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Graham Rice's New Plants Blog

Graham Rice Garden writer and plantsman Northamptonshire and Pennsylvania

Editor-in-Chief of the RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials; writer for a wide range of newspapers and magazines including The Garden and The Plantsman; member of the RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee and Floral Trials Committee; author of many books on plants and gardens.

  • Date Joined: 18 Oct 2006

Recent Comments

  • New sweet peas at Chelsea

    Graham Rice on 30 May 2008 at 05:25 PM

    Sweet peas are always a special feature at Chelsea, and both sweet pea exhibitors were awarded Gold Medals this year. But somehow, in the hurly-burly of the show, my news of their four new sweet pea introductions never made it on to the new plants pages on the RHS Chelsea website. So let me just run through them for you here.

    Eagle Sweet Peas had three new launches at Chelsea this year. The aptly named ‘Maestro is a beautiful lavender with a strong perfume and is the last of his new varieties donated to the National Sweet Pea Society by the pioneering sweet pea breeder, the late great Bernard Jones. Grown on and prepared for release by two eminent breeders, Andy Beane and Alec Cave, it is now being released by Eagle Sweet Peas who will donate 50% of the revenue  packet sales back to the N.S.P.S.

    They also had two other newcomers on display. ‘Fields of Fire’, raised by John Robson of Castle Douglas, is the first variety to combine scarlet flowers with a strong perfume and so is bound to be popular. ‘Henry Thomas’ is an outstanding exhibition variety raised by Derek Heathcote at Eagle Sweet Peas themselves with large, rich crimson flowers on long stout stems. It’s named for his grandson.

    Every Chelsea, Matthewman's Sweet Peas seem to find an exciting new sweet pea to introduce, this year it’s ‘George Priestley’. Fragrance and showbench quality are its outstanding features. Beautifully ruffled creamy white flowers are strongly flushed in mauve, with superb placement of the flowers on the stems. ‘George Priestly’ won an Award of Merit for exhibition at the 2004 RHS trials at Wisley. And its scent is exceptional.

    This was one of the varieties that the well-respected former Vice Chairman of the National Sweet Pea Society was working on when he passed away and was chosen to bear his name.



  • New plants at Chelsea - the full list

    Graham Rice on 23 May 2008 at 09:36 PM

    This is my master list of the 94 plants (after the recent update) seen for the first time at Chelsea this year. This list is based on taking nurseries' word for it! So if they say it's new, then it's on this list. As I've already discusssed, some are not so very new at all! I've excluded a few, like the rare tree ferns on the Desert to Jungle exhibit, which are not expected to be on sale anytime soon. If you came across any more new plants at Chelsea, please let me know by posting a comment below. Thanks. (Sorry about the lack of italics for generic names - it takes so long to put them in!)

    The RHS Chelsea website has (the final few are yet to appear) and I also did a piece on new Chelsea plants for the Daily Telegraph


  • New bicoloured salvia, dwarf phlox and green echinacea

    Graham Rice on 23 May 2008 at 05:55 PM

    Derek Jarman at Hayloft Plants just emailed to tell me about the newcomers in their latest catalogue. Salvia greggii ‘Icing Sugar’ looks one of the best.

    Recalling the bicoloured flowers of Salvia x jamensis ‘Hot Lips’, the two-tone purple flowers of ‘Icing Sugar’ are carried on bushy, twiggy plants up to 90cm high from now through to September. Click on the picture to see the plant in more detail. However, unlike those of ‘Hot Lips’, the two-tone colouring is stable whatever the weather or the time of year. Easy in full sun and best in well-drained soil, once established ‘Icing Sugar’ will tolerate drought.

    Salvia greggii ‘Icing Sugar’ is available from Hayloft Plants. It is also available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries, from some independent garden centres, and from garden centres in these groups: Capital Gardens, Dobbies, Frosts, Blue Diamond, Haskins, Klondyke, Strikes, Stewarts and The Garden Stores.

    The Cocktail Series of border phlox also looks interesting. Bred in Holland by Jan Verschoor, Jan is already well-known for his previous phlox including the bicoloured ‘Peppermint Twist’. The three in the Cocktail Series, with small gardens in mind, reach only about 50cm so can even be grown in containers.


  • Spectacular new hybrid lily

    Graham Rice on 20 May 2008 at 01:09 PM

    I've been writing up some of the plants that are new at Chelsea this year for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show website; you can check them out here. One that especially impressed me was a new lily called 'Kushi Maya' which is an exclusive to H. W. Hyde and Son (though it's not yet on their website). OK, there are plenty of new lilies every year so what's so special about this one?

