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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

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  • New foxglove at Chelsea

    Graham Rice on 31 May 2010 at 09:22 PM

    Foxglove Digitalis 'Serendipity'. Image ©Carol Sheppard/RHSFor two years running, unusual foxgloves in a similar vein have been stars at the Chelsea Flower Show. This year it was ‘Serendipity’, last year it was ‘Pam’s Split’. Both have flowers which are split into segments instead of formed into a tube. Both are delightful.

    The flowers of ‘Serendipity’ are basically pale pink. Each flower is split into four slender waved segments that actually make it look as if there are even more flowers on the plant than there are (and there are many). But the insides of the segments are either boldly speckled or stained in purple and the result is wild blend of colours and patterns.

    ‘Serendipity’ produces very little seed, perhaps because the bees have far more trouble pollinating it than they would a normal foxglove. It was raised at Hillier Nurseries in Hampshire by Alan Postill and is derived from another of their foxgloves with split flowers, ‘Saltwood Summer’, which they introduced at the show in 2002.

    Foxglove Digitalis 'Pam's Split'. Image ©Thompson and MorganI wrote about ‘Pam’s Split’ last year when it was launched on the Scotsdale Garden Centre stand at Chelsea. Raised by Thompson & Morgan Seeds, seed has been available in their current catalogue but now plants are on sale.

    Derived from ‘Pam’s Choice’, with white flowers dramatically blotched in crimson, ‘Pam’s Split’ is similar in colouring but each flower is split into four long segments. It’s also shorter than many foxgloves, at just 4ft/1.2m, and has the unusual habit producing a number of vertical stems from the base instead of just one.

    Seed of Digitalis purpurea ‘Pam’s Split’ is available from Thompson & Morgan. Plants are also now available for the first time from Hayloft Plants and from Hidden Valley Nursery.

    Plants of Digitalis purpurea ‘Serendipity’ are available from Hillier Garden Centres and from other garden centres across the country. It’s also available by mail order from Crocus.


  • Two Plant of the Year Finalists: New from Cayeux Iris

    Graham Rice on 27 May 2010 at 03:10 PM

    Iris,‘Impressions de Jouy’, Cayeux Iris. Image: ©Cayeux IrisTwo French irises were chosen as finalists for the Plant of the Year award at the Chelsea Flower Show this week. Both are tall bearded irises and both were raised by Richard Cayeux at his family’s iris nursery, Cayeux Iris, south of Paris.

    ‘Impressions de Jouy’ is a very dramatic plant. The boldly waved standards are pure white with a lavender haze around the edges and an occasional buttery tint at the very edge, while the falls are more tightly rippled and shade from a rich deep purple at the edge to a white centre. In the throat is a fiery orange-scarlet beard. This is a vigorous and prolific, mid season variety, named for the finely stitched Jouy tapestries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    Iris,‘Rose de la Vallée’, Cayeux Iris. Image: ©Cayeux IrisThe second iris on the Chelsea Plant of the Year shortlist was ‘Rose de la Vallée’, an early to mid season variety. This is altogether softer and more delicate in its colouring. The frilly standards are pink tinted apricot in colour, with a fine butterscotch edging, while the more delicately frilled falls are a similar shade but with a striking golden cast. The beard is a vivid orange.

    Both these irises feature on the Cayeux Iris stand, which was awarded a Silver Gilt medal.

    Iris ‘Impressions de Jouy’ is available from Cayeux Iris

    Iris ‘Rose de la Vallée’ is available from Cayeux Iris


  • Hosta ‘Sara’s Sensation’: New from Bali-Hai Nursery

    Graham Rice on 25 May 2010 at 11:39 AM

    Hosta,Sara's Sensation,Bali-Hai,Paul and Linda Hofer. Image: Bali-Hai Nursery.‘Frances Williams’ is one of our most popular hostas. Basically it’s like Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ but with a gold edge to the leaf and indeed it is thought to be a sport of ‘Elegans’. ‘Frances Williams’ itself has produced a number of sports and this new introduction, ‘Sara’s Sensation’, looks to be one of the best.

    ‘Sara’s Sensation’ is an altogether brighter plant with a much broader gold border and smaller blue-green centre – in effect each leaf is gold with a central blue-green flash. Its rounded leaves are very thick and corrugated indeed it’s thought to be a tetraploid – that is, with twice the normal number of chromosomes – which helps create this extra substance. With such thick leaves it’s likely to be slug resistant. It will slowly but steadily make a plant about 50cm/20in high and 1.2m/4ft across and make a fine specimen in shady borders. In early summer almost pure white flowers appear on short stems.

    ‘Sara’s Sensation’ has been around for some time, it was registered with the American Hosta Society back in 1998, but is only now available here in Britain for the first time. It was found as sport of ‘Frances Williams’ by Paul and Linda Hofer from Ohio, Paul also discovered one of the finest hostas of all, the gold-centred ‘Paul’s Glory’ which was Hosta of the Year in 1999.

    You can order Hosta ‘Sara’s Sensation’ from Bali-Hai Nursery.


  • RHS Chelsea 2010 Plant of the Year - The Winners!

