was also a green-flowered echinacea (above) which I did like. I’ve grown ‘Green Twister’, with green petals tipped in purple, for a few years now but this one was completely green. The flowers were also smaller than those of ‘Green Twister’ which are sometimes too large to be elegant.

Seed-raised sedum in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial
Seed-raised sedum in the 2021 Fleuroselect trial

Finally, the pick of them all was a seed-raised form of Sedum spectabile (above). At first I wondered why anyone would want to grow this plant from seed, but there are growers who like to raise all their plants from seed so I suppose it fits into their programme.

Tight, extraordinarily compact, very prolific, early flowering on very short stems, the new flowers were a little slow to overtop the older ones and many of us will prefer one of the increasing number of varieties raised from cuttings, rather than seed. But it’s certainly impressive.

The echinacea, I’ll definitely be growing – when it finally comes on the market. And perhaps it will be awarded a Gold Medal?


Trialling English Roses Old and New

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David Austin's English Rose James L. Austin (‘Auspike’)

The year 2018 marked the 35th anniversary of my growing David Austin’s English Roses. They sent me trial samples of Mary Rose (‘Ausmary’) and Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) back in 1983 and I’ve been a fan ever since, first visiting the nursery in the mid 1980s to interview David for an article and to see the breeding set up. I’ve often featured them in my work.

So I thought it would be good to mark the anniversary of the introduction of Mary Rose and Graham Thomas - still widely grown and highly popular - by growing them alongside the very latest David Austin English Rose introductions for that year and seeing how they compare.

So in April 2017, in my trial garden, I planted bare root plants of Mary Rose and Graham Thomas plus the three latest newcomers at the time - Dame Judi Dench (‘Ausquaker’), James L. Austin (‘Auspike’) and Vanessa Bell (‘Auseasel’).

You might think that planting bare root roses in April is rather late and you’d be right. But that’s when they arrived and they all grew away happily.

So, now’s the time to make an assessment. All are in same rich old cottage garden soil in the same open border amongst other shrubs and perennials and all have been treated in the same way.

The three newcomers have all made larger plants than the two oldies – clearly, this is good in some gardens and less good in others. I tried to prune them in a similar way and that’s how they’ve turned out. Here are my rankings (best to worst), for half a dozen features.

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David Austin's English Rose Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’)

 

Beauty of individual flowers and clusters
James L. Austin
Graham Thomas
Dame Judi Dench
Mary Rose
Vanessa Bell

Impact from a distance
Vanessa Bell
James L. Austin
Mary Rose
Graham Thomas
Dame Judi Dench

Elegance of the maturing plant
Vanessa Bell
Mary Rose
James L. Austin
Graham Thomas
Dame Judi Dench

Appearance after a downpour
Graham Thomas
Dame Judi Dench
James L. Austin
Mary Rose
Vanessa Bell

General health
All very healthy. Only one patch of black spot, on one leaf, across all of them.

Fragrance (my sense of smell is fading, but…)
Mary Rose
Vanessa Bell
James L. Austin
Dame Judi Dench
Graham Thomas

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David Austin's English Rose Vanessa Bell (‘Auseasel’).

 

Individually
Dame Judi Dench Beautiful buds with red tips, small and nicely formed flowers but not enough of them. Throws up occasional long shoots. Fading petals drop off neatly.

Graham Thomas A lovely rich yellow shade, long flowering and dropping its faded petals reliably. Makes a rather inelegant plant.

James L. Austin Carries the largest flowers of the five, and beautifully formed, but developing white edges to the petals as they age and it holds on top its dead petals.

Mary Rose The neatest of them all, but still elegant, and with a strong old rose fragrance even I can smell.

Vanessa Bell Outstanding in the number of flowers per head, and the soft colouring, but full opening is delayed and it retains its faded petals spoiling the effect. But it has more or less no thorns.

So, on the basis of this mini-trial, are the three 2018 varieties better than the two 1983 varieties? Perhaps a little, but it depends what you’re looking for…

RoseMaryRose-IMG_0045-copy
David Austin's English Rose Mary Rose (‘Ausmary’)



My pick
I’d not grow Dame Judi Dench again but I’d be happy with all of the other four. But first of the five would have to be Vanessa Bell, with its prodigious flowering capacity, followed by James L. Austin for the size and individual beauty of the flowers.