    Well, firstly, it's a hybrid between Lilium nepalense and an Oriental Hybrid lily, types which are so distantly related to each other that they don't usually hybridise at all.

    Secondly, just take a look - click on the picture to enlarge it and you'll see. The huge flowers are white at the edges of each petal, shading to hazy green and with a darker green streak through the centre of each. Then the centre is bloodied in deep crimson and the anthers are chocolate brown. Isn't it gorgeous? And on top of all that it has a wonderful fragrance.

    So how did this hybrid come about? Richard Hyde, the current Hyde who's running the company which was established in 1926, told me: "'Kushi Maya' is the result of cutting edge embryo recovery techniques. Firstly, a flower of L. nepalense was pollinated with pollen from an Oriental Hybrid flower, a specially selected, but unnamed, seedling. Quite straightforward this, but what happened next is the clever bit.

    "After about 40 days, long before it was fully ripe, the seed pod was harvested and taken to a laboratory. Here, two tiny embryos were removed from the endosperm and placed in sterile test tubes filled with a special growing medium where they grew into young plants. Without being recovered like this they would have aborted, due to the huge genetic differences between the two parents. Even using this technique, very wide hybrids like 'Kushi Maya' are both very difficult and hugely expensive to obtain."

    My question, of course, is this: if one embryo grew to be the lovely 'Kushi Maya' - what happened to the other one?!

    Anyway, it's a lovely plant. But what about that name? "Kushi Maya," Richard told me, "is a name given to female Nepalese children, it's English translation is Happy Love." Gardeners, says your reporter cornily, will be happy to love this new lily.

    The RHS Chelsea website has my write-ups of this year's Chelsea newcomers.

    Start here for full RHS coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show.



  • Two re-launched plants at Chelsea

    Graham Rice on 18 May 2008 at 03:13 PM

    As well as over eighty new plants at Chelsea, this year sees the arrival of a couple of old timers - one over a hundred years old.

    Cayeux Iris from France will have four impressive new introductions at the Show but also on display will be Iris ‘Ma Mie', originally introduced in 1906. Click on the picture to see how lovely it is.

    The four newcomers were raised by Richard Cayeux, ‘Ma Mie' was bred by his great-grandfather, Ferdinand Cayeux who founded the company. ‘Ma Mie' is a vigorous prolific Plicata type, white with pretty purple-blue stitching on the falls and slightly richer edging in the standards. The flower is endearingly old fashioned in its shape and still well worth growing after all these years.

    Iris ‘Ma Mie' is available from Cayeux's British agent, Viv Marsh Postal Plants.

    The origins of Dianthus ‘Bailey's Celebration' are much more recent. In the 1990s this prettily patterned pink was found by Stef Bailey, himself a well known Chelsea exhibitor, as a sport on ‘Anniversary' which was raised by his father Stephen Bailey. More recently, Whetman Pinks listed it but had to withdraw it from sale by as it had a tendency to revert to white, losing its attractive raspberry markings. However, at its best this is not only an attractive flower but it also has a lovely perfume and the plants have persistent grey-green foliage and good garden performance.

    So Whetman Pinks set about fixing the problem and they finally selected from amongst their stocks a form that did not revert and retains its attractive colouring. This is the plant that will be re-launched at Chelsea this week.

    Dianthus ‘Bailey's Celebration' is available from Whetman Pinks


  • ‘Tiki Torch’ – a new orange echinacea

    Graham Rice on 16 May 2008 at 01:30 PM

    In the last few years echinaceas have come a long way - in terms of new colours at least. So far these have all been raised in America and Antonia Fiander at Future Primitive Plants in Worcestershire has just emailed to say that she now has stock of the latest to hit these shores - ‘Tiki Torch'. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

    Bred by Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon, who've raised hundreds of good perennials in recent years, ‘Tiki Torch' is derived in part from the very robust E. purpurea ‘Ruby Giant' and also from the yellow-flowered E. paradoxa. The flowers are a vivid pumpkin orange, slightly darker at the base of each petal, with bright red cones and a strong scent. I've not grown it yet, but it looks to be the most vivid orange echinacea so far.

    As well as being available from Future Primitive Plants, ‘Tiki Torch' is listed by these Plant Finder nurseries and Thompson and Morgan Young Plants.

