Seeds and plants by mail order: It’s not too late!

Cotwold Garden Flowers catalogue with too may plants tagged for ordering! ©
Easy online ordering is a huge boon, but there’s nothing quite like scanning printed catalogs by a winter fire (or in the smallest room in the house) and tagging the tempting plants. And it's too late to order for the coming season.

And you can see from my post-its marking the must-have plants in England’s Cotswold Garden Flowers plant catalog just how many tempting plants there are!

Owner Bob Brown has a fine eye for a good plant, picking out the best of the old favorites, the best newcomers and landing his eye on undeservedly neglected species. Bob also breeds new crocosmias, kniphofias, aconitums, and other plants and his son Ed has some developed some intriguing new Sambucus (elder) varieties.

One of those tags marks a rare hardy (zone 6a) climbing tuberous perennial cucumber I remember from Kew decades ago and have always wanted to grow - Thladiantha dubia. No edible cucumbers unless you have male and female plants, I’m afraid, but well worth growing for its yellow flowers.

And one of Ed’s elders will definitely go on the order: ‘Gate Into Field’ (!) is described as: “A very vigorous elder hybrid, very large heads of pink-flushed deliciously scented flowers later than normal, July – September, dark pink flushed foliage with pale midribs.” OK, it grows to 5m… I’ll just have to knock down the shed to make space, I suppose. Order going in just before I post this – so you don’t grab the last of the plants I’m ordering before I do!

The Whole Seed Catalog for 2017 - with only the flowers tagged! Image ©GardenPhotos.comThe order to Missouri's Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, who produce the extraordinary Whole Seed Catalog, has already arrived. The catalog is focused on its vast VAST array or heirloom edibles with a smaller section of flowers in the back. The tags only mark the flowers that appeal; I’d already taken out all the veg tags.

Have to say, this is the most astonishing catalog that I’ve ever seen. OK, it costs $9.95 (there’s a smaller free version). But there’s over 350 full color pages packed with goodies. Tomatoes, of course, feature strongly but there are also forty nine different lettuce varieties including the superb red leaved cut-and-come-again lettuce ‘Merlot’. I grew this last year and have ordered it again. It’s deep deep red in color, cuts for many weeks, tastes great and didn’t bolt. The three foot long Armenian melon from the 1400s is quite something, too.

I’ve also ordered the tall double America/African marigolds intended for cutting – never seen those before – and they also have some superb cut flower zinnias too.

Two oh-so-very-tempting catalogs. Here are the details.

Cotswold Garden Flowers
Order a fee printed catalog 
Order online
Plants can be sent to most of Europe but not North America

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Order The Whole Seed Catalog
Order a fee printed catalog
Order online
Seed can be sent anywhere in the world but they make it clear that sending seed to Europe is expensive and difficult.

Plants For 2017: New shrubs for 2017

Abelia Pink Pong (‘abenov41’)
Having picked out five new and old plants that were especially memorable in 2016, let's look ahead to plants I haven't even seen yet but which look unusually promising for the year ahead. First, two shrubs…

Abelia Pink Pong (‘abenov41’)
Abelia Pink Pong (‘abenov41’) must win the prize for one of the worst plant names ever – Pink Pong! Or perhaps I’m just a little old fashioned? Anyway, this is the first Abelia with a long season of large colorful flowers and a lovely fragrance.

There are other fragrant abelias but none combines large pink flowers opening from purple buds from May to October with a strong fragrance, dependably evergreen foliage, reliable hardiness and colorful autumn bracts to extend the season. Sounds worth trying, to me.

Pink Pong is a cross between Abelia schumannii '’Bumblebee’ and A. x grandiflora ‘Semperflorus’ and was selected in France in 2006.

Abelia Pink Pong (‘abenov41’) is available in Britain from Thompson & Morgan. It is not yet available in North America but should be soon.

Caryopteris Pink Perfection ('Lisspin')Caryopteris Pink Perfection ('Lisspin') and Stephi (‘Lissteph’)
Two new pink flowered forms of Caryopteris, bluebeard, are coming on to the market just as two older varieties become unavailable. It will be interesting to see whether they have more lasting quality.