British readers can check out David Austin Roses here.
American readers can check out David Austin Roses here.

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David Austin's English Rose Dame Judi Dench (‘Ausquaker’)

A new respect for elders

Sambucus 'Gate In Field' with dustbin lid ©EdBrown
Sambucus 'Gate In Field' with dustbin lid

Elders, Sambucus, have gone from infuriating me with their pigeon-pooped seeds popping up all over the garden –in a crack at the top of a stone wall, just out of reach, is a favourite spot - to being elite ornamental shrubs. British bred Sambucus nigra Black Lace (‘Eva’), with its reddish black, finely dissected foliage and its heads of pink flowers, must be the most popular new shrub introduction of the century.

I recently wrote a piece on developments in elders for the trade magazine Horticulture Week – subscription or free trial required – where I featured one of our top breeders, Ed Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers.

I’d grown his ‘Chocolate Marzipan’ which is a spectacular plant growing 2-3m in a year, with huge chocolate brown leaves and huge marzipan-scented flowerheads. Huge is the word - one of the most amazing plants I’ve ever grown. I also came across one of Ed’s videos from the nursery (which now I can’t find) where he says that one of his varieties, ‘Gate In Field’, “has flowerheads the size of a dustbin lid and will grow to 14ft”.

Well, naturally, I wanted to see a flowerhead and a dustbin lid compared! So here we have it (above).

“My original aims as a breeder of Sambucus,” Ed told me, “were to breed better foliage and form and length of flowering season.

“But I have learnt that getting a new product into the commercial market takes years and new products fail for stupid reasons like space on a Danish trolley (the cart that delivers plants to garden centres). Gardeners are being deprived by all the garden centres: it all goes back to delivery week, transport, and a lack of knowledge or any willingness to take a risk.

“I tried waking the industry up ten years ago but after five years gave up and switched to colour, scent, flavour and length of flowering season.

“Sambucus has well tested antivirus properties,” Ed continued, “sambucol is sold in pharmacies to help the body fight infection. But it’s made from just one of the 147 named varieties in my Plant Heritage National Collection. It’s long overdue for the pharmaceutical industry to do more plant trials but, thanks to Brexit, the work that was being carried out between me and a Swiss company ended prematurely. So if there’s a masters student wanting work with National Collection holders, we’re here and waiting.”

Ed then gave me a few details about more of his best of his varieties.

‘Milk Chocolate’ “My first introduction, it has milk chocolate foliage and cream flowers and, given good soil, will flower until November.”

‘Milk Chocolate Orange’ “Milk chocolate leaves but with contrasting orange stems grows to 2m with all flowers presented on the top.”

‘Chocolate Marzipan’ (below) “Grows to 3m has amazing two tone foliage: black on top and mint green underneath, with almond scented flowers in June, July and August.”

‘Black Cherries’ “The darkest yet, it has the highest level of anthocyanin colour in the flowers and adds a cherry-like hint to cordial.1.5m high and very slow to reproduce needs to go into tissue culture.”

Find out more about Ed Brown’s Sambucus at Cotswold Garden Flowers.

Sambucus Chocolate Marzipan ©GrahamRice
Sambucus 'Chocolate Marzipan'

Physocarpus on trial

Physocarpus Midnight ('Jonight')
Physocarpus Midnight ('Jonight')

I’m a big fan of Physocarpus, ninebark as they’re known in North America from the way the bark repeatedly rolls back off the maturing stems. Though why it isn’t eightbark or tenbark I really don’t know.

These are hardy as rocks, deciduous shrubs grown for their colourful foliage, their clusters of white flowers, their autumn leaf colour and, to a lesser extent, their berries.

The first to come to our attention in modern times were ‘Diablo’, with dark purple leaves, and ‘Dart’s Gold’, with bright yellow foliage – both useful shrubs. But it was when these two were crossed together to create what is known as Coppertina in North America and Diablo D’Or in Europe (its raiser’s name is ‘Mindia’) that I really started to take notice.

I was sent trial plants of this by Proven Winners, the American plant marketing company, now expanding into Europe, and year after year it was a star in my Pennsylvania garden for its foliage that opens in amber yellow and matures through orange to purple-bronze.

