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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

  • More Gold Medal perennials

    Graham Rice on 26 Nov 2008 at 05:14 PM

    Thrift is a familiar seaside plant in Britain, growing on cliffs and rocks, but it’s varieties of the larger flowered, broader-leaved Portuguese species which have been awarded 2009 Gold Medals. The awards are made by Fleuroselect, the pan-European organisation which trials new flowers and bestows Gold Medals on the very best.

    I looked at the other 2009 winner, Prunella ‘Freelander Blue’, here last time. Today it’s Armeria pseudarmeria ‘Ballerina Red’ and ‘Ballerina White’.

    These are both first-year-flowering perennials, blooming about three and a half months after a spring sowing and continuing to bloom into the autumn. Reaching about 20cm/8in in height, the rounded heads of flowers are held on stiff upright stalks above a mass of dark green foliage. The flowers are useful for cutting for posies and the prolific plants make an attractive front-of-the-border feature, especially alongside plants with a more rounded habit.

    They are especially good in sunny, dryish places and beds with good drainage but are generally tolerant and adaptable. In deep troughs they would be excellent and I’ve seen other varieties of this type grown individually in terracotta pots and they looked delightful.

    And, like other Fleuroselect Gold Medal winners, they’ve done well all over Europe.

    Armeria pseudarmeria ‘Ballerina Red’ is available from Mr Fothergill’s Seeds.

    Armeria pseudarmeria ‘Ballerina White’ is also available from Mr Fothergill’s Seeds.

    Mr Fothergill’s Seeds also sell both together at a special price.

    Both Armeria pseudarmeria ‘Ballerina Red’ and ‘Ballerina White’ are also available from Seeds by Size.

    Declaration of interest: I sometimes advise Mr Fothergill's Seeds on their catalogues, and have written the introduction to the latest edition of their flower seed catalogue. For this I am paid a fee.


  • Gold Medal perennial

    Graham Rice on 26 Nov 2008 at 03:36 PM

    Since 1970 trials of new seed-raised flowers have been held at sites all over Europe. The organisation that runs the trials, Fleuroselect, has thirty different sites from Italy to Russia, including the RHS Garden at Wisley. Entries of new varieties from seed companies around the world are assessed at every site and those that perform best across all the sites are awarded Gold Medals. If a variety performs well enough to win a Gold Medal in such a range of different climates it really must be good.

    Annuals usually predominate in the awards but the three plants that have been awarded Gold Medals for 2009 are all perennials.

    Prunella grandiflora ‘Freelander Blue' certainly looks exceptional. Back in 2006 ‘Freelander Mixed' was awarded a Gold Medal, the first ever prunella to flower in its first year from seed. It comes in a mix of three colours: pink, white and blue.

    Now ‘Freelander Blue' has been awarded a 2009 Gold Medal in its own right. It's neat, just 15-20cm/6-8in high, so is ideal in containers or as edging. It's impressively prolific with packed heads of sparkling blue flowers, each with a white eye. Sow in March and it will flower from June to October, and then come back again to flower earlier the following year. And the bees love it...

    Sounds impressive? It is... And it if it did well enough in Moscow and Naples and everywhere in between it surely deserves its Gold Medal.

    So far Prunella grandiflora ‘Freelander Blue' is available only from Plants of Distinction as seeds or, if you prefer, as plants.

    More 2009 Fleuroselect Gold Medal winners next time... 


  • New echinaceas – 2

    Graham Rice on 17 Nov 2008 at 01:43 PM

    Yesterday I posted about ‘Dreamcoat’, a colourful new mixture of echinacea seeds. Well, these new echinaceas are coming thick and fast so today a double-flowered echinacea in a new style.

    Double echinaceas have been around for a few years now but they’ve all been in much the same style. Varieties like ‘Razzmatazz’, ‘Pink Double Delight’ and ‘Coconut Lime’ resemble shuttlecocks with a tight cone of short petals at the top and longer petals swept back at the base.

    Now comes ‘Pink Poodle’, in rose pink with a green eye, and it’s flowers are different. They’re flatter, fluffier and much more like those of a double zinnia or a decorative dahlia. The plants reach about 80cm/32in high and are more sturdy and well-branched than many so are better able to support the heavy double flowers than the taller, weaker ‘Razzmatazz’, for example - even though they're 10cm/4in across.

    And another thing I noticed. In the first picture (click on the pictures to enlarge them) you’ll see that many of the rosy pink rays have a tiny stain of red at the their tips. It really adds to the effect.

