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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

  • Hooray! The new Plant Finder is out

    Graham Rice on 29 Mar 2009 at 04:53 PM

    RHS Plant Finder 2009/2010It's that time again! Time for the annual excitement of the new RHS Plant Finder. This year's edition features an astonishing 71,177 entries of which 3,760 are new this year - yes, that's three thousand seven hundred and sixty plants new in the RHS Plant Finder this year. There are 644 nurseries and of those 54 are newcomers.

    Now, just in case you've been living on another planet for the last twenty two years this is what's special about the RHS Plant Finder: it tells you where you can buy all these plants and is also the most authoritative record of the correct names for them all. Pretty impressive.

    The book has a permanent home on my desk, I reckon I use it every single day; but here's something you may not know. The online version of the RHS Plant Finder also includes all the plants that have been included over the years but have since dropped out. Now you might think this is a pretty pointless exercise, who cares about the 44,800 plants you can't get any more? But for collectors, plant breeders, National Collection holders and the millions of plant nuts around the world just knowing these plants exist is invaluable. Just to be clear, the RHS Plant Finder online includes the vast total of 116,577 plants.

    But even if all you need is to know is where to buy these plants or what their correct names are - get your order in. You can buy the new 2009/2010 edition of the RHS Plant Finder here.

    Every gardener should have one. Have you got your copy yet? And be sure it's the latest edition.



  • New potentillas - 17 years in the making

    Graham Rice on 27 Mar 2009 at 02:24 PM

    The April issue of The Garden has probably just dropped through your letter box and as it includes my article on potentillas, hardy perennial potentillas that is, this seems to be a great time to mention two new varieties. In fact they're both too new to be in the 2009/2010 edition of the RHS Plant Finder (which I'll be discussing here next time).

    So... Potentilla ‘Golden Starlit and ‘Scarlet Starlit'. Both these are forms of the old favourite Potentilla atrosanguinea var. argyrophylla and there are two good things about these two new plants. They're dwarf, but so short as to be unnaturally dumpy. The breeder says 30cm (12in ), I'd say allow 38cm (15in).  The foliage has an attractive silver sheen as a result of a fine coating of silver hairs.

    And then there are the flowers - bright yellow and bright scarlet - in June and July and in very generous numbers.

    Plant breeder Georg Uebelhart of Jelitto Seeds, who raised these varieties, explained how these two new plants came about. He started as long ago as 1992 by collecting as many different forms of Potentilla atrosanguinea and its variety var. argyrophylla as he could.

    "The botanical identity of a large number of the individual plants were not correct," he said, "with many of the good forms labeled P. atrosanguinea turning out to be var. argyrophylla or other varieties.

    "We wanted a short form of P. atrosanguinea with silver grey leaves," he said, "and in 1996 we started doing a large number of controlled crosses. This resulted good lines of two pure colours (red and yellow) with short habit and silver grey leaves. In 2005 we went into seed production and after retesting we were able to introduce 'Scarlet Starlit' and 'Golden Starlit'."

    It just shows how many years go into producing good new varieties and these look to be two excellent new dwarf perennials which could even be grown in large containers.

    Name note: These two plants were originally called ‘Yellow Starlet' and ‘Scarlet Starlet' (you may still come across those names) but the names had to be changed to avoid confusion with another plant.

    You can buy plants of Potentilla ‘Golden Starlit and Potentilla ‘Scarlet Starlit' from D'Arcy & Everest (choose I-P and scroll down)


  • The world’s first winter hardy petunia?

    Graham Rice on 23 Mar 2009 at 02:31 PM

    Petunia Wintunia in containers. Image: Gardening Direct.This is intriguing. Said to the "the world's first winter hardy petunia", the Wintunia makes a big bushy plant with unexpectedly starry flowers. The colours come in pink, magenta, white, and a pink-and-white striped form plus an especially attractive lavender pink with white-edged leaves.

    Bred in Japan, it's said to flower from about now right through the summer and if it really does survive the winter it'll be quite a breakthrough.