More recently I planted some that I didn’t know so well on my trial garden in Northamptonshire - thanks to John and Maria Jones of Hyfryd Plants in Wales for help with sourcing plants - and it’s time for a report.

But before that, I just want to mention physocarpus for cutting. America’s Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers has twice voted a physocarpus as its Cut Flower of the Year. And although it can be good to cut branches lined with flower clusters, Firebrand (below) looks ideal for that use, of those I’ve tried Midnight (top) is the best and holds its leaves well as they turn.

I find fruiting unpredictable and tough to assess because those that carry the most flowers are the ones whose flowering sprays are cut for the house. The quality of autumn leaf colour, too, seems unpredictable.

New physocarpus varieties are still being released. Two dozen are listed in the current RHS Plant Finder and we’re awaiting the results of the trial of thirty varieties at the RHS Garden at Wisley that ended in 2019. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on my own mini-trial.

All Red (‘Minalco’)
I was especially looking forward to seeing All Red mature as it was touted as being smaller, more bushy, more compact and with red-bronze foliage that was noticeably smaller than that of other varieties. That’s all true - except that after a couple of years it started to produce a succession tall, very vigorous, large-leafed shoots , with internodes more than twice as long as on All Red itself. They emerged low on the plant and would have taken over completely had I not cut them out. This one is going on the compost. Now rarely seen, rightly. Bred by Pépinières Minier in France.

Firebrand (‘Hyfbrand’)
The foliage is coppery orange in the shoot tips, maturing to dusky purple bronze with green undersides. The flower clusters, spread across 30-40cm of stem, are relatively small, but produced on short stems at every node creating a very attractive look. Pink buds open to pink-tinted white flowers, it retains more pink colouring in its flowers than others I’m growing. Bred by John and Maria Jones of Hyfryd Plants in Wales.

Lady in Red (‘Tuilad’)
Reddish copper young shoots mature to dusky greenish purple foliage, the small clusters of pink buds fade to white as the flowers open. This is similar to Coppertina, which is said to be mildew resistant although I’ve not had powdery mildew on any of mine. This can stay in its up-against-the-east-facing-fence site until I’m desperate for space, but if I were planting now I think I’d pick Coppertina. From Jonathan Tuite of Westacre Gardens in Norfolk.

Midnight (‘Jonight’) (above)
If you’re looking for the darkest foliage colour, this is the one. The leaves open in deep purple-bronze foliage with a noticeable gloss, maturing to dull bronze - almost black- and greenish bronze on the back. The vigorous growth is ideal for cutting and lasts exceptionally well. Not selected for its flowers, so the show is sparse but the rosy pink buds open to white flowers. Another from John and Maria .

Summer Moon (‘Tuimon’) (below)
More spreading in growth than my other varieties, the chartreuse-bronze new growth matures to green with pale veins and hints of bronze creating on overall blend of green and bronze tints. The flower clusters are larger than those on any of the others, and on longer stems, with the pink buds opening to white and with noticeably red anthers. Makes an effective flowering shrub, wider than high. Another from Jonathan Tuite.

Check out my previous posts about growing physocarpus in Pennsylvania.
New plants on trial: Top Shrub – Physocarpus Coppertina (2007)
Two fine Physocarpus (Ninebarks to American readers) (2009)

PhysocarpusSummerMoon-_G036970
Physocarpus Summer Moon ('Tuimon')

New Varieties in the Burpee Advent Calendar

Burpee 2017 Advent Calendar
Guest post by judywhite

Last year, as garden writers, we were treated to the Burpee seed company's wonderful Advent Calendar, a big cardboard publicity piece that was an instant hit. (Sorry to say it's not available for sale; Burpee should launch a limited edition for holiday purchase.) Instead of a manger or Santa Claus on the cover, there was a snowy image of Burpee's Seed House Barn (below), which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And instead of chocolate behind each calendar date "window" from December 1st thru Christmas Day, there was a mini-packet of a new variety of Burpee seed to grow.

Burpee is well-known in the States. Founded in 1876, the company has long been a gardening source of new seed hybrids. Their 2016 Advent Calendar (above) featured 25 new varieties, many of which some friends grew for us this summer in a Zone 6 NJ test garden. (Thanks, Dave and Jonathan!)

