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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

  • Physalis Halloween Series: New compact varieties

    Graham Rice on 29 Jan 2012 at 12:26 PM

    Chinese lantern Halloween King is compact and self supportingThe Bladder Cherry or Chinese Lantern, Physalis alkekengi, is a much loved garden plant whose vivid papery bells last in the garden well into the winter and which are much prized for cutting and for drying for indoor arrangements. There’s just two problems: the plants are often uncomfortably vigorous and they almost always fall over. Now, two new introductions not only feature unusually large bells but remain compact and at only about 16in/40cm in height they’re self-supporting.

    Halloween King (‘Jel02’) (above, click to enlarge) has papery bells shaped like an upside down pear and which may reach as much as 23/4in/7cm across. The slightly smaller, more rounded bells of Halloween Queen (‘Jel01’) reach about 21/2in/6cm and tend to be more pumpkin shaped. The bells begin to colour in August and retain their colour into the winter.

    Inside each orange bell is an edible orange berry which is the only part of the whole plant which is not poisonous. Although the flavour of the berry is a little bitter, it contains twice the amount of Vitamin C of lemons.

    These two new varieties were developed Georg Ubbelhart, General Manager of Jelitto Seeds although these are propagated vegetatively and not from seeds.

    Physalis alkekengi Halloween King (‘Jel02’) is available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.

    Physalis alkekengi Halloween Queen (‘Jel01’)  is available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.


  • Lettuce ‘Lettony’: New from Thompson & Morgan

    Graham Rice on 26 Jan 2012 at 04:02 PM

    Lettuce 'Lettony' - new multi-purpose lettuce. Image © Thompson & Morgan
    When more than three quarters of over 700 gardeners who tried it say they liked the taste and the texture, and just under three quarters say they’d grow it again, you know you’re on to something. That was the result of a trial of ‘Lettony’ lettuce done last year by readers of Which? Gardening.

    ‘Lettony’ is a new dual purpose lettuce that be grown for either its baby leaves or its attractive curly mature heads. It doesn’t make a tight heart, but instead develops a loose head then can be cut at any point in its growth, although leaving it to mature of course produces the most useable salads.

    Colin Randel, Vegetable Product Manager at Thompson & Morgan, who are introducing ‘Lettony’, told me: “'Lettony’ is easy and reliable to grow, has good bolting resistance, performs in any soil and stands against all weathers; basically a reliable garden performer. The leaves have a fresh green colour, much reduced bitterness, and are strong against tipburn and downy mildew.

    “A gardener can grow a typical full size plant with similar maturity period to ‘Salad Bowl’ in about 80 days during summer, or as a “salad leaf” in about 25 days, or as midi sized plants in 50 days. ‘Lettony’ is most suited to our traditional sowing times of late March to late July outdoors, but cloche/fleecing will extend the season, and ‘Lettony’ can be sown as a salad leaf virtually all year round under glass.”

    Seed of Lettuce ‘Lettony’ is available from Thompson & Morgan.


  • Scabiosa Dessert Series: New from Hayloft Plants

    Graham Rice on 21 Jan 2012 at 03:23 PM

    Dessert Series scabious: ‘Blackberry Fool’ (lilac pink), ‘Blueberry Muffin’ (lilac blue), ‘Cherry Pie’ (red), ‘Plum Pudding’ (purple) and ‘Rhubarb Crumble’ (pink). Images © Pro-VegSince ‘Butterfly Blue’ came on the scene almost thirty years ago, a succession of new scabious in other colours have appeared but few really caught the imagination of gardeners. Now, as a new British bred series of five colours arrives, perhaps that will change.

    The Dessert Series all have a number of features in common. The drought-tolerant plants are bushy and compact, but not dwarf and dumpy; they reach about 20in/50cm high and 16in/40cm across, ideal for containers or sunny borders. Flowering over a long season in summer and autumn, especially if dead-headed, the colours are rich and the flowers have an unusually high nectar content, particularly the lilac and purple shades, so are attractive to bees and butterflies.

    Five colours are available: ‘Blackberry Fool’ (lilac pink), ‘Blueberry Muffin’ (lilac blue), ‘Cherry Pie’ (red), ‘Plum Pudding’ (purple) and ‘Rhubarb Crumble’ (pink). More are on the way.

    Raised in Essex by John Burrows of Pro-Veg, John told me: “These remarkable new scabious have resulted from more than ten years of continuous selection, re-selection and improvements.

    “These exciting new flower colours have been carefully selected for their excellent plant uniformity, well branched, reasonably compact plant height, free flowering plant habit. Some unique new colour combinations have being developed as a result, including bi-colours and new shades in a wide range of distinctive colours.

    “Originally 36 different colour combinations were chosen, from which these have now been picked out as the best.”

    One other important point, all are free of Cucumber Mosaic Virus which can be a serious disease of scabious.

    You can order the five colours in the Dessert Series of scabious from Hayloft Plants.


  • Petunia 'Belinda': New from Mr Fothergill

    Graham Rice on 14 Jan 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Petunia 'Belinda' - new double blue petunia. Image ©David KerleyTucked away behind a tall hedge in a village near Cambridge is the nursery that produces the best of all double flowering petunias. And now they’ve produced another.