For some years the very late flowering, and not very hardy, C. incana ‘Autumn Blue’ was the only pink flowered form around but has now disappeared. Pink Chablis (‘Dureo’) was introduced in the US about fifteen years ago, but is no longer available, and I’m not sure it ever made it to Britain.

Pink Perfection ('Lisspin'), sometimes offered a Best Pink, and the bushier and more compact Stephi (‘Lissteph’) were both developed by the renowned British breeder of new shrubs Peter Catt. I’ve not seen them yet but they’re said to be as prolific and hardy as the best blue-flowered forms with a good strong pink coloring. I look forward to comparing them this coming season.

Caryopteris × clandonensis Pink Perfection (‘Lisspin’), sometimes listed as Best Pink, is available in Britain from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries. It will be available in North America soon.

Caryopteris × clandonensis Stephi (‘Lissteph’) is available in Britain from Hayloft Plants, and will be available in North America soon.

Plants Of The Year 4: Harmonious shrub for small spaces

Hibiscus Sugar Tip ('America Irene Scott') Courtesy of Proven Winners -
Continuing with the fourth of seven daily posts about plants that grabbed my attention over the last year, next up is a variegated shrub for small gardens with long lasting double pink flowers.

Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip (‘America Irene Scott’).
Basically, this is a prettily variegated hardy hibiscus with prolific soft pink double flowers and it has four main features going for it.

Firstly, the variegated foliage is neat and soft greyish green in color with an irregular, but neat, creamy white margin so even if the plant never flowered it would still be attractive.

Secondly, the soft rosy pink flowers, each with a crimson stain at the base of the petals, are double and don’t set seed so they last longer than single-flowered varieties.

Thirdly, unlike ‘Purpurea Variegata’, it actually flowers and, unlike ‘Meehanii’, also variegated, the flowers and foliage make a prettily harmonious combination.

Finally we’ve had our plant in the garden here in Pennsylvania for about ten years and it’s reached about 10ft/3m in height. But its narrow, upright growth means that it’s only about 5ft/1/5m wide at most – so it doesn’t cast too much shade on the plants around it and fits well into a small space. I’ll have to get one for our British garden.

Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip (‘America Irene Scott’) is a variegated sport of the old classic ‘Lady Stanley’ (introduced in 1861) and was found by Sharon Gerlt on her nursery in Independence, MO in 2001.

Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip is currently available by mail order in the UK only from Gardening Express.

Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip is currently available retail in North America in the Proven Winners and Monrovia retail ranges and by mail order from Garden Crossings and from Nature Hills.

Image courtesy of Proven Winners -

New kind of Christmas tree

Canaan Fir Christmas Tree
A few days ago we went out to buy our Christmas tree. After five stops at different places we finally found one we were happy with and were told it was a Canaan Fir, a hybrid between the balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri). I’d never heard of it so when we got home I looked it up.

It turns out that there’s a good reason that I’d never heard of this hybrid – it doesn’t exist. And the name Canaan Fir doesn’t mean that it’s found in Canaan (as in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan).

The Canaan Fir is actually a variety of the balsam fir, A. balsamea var. phanerolepis, which is distinguished from the regular balsam fir in details of the shape of parts of the cone. Not only that, it’s actually a local ecotype, a specific regional variant.

Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis grows wild from Labrador south to Ontario, and continuing south along the coast of Maine all the way to the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. But some that grow in a small area of West Virginia, known locally as the Canaan Valley (with the weight on the second syllable of Canaan) are slightly different and it is from seed of these, collected at elevations over 3000ft, that cultivated Canaan Fir Christmas trees are derived.

The Canaan Fir has become popular as a Christmas Tree in recent years because it’s especially long lasting when cut, it retains its needles well and also retains the fragrance of the balsam fir. At first I thought its branches seemed rather weak but now, after a couple of days fully laden with ornaments and lights (nine hundred of them!), it’s actually holding up very well. I’ll add an update to this post around Twelfth Night/Little Christmas/Women’s Christmas (6 January, when we take the tree down) and report on how it’s doing.

Also, on a related topic (deep breath, please)… When we unpacked our nine strings of red and gold Christmas tree lights it turned out that after a year in a box in the basement only three of them still worked. So off I dashed to Lowes (Brits: = B&Q) to buy more.