Cauliflower 'Depurple'Some surprises were Canna 'Cannova Rose', a dwarf type that actually did bloom from seed within a few months, and purple cauliflower 'Depurple Hybrid' which, unlike purple potatoes, actually kept its color when cooked. Of the tomatoes, the roma 'Gladiator' was most bountiful, right up to frost, firm and good sauce-making. 'Oh Happy Day' was a sweet, perfect salad tomato, and the Italian pink cherry tomato 'Maglia Rosa' was also excellent. Basil 'Pesto Party' grew well, as did mildly hot Pepper 'Dragon Roll Hybrid,' Eggplant 'Patio Baby,' and variegated Nasturtium 'Orange Troika.' There were a few disappointments: 'Prism' Kale, Pepper 'Gold Standard' and Watermelon 'Mama's Girl' didn't do so well.

This week, we were delighted to again find a Burpee promotional Advent Calendar in the mail. The 2017 cover (above) depicts Burpee's historic Fordhook Farm House decked out in wreaths, with a vintage truck out front. The 25 new varieties in this 2017 calendar include an intriguing green sunflower that's supposed to be great for cut flowers ('Sun-Fill Green'), a yellow Cosmos with white centers ('Lemonade', which did well on trial in England this year), a prolific striped green and gold-bronze small plum tomato ('Shimmer'), and a huge 7"x5" red pepper called 'Stuff Enuff.' Info about their many new varieties can be found on Burpee site.

Burpee's Fordhook Farm, located in Doylestown in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has Open Days in summers, often thru The Garden Conservancy. The historic buildings and the test gardens are well worth a visit.

Burpee 2016 Advent Calendar


Cosmos on trial

Cosmos 'Lemonade' ©GardenPhotos.com

I grew some of the new cosmos on my trial ground this summer - with mixed results, I have to say, although some of that was my own fault.

I was especially interested in growing the two new lemony yellow varieties, ‘Xanthos’ and ‘Lemonade’ (above), side by side but also grew ‘Cupcakes’ and ‘Cupcakes White’, ‘Apollo White’ and ‘Capriola’ plus an impressive form of Cosmos atrosanguineus, Eclipse (‘Hamcoec’) which we’ll get to another time.

With ‘Capriola’, I messed up. I put the plants too close to a newly planted, dark-leaved hybrid elder that grew prodigiously, made over 2m high in its first season and bushed out to elbow the cosmos aside.

At the other extreme ‘Cupcakes White’ was superb. It was rather leafy at first, and not as early as ‘Xanthos’, ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Apollo White’, and started flowering at about 90cm with the purest white cups. Some flowers were simply cupped, some had a ring of slim, shorter petals around the golden eye. Lovely.

Cosmos 'Cupcakes White'‘Cupcakes Mixed’ turned out to be mostly white, but with a few flowers in magenta pink or palest rose and one in magenta pink with a crimson center. Not a very effective display, frankly.

‘Apollo White’, and indeed the others in the series, has made its mark in overtaking the Sonata Series as the gold standard in dwarf single cosmos. The whole Apollo Series was superb in the Royal Horticultural Society trial last year. Reaching 50-60cm, ‘Apollo White’ began flowering early but in early October started to collapse for no apparent reason. Still excellent, though.

Now we come to yellow-flowered ‘Xanthos’ and ‘Lemonade’. Basically, they’re the same. OK, British-bred ‘Lemonade’ was a little later into flower, a little leafier at first, perhaps with occasional pink tints slightly more pronounced. But, especially as summer wore on, you’d be hard pressed to say which was which without checking the labels. Both were strong yellow at first, maturing to soft yellow with a white center. Lovely. Dead headed every few days they both flowered well into October.

Next year? 'Cupcakes White' and 'Lemonade' - but I'll have to give them more space, that will be a challenge...

 


First thoughts on trialling Shasta daisies

Leucanthemum- 'Real Galaxy'. Image © GardenPhotos.com

Shasta daisies have come a long way in recent years, with developments on both sides of the Atlantic, and this year I’ve been looking at some of the recent introductions in my new trial garden.

The great American plant breeder Luther Burbank is said to have created the Shasta daisy using some creative, though now discredited, hybridisations between leucanthemums and related genera. He made pollinations between various species and genera but it seems certain that the resulting seedlings were not actually hybrids: pollination but no fertilisation.

