Skip navigation.

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

  • Verbascum 'Blue Lagoon': First ever blue verbascum

    Graham Rice on 30 Jan 2011 at 01:08 PM

    Verbascum,blue,lagoon,Thompson,Morgan. Image ©Thompson & MorganWe’ve seen a vast variety of verbascums come and go in recent years, but we've never seen one like this – the first ever bright blue verbascum.

    Reaching about 75cm/30in in height, with a noticeably upright habit, ‘Blue Lagoon’ is the result of some creative plant breeding by Thompson & Morgan’s plant breeder Charles Valin, who has created so many interesting new plants in recent years. He told me how it happened.

    “It actually came about as a result of trying to breed a red verbascum,” he told me. “Red shades usually come from crosses between a yellow plant and a dark violet flowered plant. In 2006 I started growing many species to find one with the deepest possible violet colouring and among those I tried a species native to Armenia and Turkey and selected some of the darkest plants.

    “In 2008 I selected one plant bearing violet flowers with a slight blue hue. In 2009 I expected its offspring to produce only violet flowers but one seedling was an extraordinary “Meconopsis” blue, a rare colour in flowers, let alone in verbascums!

    “Everyone agreed that this was a stunning plant and had to go into immediate production. The plant was sent to a tissue culture laboratory for micro propagation to ensure rapid and identical multiplication. In this case the blue petals were used as the start material. This method has enabled us to offer plants only two years after selecting the first blue plant.”

    This looks to be a dramatic breakthrough. I look forward to seeing it in gardens this summer.

    You can order plants of Verbascum ‘Blue Lagoon’ from Thompson & Morgan.

    Image ©Thompson and Morgan. Thank you.

  • Twelve new irises: From Cayeux Iris

    Graham Rice on 26 Jan 2011 at 12:40 PM

    Cayeux,Iris,Ciel Gris sur Poilly,Dominique C.,Hermès,Nouvelle Vague,Rose de Perse,Séducteur. Images: © Cayeux IrisEvery year Richard Cayeux, one of the world’s top iris breeders, releases a batch of his latest varieties through his nursery Cayeux Iris. I’ve featured his irises here before.

    For 2011 Richard is introducing twelve new varieties, all bred on the family nursery in France and available by mail order to British gardeners. Many of them will also be on show at Chelsea. I’ve picked out six to illustrate (left, click to enlarge), check the Cayeux Iris website to see the others.

    ‘Apostrophe’ Delicate pale peachy pink, slightly pinker on the falls, the coral-coloured beards are extended by a curled “spoon” of the same colour. Strongly ruffled, with about nine buds per stem. 80cm/32in

    ‘Charlie’ Pure white standards and large pinkish purple falls with a bold white heart, contrasted against the orange-yellow beards. Moderately ruffled and with excellent branching. 95cm/37in

    ‘Ciel Gris sur Poilly’ (see image, click to enlarge) Mid-grey standards, the golden yellow beards light up the grey of the nearly horizontal falls. A delicate and unusual colour combination. 80cm/32in

    ‘Dame de Coeur’ The colours hover between plain pink amaranth and light raspberry red, becoming paler under the tangerine beards. Beautifully shaped flowers with ruffled edges and nine to ten buds per stem. 90cm/36in

    ‘Dominique C.’ (see image, click to enlarge) Pure bright yellow standards, white falls with a wide yellow border creeping towards the centre and with a golden yellow beard. 80cm/32in

    ‘Faïence de Gien’ Pure white standards contrast dramatically with the velvety darkest violet falls, nearly black when the flower first opens, sparked by deep yellow beards. 75cm/30in

    ‘Hermès’ (see image, click to enlarge) Rich copper red, delicately ruffled at the edges, and with beautiful tangerine beards. Branched stems carry about eight buds. Named for the French fashion house. 80cm/32in

    ‘Magnétisme’ Sumptuous flowers with sky blue standards and satiny dark violet falls and dark rusty orange beards, shouldered with amaranth. Branches low on the plant and very prolific. 85cm

    ‘Ma Pomme’ Wide rounded flowers, strongly and evenly ruffled, in a lovely shade of pinkish apricot with tangerine beards as highlights. 80cm

