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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

  • Gorgeous new begonia for containers

    Graham Rice on 27 Dec 2008 at 01:09 PM

    For decades, centuries even, two kinds of begonias dominated our outdoor beds, borders and containers - the neat little varieties of the fibrous rooted B. semperflorens and the bolder, blowsier tuberous B. tuberhybrida varieties. Now, breeders are turning to the 1300 other species in search of good new garden plants and one of the results is the Million Kisses Series.

    With their arching habit, fresh green foliage and large pendulous four-petalled flowers held on fleshy but unexpectedly stout stems, these are superb plants to grow as individual specimens in containers - a 30cm/12in terracotta pot is ideal - or cascading over the side of a larger mixed container. The plants will usually be in flower when you put them in and will keep flowering until the frosts. Bring the pot into the conservatory and it will keep on flowering.

    So far there are just two varieties, ‘Million Kisses Romance' is a vivid coral pink and has been shown off at Chelsea and all summer outside the main gate at Wisley. But the real star is the new ‘Million Kisses Elegance' - such a gorgeous bicolour it's irresistible.

    There are others of this general type, but none has those lovely bicoloured flowers. Look out for the orange-red ‘Bonfire', a great success for my mother this year and last, as well as the coral pink ‘Bellfire' with plum coloured foliage. Both have been available in garden centres. And more new begonias for containers are on the way.

    Begonia ‘Million Kisses Elegance' is available from Thompson and Morgan.



  • New hollies, new ivies

    Graham Rice on 22 Dec 2008 at 07:48 AM

    At this festive season it seems fitting to turn our attention to hollies and ivies, and there have been new introductions of both in the last year.

    Ivies do not always generate the enthusiasm which their qualities should inspire: they're easy to grow (perhaps that's part of the problem), they enjoy shade, they cling to walls and fences without help and they come in vast variety of leaf shapes and colours and patters.

    Fibrex Nurseries in Worcestershire have long championed ivies and in the last year they've made eighteen new introductions. The two which especially appeal to me are ‘White Ripple' and ‘Golden Jytte'. ‘White Ripple' features elegant, sharply pointed, rather maple-like leaves with a grey-green and cream variegation, while ‘Golden Jytte' features a boldly yellow-splashed leaf. Both are ideal on dark fences at the back of shady borders bringing character and brightness to a dingy area.

    As to hollies, there's a vast variety of species and cultivars grown around the world but here in Britain we mostly see forms of the native Ilex aquifolium and its hybrid I. x alterclerensis. But now we're seeing an increasing number of other forms, many available from Plantsman's Corner, including ‘Brilliant' and I. verticillata ‘Winter Gold'.

    ‘Brilliant' has been gown in North America for many decades but has not been seen here. A hybrid between our native holly and the Asian evergreen I. ciliospinosa, ‘Brilliant' carries a heavy crop of bright red berries - without the need of another holly for pollination.

    ‘Winter Gold' is a sport of 'Winter Red', and there‘s a great picture of the original plant showing both the red berries of 'Winter Red' and the orange-yellow berries of ‘Winter Gold' on the same plant in the superb book on hollies by Christopher Bailes, curator of the RHS garden at Rosemoor. ‘Winter Gold' is prolific, the berries have a noticeable pink cast (not really gold, I have to say) and the birds seem to leave them alone until last of all. The berries show up so well against the deciduous branches.

    So even amongst the familiar, and sometimes unappreciated, ranks of hollies and ivies there are some good newcomers to be found.

    Hedera helix ‘White Ripple' and ‘Golden Jytte' are available from Fibrex Nurseries.

    Ilex ‘Brilliant' and I. verticillata ‘Winter Sun' are available from Plantsman's Corner


  • British-bred chilli pepper

    Graham Rice on 16 Dec 2008 at 04:04 PM

    Sounds a bit of a contradiction in terms, doesn't it - British-bred chilli pepper. But they do exist and it's well worth seeking them out as, after all, being bred in Britain they're naturally attuned to our climate.

    I posted about those from Cookoo Box Chillies from this year's Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, you can read about them here. But I've just come across a new black-fruited chilli pepper from the same Norfolk breeder that brought us a number of other excellent patio vegetables. These include red-fruited ‘Apache' chilli pepper, the trailing orange fruited ‘Cheyenne' chilli, orange ‘Mohawk' and red ‘Redskin' sweet peppers and ‘Totem' and ‘Tumblin' Tom' tomatoes. All bred specially to grow on the patio, and all available from one or other of the mainstream seed companies.

    Now comes ‘Chenzo', a chilli pepper with black fruits. In fact, they start out green when they're small, change to black and remain black for a long time then finally ripen in bright red. So although black is the predominant colour, often there are three different colours on the plant at the same time.

    Rated in the middle range for fieriness, ‘Chenzo' features an attractive arching habit, ideal for containers, with the masses of 5-6cm chillies hanging down invitingly.

    Inexplicably, none of the familiar seed companies have yet taken up this variety but seed is available from The Chilli Seed Company (scroll down the page).


  • More new brunneras - with good foliage

    Graham Rice on 11 Dec 2008 at 01:38 PM

    Last time I looked at new brunneras with good flowers, in particular ‘Mr Morse', ‘Henry's Eyes' and ‘Starry Eyes' - all raised in Belgium by Chris Ghyselen. This time, I'm highlighting the new brunneras with good foliage, an area where Chris has also been working.