The first double-flowered variety was spotted from a train passing through Norfolk in eastern England, growing wild, by Horace Read. On his return journey he’s said to have pulled the emergency cord, jumped out, dug up the plant and quickly got back on the train. That was in the 1920s.

These days, one of the leading breeders is North American, Terra Nova Nurseries, the other British, RealFlor, with other breeders in North America, Britain and Holland also making improvements.

This year I grew almost all the recent Shasta daisy introductions. I can’t make definitive judgements in their first season, the plants went in at different times and varied in size enormously, but a few things are clear.

The range of flower forms is impressive with neat doubles and tightly anemone-centred forms and, while we still have no pink-flowered forms, the yellow-flowered varieties are becoming increasingly impressive.

As I write in early October, most still feature a few flowers except for 'Shapcott Gossamer' and 'Shapcott Ruffles' which have been over for many weeks, in spite of regular deadheading.

Both ‘Real Galaxy’ (above, in summer) and ‘Goldfinch’ are still opening new buds, as is ‘Victoria’s Secret’ but its stems are so thin that they’re collapsing under the weight of the flowers. ‘Lacrosse’ had a break but this morning I see that it's producing new buds. ‘Real Charmer’ has no buds coming but the open flowers still look good.

Next season will be a much better test as all will be starting from established plants. I’m looking forward to it, and all thanks to Luther Burbank and Horace Read.


Outstanding new perennial

Heliopsis Burning Hearts_G022907
 The outstanding new perennial I grew this year was in the garden only by chance. Heliopsis ‘Burning Hearts’ was a trade from Ian Hodgson, Editor-at-Large for the UK weekly magazine Garden News, and it’s been exceptional. I passed him some new heucheras, he gave me the heliopsis.

This hardy bronze-leaved perennial is a form of the North American native H. helianthoides var. scabra which grows in much of the east and south of the USA as well as in Canada. A number of things impressed me about ‘Burning Hearts’.

I planted three young plants, raised from seed Ian had sown earlier in the spring, in mid May. The purple-bronze foliage was impressive straight away, the plants grew away well and in June they were in flower. They’re still flowering today at about 90cm/3ft, in spite of being partially shaded by the unexpected vigour of a new physocarpus (not to mention some rampageous climbing beans).

The bright, slightly golden yellow petals are rolled back gently from the dark eye, each one stained red-orange at the base, and are perfectly shown off by those dark leaves although the red centres fades as the individual flowers age. The plants have been dead-headed regularly and a long succession of stems have been cut for fiery bouquets. They’ve been amazingly productive.

Jelitto Perennial Seeds, who developed ‘Burning Hearts’, point out this is like a supercharged version of ‘Summer Nights’ with darker leaves and flowers in more dramatically contrasting colours. They say it’s been in the works in Germany since 2004 when, the catalogue from Jelitto reveals, “the idea for ‘Burning Hearts’ came in a dream”. Hmmm…

Gardeners in both Britain and North America can order seed of H. helianthoides var. scabra 'Burning Hearts' from Jelitto Perennial Seeds.


New ways with phlox

PhloxEarlibeautyZenithDaughterofPearl
The tall and colorful American native summer phlox, Phlox paniculata, has been popular for more than a hundred years. In 1917 five hundred and eighty four (yes, 584) different varieties were grown in the USA and in 1907 one Scottish nursery alone listed well over three hundred varieties. In Britain, the Royal Horticultural Society currently has a grand total of 577 in its database.

Most of these have now vanished, but there are a number of impressive breeding programmes, many using other species in addition to P. paniculata, going on in both North America and in Europe. Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan, with his Opening Act and Fashionably Early series, and Charles Oliver at The Primrose Path in Pennsylvania, with his Earlibeauty Series (above), are leading the way along with Gosen Bartels in The Netherlands with his Flame Series.

But some of the best known varieties of the summer phlox have arisen in another way – they’ve been spotted in the wild or in abandoned gardens by plants people with a good eye, and an appreciation of something special.

I’ve mentioned these in my article about phlox in the current issue of The American Gardener but space was tight so I thought you’d be interested in a little more detail. These were all chosen for their freedom from mildew, but it’s important to remember that mildew resistance is not constant. I’ve seen ‘David’, and ‘David’s Lavender’, completely ruined by mildew.

