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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

  • New plants for 2011: Keep a look out for these exciting newcomers

    Graham Rice on 29 Dec 2010 at 09:22 AM

    Hosta ‘Raspberry Sundae’,Ajuga reptans 'Pink Lightning',Phygelius Croftway Snow Queen (‘Crosnoque’),Syringa Bloomerang Purple (‘Penda’),Chaenomales Double Take Series. Image ©Terra Nova Nurseries,Walters Gardens,Proven Winners,Plants For EuropeIt’s time look ahead to the new year so, as I did last year, I’ve picked out five plants not yet available (as far as I can tell) but which you should look out for next year. All look to be excellent new plants, some truly innovative, and all well worth trying.

    Hosta ‘Raspberry Sundae’ (left in picture, click to enlarge) In recent years we’ve seen a number of new hostas with red leaf stems and then with the red colouring starting to spill out into the leaf itself; most have been green leaved or gold leaved. In ‘Raspberry Sundae’, we have the first with a creamy white centre to the leaf brightened by that red colouring.

    Developed by hosta breeder Gary Gossett at Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon, it took ten years to create but with that dramatic leaf colouring plus purple leaf and flower stems and deep lavender purple summer flowers it looks to be really special.

    Ajuga reptans 'Pink Lightning' (centre top in picture, click to enlarge) Pink flowers and white variegation combine to bring a new style to bugle. The foliage is a fresh pale green, with an interesting crinkled look, and each leaf is edged in creamy white - but the margin is relatively narrow so the plant retains good vigour. The short spring spikes of flowers make a great combination against the foliage background.

    ‘Pink Lightning’ is a variegated sport of the uncommon ‘Purple Torch’, found at Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut.

    Phygelius Croftway Snow Queen (‘Crosnoque’) (centre bottom in picture, click to enlarge) The first pure white phygelius, I’ve been waiting for this to appear in nurseries and garden centres but so far I can find no one who’s taken it up. 2011 might just be its year.

    Raised in Sussex by Malcolm Spencer of Croftway Nurseries, it’s one of five varieties in the Croftway Series – the others are Croftway Coral Princess (‘Crocorpri’), Croftway Purple Emperor (‘Crocpurpri’), Croftway Red Emperor (‘Croredemp’) and Croftway Yellow Sovereign (‘Crocyelemp’).

    Croftway Snow Queen has been available in the US for two or three years now, but in Britain nurseries seem more interested in dwarf types for patio containers. This will reach about 30in/75cm but that clean pure white colouring is unique.

    Syringa Bloomerang Purple (‘Penda’) (right in picture, click to enlarge) An impressive re-blooming lilac, growth is vigorous yet compact and rather spreading and the plants branch well to show off the heads of fragrant purple flowers. The first flowers open in late spring but then continue coming all summer.

    There are some similar lilacs, Josee (‘Morjos 060f’) is paler pinkish lavender in colour while the flowers of S. meyeri ‘Paladin’ are pink. Bloomerang Purple is rich purple in colour and is also more resistant to soil born diseases than others of this type.

    Developed by Tim Wood of Spring Meadow Nursery in Michigan, Bloomerang is a seedling of Josee; it’s other parent is not known.

    Chaenomales Double Take Series (centre middle in picture, click to enlarge) These new double flowered “japonicas” represent a big step forward. First of all, the flowers are huge, much larger than those of existing varieties, and they’re also double – almost like camellias in form - and come a great burst of spring colour.

    The plants are modest in size, reaching about 3-4ft/0.9-1.2m high and 4-5ft/1.2-1.5m across and here’s another plus – they have no thorns. This series really looks to be a big step forward in these tolerant and easy-to-grow shrubs.

    Developed by Dr. Tom Ranney at the Mountain Crops Research and Extension Center in North Carolina, three varieties have been launched so far, you can guess the colours – Orange Storm, Pink Storm and Scarlet Storm.

    None of these plants are yet available here in Britain, look out for them in 2011.

    Image ©Terra Nova Nurseries, Walters Gardens, Proven Winners, and Plants for Europe.


  • Five aquilegias: New from Touchwood Plants.

    Graham Rice on 22 Dec 2010 at 11:11 PM

    Aquilegia,Elegant,Elegance,Touchwood. Image ©Carrie ThomasI’m a big fan of aquilegias with coloured foliage. I’ve used them as foliage plants in containers, sowing the seed in early spring and growing them on like half hardy annuals then enjoying the colourful mound all summer. Then in the autumn I plant them in the garden and they flower profusely the following year.

    In 2008 Carrie Thomas, who runs Touchwood Plants and has two Plant Heritage National Collections of Aquilegia, introduced ‘Elegance’ (top left, in the quartet, click to enlarge) with a rich dark flower and golden leaves.