    As you'll have gathered - I've never seen it and the world seems very short of information on this surprising development. To be honest, I can't quite see it surviving a winter like the last one but then I'm always a bit sceptical.

    I have to say that I'm especially sceptical when I see any plant cited as "the world's first...". Witness the newly touted "world's first yellow geranium" - how long ago was it I first saw "the world's first yellow geranium" (from the same supplier as the new one, I might add!)? Twenty years ago is my guess.  And any plant with cutesy name - Wintunia - always makes me wonder. But if  the Wintunia is as good as Gardening Direct say it is, I'll be the first to sing its praises.

    If you grow it, let me know how you get on.

    You can order the Wintunia from Gardening Direct.



  • Exciting new foliage and flowering perennial

    Graham Rice on 18 Mar 2009 at 12:12 PM

    Brunnera 'King's Ransom'. Image: ©Walters GardensBrunnera macrophylla - doesn't get you excited? Well it should.

    In the last few years, this most dependable, but never exciting, shade plant has been transformed. From a reliable ground covering workhorse it's become an essential foliage perennial as new forms have appeared. In particular the spectacular ‘Jack Frost' (silver foliage with green veins) and ‘Looking Glass' (all silver) have elevated these tough perennials into plants we all want to grow in our shade gardens and containers.

    I wrote about some of the upcoming new varieties with good flowers here, and forthcoming new varieties with good foliage here.

    Now one of the new stars has becomes available from Suttons. Too new even to be included in the 2009/2010 RHS Plant Finder (out soon), Brunnera ‘King's Ransom' is a gem.

    Brunnera 'King's Ransom'. Image: ©Terra Nova NurseriesIt features the same bold silver foliage with just a few dark green veins as ‘Jack Frost' but around the edge of each leaf, adding a nice touch of class, is a narrow gold band. And of course there are the same airy clouds of blue forget-me-not flowers at this time of year, as the leaves on the stems develop a much wider creamy margin.

    Found as a sport of ‘Jack Frost' on a nursery in Portland, Oregon, ‘King's Ransom' is good in shade, even in dry shade, and makes a superb plant in a large mixed container or as a container specimen. And the deer tend to leave it alone. Just one thing: if you damage the roots, any new growth from the roots will be ‘Jack Frost' - that is, the golden edge will disappear. But that's a minor problem for a great new plant.

    Brunnera ‘King's Ransom' is available by mail order from Suttons.

    In the June issue of the RHS magazine The Plantsman, I've written an article about all the many new and old brunneras - a surprising forty seven varieties in all! The Plantsman is only available by subscription. RHS members can subscribe here, non members can subscribe here.


  • Colourful and compact new grass

    Graham Rice on 14 Mar 2009 at 11:59 AM

    Panicum virgatum 'Purple Haze' with Aster x frikartii 'Flora's Delight' in September. Image: ©Bressingham GardensSo many good new plants have come out of the gardens at Bressingham in Norfolk that as long ago as 1991 the late Alan Bloom was able to write a whole book about them. Now the story continues with this new form of switch grass, Panicum virgatum.

    ‘Purple Haze' forms a compact mound of narrow upright foliage which in late summer and into the autumn develops strong purple tints, especially toward the tips. And as the glorious leaf cloour is developing the plant is topped with airy clouds of tiny purple bead-like flowers. Finally, as autumn approaches winter, the greener parts of the plant turn yellow - it's an intriguing colour change.

    Both Alan and his son Adrian Bloom found or bred good new plants at Bressingham as did others involved with the gardens and nursery. Panicum virgatum ‘Purple Haze' was found as a seedling in The Dell Garden at Bressingham by the garden's Curator Jaime Blake.

    "It must have been ten years ago that I first picked the plant out," he told me, "and I consider it to be a bit of a 'wow' plant (and that's after allowing ten years for the excitment to wear off).

    Panicum virgatum 'Purple Haze' in late July. Image: ©Bressingham Gardens"This is the shortest and best coloured of the panicums by some distance and has only upright leaves, like 'Heavy Metal'. It does not flop which is a fault, in my eyes, of many of them. It's flowering height is not more than one metre.