    My article on these new hybrid echinaceas in The Plantsman magazine is available here


  • Weeping Cercis, new at Chelsea

    Graham Rice on 12 May 2008 at 12:00 AM

    New on the Nottcuts stand in the Great Pavilion at Chelsea this year will be the first weeping redbud - Cercis canadensis Lavender Twist' (Covey).

    Very popular in the USA, redbuds are less often grown in Britain than they should be. Perhaps this lovely weeping form will encourage us to plant more.

    Making a lovely, spring-flowering, small tree, the vivid pink flowers stand out brightly against the almost black branches. The young, heart-shaped foliage is bronzed, then blue-tinted green, then turns bright yellow in the autumn. Prolific flowering is encouraged by hot summers - which are now more frequent than they once were - giving three phases of colour.

    Lavender Twist is a small weeping form, ideal for small gardens and even large containers. It was found in the garden of Connie Covey, not far from Lake Erie in New York state, in 1991. The original tree was thirty-five years old but only 1.4m high, with a central stem staked and trained it may reach 3m in height with the slightly twisted branches cascading down to the ground. ‘Covey' is the cultivar name, Lavender Twist is the marketing name or Trade Designation.

    First seen in Britain in 2004 when listed by Large Cottage Nurseries, they no longer list it but do list six other cultivars, including a white-flowered form. Lavender Twist is now available from Notcutts Garden Centres and from  these RHS Plant Finder stockists.

    Another, weeping form, ‘Cascading Hearts', is listed by just one Plant Finder nursery, Swines Meadow Garden Centre.

    You can read more about Cercis in an excellent article in The Garden.

    For more on Chelsea's new plants, check our new plants page on the Chelsea website.


  • New at this year’s Chelsea

    Graham Rice on 11 May 2008 at 02:15 PM

    Many of the Chelsea exhibitors will have new plants on display this year, but what does "new" actually mean? There are three main types of "new" Chelsea plants.

    1. Plants which have never have been seen on display anywhere in the country  - or perhaps anywhere in the world - before.
    3. Plants on display at Chelsea for the first time which may have been seen elsewhere recently, most often at other RHS shows or in RHS trials.
    3. Plants a particular nursery is showing for the first time but which may have been around for a few years.

    The tree fern Cyathea aramaganensis, from the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, which will be on the Desert to Jungle exhibit in the Great Pavilion, come into the never-seen-before group. David Root of Desert to Jungle says it's the only specimen in the country: "Very rare, virtually unobtainable, and not for sale!!" he told me. But it will be great to see it. The five new clematis from Sheila Chapman also seem to fit into this category.

    Many plants will be at Chelsea for the first time but will have been seen occasionally before like the lovely Dianthus ‘Starburst', from Whetman Pinks, which was on trial at Wisley last year.

    Then there are plants which are new to a particular nursery, but which have been around a while. The gorgeous Cercis canadensis Lavender Twist (‘Covey'), new for Notcutts at this year's show, comes in this category as it was available back in 2004 and is listed by nine nurseries in the new Plant Finder. However, now that Notcutts have it, this superb plant will be much much easier for gardeners to find. More on Cercis Lavender Twist tomorrow.

    For more on Chelsea's new plants, check our new plants page on the Chelsea website.


  • More news of new plants and trials

    Graham Rice on 07 May 2008 at 05:04 PM

    This is not the only place I'm writing about new plants. Last month I wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph about the top ten new perennials this spring. You can read it here.

    And over the last year I’ve been posting on new plants over on my Transatlantic Plantsman blog. You can find them all here. Recent ones include one on the two newcomers in the latest RHS Plant Finder which are stocked by the most nurseries (a Brunnera and a Salvia), one on a strange new polyanthus, one on a prolific new clematis, one on new drought-tolerant perennials, one a new blue impatiens and one on new epimediums bred by Robin White of Blackthorn Nursery.

    Finally, for the last few months I’ve also been writing a regular article about the RHS trials for the monthly magazine Garden Answers. Each month I pick some of the trials which are looking good at the time, or trials whose results have been decided, and give you some background plus some pictures of the interesting varieties. In the May issue you’ll find information on the trials of dwarf pinks, irises, courgettes, cherry tomatoes and verbascum.


  • Three days – three new hardy geraniums: 3 - ‘Double Jewel’

    Graham Rice on 03 May 2008 at 05:08 AM
    Now here's a cracker, a bicoloured double-flowered meadow cranesbill, Geranium pratense! Just look at that picture, click on it to enlarge it. Have you ever seen anything like it? This is new in the RHS Plant Finder this year - though listed simply as Geranium ‘Double Jewel' and not under G. pratense.