    ‘Nouvelle Vague’ (see image, click to enlarge) White standards with a touch of lavender on their edges, the wide white falls have a crisp amethyst border and coral beards. 85cm

    ‘Rose de Perse’ (see image, click to enlarge) Pure pink standards and pale pink falls with a wide pinkish purple border, streaked with pale pink, and coral-red beards. About nine buds per stem. 85cm/33in

    ‘Séducteur’ (see image, click to enlarge) White standards are faintly flushed with blue, especially on the edges, the pure white falls have a crisp lavender blue border and bright red beards. 75cm /30in

    You can order these new irises at the English language Cayeux Iris website.


  • Lobelia ‘Superstar’: New for 2011

    Graham Rice on 24 Jan 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Lobelia,Superstar,Hot Blue with Eye. Image ©WesthoffLobelia is an old favourite for hanging baskets and for traditional summer annual displays – but no one really gets very excited about it. It’s certainly valuable, but you never hear genuine heartfelt enthusiasm. Well, that could be about to change.

    This season sees the introduction of a new lobelia from Germany, ‘Superstar’ (above, click to enlarge), whose flowers are truly dramatic. Each unusually large bloom is deep indigo blue but the difference is that it also features a bold, clean, bright white eye.

    I know, there’ve been blue lobelias with white eyes before - I’ve often grown ‘Regatta Blue Splash’ - but nothing with such a brilliant contrast, with such a large clean eye and without the blue colouring staining its purity.

    Of course one of the things that puts gardeners off growing lobelia is that the seeds are minute and tend to damp off the moment you so sow them. ‘Superstar’ is raised from cuttings, so you buy young plants and not seed. It makes things a whole lot easier.

    In size, ‘Superstar’ comes in between the dumpy little varieties used for edging and the big airy trailing varieties better suited to for baskets. Its semi-trailing habit allows it to be used in baskets and tubs without it hanging down too low. While in beds and borders you’ll need far fewer plants than if you grew traditional bedding varieties.

    And on top of all that, Lobelia ‘Superstar’ is more tolerant of hot summers than most other varieties.

    You can order Lobelia ‘Superstar’ from Thomson & Morgan, and also from D. T. Brown, from Mr Fothergills, and from Woolmans.

    Image © Westhoff, with thanks to Thompson & Morgan.


  • Astilbe ‘Mighty Pip': New for 2011

    Graham Rice on 20 Jan 2011 at 08:01 PM

    Astilbe,chinensis,Mighty Pip,Hayloft,Suttons. Image © Visions BVIn recent years, astilbes seem to have been getting smaller and smaller, but this brand new introduction takes things in a new direction: it’s not a neat little plant for the front of the border, instead it makes a tall and imposing plant for closer to the back.

    Astilbe chinensis ‘Mighty Pip’ (left, click to enlarge) reaches about 1.2m/4ft in height, sometimes a little more, with boldly divided, dark green foliage which may be gently tinted in bronze, especially along the edges.

    In July and August the whole plant is topped with upright plumes of pink flowers. Each plume is relatively narrow, and its branches strike upwards creating a noticeably vertical look to the display. The individual buds are dark pink, opening to a softer, slightly salmony shade as they mature.

    Like all astilbes, ‘Mighty Pip’ is not happy in dry soil. But given a soil which rarely dries out and in full sun, or perhaps just a little shade, it will soon develop into a striking specimen. And while some astilbes develop a very tight and compact crown, ‘Mighty Pip’ develops short runners so it spreads more quickly than other types.

    ‘Mighty Pip’ can be grown in a containers, as in the picture, but in a container needs so much watering that it’s far wiser to grow it towards the back of a border. For use as cut flowers, snip the plumes when they’re about half open; they can also be dried.

    You can order Astilbe ‘Mighty Pip’ from Hayloft Plants and from Suttons.
    Image © Visions BV, with thanks to Hayloft Plants.


