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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

  • Coreopsis for containers

    Graham Rice on 29 Jan 2009 at 12:18 PM

    Coreopsis 'Jive'. Image: Thompson & MorganThere's been a flurry of new coreopsis in the last couple of years. Some have been good, others not so good. Some have been hardy, others not so hardy. Some, I'm afraid, came and went in a flash. But the turn of the year has seen two fine new introductions for containers.

    The man with the muscle - as far as coreopsis is concerned - is now Darrel Probst from Massachusetts. He's been breeding them for ten years and has used seven different species in his work, many collected in the wild. His diligence is leading to some fine introductions.

    Until now, in general, nurseries have not made much distinction between the half-hardy and the hardy types. So gardeners who bought ‘Limerock Ruby', for example, and many of those in unusual shades, often thought they were as tough as good old ‘Moonbeam'. In fact, many are short-lived and difficult to get through the winter but are good in containers and summer borders.

    Coreopsis 'Cumbia'. Image: Mr FothergillsDarrel Probst has made everything clear by developing two new series. The Big Bang Series is tough, it gets far colder in Massachusetts than it does here, and the Big Bang Series can take it. The other series, probably to be called the Salsa Series, is intended for containers and not bred to be hardy.

    This month's two newcomers, ‘Jive' and ‘Cumbia', are both for containers and summer seasonal displays. The pictures (click on each to see a larger version) reveal their unusual colours. Darrell Probst tells me they were chosen from many thousands of seedlings and that as well as selecting for colour, a very long flowering season and weather resistance he's worked hard to bring the height down  - so they're ideal in containers and small gardens.

    Look out for more with dance names - ‘Limbo', ‘Bolero', ‘Salsa' etc. Cumbia, of which I have to say I'd never heard, is a Columbian dance style. You learn something new every day..

    You can order Coreopsis ‘Cumbia' from Mr Fothergill

    You can order Coreopsis ‘Jive' from Thompson & Morgan


  • Glorious British-bred “surfinias”

    Graham Rice on 25 Jan 2009 at 11:18 AM

    Petunia Appleblossom. Image:©Graham Rice/GardenPhotos.comA few days ago I was telling you about the excellent new additions to the British-bred Tumbelina double-flowered petunias. Today, from the same British breeders, David and Priscilla Kerley, the single-flowered Fanfare Series - think of them as British-bred versions of the Japanese Surfinias. They've been available in North America for a few years, but now they're appearing here for the first time.

    The Fanfare Series features large single flowers, which are noticeably well flared to show off their colours and patterns, and comes in a grand total of thirteen colours although the most comprehensive collection available to home gardeners so far includes just ten. They trail impressively but they're still more compact and bushy than many of the Surfinias so you should still be able to walk under your baskets instead of round them!

    Petunia Fanfare Cherryblossom. Image:©Graham Rice/GardenPhotos.comI especially liked the soft pastel pink Fanfare Appleblossom (top) and the brighter, more vibrant Fanfare Cherryblossom (left) contrasting pale eye. The colours are just gorgeous - and the plants are so prolific.

    Don't make the mistake of thinking the different varieties of trailing petunias are all the same - they're not. And don't confuse this Fanfare Series with ‘Fanfare Double Mixed', which is occasionally seen, and which is a double-flowered seed-raised petunia with large but less weather-tolerant flowers.

    You can order three different Fanfare petunia collections from Thompson & Morgan. Fanfare petunias are also available from Van Meuwen.


  • New multi-coloured echinacea

    Graham Rice on 22 Jan 2009 at 01:35 PM

    Now I know, by checking the figures that reveal how many people look at each post on this blog, that new echinaceas are very popular.

    So here, just announced this week, is another new one.

    ‘Hot Summer' was developed in Holland by master plant breeder Marco van Noort and is the first in another new style: the flowers open yellow and steadily turn to scarlet as they mature. The result is a harmony of fiery shades all on one plant all at the same time - it's a plant association on a single plant, if you like. What's more - the flowers are scented.

    Nothing more to say, really. The plants are robust and prolific and you've never seen such an intriguing colour change on one echinacea. Try it with crocosmias or herbaceous potentillas for a truly sparky display.

    You can order plants of Echinacea ‘Hot Summer' from Mr  Fothergills.

    Marco van Noort has more new echinaceas on the way, I'm sure I'll be telling you about them as they become available.




  • Impressive new British-bred double petunias

    Graham Rice on 21 Jan 2009 at 05:18 PM

    Last summer I visited David and Priscilla Kerley, who are amongst the world's leading petunia breeders. I didn't have to go far, his greenhouses are tucked away behind a tall hedge "somewhere in eastern England" and for some years now they've been creating superb double flowered petunias and some of the finest of all petunias for baskets and other containers.

    Their Tumbelina Series is the one you'll probably know, Priscilla is the one almost everyone has grown. It's also a big hit in America, Canada, Japan and New Zealand as well as in the rest of Europe. The great thing about this series is that the flowers don't trail down in long unmanageable curtains - that's great for the balcony boxes on pubs but not your hanging baskets. They tumble neatly rather than produce ever longer and longer trails, the plants hide the basket well, and they're always elegant. The double flowers take bad weather well too and some of the varieties are strongly scented.

    New introductions to the Tumbelina Series appear every year and for this season the outstanding newcomer is Susanna, the first lemon yellow double. It's a gorgeous thing - I wanted to smuggle a basket out and take it home! But I think they'd have noticed. Also new for 2009 is Joanna, one of the most fragrant of all and featuring lilac flowers with a dark eye. Both are early to begin flowering, but those flowers just keep on coming.