And I was amazed at the price. Amazed! The price was absolutely outrageous! Each box of 100 minilights cost me $1.44 (including sales tax). Yes, $1.44.

Of course, they were made in China. And they were so cheap because wages there are so low. So if Mr. Trump brings these jobs back to America and pays American workers an American wage to make them, how much do you think those lights will cost? $15? $20? Will you buy them at that price? And, if you do, what will you do when they pack up after spending a year tucked away in a big brown box? You’ll be back to Lowes raising hell. And, if you want better lights that last for years, how much are you prepared to pay? It’s not as simple as Mr. Trump would have us believe.

Not yet winter in Pennsylvania

Geranium phaeum 'Samobor' seedling with startling fall leaf color. Image ©
National Public Radio reported this week that lilacs were in bloom in Washington, DC. A friend near here in Pennsylvania reports picking salad leaves from the open garden just a few days ago while anther says her spring crocuses are in bloom. It’s been mild back in Britain too.

Here in our garden the mild season has ensured that some plants developing late fall color have lasted and lasted. One young seedling of Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’ has produced some spectacular leaves (above, click to enlarge); the original plant and other seedlings are more of a blotchy yellow.

Hydrangea-quercifolia-Little-Honey-_J037665-700One of my favorite shrubs, Hydrangea Little Honey (‘Brihon’) (right, click to enlarge), a dwarf yellow-leaved form of the oak-leaved hydrangea, always turns burgundy red in the fall but often a couple of sharp frosts reduces the plant to bare stems. Not this year, the leaves have been wine red for weeks with a few just starting to develop fierier tones as they prepare to drop.

The other effect of these unseasonably mild weeks has been that after the first few, relatively gentle, frosts turned everything in the riverside meadows tawny brown – that’s how they stayed. The foxtail grass in the fields where the rudbeckias are such summer stars, I think this is Setaria viridis, has neither been crippled by frost nor battered by rain or snow and still stands out against the leafless escarpment. Lovely.

We’ve gentle frosts forecast for the weekend, with a high of 57F and a low of 39F forecast for Christmas Day. The snowdrops are in bud, but check out the Snowdrops In American Gardens Facebook group for news of plenty of snowdrops blooming merrily all over the country.

Oh, and a friend in Downeast Maine reports that the grass is growing and needs a trim. But I don’t care how long it gets here we’re not cutting the grass in December.

Foxtail grass, Setaria, still looking lovely on the Delaware River flood plain. Image ©

Warmest ever fall in Britain

Viburnum tinus 'Lisarose' and 'Purpureum'. Image ©
Just back in Pennsylvania, after a trip to England, and it’s been an unusually mild late fall and early winter on both sides of the water. Britain saw its warmest November day ever when the temperature reached 72.3F (22.4C) in mid Wales - “Remarkably mild for the time of year,” said the BBC radio weather man - and here in PA a friend told me last night that he’d just been out harvesting mesclun and baby greens from the open garden. Not bad.

Back in Britain the thing that especially struck me was the amazingly prolific flowering on Viburnum tinus, laurustinus as it’s sometimes called. Front gardens were full of their billowing flowers last week.

This is one of my favorite shrubs, with neat evergreen foliage, pink buds, clusters of white flowers and blue-black berries. The only problem, for American gardeners anyway, is that it’s not as hardy as we’d like. At USDA Zone 8 (perhaps 7) it’s fine in our English garden but wouldn’t survive even a relatively mild winter here in PA.

In his classic monograph on viburnums (still available on UK amazon and on US amazon), Michael Dirr describes twenty forms although almost twenty years later the RHS Plant Finder lists over thirty. My favorite variety is ‘Gwenllian’ with pink buds, blushed white flowers and reliably prolific berries that often last so long that they sit next to the following year’s flowers. But ‘Lisarose’ (inset left, above), with almost scarlet buds, Linaria 'Fairy Bouquet'. Image ©GardenPhotos.comcertainly looks tempting and the pure white flowers of ‘Purpureum’ (inset right, above), with their white buds have a very clean look and in spring there’s purple-flushed new growth.

