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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

  • Scaevola Suntastic: New from Jersey Plants Direct

    Graham Rice on 28 Feb 2011 at 01:34 PM

    Scaevola,yellow,suntastic, Image ©WesthoffOne of the most dependable and colourful of the many new patio plants for containers that have arrived with us in recent years is Scaevola. Its naturally trailing habit and prolific flowering is invaluable. Early introductions, however, proved rather ungainly, with poor branching, but recent introductions have been much better behaved.

    The early varieties were also all blue or purplish blue. These were followed by white flowered forms and then by pink. This year sees the arrival of Suntastic (click the picture to enlarge), the first scaevola with yellow flowers – and it looks delightful.

    Each flower is actually a two-tone yellow: darker yellow towards the centre of each bloom and paler yellow at the edge. The older flowers down at the base of the stems fade slightly so the overall effect is of a range of shades from deep yellow to cream. The foliage is deep green and sets off the flowers well.

    It has to be said that flowers are not as large as those of some of the blue-flowered varieties – but the plant is less vigorous than some of those as well, they can get out of hand.

    So, where does it go in the garden? This looks to be a great plant for hanging baskets and for large mixed containers. Scaevolas are robust plants so can take competition from other flowers. Try them, perhaps, with yellow or white petunias to create a cool effect or with for a bolder display with ivy-leaved geraniums in red or burgundy. Personally, I’d like to try them with the limey yellow foliage of Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’.

    You can order Scaevola Suntastic from Jersey Plants Direct.

    Image © Westhoff. Thank you.


  • Actaea pachypoda 'Misty Blue': New for 2011

    Graham Rice on 23 Feb 2011 at 12:51 PM

    Actaea,pachypoda,Misty Blue,dolls eyes,Mt Cuba. Image: ©Walters Gardens, IncAs more people appreciate the value of shade as a habitat for so many delightful plants, so more and more special shade plants are being introduced. This latest example is a new form (left, click to enlarge) of an easy-to-grow North American native perennial, Actaea pachypoda, with three attractive features.

    Its plumes of fluffy cream flowers open in April and May and, while not dazzling in colour, are charming and fit well into a woodland garden setting. They’re followed by spikes of white berries, each with a black spot at the tip giving the plant its common name – Doll’s Eyes. Each berry is held on a red stalk, which adds to the appeal. But the additional special feature of ‘Misty Blue’ is that the foliage, instead of being the usual plain green colouring, is a soft, bluish, slightly silvery green.

    Reaching about 75cm/30in in height and making a slowly expanding clump of upright stems, Actaea pachypoda 'Misty Blue' is ideal in any partially shaded situation and in any reasonable soil that does not dry out.

    It was discovered by Richard Lighty, Director of the Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, one of America’s leading native plant gardens. Many exceptional forms of American native plants have been discovered there.

    You can order Actaea pachypoda 'Misty Blue' from Cotswold Garden Flowers and from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.

    Images © Walters Gardens, Inc. Thank you.

  • Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’: New from Plants of Distinction

    Graham Rice on 19 Feb 2011 at 04:03 PM

    zinnia,queen,red,lime,chiltern,distinction. Image ©Benary SeedsSometimes, trends come together in an interesting way.

    For some years now, we’ve seen an increasing range of annuals, for cutting and for summer display, in colours which are described as “antique”. These are shades with overlays of beige tints, with unexpected colour combinations, with a slightly distressed air to them and with the dusty and faded look of old padded furniture. Nicotianas and violas, in particular, come to mind.

    In recent years we’ve also started to see the come back of the Zinnia. Recent varieties, like ‘Zahara Double Fire’, are more robust than older types, and as long as we try not to shoehorn them into the standard ways of raising half hardy annuals, they’re easy to grow and provide an extended and prolific display.

    Now, these two trends have come together with the introduction of a lovely new zinnia, primarily intended for as a cut flower – ‘Queen Red Lime’ (above, click to enlarge). Reaching about 26in/65cm, the plants are well branched and the flowers are held on long strong stems. Each fully double, 3in/7.5cm flower is – well, the colour’s hard to describe, it’s unique. Click the picture to enlarge it and you’ll see for yourself.

    Ideally, sow the seeds in a row outside at the end of May but with only 30 seeds in a packet, you may feel happier sowing them individually in small pots or cells. Keep the compost a little on the dry side, overwatering is fatal.

    You can order seed of Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’ from Chiltern Seeds and from Plants of Distinction.


