£40 (that’s more than $60) - for a fescue!!

I’ve sometimes remarked on this blog that plants are often too cheap both to ensure good quality for the gardener and provide suitable margins for grower and retailer.

Well today I have an example of that – plus an astonishing example from the other extreme.
Fescue,expensive,Bibendum. Image © (all rights reserved)

My friend, writer and editor Fiona Gilsenan, spotted this fescue (click to enlarge) on sale recently at Bibendum in London. It was priced at £40. No, not £4 - £40! That’s $63.81. OK, it’s in a big pot, Fiona tells me it was about what in the US we call a gallon (about 3.5 litres). But £40! I know, costs in London are steep and it’s clearly taken more than a few months for a fescue to reach that size. But £40!

Then a couple of days ago I took a look at our local Lowes here in Pennsylvania; for Brits, Lowe’s is like a monster B&Q. And there I found chrysanthemums (below, click to enlarge) in 11/4 quart pots (just over a litre) for £2.48, that’s £1.55. Take out the cost of the pot, the compost, the cutting, the royalty on the cutting, the transport, the cost of growing since spring, the maintenance in the store – and what mark up is there left for the grower and retailer?
Chrysanthemum,Lowes,cheap. Image © (all rights reserved)
So in one store the price is so outrageous that only the ignorant or the clinically deluded would pay it, and in the other it’s so cheap that the gardener should almost insist on paying more!

* Let’s not get our Bibebenda confused. This is Bibendum, the restaurant and retailer in Kensington, complete with its slightly icky-sounding Crustacea Stall, not Bibendum the wine store in London’s Primrose Hill nor Bibendum the importer of English beer into Sweden.

* The Plants section of the Lowe’s website, today at least, features no plants at all, of any kind, only things like soil, pickling supplies(!) and plant food.

UPDATE - Six days later

Those chrysanthemums have been reduced! They've gone from too cheap to, well, actually, about right as most of them are looking pretty sad now. And the yellow ones are labelled as orange.

Chrysanthemum,Lowes,cheap. Image © (all rights reserved)

Parthenocissus ‘Fenway Park’ – the original plant

Parthenocissus tricuspidata ‘Fenway Park’,Boston Ivy,Red Sox,Rare Find Nursery, Image: ©Peter del Tredici. A couple of weeks ago I was telling you about ‘Fenway Park’, the lovely yellow leaved form of the Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, and how it was found as a sport on a plant growing on a building near the Fenway Park stadium in Boston.

Well, regular Transatlantic Plantsman follower Ron Rabideau of Rare Find Nursery in Jackson, NJ has done us all a great favor by sending me a picture of the original plant, as first discovered on that old apartment block near the stadium. And here it is.

The picture was taken by Peter del Tredici, who first spotted the plant on the way to the ball game and made sure it was propagated. Unfortunately the plant is now gone.

Isn’t it great to see a fine new variety at the moment of discovery? Thank you Peter and thank you Rob (and Anne at Rare Find for telling me the picture even existed).

And you can check out the original post about Parthenocissus tricuspidata ‘Fenway Park’ here. In that post I mentioned Plant Delights nursery as a source - they’re now sold out.

But Parthenocissus tricuspidata ‘Fenway Park’ is available by mail order from Rare Find Nursery.

Annuals and Perennials at Ball Open Days

Impatiens,Masquerade,BallColegrave,Open Day. Image © (all rights reserved) Just before I flew back to Pennsylvania I took in the spectacular trials at BallColegrave near Banbury in Oxfordshire. BallColegrave is the British arm of Ball Horticulture and supplies seed and plugs to professional growers.

Since Darwin Perennials has joined the Ball Horticulture group, the BallColegrave trials have broadened out from their previous colourful emphasis on flowering and foliage annuals and now also include a good range of perennials.

Actually, to be honest, it’s all more of a display than a trial and the main feature is the chance to see a huge range of plants maturing in containers – just way we grow them in our gardens.

It was impressive to see billowing baskets of petunias and begonias - including the new yellow Million Kisses Honeymoon and the award winning ‘Glowing Embers’ as well as some impressive new coleus like ‘Dark Chocolate’ in green with a chocolate flash at the base of each leaf. And the startling Impatiens ‘Masquerade’ (top, click to enlarge) stood as it does wherever it’s seen.

Amongst the perennials it was good to see heucheras, like ‘Brownies’ (right, click to enlarge), in large tubs Heuchera,Brownies,BallColegrave,Open Day. Image © (all rights reserved) as well as huge tubs of astilbe and phlox.