The other thing about the mild autumn in England has been now long the annuals have been flowering. In some parts of the London suburbs, the roundabouts and roadsides were planted not with geraniums and petunias and marigolds for the summer, but with direct sown hardy annuals such as Linaria ‘Fairy Bouquet’ (left) in mixtures with Cosmidium ‘Brunette’ and the blue bracts of Salvia viridis. They were still attracting attention when I left a few days ago.

Next time: What’s striking about the late fall and early winter back here in PA.

Classic tree and shrub reference goes online

Bean's Trees and Shrubs Online.The five volume Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles by W. J. Bean, usually referred to simply as “Bean”, is a monumental work running to over 4,000 pages. It does what it says: it describes in detail the woody plants (including climbers) that can reasonably be expected to grow outside in Britain (mostly zone 8, some zone 9).

The four A-Z volumes were last revised almost forty years ago, then a supplement appeared in 1988 (see below, click to enlarge), so it does not include recent classification and name changes and recent introductions. Otherwise, it's impressively comprehensive with good descriptions and boundless information on origins and differences between similar plants. It’s invaluable.

Now you can read it - free.

In the first part of a two part initiative, the International Dendrology Society has published the whole thing – all 4,027 pages of it – online. And it’s free: no charge for access. The original four A-Z volumes plus the supplement are currently priced on at £325/$504. Did I mention that the online version is free?

The new online version is easy to navigate and attractively presented. The next step is adding pictures.

You can read more about it on the excellent blog post by John Grimshaw, who’s been heavily involved with the project - and I see he’s had the same idea of including an image of his five volume set as I did!

Take a look at Bean's Trees and Shrubs online - it's invaluable, and it's free.

The five volumes of Bean's Trees and Shrubs. Image ©

And what's coming next? Britain's Alpine Garden Society is well into the process of making its invaluable two volume Encyclopaedia Of Alpines available online. It's currently available from for £150/$250.74. You can track the progress of the operation here.

Viburnum dripping with berries

Viburnum betulifolium dripping with berries. Image ©GardenPhotos.comIt’s amazing what you find on a short walk round a good garden. Just ten minutes after finding the two witch hazels at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley, and before spotting the Winter weirdness in the banana border I came across this stunning viburnum. It’s an old favorite but still rarely seen – Viburnum betulifolium (left, click to enlarge). I remember seeing this at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew decades ago and it made a lasting impression.

As you can see, it’s the shining red fruits that are so eye-catching. The picture was taken about three weeks ago, in early February, and those fruits had been gleaming for months; they first show their color in September! They may only be 1/4in/6mm long but they hang in such prodigious numbers that they weigh down the branches. Of course, the birds will take them in the end.

This magnificent display of translucent berries like redcurrants follows the flat heads of creamy white flowers in late spring and early summer. Have to say, though, it does make a substantial shrub: 5m/16ft, too big for some gardens. It’s happy in sun or partial shade in any reasonable soil and is hardy to USDA Zone 6, RHS H6.

Introduced into North America in 1901 by China by E. H. Wilson, it was also collected more recently by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones of Britain's Crûg Farm Plants, their plant is called ‘Hohuanshan’ and has foliage which opens bronze. Junker's Nursery, also in Britain, has one called 'Aurantiacum' with orange berries which was originally reported from China in 1928. I’m tempted to fly back to England specially to get it. The Flora of China emphasizes how variable this species is in the wild; plenty of scope for more introductions.

Just one thing: It’s often said that two or three different plants are needed to ensure good pollination but there are also reports of single plants fruiting well. Perhaps some forms are more simply fertile than others.

Now that the ghastly hedge of Leyland cypress in our British garden is almost gone, this plant is high on the list to go along that boundary.  And perhaps the orange-berried one, and perhaps the Crûg Farm one as well. Steady… steady… Better not get carried away. On the other hand…

Take a look at this Botany Photo Of The Day entry for more on Viburnum betulifolium.

Plants are available in Britain from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries

Plants are hard to find in North America, but you can order seed from Sheffield’s Seeds

Witch hazel mystery solved?

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida'(above) and its impostor 'Moonlight'. Images ©GardenPhotos.comA combination of an enjoyable winter walk at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley in Surrey and a quick check in the relevant monograph looks to have solved the mystery of the Asian witch hazel in our Pennsylvania garden.

