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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

  • Rose Pomponella: New from the RHS Online Plant Shop

    Graham Rice on 29 Nov 2010 at 12:30 PM

    Rose,Pomponella,Korpompan,Kordes. Image ©GardenPhotos.comAt the National Plant Show, back in the summer, I was very taken with a dainty new rose in the old-fashioned style. It didn’t win any prizes, unfortunately the actual specimen on show was not at its peak, but I marked it down as a rose to look out for when it appeared on the market. And here it is.

    Pomponella (‘Korpompan’) is a Floribunda (Cluster Flowered) rose with small dark pink flowers, but masses of them. Each has the form of an old fashioned rose, a rounded almost ball-like shape that opens out flat, but is only about 5cm/2in across. The flowers open from appealingly spherical buds. Each flower cluster has five to seven blooms but there are so many that the bush is covered in flowers and they keep coming all summer. The flowers are scented, but not heavily.

    This is a short variety, reaching about 80cm/32in in height and 60cm/24in wide so is ideal as a specimen in a small sunny border, in a sunny place in any small garden or in container.

    And you won’t need to spray against rose diseases. Like so many of the recent introductions from renowned German rose breeders Kordes, Pomponella is also unusually healthy. The dense, dark green, glossy foliage is mildew resistant and also highly resistant to black spot.

    This is a delightful new style of Floribunda rose, let’s hope varieties in other colours follow Pomponella.

    Rose Pomponella is available from the RHS online Plant Shop.

    Image ©


  • Delphinium Highlander Series: New from Hayloft Plants

    Graham Rice on 24 Nov 2010 at 01:01 PM

    Delphinium,Highlander,Crystal Delight,Coakley. Image ©Tony Coakley.Since I first heard about these delphiniums three or four years ago, I’ve been waiting – not so very patiently – for them to become available. And now they are. And there are four things which make these impressive Highlander delphiniums stand out.

    First, it’s the unusually frilly double flowers, each with between 45 and 58 petals and lightly ruffled and dissected at the tips. Each individual flower is about 21/4in across and between 41 and 53 are carried in each spike. And they're sterile, so the individual florets last longer than those of normal delphiniums.

    Then there’s the unusual colours, you can see for yourself that these are not the colours of standard delphiniums.Delphinium,Highlander,Blueberry Pie,Coakley. Image ©Tony Coakley.

    They’re tough too, raised in Glasgow by delphinium enthusiast Tony Coakley they can take harsher conditions than many varieties and will take winters down to -20C/-4F. And the plants are bold and vigorous. I’m not convinced that they will only grow to the 60cm mentioned in the Hayloft Plants catalogue, they grow over 1m in their first year and look to me to be just a little shorter than normal delphiniums.

    Three varieties are now being introduced for the first time. ‘Blueberry Pie’ (above right, click to enlarge), ‘Crystal Delight’ (top, click to enlarge) and ‘Morning Sunrise’ (below, click to enlarge). ‘Blueberry Pie’ is deep lilac in colour with a green centre and a blue tint to the rear petals, ‘Crystal Delight’ is pale lilac with green centre and is the frilliest of the three while ‘Morning Sunrise’ is white with a green centre. All three are good for sunny well drained borders and also for cutting.

    Delphinium,Highlander,Morning Sunrise,Coakley. Image ©Tony Coakley.Tony Coakley began growing delphiniums nearly thirty years ago and his rigorous selection process, choosing only the very best and the very toughest, has finally led to the introduction of the Highlander Series. And unlike most delphiniums, these have been propagated in the laboratory using tissue culture – the only way it is possible to produce enough plants to meet the demand.

    The Highlander delphiniums are available separately or in a collection from Hayloft Plants.

    Find out more about how Tony Coakley got started with delphiniums.

    Images © Tony Coakley.


  • Malus Jelly King: new ornamental crab apple

    Graham Rice on 21 Nov 2010 at 12:28 PM

    malus,crab apple,Jelly King,Mattfru,Matthews Nurseries. Image: ©Matthews NurseriesCrab apples offer two bursts of colour, spring flowers and autumn fruits, and in small gardens this is especially valuable. And there are few varieties that are as prolific and colourful as Jelly King (‘Mattfru’), raised in New Zealand and at last now reaching Britain.

