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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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  • Tomato ‘Black Opal’: New black cherry tomato from Dobies and Suttons

    Graham Rice on 28 Oct 2012 at 09:27 PM

    Tomato ‘Black Opal’: New black cherry tomato. Image ©Gourmet GeneticsMore veg growers are now taking an interest in “black” tomatoes. Their flavour is distinctive and they add to the colour palette of summer salads, but the texture can be poor and the skins can be prone to cracking.

    The old heirloom favourite from Russia, ‘Black Cherry’, for example, has a much appreciated flavour but the fruits tend to be mushy and to crack when mature. ‘Black Opal’ (left, click to enlarge) is a new, British bred, black-fruited cherry tomato that is a noticeable improvement.

    An indeterminate variety for outside or for the cold greenhouse, the flavour of ‘Black Opal’ is even better than that of ‘Black Cherry’, the texture is noticeably firmer and the plant habit is better too. The colour (click the picture to enlarge) is chocolate red. It has good general disease tolerance including good tolerance of the dreaded late blight.

    ‘Black Opal’ was developed by Simon Crawford and Mark Rowland of Gourmet Genetics, Simon was responsible for creating the well known ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Tumbler’ tomatoes. He told me: “'Black Opal' has a good flavour but selection was more for the texture of the fruit, more crispy rather than mushy as it is with 'Black Cherry' or 'Chocolate Cherry'.

    “It has fruit weighing about 18grams/0.6oz each with about 120-150 fruit per plant over a three month period so the total yield of ‘Black Opal’ will be around 2.3kgs/5.1lbs per plant.”

    The flavour is a tempting mix of sweetness and tanginess with a Brix rating (a measure of sweetness) of 9% in a cold greenhouse and similar when grown outside. For comparison, the well known ‘Gardener’s Delight’ has a lower Brix rating of 7%.

    You can order young plants of ‘Black Opal’ tomatoes from Suttons or from Dobies.


  • Olearia ‘Moondance’: New variegated evergreen shrub

    Graham Rice on 26 Oct 2012 at 02:31 PM

    Olearia ‘Moondance’ has both variegated leaves and large white flower heads. (Image © All Rifght Reserved)Olearia arborescens is a shrub not seen much in Britain but this New Zealand native is often grown in its home country, as a hedge and for its large heads of white flowers. Now there’s a new variegated form.

    The wild species is a vigorous evergreen shrub reaching 13ft/4m, perhaps more, in height, with slightly glossy dark green leaves which are prettily silvered on the undersides. In May and June small, white, daisy-like flowers are carried in rounded heads up to 6in/15cm across.

    In ‘Moondance’ (left, click to enlarge), the leaves are slightly greyer and feature a broad irregular creamy margin. There is also a slight pink tint the shoot tips. As the plants mature the pale margin becomes a little less broad and the result is a very effective foliage shrub.

    Olearia arborescens ‘Moondance’ was found in New Zealand by Denis Hughes of Blue Mountain Nurseries. He told me: “This cultivar was developed from a bud sport I found in a hedge of the plain species that grew cream and variegated leaves. With careful selection of propagation material, ‘Moondance’ was born.

    “Over the past decade or so we have found it to be a very stable and colourful cultivar. As variegated shrubs are not particularly popular in New Zealand, at the moment we have not offered the cultivar to the New Zealand public but I’m pleased that it’s now available in Britain.”

    One important point. Since before the mid-1970s another variegated form of O. arborescens has occasionally been seen, ‘Variegata’. This is a much less attractive plant than ‘Moondance’ with irregular cream or greyish green splashes and streaks.

    It’s interesting to note that amongst all the shrubby plants in the daisy family, there are just a few variegated forms – all are olearias.

    You can order Olearia arborescens ‘Moondance’ from The Walled Garden Nursery.


  • Hosta ‘Purple Heart’: red leaf stems and colourful flowers

    Graham Rice on 21 Oct 2012 at 08:03 PM

    Hosta 'Purple Heart' has red leaf stems and colourful flowers. Images ©Terra Nova NurseriesSo many new hostas appear each year that it’s hard to keep up with them all. Some are much the same as existing varieties but a few are both distinctive and useful in the garden.

    ‘Purple Heart’ (above, click to enlarge) is the culmination of a programme designed to create new hostas with a red leaf stem and with red colouring at the base of the foliage. Each leaf is about 7in/18.5cm long and 4.5in/11.7cm wide, dark green at first then becoming slightly paler green and yellowish green underneath.

    The special feature is that the leaf stems are very dark maroon in colour, almost black, and the red colouring extends up into the leaf itself as dense spotting along the base of the midrib and also into the base of the side veins. The rather open habit of the plant shows off the colouring well.

    Compared with two existing, widely grown, red stemmed forms ‘Purple Heart’ makes a significantly larger plant than ‘Little Red Rooster’, which reaches only about 6in/15cm in height, and it is also taller than the 10in/25cm ‘Red October’ and with red colouring which is noticeably more intense.

    In addition to the attractive foliage, the flowers of ‘Purple Heart’ are also a good feature. About thirty flowers are held on reddish stems about 15in/38cm long, each flower is flower is pale mauve, darker at the base. The flowers set no seed and may last as long as eight weeks. Plants reach about 15in/38cm high and 30in/90cm wide.