The problem is that the plant of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ we bought from White Flower Farm in Connecticut back in 2007 retains most of its old dry brown leaves through the winter and into flowering time – which ruins the display. And 'Pallida' is not supposed to do that.

But at Wisley, on one side of the path near the lake, was H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’, looking lovely with not one crusty old leaf interrupting the view of the flowers. And right there on the other side of the path was another witch hazel in pretty much the same color, with rows and rows of leaves along the branches completely ruining the effect. It was labeled ‘Moonlight’. You can see both in the picture (click to enlarge).

So, as soon as I got back, I looked up ‘Moonlight’ in Chris Lane’s excellent monograph Witch Hazels (out of print, but still available on and also available on And there I found the answer. This is what he says about it: “This selection is not widely grown any more, as it has the habit of retaining dead leaves during the winter… In the past, it has been sold as H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’  both in the United Kingdom and… also in North America.”

So it looks as if White Flower Farm sold me the impostor, ‘Moonlight’, instead of the true ‘Pallida’ – and, if I’m feeling sufficiently infuriated, I have to take the kitchen scissors and snip off every old leaf before the flowers open. Not fun. The plant has now reached almost 3m/10ft high and wide and it’s supposed to be a glorious spectacle. But, unless I snip off all those ***** leaves, it’s more of an eyesore. But at least I know what it is - though that's little comfort.

White Flower Farm no longer sell Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’.

Scented roses for Britain and North America

Fragrant English Roses from David Austin that thrive in the USA and the UK. Images © David Austin Roses
We all like scent in our roses, and many of us insist on it. But scent is a subtle and sometimes precarious feature: we all perceive smells slightly differently, it varies with the time of day, and it varies with the weather and the climate. Some say it even varies with the soil.

And scent is one of the three factors that legendary rose breeder David Austin had in mind when he created his English Roses: scent and old fashioned flower form and a long season of flower. The very first English Rose, with its scent of myrrh and introduced in 1961, was ‘Constance Spry’ (although this one missed out on the long season) and they’ve been coming ever since. I’ve been growing them since Mary Rose (‘Ausmary’) and Graham Thomas (‘Ausmas’) were new in 1983. Now there are so many that they’ve been divided into seven sub groups.

But not all will thrive in every garden. This was made clear to me when I took a look at the lists of English Roses recommended for their fragrance – for North America and for Britain. Some of the top choices for fragrance appear on both lists, but not all. And considering the extraordinary range of growing conditions in North America if, after being thoroughly tested, an English Rose was chosen by David Austin himself to thrive both in North America and in Britain, then it must be worth growing pretty much anywhere.

These are the English Roses recommended for fragrance on both sides of the Atlantic. And of the huge number introduced over the years - there are only nine.

Evelyn (‘Aussaucer’) Apricot and pink flowers with fragrance similar to old rose with a fruity note reminiscent of fresh peaches and apricots.

Gertrude Jekyll (‘Ausbord’) Large, rosettes of rich glowing pink. A strong and perfectly balanced old rose scent.

Golden Celebration (‘Ausgold’) Giant, cup-shaped golden yellow flowers with a tea scent.

Harlow Carr (‘Aushouse’) Shallow cups of the purest rose pink with a strong old rose fragrance.

Jude the Obscure (‘Ausjo’) Apricot yellow flowers with a very strong, unusual and delicious fragrance with a fruity note

Lady Emma Hamilton (‘Ausbrother’) Tangerine orange flowers with a strong, delicious, fruity fragrance.

Scepter'd Isle (‘Ausland’) Soft pink flowers, an outstanding example of the English Rose fragrance.

Sharifa Asma (‘Ausreef’) Pale pink flowers with a distinctive and very beautiful fruity fragrance with aspects of mulberry and grapes.

The Generous Gardener (‘Ausdrawn’) Very pale pink flowers with a delicious mix of old rose, musk and myrrh fragrances.

Order the most fragrant English Roses for North America from David Austin Roses.

Order the most fragrant English Roses for Britain and Ireland from David Austin Roses.

All images © David Austin Roses.