  • Hemerocallis ‘Vanilla Fluff’: New double daylily

    Graham Rice on 17 Jan 2011 at 02:08 PM

    Hemerocallis,vanilla,fluff,double,daylily. Image ©Hayloft PlantsAfter many years in the doldrums here in Britain, daylilies (Hemerocallis) are enjoying a revival. Varieties raised here and in Europe were grown in the 1950s and 1960s, but in America they’ve long been the most popular perennials of all. Unfortunately, the failure of many US varieties to perform in our climate led to gardeners turning to other summer perennials.

    Now, two things have changed. Hour hotter summers have proved more suitable for many American varieties and, as well, American daylilies that will do well in our climate are being more carefully selected. One that is well worth looking out for is ‘Vanilla Fluff’, recently introduced here.

    Raised by top breeder Enman R. Joiner and introduced in the USA as long ago as 1988, ‘Vanilla Fluff’ is a large flowered double variety. Carried on stems about 75-85cm/30-34in tall, each bloom is about 15cm/6in across and a lovely pale cream in colour with apricot overtones, and sometimes richer cream tones, and slightly darker streaking. Six broad outer petals set off the additional shorter petals in the centre of each flower.

    Winner of three awards in the USA, ‘Vanilla Fluff’ has proven one of  the best double flowered daylilies for British conditions, never seems to revert to single flowers and keeps on blooming until well into the autumn.

    During the coming year I’ll be keeping a special eye out for more newly introduced daylilies that will do well in our British climate. In the meanytime, take a look at Hemerocallis 'Black Stockings' that I wote up back in November last year.

    Hemerocallis ‘Vanilla Fluff’ is available from John Bowers Daylilies and from Hayloft Plants.

    * I apologise for the break in the regularity of postings to this New Plants blog, I’ve been laid low with an especially nasty dose of flu.


  • Yucca Bright Star: New from Notcutts

    Graham Rice on 02 Jan 2011 at 06:21 PM

    Yucca,Bright Star,Walbristar. Image ©David HideThis is one of the most dramatic plants you could ever grow. A form of Yucca gloriosa, which grows wild in the south eastern USA, Bright Star (‘Walbristar’) (left, click to enlarge) features dramatic rosettes of sharp-pointed, narrow, blue grey leaves with a bold and bright variegation.

    The leaf edging is broad and bright yellow, altogether more dramatic than the existing variegated form. The early leaves are short and held vertically, then as they lengthen they are pushed outwards as new leaves emerge in the centre. Eventually they become horizontal, and the result is a full rosette of dazzling foliage.

    Mature plants then send up a branched flower spike, with pink buds opening to a mass of white flowers.

    This new variegated yucca arose like this. Every year, nurseryman Tim Crowther propagates the widely grown, much paler variegated form of Yucca gloriosa by removing the side shoots, commonly known as “pups”, from the base of the stems of the parent plants.

    In 2000 he noticed one side shoot with more variegation. He rooted it, then removed the tip to encourage branching and finally selected the new side shoot with the broadest variegation in the richest colour. That plant became Bright Star - and he’s justifiably proud of his find.

    Yucca Bright Star is the supernova of yuccas for visual impact,” he told me. “Dramatic evergreen blue grey leaves with broad creamy gold margins have a huge impact summer and winter in both tubs or border. In July, the flower spikes are 1 to 2 metres tall, flushed pink in bud and opening as large waxy ivory flowers. What’s more, under the stress of drought or high temperatures, the rosette centre and leaf tips can turn a rich flamingo pink.”

    This is a fine plant for a sunny site, and will not object to dryish well-drained soil. It can also be grown as a specimen in a container, especially as it will take a few years to reach flowering size. Be sure to stand the container on pot feet to avoid waterlogging.

    Yucca gloriosa Bright Star (‘Walbristar’) has been available from the RHS Plant Centre at Wisley, but is now available by mail order from Nottcuts.

    Image © David Hide. Thank you.


  • New plants in December

    Graham Rice on 02 Jan 2011 at 05:51 PM

    Here's a run down of the six new plants posts featured here on the RHS New Plants blog December.

    Two new epimediums: Now available

    Two impressive new hydrangeas: From the RHS Online Plant Shop

    Linaria ‘Peachy’: New from Special Plants

    Digitalis Polkadot Series: New hybrid foxgloves from seed

    Five aquilegias: New from Touchwood Plants

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