I was able to call in before the first open day, so they were still setting up and it was raining and blowing a gale – so no dramatic views, I’m afraid, although here’s one from the air ten years ago (left, click to enlarge) – plenty of colour!

BallColegrave,Open Day,trials. Image © (all rights reserved) But don’t take my word for it – go yourself. It’s free. BallColegrave’s open days for the trade are continuing until 6 August, they have an open day for the gardening public in a couple of days time, and there’s also a Customer Day for American growers in Chicago on Friday.

I have to say, however, that the information on the British event is a little hard to find on Ball’s not-very-user-friendly website. Follow the link for the British Trade Open Days and unless you’ve previously been on the site and selected United Kingdom in the Select Your Country menu – it just doesn’t work. The whole site is infuriating. Hit the New Varieties link on the UK site… nothing. They’ve taken the page away! And just when they're showing off their new varieties... Sigh...

Well, they may not be able to build a user-friendly website but they can certainly create some impressive new plants – and show them off well too.

BallColegrave Trade Open Days continue until 6 August, every weekday 9am-5pm
Ring 01295 814 702 if you can’t find it on the website.

BallColegrave's Public Open Day is on on 30 July, 4-8pm.
More or less no details on the website, ring 01295 814 702

Ball Horticulture Customer Day in Chicago is  at the Gardens at Ball, West Chicago, Ill on 30 July, starting at 8am. This even has its own microsite - excellent.

Mail order plants: Romence Gardens has a very happy customer

Romence Gardens and Greenhouses, mail order plants, judyhwhite. Image: © I'm judywhite and I'm jumping in here as a guest blogger to mention the very good first-time experience I just had with an online plant source: Romence Gardens & Greenhouses, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan (which is zone 5 here in the USA).

I had been searching in vain for plants of the hardy annual native plant Corydalis sempervirens (I needed plants, not seeds), and finally found them on this site. I emailed to ask how close the plants were from blooming, and immediately got back a nice response describing what they had. Then when I placed the order, on a Thursday morning, I received an email within about three hours saying everything had shipped! I had selected just the normal FedEx delivery, not expedited, and to my surprise, the packages arrived on Saturday morning.

And what packaging (above and below, click to enlarge) – I don’t think I ever remember getting such well-packed plants, complete with excellent Romence Gardens and Greenhouses,mail order plants,packaging,judywhite. Image: © instructions stuck to the outside of the box on exactly how to unpack everything, and then inside found more instructions (right, click to enlarge) carefully telling me how to treat the plants. The plant labels were even taped inside, on the box, behind the plants, instead of stuck inside the pots. Plants themselves were big and in excellent condition, still well-watered. The Corydalis were in bloom and in seedhead; the Digitalis thapsi was also in bloom. Prices were very reasonable, plus I had inadvertently managed to order during a sale.

Romence Gardens and Greenhouses,mail order plants,packaging,judywhite. Image: © The Romence Gardens website says they have been a family owned business for over 75 years, now in the 3rd generation, with over 1000 varieties of perennials, among lots of other stuff. Their motto: Great Plants! Great Varieties! Great Values!

The only small foible was that the plant of Lamium (aka Lamiastrum) galeobdolon 'Hermann's Pride’ that I had ordered came with a tag saying it was L. galeobdolon ‘Variegatum’ instead, even though the plant does indeed look like 'Hermann’s Pride'. (‘Variegatum’ is actually now ‘Florentinum’, says the RHS Plantfinder; 'Florentinum' is much more vigorous than ‘Hermann’s Pride’ and has broader leaves.) The packing invoice had the right plant listed. I just emailed them to make sure I received the right thing.

All in all, a very satisfied customer here. Communication fast and great, shipping almost immediate, packing outstanding, plants superb. Excellent value.

Romence Gardens & Greenhouses

265 Lakeside Dr NE,
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

616-451-8214; toll-free 888- 907-5268

by judywhite

Don't buy hostas from Home Depot

Hosta,Home Depot,Lowe's,wrong name, Image: © All rights reserved. Just back from a trip to Home Depot (for Brits: that's like B&Q only much much bigger).

Naturally, we took a look at the plants and found their hosta labelling in complete chaos  The two hostas in the picture (click it to enlarge) were both labelled 'Albomarginata'. And elsewhere in the display the one on the left was labelled 'Fragrant Bouquet' and the one on the right was labelled 'Golden Tiara'! Even allowing for the fact that all the plants were very soft and had clearly been forced, and for the fact that the foliage of young plants is often not typical of mature specimens - well, it's entirely possible that none of the names are right! 

So go to a specialist for your hostas.

In the interests of balance it's only fair to say that when we stopped later at Home Depot's big competitor, Lowe's, I found the one petunia with two different names. But at least one of them was right.