    This year she’s expanded the idea into a series by adding three more colours. 'Elegant Opal' has white flowers, 'Elegant Moonstone' has pale blue and white marbled flowers while 'Elegant Ruby' has ruby red flowers – all with the same golden leaves.

    Aquilegia,Shootingstars,Touchwood,yellow. Image ©Carrie ThomasShe also has new aquilegias in a different style. Last year around this time of year I told you about ‘Volcano’, a new mixture of double aquilegias in red, orange, gold and yellow shades. This year Carrie has refined the colouring with ‘Touchwood Shootingstars’ (left, click to enlarge), a mix whose colouring is restricted to double flowered forms in yellow shades. Some are pure yellow, some have pinkish overtones.

    Finally, the last newcomer for this year is ‘Touchwood Dreamtime’. This is the stylish and green-leaved form of the 2008 variegated introduction ‘Sweet Dreams’, with a stellata flower in pale rose pink fading through cream and to green at the tips. It really is very pretty.

    You can order all these aquilegias from Touchwood Plants and also take a look at Carrie’s advice on seed sowing.

    Images © Carrie Thomas. Thank you.


  • Digitalis Polkadot Series: New hybrid foxgloves from seed

    Graham Rice on 20 Dec 2010 at 11:10 AM

    Foxglove Digitalis Polkadot Pippa. Image ©Thompson and MorganHybrid foxgloves, like the recently introduced ‘Goldcrest’, are well known for their long and prolific displays of flowers. Now Charles Valin, the plant breeder at Thompson & Morgan, has created a whole series of them which are raised easily from seed - the Polkadot Series.

    Reaching about 1m/40in in height, and initially released in four colours, the plants branch well, the spikes are tightly packed with flowers and because they’re sterile they flower for a very long season.

    Charles Valin told me about them: “I originally had the idea of developing sterile foxgloves because they tend to sow themselves around in the garden, to the point of invasiveness, and when they do they bloom in unpredictable colours that can easily ruin a carefully planned border. I also thought there might be a longer flowering period if the plant did not spend all its energy in producing seeds.

    “The breeding program was started in 2005,” he continued, “and the results are actually better than I expected: you can sow Digitalis Polkadot to get a plant that will remain several years in the garden as it is a good perennial. They do not set seed so you won’t get any multicoloured offspring popping up everywhere and they flower from spring to autumn!Foxglove Digitalis Polkadot Princess. Image ©Thompson and Morgan

    “‘Polkadot Princess’ (let, click to enlarge) and ’Polkadot Pippa’ (top, click to enlarge) are especially good in their reflowering ability; I remember having plants flowering until December in a mild year!

    “I can’t reveal the parents,” he said, “but various species are involved and Polkadot foxgloves are mostly triploids, if you open the seedpods they’re empty. The flowers are also larger than typical Digitalis.

    “There are more hybrids with new colours, habits, and flower sizes in the pipeline.”

    Three colours are available at present. ‘Polkadot Princess’ is a rich pink with very tightly packed stems; ‘Polkadot Pippa’ is pale apricot pink on the outside and creamy yellow within ‘Polkadot Polly’ is dark pinkish apricot. The fourth in the series, ‘Polkadot Pandora’, is not yet available. I gather that orange and yellow are on the way.

  • Linaria ‘Peachy’: New from Special Plants

    Graham Rice on 14 Dec 2010 at 12:44 PM

    Linaria,purpurea,dalmatica,hybrid,Peachy. Image: ©d.wagt@planet.nlThe purple toadflax, Linaria purpurea, in its purple and pink and white forms, is a familiar cottage garden plant. I wrote up a new dwarf type, 'Freefolk Piccolo', that I spotted at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this year but interesting hybrids also sometimes occur. ‘Peachy’ seems to be one of these.

    Perhaps a cross with the yellow-flowered L. dalmatica, the flowers of ‘Peachy’ (left, click to enlarge) are a lovely combination of peachy cream, pink and magenta-pink shades. Sourced from a French nursery by Derry Watkins of Special Plants, Derry told me: “This is one of those changeable colours,” she said, “yellower in cold weather, warmer and peachier in warm weather – or perhaps it’s the brightness of the light. But it has better colour in summer than in the occasional flowers it throws in October.

    “To my amazement,” Derry continued, “ it grew about 40in/1m or more tall and re-grew when I cut it hard back, although the resulting growth was shorter. It’s clump-forming, and easy from cuttings and appears to be sterile so does not seed around in the same was as L. purpurea.” Strangely, though, seed is offered in Germany but I’d suggest sticking with plants from Special Plants. You’ll be sure of what you’re getting.