    This year ‘Spring Yellow' was released, a blue-flowered, variety with the addition of foliage which emerges pale yellow. That makes a bright contrast, but the pale spring foliage can look rather watery and washed out, it never seems to attain a rich golden colour before becoming green in summer.

    The real breakthrough is ‘King's Ransom', another which will be available next year. Discovered at a nursery in Oregon, this has the highly silvered, green-veined foliage of its parent, ‘Jack Frost', but also features a creamy yellow edge and a dusting of cream over the whole leaf - and all topped with the familiar blue forget-me-not flowers.

    Finally, another new form with beautifully patterned foliage to look out for next year. ‘Emerald Mist', another sport of ‘Jack Frost, this time from Michigan, is like an improved form of the familiar ‘Langtrees', with a more striking crown of silver markings towards the edge of the leaf surrounding a heart of green. And the usual pretty blue flowers.

    Brunnera macrophylla ‘Spring Yellow' (sometimes seen as ‘Yellow Spring') is available from these RHS PlantFinder nurseries.

    Brunnera macrophylla ‘King's Ransom' and ‘Emerald Mist' should be available in 2009.

    I know, tempting you with plants you can't actually buy yet is a bit cheeky -  but you won't have to wait long. In the meantime, any nurseries listing these plants, please let me know.


  • Brunneras - finally finding fame

    Graham Rice on 09 Dec 2008 at 03:23 PM

    At last, it looks as if brunneras are about to get the recognition they deserve. They've never been the most popular of perennials for although their foliage can be beautifully patterned, their forget-me-not flowers are delightful, and they're happy in dry shade they've remained in the second of perennials. Perhaps it's the slightly rough and raspy foliage that puts people off.

    But in recent years we've begun to take more notice as some splendid new varieties have arrived, starting with the brightly silvered, green-veined ‘Jack Frost', with its contrasting bright blue flowers. This year we've had two more newcomers with even more breakthrough varieties due in the new year so today I'll highlight the newcomers with good flowers, next time I'll feature brunneras with new foliage colours and patterns.

    ‘Mr Morse', released earlier this year, is the first brightly silvered form to also feature white flowers. The Belgian breeder Chris Ghyselen had created a plant almost identical to ‘Jack Frost', in fact it was so similar that he never released it. Instead, he crossed his plant with the white-flowered ‘Betty Bowring' and the result was ‘Mr Morse'.

    Chris has also raised a number of bicoloured brunneras which are not yet in nurseries but two should be available next year. ‘Henry's Eyes', named for his son, has blue flowers edged in white while ‘Starry Eyes' is the reverse, it's white flowers brightly edged in blue, rather like Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Starry Eyes'. Both create real sparkle in shady places.

    And if your garden is one of those increasingly troubled by deer, these brunneras are one of the last plants the deer will eat. Perhaps they don't like those rough-textured leaves either.

    Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr Morse' is available from these RHS PlantFinder nurseries.

    Brunnera macrophylla ‘Henry's Eyes' and ‘Starry Eyes' should be available in 2009. I'll let you know when I discover a source.


  • Butterfly orchids for containers

    Graham Rice on 02 Dec 2008 at 02:21 PM

    For many years these delightful little hardy orchids, Ponerorchis graminifolia, were almost unobtainable here in Britain. Some forms are rare in their natural habitat but hybridisation and selection has become quite an art in Japan where many fine forms have been developed. Until recently the exquisitely patterned results have hardly been seen here.

    Now, by crossing the various subspecies, a range of prettily marked hybrids is available. The Welsh specialist has them and they are also now being made available much more widely by Thompson & Morgan.

    With flowers a little larger than those of our native spotted orchids on stems 20-25cm/8-10in tall, the flowers come in white and in various pink shades with up to 25 on a plant. In many cases both colours are prettily blotched or speckled, the lip of the flower may be almost completely stained a contrasting colour, it might be lightly speckled or sometimes boldly painted. All are delightful – and some are strongly vanilla-scented - but you can’t ask for specific colours, you take your chance.

    In the garden these dainty orchids are fussy, but not difficult – if that makes any sense: they have particular demands, but these demands are easy to meet. Until recently these Ponerorchis graminifolia hybrids have been grown in an unheated greenhouse. Paul Cumbleton, who heads the Alpine Department, has posted about them in detail, and with some superb pictures, on the Wisley Alpine Log, hosted by the Scottish Rock Garden Club. Paul reports that growing them well depends on giving them good drainage but plenty of water while they’re growing, then drying them off completely while they’re dormant.

    T&M say they will stand temperatures of 0C, or lower and suggest a compost of fine bark. In practical terms, it seems best to grow them outside in deep containers - their roots grow almost vertically – and move the containers inside (perhaps even into the garage) for the winter to keep them dry and shelter them from hard frost. Moist summer/dry winter seems to be the key.

    And don’t be alarmed when you open your package. These orchids are sent out while dormant as small, slightly scaly tubers and it looks as if you’re not getting much for your money. But the tubers are naturally tiny and will grow away well in spring.

    You can buy Ponerorchchis graminifolia mixed from (though they’re out of stock as I write).

    You can buy Ponerorchchis graminifolia ‘Butterfly Wings’ mixed from Thompson and Morgan.

    And don’t forget to check out Paul Cumbleton’s excellent posting about these delightful plants.