  • Iris sibirica ‘Scramble’: New from Cotswold Garden Flowers

    Graham Rice on 13 Feb 2011 at 04:31 PM

    Iris,sibirica,scramble,grimshaw. Image ©John GrimshawWe’ve seen yellow flowered forms of Iris sibirica before. ‘Dreaming Yellow’ and ‘Forncett Moon’ are lovely but very pale compared with the bright, two-tone, scrambled egg colouring of Iris sibirica ‘Scramble’ (left, click to enlarge), newly introduced for 2011.

    The standards are pale yellow, flared rather than upright, and with a yellow streak running through the centre of each. The falls are almost horizontal, though turned down at the tips, and a much more vivid and brighter yellow; both are attractively waved. The flowers open a little later than those of many Sibirica irises, in June and July. But that arrangement of the standards and falls plays a big part in the effectiveness of the display.

    This is a relatively short plant, about 50cm/20in, so we tend to look at the flowers from above. With both the standards and the falls held in a relatively horizontal position, rather than upright, they give real impact. In much taller varieties, where we tend to view the flowers from the side, upright standards and drooping falls have more impact.

    The plant is vigorous and prolific, and although the tips of the leaves may overtop the flowers this does not detract from the display.

    Iris sibirica ‘Scramble’ was selected by John Grimshaw, who runs the snowdrop garden at Colesbourne Park, from a range of seedlings derived from named forms of Iris sibirica he grew while employed at the Dutch seed company K. Sahin, Zaden. Sadly, the label noting the precise parentage was lost. You can find out more on John's blog.

    Iris sibirica ‘Scramble’ is available from Cotswold Garden Flowers (scroll down the page). At John’s request, Cotswold Garden Flowers will make a voluntary donation to support the education of Massai boy in Tanzania for every plant sold


  • Uncinia rubra Everflame: New ornamental sedge

    Graham Rice on 08 Feb 2011 at 12:58 PM
    uncinia,rubra,everflame,belinda’. Image ©Plantipp.euWe’re always on the lookout for attractive new ornamental grasses, and we’re now seeing quite a few appearing with unusually bright and colourful leaves. In fact, Uncinia rubra Everflame (‘Belinda’s Find’) (left, click to enlarge) is a not a true grass but a sedge, although gardeners tend to lump them all together.

    Uncinia rubra is a neat, rather upright little plant reaching just 30cm/12in in height with reddish or bronzed foliage and is lovely slowly creeping around dampish parts of the garden. Everflame is a more colourful, dramatically variegated form: each leaf is bronze with vivid bright red margins which gleam in the sun.

    One especially valuable feature is that it’s evergreen so this bright colouring persists right through the winter. Grow it at the front of borders that don’t get too dry, near the path where it will stand out, and it’s also an excellent plant for winter containers. Uncinias sometimes become rather tatty in winter, so growing in a container in the shelter of a porch is ideal.

    Uncinia rubra Everflame (‘Belinda’s Find’) was bred by Malcolm Woolmore of Lyndale Liners on New Zealand’s North Island, said to be Australasia’s largest propagation nursery.

    You can order Uncinia rubra Everflame (‘Belinda’s Find’) from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries, as well as Cottage Garden Flowers. Expect it to be available in a wide range of garden centres in spring.


  • Canna Tropicanna Black: New for 2011

    Graham Rice on 03 Feb 2011 at 03:04 PM

    Canna,Tropicanna,black,Lon01. Image ©Anthony Tesselaar Plants Pty. LtdIn recent years, and especially since the Rose Garden at Great Dixter was transformed into a Subtropical Garden with such panache, cannas have become more popular. Their crucial role at Dixter has brought them into the mainstream and their vivid colouring is now seen in many gardens. They’re colourful, they’re dramatic, they’re easy to grow – and are now in demand both for their foliage and their flowers.

    The latest on the scene is Canna Tropicanna Black (‘Lon01') (above, click to enlarge). It has two special features. The broad foliage is very dark, a deep purple bronze blended with black and with red highlights in the stems and veins. It quickly makes an impact. Then in summer and autumn the broad-petalled flowers appear in a vivid scarlet, developing more orange tones as they mature, and they’re set off so well by the dark leaves. It’s a great combination.

    Grow Tropicanna Black in seasonal subtropical style summer plantings, or well-chosen sites in mixed and perennial borders, or in large containers. Good companions include dahlias, taller nicotianas, coleus and Coloropsis Series coreopsis.

    Usually treated like dahlias, the rhizomes are dug up in the autumn and stored for the following year, in milder areas Tropicanna Black may survive average winters, especially if mulched deeply.

    Canna Tropicanna Black will be available this season in Homebase, B&Q, and a wide range of garden centres. It’s also available from mail order suppliers including Longacres, and Plant Me Now.