    Echinacea purpurea ‘Pink Poodle’ can be ordered now from Plants of Distinction.


  • New echinaceas - 1

    Graham Rice on 16 Nov 2008 at 01:50 PM

    Every time I post about new echinaceas more of you than usual take a look. (I can check exactly how many times each post and each picture is been viewed.) So today and tomorrow I'm bringing you news of two more new echinaceas. Today, the first seed mixture that includes all the new colours - ‘Dreamcoat', from Mr Fothergill's Seeds.

    Bred in Holland, this is the first opportunity to grow all the new colours from one packet of seed and this brings both advantages and disadvantages. As the picture shows, the mix includes white, deep pinks, purplish shades, yellow, orange, coral and scarlet - they're all there. And notice the very pale blushed white flower in the bottom right hand corner; that's a colour rarely seen.

    But of course, with only 20 seeds in a packet there's no telling exactly which colour your plants will turn out to be. My guess is that there'll be more pink and purple shades than anything else. But one plant of the new scarlet, orange and yellow shades usually costs a great deal more than the cost of a packet of ‘Dreamcoat' so basically the odds on a bargain look good.

    The other thing is that plants are highly unlikely to flower in their first year. I'd suggest sowing early in gentle heat, pricking them out into pots, harden them off and then planting them in the garden. Always keep them a little on the dry side, never allow their compost to get soggy. This will give the plants a long growing season in which to build up to a good size and so produce the most flowers in their second year.

    Echinacea ‘Dreamcoat' is available only from Mr Fothergill's Seeds.

    Declaration of interest: I sometimes advise Mr Fothergill's Seeds on their catalogues, and have written the introduction to the latest edition of their flower seed catalogue. For this I am paid a fee.


  • Colourful new ornamental banana

    Graham Rice on 11 Nov 2008 at 12:22 PM
    Tropical style summer plantings are all the rage - just look at the Exotic Garden at Great Dixter. So impressive new tropical plants that will thrive outside in our summers are always in demand - and this new ornamental banana is simply stunning.

    ‘Siam Ruby' is a red-stemmed and red-leaved banana with green flecks in the leaves and will bring real drama and bold colour to large summer containers and tropical style plantings.

    This new banana is probably less robust than those bananas which overwinter happily outside in the London suburbs and other areas but should thrive outside in summer in much of the country. "It's very new to this country," Simon Gridley of Amulree Exotics told me, "it's never been grown here until this year. But from our own experience and feedback from our customers it's fine outside in spring and summer, doing well in large containers. And one thing we have learned is the colour is much better if the plant is kept in full sun."

    Relatively modest in size - the largest specimen in existence is only 3m/10ft tall - ‘Siam Ruby' arose in Papua New Guinea as a sport of ‘Tapo', which has green leaves generously speckled in red. It was introduced into the west by the American nurseryman Tony Avent of Plant Delights who came across it while travelling in Thailand.

    Musa ‘Siam Ruby' is now available in Britain from Amulree Exotics.

    You can read the article on bananas from the May 2002 issue of The Garden here.


  • New tulbaghias from Wales

    Graham Rice on 06 Nov 2008 at 01:47 PM

    Prime Perennials is a mail order nursery overlooking Cardigan Bay in west Wales and like so many plantaholics Liz Powney, who runs Prime Perennials, has developed some special enthusiasms. "Arums, Corydalis, Disporum, Polygonatum, Tricyrtis, and South African bulbs with an emphasis on Tulbaghias", she says on the Prime Perennials website. "We could go on, and new ones are constantly being added. We adhere to the principle that a little of what you fancy does you good."

    One thing she especially fancies are tulbaghias. From South Africa, these lovely relations of the ornamental alliums can keep you with flowers from March to December. What's more, although some have foliage which smells little garlicky if bruised - who cares, really? - some have flowers with a powerful sweet or incense-like fragrance.

    Liz now holds a NCCPG National Collection® of Tulbaghia - and this autumn has also introduced three new varieties raised on the nursery. "These are perfect for the patio or a sunny spot in the garden." Liz told me." All look good, one in particular looks superb.

    My favourite (pictured above) is ‘Seren' (Welsh for star). Flowering from May to November the flowers are dark pinkish violet but alternate petals are edged with white - the result is delightful. With twelve to fifteen flowers on 60cm/2ft stems it's a real sparkler. "It's good for flower arranging," says Liz, "wonderful on the patio, and we have even tried it against the house wall which only gets full sun until early afternoon. It thrived."