Plant centre blunder

PierisMyosotis15138 Every now and then, here on the Transatlantic Plantsman blog, I highlight a mail order nursery which illustrates its plants with pictures which are – how shall we say – unrealistic… Check out one of them.

Now here’s a bold piece of signage from the Royal Horticultural Society plant centre at Wisley in Surrey.

The sign says the bench is loaded with a lovely perennial forget-me-not called Myosotis My Oh My (‘Myomark’). In fact the bench is bursting with (some very appealing)… Pieris. Slightly disconcerting that no one seems to have noticed this.

Forsythias on sale in the UK and USA

ForsythiaHomedepotJ018939 About a week ago, we went to check out what our local Pennsylvania Home Depot, just to see what plants they had in for the new season. (For British readers: Home Depot = B&Q, only much bigger).

The first thing we noticed as we approached the entrance was this pallet of forsythia. About 5-6ft/1.3-1.8m) high, and grown in the open ground with their roots wrapped in sacking (balled and burlapped, as the US has it), they were priced at $22.98 ($24.36 including local sales tax). That’s £15.85 in British money.

Interestingly, they were marked as “local grown”. There’s a small but growing inclination in the US in favour of food, plants and other products being grown locally. Their source was given, these forsythias came from about 160 miles away. Not very local by British standards, of course.

ForsythiaWeekend15133 Then yesterday I was at the plant centre at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, south of London. Not entirely similar, of course, but I took a look at their forsythias. Theirs were in pots, unlike the Home Depot ones they were named (‘Weekend’) and they were about 18-24in/45-60cm high. They were priced at £9.99 (including tax), that’s $15.36. So they were a about a third of the size – and two thirds of the price. Not sure how local they were.

Two things struck me about this. It would be good if British gardeners could buy forsythias that size at a reasonable price. But, also, that the Home Depot forsythias were probably too cheap.

Next time I pass a garden centre, I’ll pop in take a look at their forsythia.

Another ridiculous catalog picture

PrimulaVialii73930VM Yes, another one!

Primula vialii is one of the most universally admired perennials we grow. Or, more often than not, don’t manage to grow for very long! Many gardeners find it to be short lived, many plants producing one or two tall spikes and then fading away.

Primula guru John Richards says in his superb monograph, Primula, that the height of the flowering stems is about 2ft/60cm, with the flowering spike taking up about 8in/20cm of this – so there’s about 16in/40cm of bare stem between the rosette of foliage and the flower spike. And usually it produces just one or two spikes on each plant.

So bring on Van Meuwen! Over two dozen spikes sitting tightly on the rosette. And the color is pretty weird, too.

I would suggest that never in the vast history of life on earth, in the stars and in the galaxies beyond has a plant of Primula vialii flowered like this! But it’s certainly an accomplished piece of flower arranging.

PrimulavialiiTT Contrast that ridiculous image with this real-life image (click to enlarge) from the online catalog from Florida-based nursery Top Tropicals. Congratulations for using a realistic image.

You can order Primula vialii from Van Meuwen.

Other examples of ridiculous catalog(ue) pictures welcome.

And check out my earlier examples featuring ligularias and buddeljas.

Britain's Favourite Perennial varieties

A few days ago I discussed Britain’s Favourite Perennials, the best selling individual genera as evidenced by sales at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Centre at Wisley in Surrey. And I compared the current list with the Top Ten from three years ago. Today, let’s do the same for individual varieties.

So this is the current Top Ten of individual perennials sold at the Wisley Plant Centre. There are far more comings and goings in the last three years than there were with individual genera:

10 Lithodora diffusa ‘Heavenly Blue' – Up quite a few places from three years ago, it’s been around for ever.
9 Geranium Rozanne (‘Gerwat’) – Number six three years ago, this superb plant for ground cover or containers has been overtaken by both new and old favourites.
Primula vialii. Image: © KENPEUI used here under the GNU Free Documentation License 8 Primula vialii – The triumph of hope over experience! So enticing in flower in the plant centre but difficult to keep going from year to year so people just go back and buy it again.
7 Heuchera ‘Peach Flambé’ - A new colour in heucheras, these vibrant colours are supplanting those in darker shades.
6 Scabiosa ‘Pink Mist’ – Increased interest in attracting butterflies has surely helped this pretty plant enter the Top Ten.
5 Verbena bonariensis – Amazingly topped the chart three years ago, now slipped but still essential to so many gardeners. A white form would take the country by storm. Anyone ever seen one?
4 Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ – Slipped from number three, but its very long flower season and good foliage still create demand. Technically a shrub but so often, strangely, classified as a perennial.
3 Gaura lindheimeri Cherry Brandy (‘Gauchebra’) – Like a much improved version of the old favourite ‘Siskiyou Pink’. Three years ago there were three gauras in the top twenty, now there’s just this one in the top twenty five.Heuchera 'Georgia Peach'. Image: ©
2 Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ – Unique colouring, looks great in a pot on the sales bench and in a pot on the patio.
Scabiosa columbaria 'Butterfly Blue'. Image: ©Walters Gardens, Inc 1 Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ – introduced as long ago as 1985, missing from the Top Ten (and the Top Twenty) three years ago – and now back on top. In 2000, 'Butterfly Blue' was also voted Perennial Plant of the Year in the United States.