    It features clean white flowers (below, click to enlarge), which are not only fragrant but produced in generous numbers, followed by prolific, long lasting, orange fruits with pink, cream and red overtones which make excellent jelly (above, click to enlarge).

    Developed by Tom Mathews at Matthews Nurseries in Wanganui on New Zealand’s North Island, his son Bob told me all about it.

    malus,crab apple,Jelly King,Mattfru,Matthews Nurseries. Image: ©Matthews Nurseries“The flowers are spectacular in the spring,” he said, “which is always the first criteria in the selection process. Always good on the tolerance of any disease here in New Zealand, this was the second criteria, and when the fruit starts to colour the magic takes over. The creamy orange yellow, which is overlaid with the classic apple red, is the most spectacular sight on a fully established tree.

    “It can be a very vigorous grower, reaching 3m/10ft easily, and is a very prolific producer of fruit, excellent for crab apple jelly, though it pays to harvest the fruit early. Because it is so prolific, only some fruit needs to be harvested leaving the rest on the tree for the beautiful affect.

    “The birds leave the fruit alone, maybe they don’t like the taste, but it’s great to be able to have this colour in the garden all through the winter.

    “Jelly King (‘Mattfru’) is from a planned breeding programme undertaken by my father Tom Matthews, mostly in the 1970s; we have introduced some and we still have several varieties we are evaluating many years after he passed away. Jelly King (‘Mattfru’) was in its final selection in the late 80s and was marketed here in New Zealand in the mid 90s, alongside the many other selections that can be attributed to Tom.”

    This looks to be an excellent addition to the ornamental crab apples we have available, combining good flower and fruit colour, prolific flower and fruit production, excellent jelly quality and relatively modest size. We look forward to seeing more of the varieties raised by Tom Mathews becoming available.

    Malus Jelly King (‘Mattfru’) is available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries and also Whispering Trees Nurseries and Frank P. Mathews.

    Images ©Matthews Nurseries.

  • Hemerocallis 'Black Stockings': new from the RHS Online Shop

    Graham Rice on 16 Nov 2010 at 03:02 PM

    Hemerocallis,black,stockings,tetraplod. Image ©DarwinPerennialsAmazing four hundred new hemerocallis (daylilies) were added to this year’s RHS Plant Finder but most are available from just one supplier. One newcomer that is a little more widely available, and which continues the theme of black flowers from recent posts, is Hemerocallis ‘Black Stockings’ (left, click to enlarge).

    Reaching about 60cm/2ft in height, with unusually dark green foliage, the 12.5-15cm/5-6in wide single flowers are a sumptuous deep burgundy black - not really a true black, but still very dark – more burgundy with black overtones. Each bloom is prettily ruffled along the edges of the petals and features a bright fiery gold star in the centre and a green throat. Flowers open from July onwards.

    ‘Black Stockings’ is a tetraploid, with twice the number of chromosome as normal, and this brings increased substance to the flowers and foliage as well as good vigour. It was developed in Holland in 2004 by Gerard Heemskerk of Heemskerk Vaste Planten, situated near the coast about 45 minutes west of Amsterdam. Gerard specialises in breeding hemerocallis but also works with hostas and iris.

    Black flower are increasingly appreciated, this looks like an impressive new addition to the range.

    You can order Hemerocallis ‘Black Stockings’ from the RHS Online Plant Shop and from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.


  • Sweet pea ‘Villa Roma Scarlet’: New award-winner

    Graham Rice on 10 Nov 2010 at 01:12 PM

    Sweet pea,'Villa Roma Scarlet',Fleuroselect,Gold Medal,2011. Image: ©FleuroselectFleuroselect is the Europe-wide organisation which grows new varieties of seed-raised plants, mostly annuals, and gives awards to the very best of them. The plants are grown on about thirty locations right across Europe and assessed by a team of experts at each. The closest existing variety is grown alongside for comparison.

    Just two Gold Medals have been awarded for 2011 and for the first time, after two years of trials in a range of climatic conditions across Europe, the Gold Medal has been awarded to a sweet pea - ‘Villa Roma Scarlet’.