    Graham Rice on 25 May 2010 at 11:37 AM

    The winners of the first Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year were announced this morning. The winner is Streptocarpus 'Harlequin Blue', introduced by Dibley's Nurseries. Here are three winners.

    Winner: Streptocarpus 'Harlequin Blue'
    Raised by Lynne Dibley and exhibited here for the first time. The first flat-flowering bi-colour streptocarpus, with yellow on the lower petals making a striking contrast to the baby-blue upper petals. A compact plant with masses of flowers. Available from: Dibleys Nurseries, as plug plants, by mail order. 

    Second: Gaura lindheimeri 'Ruby Ruby'
    Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants have been working with Gaura breeding for the last six years. Initially with 'Chiffon' then 'Rosyjane', now on this line comes 'Ruby Ruby'. It is a continuing breeding programme using G. lindheimeri in open pollination and with judicial selection. Available from: Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants - currently out of stock

    Third: Cypripedium flavum - white flowered form
    A hardy lady's slipper orchid, Cypripedium flavum is found in China but these are mostly yellow flowered with reflexed sepals and petals. White flowers are very uncommon and superior. Plants can be grown in a pot or planted in the garden; they require partial shade, good drainage and moisture in summer. Available from: McBeans Ltd - but not currently listed on their website.

  • Chelsea Plant of the Year - finalists announced

    Graham Rice on 23 May 2010 at 09:14 PM

    Contenders have just been announced for the first RHS Chelsea 2010 Plant of the Year - the award for the most inspiring new plant at the Chelsea Flower Show.

    This new award is chosen from a shortlist of twenty plants, entered by floral and garden exhibitors at the show, and will be voted on by the RHS Plants Advisory Committee tommorow (Monday, 24 May) at a special Plantsman's Conference


  • New variegated culinary sage: coming soon...

    Graham Rice on 22 May 2010 at 10:59 PM

    Salvia,sage,variegated,La Crema. Image: © All rights reserved.How about this for a new sage? Yes, a brand new variegated culinary sage. Doesn’t it look great?

    Now, I have to say, before you get too excited – it’s not available yet. I know, I normally only tell you about plants you can order via a link at the end of my piece. But I thought you’d enjoy this glimpse into the future.

    Yesterday I received a small plant to try, to assess how good it really is. So the picture is of that little plant at just 3in/7.5cm high. But it looks very promising, doesn’t it? It’s a variegated sport of the broad-leaved ‘Berggarten’ and will be available in the USA this year.

    I’m almost certain no one in Britain has it for sale yet – but perhaps it will be at Chelsea? If you spot it there, please let me know.

    And when it’s available I’ll be sure to pass on the news.


  • Coprosma ‘Pacific Sunset’: new in garden centres and nurseries

    Graham Rice on 17 May 2010 at 08:10 PM

    Coprosma,Pacific Sunset,Pacific Night,Graham Hutchins. Image: ©John Woods NurseriesWe’ve become used to some fairly wild colouring in perennials in recent years, and in heucheras in particular. Just take a look at this earlier post and this one to see some of the shades now available. But now there’s an evergreen shrub with leaf colouring the like of which I’ve never seen before.

    The foliage of Coprosma ‘Pacific Sunset’ is vivid coral red in the centre, chocolate-bronze at the edge and, in between, there’s an irregular zone in which the two shades are mixed. Each leaf is prettily waved, and the colour is at its most intense in the spring, and again in the autumn, but is always striking. It’s also evergreen so you can enjoy this extraordinary colouring all the year round.

    This is a fine patio shrub for a container. It’s not as tough as some other colourful evergreens like variegated hollies, it starts to suffer when the temperature drops below -5C/23F. But when grown in a pot it can be moved to a porch or into the conservatory for the winter. Happy in full sun or partial shade, it will eventually reach about 1.5m/5ft so is quite manageable.

    Coprosma ‘Pacific Sunset’ arose as a sport on a plant of the chocolate-leaved ‘Pacific Night’ at the wholesale nursery of John Woods in Suffolk. ‘Pacific Night’ with uniformly deep chocolate brown foliage (about the same shade as the edges of the leaves of ‘Pacific Sunset’) was developed by Graham Hutchins of County Park Nursery who has been such a pioneer grower of New Zealand plants.

    You can buy Coprosma ‘Pacific Sunset’ from these three RHS PlantFinder nurseries.

    Coprosma ‘Pacific Sunset’ is also available in garden centres.


  • Dark-leaved dahlias: new in garden centres

    Graham Rice on 12 May 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Dahlia,Star Wars,(‘Vtdg14’),Dark Angel. Image: ©FarplantsSince ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlia began to enjoy a revival in its popularity about twenty years ago, other dark-leaved dahlias have been revived and found their way into more nurseries and more gardens. There’s also been a steady trickle of new dark-leaved varieties. Now one of the world’s foremost breeders of new dahlias has made their own contribution with the Dark Angel series.