    There are now fifteen different colours in the Tumbelina Series, and you'll find them in plant and garden centres as well as at mail order sources.

    You can order Petunia Tumbelina Susanna from Mr Fothergill's and as part of the Frills & Spills Collection from Thompson & Morgan.

    You can order Petunia Tumbelina Joanna as part of the Tumbelina Perfume Mixed collection, a collection of the most fragrant Tumbelina double petunias from Mr Fothergills.

    You can order Petunia Susanna and Petunia Joanna as part of the Tumbelina Collection from Elm House Nurseries and from Unwins.

    Next time here on the New Plants - the British version of the well known Surfinia petunias.


  • Two new astilbes – for foliage

    Graham Rice on 18 Jan 2009 at 02:15 AM

    We don’t normally think of astilbes as being foliage plants. We enjoy their fluffy plumes in reds, pinks and white and their value in damp soil – but foliage? I don’t think there are any variegated astilbes (although I’d be delighted to be corrected).

    So the arrival of two new astilbes with colourful foliage, as well as lovely plumes, is rather a breakthrough. To give credit… both these plants have been available at the RHS Wisley Plant Centre last year but now they’re available by mail order from Dobies and Suttons so everyone can get them easily.

    Both are the result of Henk Holtmaat’s breeding programme in Holland. An associate of Arie Blom, raiser of some spectacular double-flowered echinaceas, his aim is to produce astilbes with both good flowers and good foliage.

    In ‘Beauty of Ernst’, known by the selling name of Colour Flash, the leaves emerge green but then add purple and burgundy tones which show off the pale pink plumes perfectly. Later, the dominant foliage colours become more autumnal: gold, orange and russet tones.

    The foliage of ‘Beauty of Lisse’, known by the selling name of Colour Flash Lime, opens bright yellow and greens with age and this plant too features blush pink flowers - perhaps in a less harmonious combination but the brilliance of that first fresh foliage in such a sunny shade is real treat.

    You can order Astilbe Colour Flash and Astilbe Colour Flash Lime from Suttons.

    You can order Astilbe Colour Flash and Astilbe Colour Flash Lime from Dobies.


  • Gorgeous new sunflower

    Graham Rice on 09 Jan 2009 at 07:35 AM

    In recent years new sunflowers have been appearing regularly. Some, especially the excellent pollen-free types like ‘Prado Red' and ‘Prado Gold', were originally bred as top class cut flowers while some of the most dwarf types, including ‘Pacino', have been created for containers.

    Many unusual shades have also appeared taking us far beyond the usual yellow and gold to rusty and mahogany shades (even deep reds), creamy colours and bicolours. This year Nicky's Nursery are introducing ‘Garden Statement' which combines a manageable habit with a gorgeous pastel colour. This looks a real treat - in spite of its slightly odd name.

    This mid sized sunflower is neither so tall as to be unmanageable nor so tight and dumpy that it ceases to seem like a sunflower at all. Reaching about 90cm/3ft and well branched, the flowers are lemon yellow shading to bright creamy white with extra rows of petals to create more impact without losing that classic sunflower character. It's not a double - more like a full single.

    It's a little like the popular ‘Valentine' but at an altogether more convenient height. Ideal for the middle of the border, it also makes a manageable cut flower and would be a star in a large container.

    Seed of sunflower ‘Garden Statement' is available from Nicky's Nursery which also lists a good range of other sunflowers in familiar and unusual colours along with some pollen-free varieties.



  • Hostas from America

    Graham Rice on 04 Jan 2009 at 07:43 AM

    A huge number of hostas is introduced every year in North America and, while some never make it across to this side of the Atlantic, of those that do many are introduced to us for the first time by Bali-Hai Nursery in Northern Ireland. In the current RHS PlantFinder they have, by my count, 126 new hostas which no one else is listing and the majority come from across the pond where hosta breeding is thriving. These four especially caught my attention.

    ‘Abiqua Delight', like all those in the rather varied Abiqua Series, was developed in Oregon by breeders Charles Purtyman and Jay Hyslop. Reaching about 60cm/2ft wide and 30cm/1ft high, the shining green foliage is edged in yellow at first, then fading to white. The flowers, which open in August, are a medium lavender shade.

    ‘Chariots of Fire' features a delightful, subtle variegation. The broad, pale green foliage is edged in creamy white on clumps reaching 90cm/36in wide and 45cm/18in high with red stemmed purple flowers from late August. Raised by Alex Malloy from Connecticut, well known as an expert on rare coins as well as a hosta breeder, it's derived from ‘Beatrice', ‘Garnet Prince' and H. pycnophylla (none well known in Britain).

    ‘Cloudburst' is a bold new seedling from Ohio and features thick, rounded, well puckered, relatively slug-resistant, blue green foliage on clumps 40cm/16in high and 80cm/33in wide. As the season progresses the foliage becomes green and eventually develops a rich dark green shine at about the same time that the pale purple flowers open.

    Finally, there've been a number of red-stemmed hostas introduced recently - ‘Fire and Ice' springs to mind - but this one looks superb. And it's so new that although Bali-Hai have it on their website it's too new to be in the current RHS PlantFinder. ‘Cherry Tart', from Alttara Scheer a new breeder from New York, emerges in bright chartreuse, the foliage soon becomes bright yellow and it's held relatively upright so as the leaf stems stretch their brilliant red stems are shown off. Ideal at the front of a shady raised bed