    The first of the Tumbelina double petunias, Priscilla, with its purple-veined lavender flowers, set the standard for neat and bushy habit, consistently double flowers and good fragrance. Now comes number seventeen – Belinda, with deep blue flowers.

    Tumbling rather than trailing in vertical sheets, as you can see from the picture (click to enlarge) the rich velvety blue double flowers are carried on plants which billow out of the basket without trailing so low that your head hits them as you walk by.

    “It's taken a long time to get a good blue colour in Tumbelina, far longer than I expected,” breeder David Kerley told me. “It keeps its doubleness through the season, it’s very early to flower and it's somewhat fragrant, though not perhaps as fragrant as ‘Priscilla’ or ‘Joanna’. The downside: it needs good conditions to really thrive.”

    So plant Belinda in fresh compost – as you always should – keep it consistently moist and feed regularly.

    Back in 2009 I wrote about some earlier Tumbelina petunias, I also wrote about David Kerley’s bicoloured petunias and also about his impressive single flowered petunias.

    You can order plants of Petunia Belinda from Mr Fothergill.


  • Digitalis 'Illumination': New from Thompson & Morgan

    Graham Rice on 11 Jan 2012 at 11:28 AM

    Digitalis 'Illumination - a new hybrid foxglove. ©Thompson & MorganWe’ve seen some fine new foxgloves in the last year or two but this one is even more special as it brings together two species into a dramatic perennial that’s never been available before.

    Digitalis ‘Illumination’ combines the familiar purple colouring of our native foxglove with the rich orange colouring of Isoplexis canariensis, from the Canary Isles. The result is a plant reaching about 2-3ft/60-90cm in height, with spikes of flowers over a very long period. The flowers are sterile, so they just keep on coming.

    Shimmering purple, with faint honeyed streaks on the outside, inside the throats are almost white shading to honey orange at the edges. The throats are sometimes noticeably spotted and sometimes not, depending on temperature and light intensity.

    This is another plant created by Charles Valin, plant breeder at Thompson & Morgan. He told me about it: ‘I started in 2006,’ he said. “I had a feeling that although Ispolexis was classified as separate from Digitalis, they are so similar that Isoplexis should probably be called Digitalis. I kind of wanted to prove botanists wrong! And I wanted to combine the exotic looking bird pollinated flowers of Isoplexis with the hardiness of Digitalis.

    “So in 2006 I crossed various selections of Digitalis purpurea with Isoplexis canariensis. Only certain crosses took, and when they did the seed set was low. We saw the first hybrids in 2007, and they were spectacular. Unfortunately it turned out that the germination of the hybrid seed was very low, so we decided to produce vegetative clones instead, and propagate by tissue culture. We chose one plant with the best habit and strongest colour among about 100 hybrid plants.

    “The flower shape of Digitalis ‘Illumination’ retains the nice distinct look of Isoplexis, and because the hybrid is entirely sterile it keeps on flowering and sending new flower spikes all summer long. I have not seen any birds trying to pollinate it yet, but ‘Illumination’ is definitely a bumblebee magnet! The plants survived the 2010 winter in the field and re-shooted in spring from ground level. I expect that in a mild climate the top growth would not die and you would end up with a spectacular shrubby foxglove.”

    And yes, Isoplexis canariensis is now treated as a Digitalis.

    You can order plants of Digitalis ‘Illumination’ from Thompson & Morgan and look out for them, in bud, in garden centres in May.


  • Achimenes from Europe: New from Chiltern Seeds

    Graham Rice on 03 Jan 2012 at 04:57 PM

    Achimenes 'Fallen Angel', 'Golden Butterfly', 'Peach Cascade'. Image © Serge Saliba 

    Chiltern Seeds have recently issued their thirty seventh annual mail order seed catalogue but as well as vast variety of rare and unusual seeds from around the world, they have often also listed the very latest in Achimenes (sometimes known as Cupid's Bower, or Hot Water Plant).

    These neat and bushy relations of the Streptocarpus and the African violet are ideal windowsill and conservatory plants with flat-faced flowers held on long tubes above dark green foliage. They bloom in summer and autumn on plants about 8-15in/20-38cm high.

    They have more newcomers this year but Chiltern Seeds don’t supply them as seeds. They come as short lengths of scaly rhizome, often called tubercles, which look a little like tiny pine cones and which are easy to pack like large seeds and send through the post at minimal expense. Just plant in fresh, well-drained compost and away they go.

    Chiltern Seeds have been introducing new varieties of Achimenes for many years, and this year they have newcomers from top breeders Serge Saliba from Romania and from Konrad Michelssen from Germany.

    From Serge Saliba come ‘Fallen Angel’ (above left, click to enlarge) with large white flowers with a golden throat and a vivid pink picotee edge. There is also ‘Golden Butterfly’ (above, centre), golden yellow towards the centre and white with a hint of pink at the edges, while ‘Peach Cascade’ (above, right) is peachy orange with a yellow centre and a useful spreading habit. You can see many more of Serge Saliba’s Achimenes on Flickr.

    Finally, ‘Summer Festival’ comes from German breeder Konrad Michelssen and is especially valued for its voluminous pink flowers set against dark foliage.

    Numbers are limited, you can order these new Achimenes from Chiltern Seeds.