    "Adrian Bloom had for some time assured me that 'Shenandoah' was the best for darkest colour of foliage, but my experience of it was disappointmenting by comparison. Perhaps it doesn't enjoy our climate. Interestingly, 'Purple Haze' still performed right on the button last year in our indifferent summer and autumn. In recent times, Adrian has changed his opinion!"

    ‘Purple Haze' looks lovely with late perennials including another Bressingham plant, Aster x frikartii ‘Flora's Delight', late pokers and Aster ‘Ochtendgloren' with masses of small pink daisies.

    Panicum virgatum ‘Purple Haze' is available by mail order from Bressingham Gardens.


  • Elegant new cotinus

    Graham Rice on 10 Mar 2009 at 12:07 PM

    Cotinus Dusky Maiden ('Londus'). Image: ©Peter MooreGood foliage shrubs which are both vigorous and easy to control, which look impressive all season yet have elegance and style, are hard to find. British bred Cotinus Dusky Maiden ('Londus') looks set to become one of the best.

    There are a number of forms of purple smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) around and the deep purple foliage of some is certainly impressive. But they can look rather leggy, especially when young, and when you cut them back you're rewarded with a few long shoots which make the plant look unbalanced. And the flowers can detract from the foliage.

    Cotinus Dusky Maiden ('Londus') in autumn colour. Image: ©Peter MooreThe purple leaves of Dusky Maiden are a striking feature and their undulating edges give them a little extra quality. In the autumn, they turn fiery orange and yellow and are especially colourful in dry seasons. Unlike most purple-leaved forms of Cotinus, Dusky Maiden is very shy flowering so there are few flowers to detract from the look of that gorgeous foliage. And, when you prune, it responds well by producing plenty of new shoots.

    'Dusky Maiden does have some sterile flowers,' breeder Peter Moore told me, ‘but is unbeatable as a stunning foliage plant throughout the summer and, if the conditions are right, for autumn colour. This hybrid responds to pruning and produces really bushy plants.'

    This is an ideal shrub for sunny mixed borders, where it makes an ideal companion for perennials either in hot or pastel shades, and even thrives in large containers.

    Peter Moore works with the RHS Woody Plants Committee on trials, is propagator at Longstock Park Gardens in Hampshire and the breeder of many fine new plants including Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl' and a number of new buddleias including ‘Silver Anniversary'.

    Dusky Maiden is the very first hybrid between Cotinus szechuanensis, collected by Roy Lancaster in China, and C. coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak'. Just one seedling germinated - and it turned to be a fine plant.

    You can find out more about Cotinus Dusky Maiden ('Londus') on Peter Moore's website.

    Cotinus Dusky Maiden ('Londus') is available from these RHS Plant Finder stockists.


  • Intriguing primroses

    Graham Rice on 04 Mar 2009 at 05:30 PM

    Primrose 'Greensleeves'. Image: Brilliant Gardens So many of the primroses and polyanthus we see in garden centres at this time of year are just blobs of bright colours with no charm or elegance. The brightest colours and the largest flowers seem to be the aim. Even many of the plants sold as "wild primroses" have nothing wild about them with monstrous flowers in scorching yellow.

    But for a few years now Brilliant Gardens have been introducing primroses which are a little different and getting them into garden centres around the country. Many of their plants come in unusual colours and patterns and while some are as garish as those lined up by the dozen in markets everywhere many are really delightful.

    Some are intended as short term indoor pot plants, but of their hardier types new for this season I especially liked the look of ‘Greensleeves' in a range of unusual yellow to grey shades overlaid with green and ‘Cheshire Life' with clusters of primrose yellow flowers, prettily patterned in amber gold.

    Primrose 'Woodland Walk'. Image: Brilliant GardensFavourites amongst recent introductions include ‘Woodland Walk' with white flowers picoteed in pink and ‘Stonewash' in a range of pattered blue shades. There are more on the way.

    Look out for them in garden centres around the country, and to find out more and see more of their varieties go to the Brilliant Gardens website.