    Plants that probably have the same parentage include ‘Sue’, last listed in the RHS Plant Finder in 2003 and ‘Tony Aldiss’ last listed in 2008.

    Linaria ‘Peachy’ is available from Special Plants.


  • Two impressive new hydrangeas: From the RHS Online Plant Shop

    Graham Rice on 09 Dec 2010 at 08:17 PM

    Hydrangea,arborescens,Incrediball,Abetwo. Image ©Proven Winners.Two excellent new hydrangeas have recently been introduced from the United States. Both are forms of Hydrangea arborescens and both feature unusually large heads of flowers which are held on strong stems from July into the autumn.

    Incrediball (‘Abetwo’) (above, click to enlarge) produces enormous heads of flowers, they can be up to 30cm/12in across, which open in pale green, mature to white and then fade back to green. Each flower head may carry more than 2500 flowers, each up to 2cm/3/4in across!

    With such huge flower heads, it’s of course important that the stems are sufficiently strong to support them – whatever the weather. And, unlike the related ‘Annabelle’, the stems of Incrediball hold the flowers high even after a thunderstorm. Plants reach about 4-5ft/1.2-1.5m high and 4-6ft/1.5-1.8m wide and with those 30cm/12in flower heads, it’s really impressive.

    Hydrangea arborescens Incrediball was developed from the old favourite ‘Annabelle’ by Tim Wood of Spring Meadow Nursery in Michigan and selected there in 2004.

    Hydrangea,arborescens,Invincibelle,'NCHA 1'. Image ©Proven Winners.In a similar style is the pink flowered H. arborescens Invincibelle ('NCHA 1') (left, click to enlarge). This too has large flower heads and stems strong enough to support them when they’re battered by rain.

    The first widely available pink-flowered form of H. arborescens, everything about Invincibelle is a little smaller than Incrediball: it matures at a slightly smaller size, 3-4ft/0.9-1.2m high and 4-5ft/1.2-1.5m wide, so it can even be grown in a container, and the flower heads are a little smaller, up to about 20cm/8in across That’s still big, and so the stems need to be correspondingly strong – and they are.

    The colour is very striking, opening in dark pink and then fading to a paler rose pink and finally to green. Like Incrediball, pruning is simple, cut back in spring.

    Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle was developed by Dr Thomas Ranney of North Carolina State University.

    Both these new hydrangeas can be grown in full sun or partial shade in any reasonably moist, humus-rich but well-drained soil and, unlike many hydrangeas, both are easy to prune - just cut back each spring to encourage new growth. Again unlike many hydrangeas, flower colour is not influenced by the acidity of the soil.

    Hydrangea arborescens Incrediball (‘Abetwo’) is available from the RHS Online Plant Shop.

    Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle ('NCHA 1') is available from the RHS Online Plant Shop.

    Images © Proven Winners. Thank you.

  • Two new epimediums: Now available

    Graham Rice on 04 Dec 2010 at 01:59 PM

    Two epimediums created by the world’s top two epimedium experts were new additions to the 2010/2011 RHS Plant Finder and are slowly getting around.

    Epimedium,Flowers of Sulphur,Robin White. Image ©‘Flowers of Sulphur’ (left, click to enlarge) was developed by master plantsman Robin White, creator of the ‘Party Dress’ double hellebores as well as some exciting new daphnes. It’s is a hybrid between Epimedium flavum and E. ogisui. Epimedium flavum is a small, upright, yellow-flowered species from Sichuan province in China. Lacking in vigour, it’s not really a good garden plant but features the largest cup of any Chinese species. Epimedium ogisui, also from Sichuan, is more vigorous, with large white flowers and a more spreading habit.

    The result is an elegant plant with a large cylindrical cup in pale yellow with a white spur and white petals over the top. The flowers are held up above the evergreen foliage which provides an ideal background and sets the flowers off well.

    Epimedium,Pink Champagne,Probst. Image ©‘Pink Champagne’ (left, click to enlarge) comes from renowned Massachusetts epimedium collector and breeder Darrell Probst. He describes it as “perhaps the most all round beautiful Epimedium of those that we have grown so far!” The two-tone pink and raspberry red flowers hover above spring foliage on upright stems, so they are displayed well. The leaves are mottled in purple against a green background which stays in good condition, and good colour, all year. “A vigorous grower, it puts on an incredible show,” say Darrell.

    Look out for more new epimediums next year.

    Epimedium ‘Flowers of Sulphur’ is available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.
    Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’ is available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.

    Images © Darwin Plants.

    Check here for more images of Epimedium ‘Flowers of Sulphur'