    Hosta ‘Purple Heart’ was developed by Gary Gossett at Terra Nova Nurseries in Portland, Oregon

    You can order plants of Hosta ‘Purple Heart’ from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.


  • Euonymus japonicus ‘Happiness’: Bright new colourful evergreen

    Graham Rice on 14 Oct 2012 at 01:13 PM

    Euonymus ‘Happiness’ is a colourful new evergreen shrub. Image © Van Vliet New PlantsWe tend to think of evergreen Euonymus as rather tough, practical, utilitarian shrubs but they can be interesting and colourful too.

    Euonymus japonicus ‘Happiness’ is a relatively dwarf evergreen and its special feature is its foliage. The new growth is pale green then fading to pale yellow and maturing to a rich golden yellow before; the foliage colour makes a colourful contrast with the stems which remain green. Eventually the foliage turns dark green, creating the ideal background against which the bright new foliage is shown off.

    Developing into a low mound about 8in/20cm high and 10in/25cm wide after three years, eventually it reaches about 24in/60cm high and 30in/75cm wide. So it’s relatively slow growing, but is also robust and tolerant of a wide range of conditions.This is a good plant for containers in a contemporary urban environment, for town and commercial landscapes, and indeed anywhere that a low dome with a long season of colour is needed. Happy in any reasonable soil, ‘Happines’ thrives best in partial shade but will also do well in full sun as long as it never gets too dry.

    ‘Happiness’ was found in Holland in the autumn of 2005, it is a sport of the widey grown E. japonicus ‘Microphyllus Aueovariegatus’.

    You can order plants of Euonymus japonicus ‘Happiness’ from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.


  • Agastache ‘Blue Boa’: colourful and drought tolerant

    Graham Rice on 09 Oct 2012 at 01:09 PM

    Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ is colourful and drought tolerant. Image ©Terra Nova NurseriesAgastaches of all kinds are becoming more popular these days. This is partly because most are drought tolerant once they’re established, and also because they’re dependable attractors for bees and butterflies. Their foliage is aromatic, too, and of course they provide a long season of intense flower colour.

    ‘Blue Boa’ is a new introduction with spikes of deep violet blue flowers held over deep green foliage with a distinct licorice flavour. Reaching 18-24in/45-60cm in height, ‘Blue Boa’ blooms from early summer right through until the frosts end the display.

    This looks to be an improvement on the similar Award of Garden Merit winning ‘Blue Fortune’. Dependably hardy, unlike ‘Blue Fortune’, the flowers of ‘Blue Boa’ are deeper in colour, and the long flower spikes are also fatter than those of ‘Blue Fortune’.

    With its well-branched but upright habit, this makes a splendid central feature in a large mixed container, with the limey yellow foliage of Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’, perhaps. In a sunny border ‘Blue Boa’ would be impressive with kniphopfias such as the vibrant ‘Orange Flame’, with pink Penstemon ‘Evelyn’ or with bright orange-yellow Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’.

    Developed in Portland, Oregon by Terra Nova Nurseries, it is one of eight new agastaches they’re introduced recently. Their aims are to create new varieties with unusually long lasting flowers, improved weather resistance and an improved habit of growth – many older varieties flop and branch poorly.

    You can order Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ from Hayloft Plants, and also from the Walled Garden Nursery.


  • Clematis ‘Sweet Summer Love’: Combines fragrance and colour

    Graham Rice on 04 Oct 2012 at 01:12 PM

    Clematis ‘Sweet Summer Love’ is both colourful and fragrant. Image © Szczepan MarczyńskiNew clematis often feature on this blog, but rarely is one quite as different as this. ‘Sweet Summer Love’ is the first fragrant clematis with large colourful flowers. There are a few fragrant clematis already, C. flammula and the related C. x aromatica, come to mind, but ‘Sweet Summer Love’ not only has a strong scent but very colourful flowers.

    Reaching about 11ft/3.5m in height, from early July until September the plant is covered with flowers which open in deep red, then mature through purple-red, then purplish violet to violet then becoming paler as they fade. Each flower is just under 2in/5cm across and has an intense scent. One plant can carry as many as 1000 flowers delivering not only a spectacular effect, but a heavy dose of perfume.

    ‘Sweet Summer Love’ is happy in any reasonable soil where it gets at least some sunshine, such as on a east, west or south wall or fence. It can be limited in size by hard pruning every spring, just cut the plant down to about 8in/20cm above the ground as the buds start to burst.

    Breeder Szczepan Marczyński tells me that ‘Sweet Summer Love’ was the result of a cross made in July 2003 at his nursery near Warsaw in Poland. He prefers not to reveal the identities of the parent plants but the plant is related to C. flammula. The cross produced just one single seed which germinated the following year. It was planted outside in 2006 and first flowered in 2007.

    I asked Szczepan to describe the fragrance. “I would say it is pleasant, delicate, sweet, with elements of evening stock, Viola, vanilla with note of almond...” he told me. And on such a colourful plant, too.

    You can order plants of Clematis ‘Sweet Summer Love’ from Crocus, from Gardening Direct, and from The Walled Garden Nursery.