On the other hand, dropped out of the Top Ten over the last three years are:
Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’, formerly Number Two, which has now vanished from the top twenty five;
Primula vulgaris, the British native primrose, formerly number four but still in the top twenty;
Erigeron karvinskianus, number five three years ago and not now even in the top twenty five;
Helleborus Ashwood Garden Hybrids has also vanished from the top twenty five;
Delphinium ‘Blue Butterfly’, also gone from the top twenty five;
Heuchera ‘Plum Puddin’’, also gone from the top twenty five;
Gaura lindheimeri has also gone from the top twenty five, but been replaced by a cultivar.

Thank you again to Malcolm Berry, Head of Buying at the RHS Plant Centres at Wisley in Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire and Hyde Hall in Essex, for getting these fascinating figures together for me.

Britain's Favourite Perennials

When the British version of my Encyclopedia of Perennials came out two and a half years ago, I did some lectures entitled Britain’s Favourite Perennials featuring the Top Ten perennials in Britain.

But how did I decide which were the Top Ten, and in what order? Well, I asked the Head of Buying at the foremost plant centre in the country, at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in Surrey, to tell me what his best sellers were in the previous year – that seemed a pretty good guide.

Well, I’ll again be lecturing on the same subject later this year so I asked him to give me his most recent figures and today I’ll let you into the secret. First with the best selling genera, and next time with the best selling individual varieties. So here goes. American readers will notice which two plants are not in the Top Ten:
Dianthus Tickled Pink ('Devon PP11'). Image: ©Sue Drew/RHS Trials Office 10 New at Number Ten – Dianthus. Not even in the Top Twenty three years ago, and with no individual varieties in the top twenty five, I suspect that the recent flood of prolific dwarf types from Whetman Pinks accounts for this increase in popularity.
9 Same position as last year – Echinacea. The appeal of all the new colours and flower forms is balanced by the fact that many are proving more difficult to get through the winter than we’d like.
8 Down one place – Penstemon. Slipping from seventh to eighth place, but with a pretty small drop in actual sales, penstemon remain popular for their long season of dependable colour.
7 In from nowhere – Salvia. Mysteriously absent from even the Top Twenty last time, this is a case where enthusiastic articles in The Garden, the members’ magazine for the RHS, may have encouraged demand.
6 Down from Number Three this year – Euphorbia. I suspect that this drop may be the result of heavy promotion of new variegated varieties not being matched by their quality and longevity in the garden.
5 Same as last year – Iris. The vast variety of types allows changes in trends to be picked up by oneAgapanthus 'Midnight Star'. Image: © kind of iris as another becomes less fashionable.
4 Roaring up the charts – Agapanthus. Our changing climate (allowing gardeners in more parts of the country to grow more varieties), the increasing popularity of growing perennials in containers and some very active specialist nurseries all helped boost enthusiasm for agapanthus.
3 Down one place – Helleborus. A small drop in sales numbers, but it’s more the huge rise in sales of the new Number Two plant the pushes them lower.
2 Almost 40% up in sales – Heuchera. Placed fourth three years ago, the continuing stream of good new varieties, with two in the top ten of individual best sellers, solidifies enthusiasm for these superb foliage and flowering plants.

Geranium pratense 'Laura'. Image: ©Plants for Europe 1 And still at Number One of the best selling perennials, but only just – Geranium. The lead has shrunk so much that Geranium is now only 0.22% ahead of Heuchera while three years ago it as 13% ahead of Helleborus. But their versatility, easygoing nature, and the introduction of good new varieties keep them at the top.

And that's right, North American readers - no Hosta and no Hemerocallis.

Next time I’ll look at the best selling individual perennial varieties… There’s some surprises there to.

Thank you to Malcolm Berry, Head of Buying at the RHS Plant Centres at Wisley in Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire and Hyde Hall in Essex, for getting these fascinating figures together for me.