    Kees and Aad Verwer of Verwer Dahlias in The Netherlands are responsible for creating the Gallery Series, the Karma Series, the Happy Single Series and many other fine varieties. Now they’ve released the Dark Angel Series which features single flowers set against shiny, dark purple-bronze foliage which is much prettier and more finely divided, like ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, than that of many dark-leaved varieties.Dahlia,Star Wars,(‘Vtdg17’),Dark Angel. Image: ©Farplants

    The plants are also very neat in growth, reaching only about 60cm/2ft, and branching repeatedly so they are much more manageable, especially in containers or in a small garden, than ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and similar taller types.

    Four varieties will be available in garden centres around the country in May and June, others will be available from the RHS Plant Centre at Wisley. All are named for famous Hollywood films. Well, most of them are: I’m not sure Dragon Ball quaifies as a Hollywood blockbuster. Perhaps the selection of names simply reflects the personal enthusiasms of the raisers! This is the full range:

    Dracula (‘Vdtg17’) (above right, click to enlarge) is purplish red, almost magenta, becoming darker around the eye.
    Dragon Ball (‘Vdtg31’) is deep salmon orange, darker around the eye and paler at the tips of the petals.Dahlia,Taxi Driver,(‘Vtdg57’),Dark Angel. Image: ©Farplants
    Taxi Driver (‘Vdtg57’) (left, click to enlarge) is bright lemon yellow with faint orange streaks.
    Star Wars (‘Vtdg14’) (top picture, click to enlarge) is bright yellow with contrasting fiery orange tips to the petals.

    You will find these four at Klondyke and Strikes Garden Centres (in Scotland and the north of England), Squires Garden Centres in the south, and the RHS plant centres at Wisley (Surrey), Harlow Carr (Yorkshire), Hyde Hall (Essex) and Rosemoor (Devon).

    The following four will be available from the RHS Plant Centre at Wisley, and perhaps at other garden centres.
    American Pie (‘Vdtg26’) is soft pink fading to white at the edges.
    Braveheart (‘Vdtg67’) is deep violet purple.
    Pretty Woman (‘Vdtg43’)  is vivid pink, darker around the eye and paler at the tips of the petals.
    Pulp Fiction (‘Vdtg61’) is very similar to the scarlet ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, though much shorter and much bushier.


  • Grafted vegetables now in garden centres

    Graham Rice on 07 May 2010 at 02:56 PM

    Tomato 'Conchita' Image: ©Suttons Seeds. All rights reserved.At the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show last year, Suttons Seeds showed their grafted vegetables. An extensive collection was available for mail order customers earlier this season but these plants are now available in selected garden centres across the country.

    But what’s so great about grafted vegetables? Well, the idea is that tasty and productive varieties are grafted on to specially developed disease resistant rootstocks. This enables you to plant the same crop in the same greenhouse or garden soil year after year. The plants also produce crops on average about two thirds heavier than they would if the same varieties were grown from seeds.

    So you can either enjoy heavier crops from the same number of plants you normally grow. Alternatively, grow fewer plants than usual without sacrificing yield – and try some other crops as well. Or perhaps grow vegetable for the first time. If you’re new to growing these crops, these grafted plants are more likely to be successful.

    So these four tomatoes and four other crops are available in selected garden centres now:
    Cherry Tomato ‘Conchita’ (above, click to enlarge) – Large cherry tomatoes with a fine flavour.
    Beefsteak Tomato ‘Belriccio’ – Prolific and tasty, ideal for the barbecue and Mediterranean salads.
    Standard Tomato ‘Elegance’ – Robust plants with deep red, delicious standard-size fruits.Chilli pepper 'Medina' Image: ©Suttons Seeds. All rights reserved.
    Plum Tomato ‘Dasher’ – Small plum fruits, very tasty.
    Aubergine ‘Scorpio’ – Very early and crops heavily.
    Chilli Pepper ‘Medina' (left, click to enlarge) – Vigorous, with 15cm/6in chillies ripening from green to red. “Sensibly hot”!
    Red Pepper ‘Britney’ – Tasty and productive peppers to harvest red.
    Green Pepper ‘Prego’ – Large virus-resistant and tasty peppers to harvest green.

    These grafted vegetables can all be grown outside in a sunny, sheltered position. Plants cost £3.99 each and are available in one hundred selected garden centres across the country, including all four RHS plant centres. For specific information on stockists in your area ring 0800 783 8074.


  • Three new brunneras in the 2010/2011 Plant Finder

    Graham Rice on 04 May 2010 at 07:26 PM

    Brunnera 'King's Ransom'. Image: ©Walters GardensSince the arrival of the silver-leaved Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ a few years ago, there’s been a slow but steady stream of new forms of this valuable shade loving perennial. This year there are three more.

    It all started when a plant of the old variety ‘Langtrees’, with its silver spotted green leaves, produced a sport with leaves that were almost entirely silver. Now, new this year, we have ‘Emerald Mist’ (above, click to enlarge) which is like a superior form of ‘Langtrees’. What makes it special is that not only are the silver markings bold, and set against a contrasting green background but also that they are very evenly spread in a consistent ring on the leaf. It looks very stylish.

    Brunnera 'King's Ransom'. Image: ©Walters Gardens