‘Common Purple’ Found in 1982 by Marc Richardson and Richard Berry, founders of Goodness Grows Nursery, at an old abandoned homesite in Greene County, Georgia. The plant was in full bloom, with no sign of disease or problems. It was introduced by Goodness Grows in 1984.

PhloxSpeedLimit45‘David’ Selected at the Brandywine Conservancy, Chadds Ford, PAennsylvania by nurseryman Richard Simon and the Conservancy’s Horticulture Coordinator Mrs. F. M. Mooberry for its unusually large white flower heads and freedom from mildew. ‘David’s Lavender’ is a sport discovered in 2002 by Kathryn Litton at ItSaul Plants, Georgia.

‘Jeana’ Found in the 1990s by Jeana Prewitt of Nashville, Tennessee, growing mildew-free among "many thousands" of mildew-covered wild plants. Introduced in 2001 by the much missed Seneca Hill Perennials.

‘Speed Limit 45’ Spotted by Pierre Brunnerup, in the company of Allen Bush, by the sign on the roadside near Bush’s nursery in North Carolina and seen to be mildew free. Propagated by Bush and introduced in 2003.

These are exciting time for phlox enthusiasts, with so many new introductions. Those such as the Earlibeauty Series, with no P. paniculata in their background, seem best placed to remain mildew-resistant in the long term.

* Thank you to Charles Oliver and Allen Bush for the pictures.


Happy 30th Anniversary to the RHS Plant Finder!

Plantfinder2017Cover
The 30th anniversary edition of the Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder has just arrived. And let’s be clear: just because it carries the stamp of the Royal Horticultural Society does not mean that it’s of no interest outside Britain. On the contrary.

The Plant Finder does two things and, in fact, it’s the one that’s not hinted at in its title that has universal value. Because, in order to establish which plants are sold by which nurseries, the names of the plants have to be standardised otherwise the same plant could be listed under three or four different names. And it’s the up-to-date determination of the correct plant names that’s so valuable across the globe. (The Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder also tells you where to buy every one of the 72,000 plants listed.)

A team of Royal Horticultural Society botanists make decisions on names based on the latest research around the world and in consultation with experts everywhere. And the RHS has become more conservative, over the years, only this year determining that the hardy perennial sedums belong in their own genus, Hylotelephium, a change made in North America some time ago. But this up-to-date standardisation of the names is what makes the book valuable on all continents.

One of the features of this 30th anniversary edition of the Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder is a range of contributions on the subject of the unique legacy of the 30th anniversary edition of the book. And one of the contributors is – me! I was asked to pick five plants included in the Plant Finder that I couldn’t do without. I chose a snowdrop, a hellebore, a sweet pea, a heucherella and a physocarpus.

Expert plantsman Tony Lord, who supervised the clarification of the plant names from the Plant Finder’s early days until soon after the RHS took it over, has included a history of the book but there’s one thing that he hasn’t mentioned. Eight years before the very first edition of the Plant Finder in 1987, I myself set out to produce exactly the same book. I had the support of leaders at Kew and the RHS and from one of the top British garden book publishers. So, early in 1979, I asked all the mail order nurseries I knew about across Britain and Ireland to send me their catalogues and I began collating their listings into a database from which the book would be produced.

I was living in Dublin at the time but no sooner had I set about acquiring catalogues than there was a postal strike – which lasted for eighteen weeks, that’s almost five months! And, of course, back then there was no internet and everything was done by post. So the whole project, which of course depended on being up to date, fell apart. And then I got a job as writer on the late lamented Practical Gardening magazine, hired by the influential UK TV gardener Geoff Hamilton, who was the magazine’s editor, and there was no time to revitalise the project.

Fortunately, Chris Phillip, his partner Denys Gueroult, and Tony Lord, with whom I trained at Kew (and who, let’s not mess about, usually beat me in the weekly plant identification test by a point or two…), made the Plant Finder the invaluable reference that it is today. Frankly, they did a better job than I would have done and I salute them and their RHS successors.

Every gardener, every plantsperson across the world, every nursery owner and propagator, every garden writer, every plant breeder - everyone with a serious interest in plants - should have the latest edition of the Plant Finder on their shelf. It’s that simple.

Order the 2017 RHS Plant Finder in the Britain and Ireland

Order the 2017 RHS Plant Finder in North America

Check out the Plant Finder's predecessor, the Plant Directory, produced by the Nottinghamshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society.