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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

  • Viola Bunny Ears: New from Mr Fothergill's

    Graham Rice on 31 Jul 2011 at 12:46 PM

    Viola Bunny Ears, new from Mr Fothergill. Images © Mr Fothergill's SeedsA winter hardy viola, in a completely new flower form, is available now from Mr Fothergill's.

    Click on the picture to enlarge it and you'll see that with their two upright petals, just like rabbits' ears as the name implies, this series of dainty little violas is not like anything we've seen before. And those narrow upright petals contrast in colour with the three lower petals creating a very lively look.

    Originally developed in Japan, there are four Bunny Ears varieties so far and each is a distinct bicolour. The Google translation of their original Japanese names is actually rather appealing. From left to right in the picture (click to enlarge): "Akane main color", "Tico of the Valley of the Rainbow', "Mimo hare", and "This sun Lulu's Masquerade". I don't know about you, but I quite like the idea of growing a pretty little viola called "This sun Lulu's Masquerade". Mr Fothergill's list them under more descriptive names.

    They all make bushy little plants 6-8in/15-20cm high, and three plants of one variety in a 12in/30cm terracotta pot by the front door would make a delightful welcome.

    In recent years we've seen so many new violas and pansies with larger and larger flowers - which only flop and look sad in any sort of stress – that a new series with such pretty, but smaller flowers, produced in such generous numbers, is really appealing.

    As well as its unique flower form, the Bunny Ears Series violas are winter hardy, have good heat tolerance in the summer and flower prolifically.

    You can order the varieties individually, or in a collection, from Mr Fothergill's.

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  • Sambucus Black Tower: New for 2011

    Graham Rice on 28 Jul 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Sambucus,Black Tower,Eiffel. Image © Seoint NurseriesTwo really impressive dark-leaved elders have come on the market in recent years, first Black Beauty ('Gerda') and then the cut-leaved Black Lace ('Eva'). Both were developed in Britain and now they've been joined by a third, Black Tower ('Eiffel 1').

    As you might guess, Black Tower has an unusually vertical habit of growth, expect it to reach about 6-8ft/1.8-2.4m in height with a width of about 3-4ft/0.9-1.2m. So it really does make a tower rather than a slender spire. The shape is just right, if it was more narrow then too much of the branch structure would be revealed.

    The foliage is large, and comes in a deepest, darkest burgundy black. What's more, it covers the plant right to the base – there are no bare legs. As you can see in the picture (click to enlarge). The new shoots are green, creating lively highlights, and with its flat heads of pink flowers followed by black berries this is a fine plant as a focus at the back of mixed borders. I'd be inclined to pant a Clematis viticella variety to climb through it.

    Like all these new elders Black Tower responds to pruning, but pruning will tend to create a plant that is a little broader in its growth.

    It looks as if this might be the last of the elders to come from what used to be the government's East Malling Research Centre where development of new varieties of fruit was the priority. The excellent English Butterfly series of buddlejas came from the same stable and, when I visited many years ago, I remember seeing a great range of elders planted out for assessment. They were also working on lime-tolerant rhododendrons but a round of cuts and re-organisations brought the work to an end.

    But these elders are all fine garden plants. You can buy Sambucus Black Tower ('Eiffel 1') from these RHS PlantFinder nurseries and it is also now starting to find its way into garden centres.

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  • Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Viveleg’: New for 2011

    Graham Rice on 25 Jul 2011 at 12:37 PM

    Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Viveleg'. ©Wyevale East.Elaeagnus x ebbingei is an invaluable and easy to grow evergreen shrub, especially in its variegated forms. The AGM winning ‘Gilt Edge’, with yellow edges to the leaves, and also ‘Limelight’, with its yellow central splash to the leaves, are widely grown. The oddly named ‘Viveleg’ is like a more dramatic version of ‘Gilt Edge’.

    The foliage of ‘Viveleg’ is irregularly margined in gold but because the basic leaf colour is significantly darker in the colour than that of ‘Gilt Edge’, the effect is brighter. ‘Viveleg’ is also more upright in growth and more vigorous, as well as more dense in growth, and so better suited, for example, as a boundary plant in a new small garden or as a specimen.

    When mature, the plant should reach 8ft/2.4m in height and a width of about 5-7ft/1.5-2m. In September and October, small creamy flowers line the branches and although they tend to be hidden by the foliage their fragrance is often obvious.

    This new variegated form was spotted on a nursery in Toulouse in France amongst many of the usual green-leaved form.

    Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Viveleg’ is available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.

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  • Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’: New for 2011

    Graham Rice on 19 Jul 2011 at 08:24 PM

    Populus deltoides, Purple Tower. ©GardenPhotos.comStrolling round the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show earlier this month, I came across purple leaved tree I'd never seen before - Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’. This looks to be a valuable addition to the range of purple-leaved trees, especially as it develops into an upright, pyramidal shape, a good contrast to trees with a more rounded habit of growth.

    This is a new form of the cottonwood tree of Eastern North America and not only is 'Purple Tower' tall and relatively narrow, but its colouring is delicious. With its rich, reddish purple leaves held on dark red stems speckled in beige, it will quickly make a bold statement in the landscape eventually reaching more than 10m/30ft in height and with a spread of about 3m/10ft.

    Another valuable feature is that the foliage develops fiery autumnal shades to add to the end of the season colour palette.

    The leaves are quite large, 15-20cm/6-8in long and 10-12cm/4-6in wide, so they will make quite a feature on a naturally grown specimen but I'd suggest it could also be useful in more modest situations where there is no space for it to develop into a mature tree.

    Cut it back hard ever spring as it starts into growth and like catalpa and paulownia it will develop into a bold back-of-the-border feature and the leaves will be significantly larger.

    Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ is available by mail order from Bluebell Nursery and Madrona Nursery.

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  • Exochorda ‘Niagara’: New from Hillier

    Graham Rice on 15 Jul 2011 at 07:39 PM

    Exochorda,Niagara,Hiller. Image © Hiller Garden CentresExochorda, sometimes known as the pearlbush, is one of those not-quite-first-division shrubs that no one has bothered to think about improving since the Lemoine nursery in France created ‘The Bride’ in about 1900. Until now.

    The problem has been that although they look spectacular decked in white flowers in May, the plants are rather straggly and unkempt and they become too big and inelegant. Well, now there’s a dwarf and bushy version.

    Of course dwarf and bushy is not always a good thing, but in this case it’s a valuable step forward. Expected to reach only about 40in/1m in ten years, and flowering profusely in April and May, the pure white flowers open from pearly buds. ‘Niagara’ develops into a rounded plant with none of the ungainly straggliness of other exochordas.

    Ideal in a small garden in a sunny border, it should also thrive in a container perhaps with Clematis integrifolia whose blue flowers and silvery seedheads will take over later and welcome the support from the exochorda. Exochorda ‘Niagara’ will take drought once established, but enjoys rich conditions.

    ‘Niagara’ was raised in Holland by Herman Geers, who has also raised some excellent weigelas. He crossed an unnamed plant of E. racemosa with ‘The Bride’ in 1994 and selected this seedling in 1997. As ‘The Bride’ itself has E. racemosa as one of its parents, ‘Niagara’ has a big dose of E. racemosa in its parentage – but is still much more compact. And, good news for the nursery, also easier to propagate. In North America it's known as Snow Day Surprise.

    Exochorda ‘Niagara’ is available at Hillier Garden Centres and from the Hillier website.

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  • New plants at the 2011 Hampton Court show

    Graham Rice on 07 Jul 2011 at 03:33 PM
    Pennisetum macrourum,Short Stuff,Hampton Court. Image © Knoll GardensThere are some interesting new (and not so new) plants at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this year and I've done two reports on them for the RHS Show coverage on the website.

    Firstly, I've done a five minute video on new and interesting plants at the show 9scroll down and hit the link), there's also a slightly different companion slide show report, and also a special slide show report on all the new roses including the Rose of The Year.

    One of the new introductions that I especially liked was Pennisetum macrourum 'Short Stuff (above, click to enlarge)'. At Knoll Gardens, Neil Lucas is developing new ornamental grasses especially suited to the British climate. Pennisetum macrourum 'Short Stuff' is his latest.

    The wild species, from the mountains of South Africa, is lovely grass but tends to be too tall and flower too late in the year in our rather different British climate. 'Short Stuff' is starting to flower now, in early July, and will continue flowering through the summer. As the name implies it's also shorter, reaching only about 90cm/3ft high with its upright, blue-tinted leaves are topped with slender green tipped spikes in rusty pink.

    'Short Stuff' enjoys a well drained soil in full sun, or it can be grown in a container. At the Show it looked especially good as a specimen plant in a square, rusty brown steel pot.

    Pennisetum macrourum 'Short Stuff' is available from Knoll Gardens either at the Show or by mail order.

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