    This is the latest in a line of dwarf and bushy sweet peas that began with the introduction of ‘Cupid Pink’ way back in 1898. Ideal for the front of the border and for containers, ‘Villa Roma Scarlet’ reaches only about 14in/35cm in height but branches well to create a rounded plant with real impact.

    The judges across Europe were impressed by its very bright colouring, its excellent performance in the garden and its ability to continue blooming through the heat of summer; it flowers profusely from July to September from a spring sowing. And on top of all that, unlike many dwarf sweet peas, it’s well scented.

    You can order seed of sweet pea ‘Villa Roma Scarlet’ from Suttons and from Plants of Distinction, and four colours in the Villa Roma Series from Dobies.

    The other Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner for 2011 is Zinnia ‘Zahara Double Fire’.


  • Tradescantia 'Sunshine Charm': New from Larch Cottage Nursery

    Graham Rice on 05 Nov 2010 at 01:18 PM

    Tradescantia,Sunshine Charm,Terra Nova. Image ©Terra Nova NurseriesSome of the most effective plants in containers and borders in small gardens are those that feature dramatic foliage colour for a long season and are then transformed by their flowers over a shorter period.

    The brilliance of the foliage of yellow-leaved perennial tradescantias has been appreciated since ‘Blue and Gold’ appeared on the scene many years ago. Then we had ‘Sweet Kate’, with yellow leaves and purple flowers, and now ‘Sunshine Charm’.

    The yellow foliage is bright from spring to autumn and, in ‘Sunshine Charm’, the colour is retained right through the season; it’s not one of the those yellow-leaved plants that turns green after a few weeks. Reaching about 20in/50cm high, in summer the plant is dotted with three-petaled lavender-pink flowers. This something of a love-it-or-hate-it colour combination but it certainly is striking.

    Tradescantia ‘Sunshine Charm’ is happy in full sun or in a little shade. And while the breeder says that it doesn’t scorch in full sun, as tradescantias are happy in damp spoil that’s what it should have; damp conditions will minimise any risk of scorch.

    This is also a great container plant, as a specimen or in a colourful blend with other summer foliage plants like cannas and dark-leaved dahlias.

    Tradescantia ‘Sunshine Charm’ was raised in the USA at Terra Nova Nurseries, from where so many new perennials have come in recent years. Look out for their next tradescantia, ‘Lucky Charm’ is a dwarf version of ‘Blue and Gold’ reaching less than 12in/30cm and should be with us next year.

    You can order Tradescantia ‘Sunshine Charm’ from Larch Cottage Nurseries.


  • Two new variegated hebes

    Graham Rice on 01 Nov 2010 at 01:21 PM

    We’ve seen a number of new variegated hebes in recent years, these two from Holland look especially colourful. Both develop attractive seasonal foliage tints as well as all year round variegation.

    Hebe,Magicolors,Magic Summer,Hebe Center,centre. Image ©Hebe Center,‘Magic Summer’ (left, click to enlarge) has narrow evergreen grey-green foliage about 3cm/11/4in long with white edges to each leaf and in spring and summer the shoot tips develop rich red and purple colouring to create a delightful combination. Then for about two months in summer there are also 5cm/2in spikes of lavender blue flowers. In three years the plant reaches 40-60cm/15-24in high and 80cm/31in wide.

    ‘Frozen Flame’ (below, click to enlarge) has slightly longer and narrower grey-green evergreen leaves edged in white, but in this case the shoots tips develop their rich red and purple colouring in winter, Hebe,Magicolors,Frozen Flame,Hebe Center,centre. Image ©Hebe Center,becoming richer in colour as the weather becomes colder. ‘Frozen Flame’ also features slightly longer spikes of lavender blue summer flowers. This is a larger plant reaching 60-70cm/24-28in high and 1m/39in wide in three years.

    Both these two newcomers are ideal as specimens in containers sited in a sunny position, as both provide year round colour from both flowers and foliage.

    They are part of the Magicolors range, created at the Hebe Center in Holland by Han Van Niekirk. The first of the range was ‘Heartbreaker, a sport of ‘Dazzler’, and ‘Magic Summer and ‘Frozen Flame’ are both thought to be seedlings of ‘Heartbreaker’.

    Look out for both these hebes in garden centres around the country.

    Hebe ‘Magic Summer’ is also available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.

    Hebe ‘Frozen Flame’ is also available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.