    The plant was discovered a few years ago in Holland by Jan Verschoor, well known as the breeder of phlox such as ‘Peppermint Twist'. He spotted it in a batch of G. pratense ‘Plenum Album' which had been raised by tissue culture, immediately realised its appeal and named and propagated it. Many growers would have restricted propagation by applying for Plant Breeders' Rights. However, Jan told me: "We did not apply for breeder-rights as it is in our opinion unfair to do so." So anyone can propagate it.

    As well as its unique, dark-eyed double flower ‘Double Jewel' is noticeably dwarf for a cultivar of G. pratense. Jan tells me it only reaches 25cm in its first year - and that the plant is too new to tell what the height of a long-established plant might be.

    [As an aside... Oddly, last autumn, the same mutation occurred with another Dutch grower, also in a batch of G. pratense ‘Plenum Album' produced by tissue culture. This plant, although apparently identical to ‘Double Jewel', has been named ‘Alegra Double' and it seems this second grower is applying for Plant Breeders' Rights. Presumably this application will fail as the same plant is already on the market as ‘Double Jewel'.]

    Anyway, whatever the confusion, this looks to be a great plant and seven nurseries are already listing it in the new Plant Finder. I'm looking forward to growing it.


  • Three days – three new hardy geraniums: 2 - ‘Mrs Withey-Price’

    Graham Rice on 02 May 2008 at 04:49 AM

    One plant I’m especially pleased to see amongst the new hardy geraniums in the 2008/2009 RHS Plant Finder, if only from one nursery, is the excellent G. phaeum ‘Mrs Withey-Price’. I brought it over from America to my Northamptonshire garden more than ten years ago and it’s the foliage that’s special, opening bright yellow with red spots at the base of each leaf division - lovely early in the season. As the season progresses the brightness fades to yellowish green but the display continues with white-centred, light purple flowers.

    It was found as a chance seedling in the Seattle garden of plantsman Jerry Flintoff. “It was growing near G. phaeum and G. x monacense,” he told me, “and I believe also G. reflexum but I haven't seriously tried to ID it. There was either a sibling or a sport growing with it that had a yellow leaf but without the purple blotches in the sinuses of the leaf lobes - unfortunately it is also being sold and grown as 'Mrs. Withey-Price'.

    “The name is a joke as there isn't a Mrs. Withey-Price, the plant was named in an oblique honor of friends (garden designers) Glenn Withey and Charles Price who love gold-leaved plants.” And note that the name has a hyphen.

    There’s not much sign of those leaf spots in the picture, I found that they’re most prominent when the leaves first emerge and then seem to fade.

    The Plant Finder treats as a cultivar of G. phaeum and lists just one source for ‘Mrs Withey-Price’: The Plantsman’s Preference.


  • Three days – three new hardy geraniums: 1 - ‘Laura’

    Graham Rice on 01 May 2008 at 05:00 AM
    The RHS Plant Finder is a wonderful thing (as we all know) – but it’s not perfect. For one of the best new hardy geraniums of this season is not included – it came on sale just too late to meet the deadline. But it’s a great plant with a great story and it’s now available.

    Geranium pratense ‘Laura’ was a star of the recent hardy geranium trial at Wisley. But, strangely, it was not such a star that my fellow judges and I gave it an Award of Garden Merit. To be honest, I can’t remember why the vote went against me. But here’s the story.

    ‘Laura’ is a double, white-flowered form of G. pratense which was discovered by Cheshire gardener Christine Morley and named in honour of her mother. This is what she told me: “Over twenty years ago I sowed a packet of G. pratense, mixed colours, which I bought from Chiltern Seeds.  I pricked out half a dozen seedlings and the resulting single-flowered plants were deep violet blue, silver blue and white but one plant turned out to have white double flowers. At that time I hadn't realised that G. pratense ‘Plenum Album' is a weak plant seldom grown. My plant was vigorous and flowered every year without any special treatment. I didn't feed it and only rarely lifted and divided it.

    “It was many years later that I began to suspect it might be something different when I realised that I had never seen another one like it. In my garden it grows in clay soil in semi-shade and always flowers prolifically from mid June for about four or five weeks. Unlike the single G. pratense it doesn't set any viable seed.”

    Geranium pratense ‘Laura’ is now available from Hayloft Plants. Another new hardy geranium tomorrow.