Skip navigation.

Graham Rice

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

  • Last round up - Ginkgos, ferns, milkweeds and more

    Graham Rice on 13 Jul 2008 at 11:17 AM

    The Hampton Court show is over… the work begins on restoring the turf to its natural state. I’ve been hunting out interesting plants all week and all through the floral marquees there are plants to catch the eye. Many never feature in the TV coverage or in other write-ups so now let’s round up some more of the most interesting.

    At the front of the Desert to Jungle exhibit I spotted an unusual Solanum. Growing for its large, boldly marked foliage – and, with a bit of luck, its hairy white fruits – Solanum quitoense reaches 4-6ft and, when I grew it, made a dramatic summer foliage plant in a tropical style border. And if you grow it in a pot you can move it into protection for the winter and so have an even more impressive specimen the following year.

    A species of Crocosmia never seen before in Britain was on show on the exhibit staged by Cornwall’s Trecanna Nursery. From 9,000+ft on Table Mountain in South Africa, the orange-flowered Crocosmia pearsii is unusual in being only 18in high and flowering very early – qualities which nursery owner Mark Wash is already working to add to the new varieties he has on the way.

    The Big Plant Nursery had two interesting ferns on show. The pale young growth of Blechnum fluviatale are covered in rusty hairs and the long narrow fronds are upright at first, eventually becoming almost horizontal. It appreciates very moist soil, will take a little sun but prefers shade and is hardy down to about -7C. Blechnum gibbum ‘Silver Lady’ has upright fronds emerging from a tight crown, the slender parallel-sided divisions are a pale, slightly yellowish silvery green and have a bright fresh look. In three or four years it will develop a short trunk like a miniature tree fern and will take -4C. They also showed some rare forms of Ginkgo biloba, the maidenhair tree, growing in terracotta pots.

    A yellow scutellaria I’d not seen before caught my eye on the Hopleys Plants stand. With bright yellow, snapdragon-like flowers and a trailing habit, Scutellaria havanensis was lovely snaking across gravel and would be ideal tumbling out of a raised bed.

    Jacques Amand always shows an intriguing collection of  plants and this year the range ran from the tall slender spikes of Eremurus to some fascinating arisaemas. The striped flowers of Arisaema fargesii and the speckled foliage of A. elephas were especially appealing.

    Finally, over in the Plant Heritage marquee we saw the beginning of a new enthusiasm for Asclepias on the stand from National Collection holder Barry Clarke. Amongst the best of all plants for attracting butterflies, as well as the fiery, though very vigorous, A. syriacus, I was especially taken with the pastel lavender flowers of A. sullivantii.

    So many exhibits, so many great plants. That’s it for another show.

    * It struck me that exhibitors could do themselves a favour by issuing press releases to help garden writers and TV researchers find the interesting plants. Very few exhibitors seem to have done so and there’s a story on every stand. The RHS even provides a guide on how to write a press release, one on how to contact the press and a range of other info on how to publicise exhibits and plants. And of course, if nurseries are introducing new plants, I may be able to feature them on my RHS New Plants blog. Nurseries can email me about them by clicking here.


  • Tough new heucheras

    Graham Rice on 12 Jul 2008 at 06:09 AM

    In recent years what seems like floods of heucheras have appeared in nurseries. These fine foliage plants for the front of the border and for containers provide colour in a wide range of unique shades. Many are good, a few, it has to be said are, not good at all - and a few are simply superb.

    After the initial torrent, I think gardeners became a little jaded but a new series from France has fired up everyone's enthusiasm again. And many featured on the stand from Plantagogo. This is perhaps not a name which endears itself to RHS traditionalists, but as the plants look so good here at the Show I'm sure even the stuffiest of old-timers will be tempted? And on their exhibit two impressive new introductions from two of the world's leading creators of new Heuchera varieties caught my eye.

    From France's Thierry Delabroye comes ‘Tiramisu', a variety in the new style which as foliage plant enthusiasts - and everyone else - talking. The prettily lobed foliage opens in chartreuse yellow with a light network of brick red veins. Then as the season develops the red colouring fades and the foliage takes on an overlay of silver. Finally, in the autumn, those brick red tones reappear.

    Unlike many varieties, those from Thierry Delabroye including the yellow ‘Citronelle', chocolatey ‘Mocha', coppery ‘Caramel' and ‘Pistache' in pistachio green, have blood of Heuchera villosa which brings two great benefits: genuine reliance to weather of all kinds and, as the plants mature, increasingly large leaves which can be up to 15cm across.

    Also on the Plantagogo stand, from Dan Heims of Oregon, and so new it's not in the RHS Plant Finder and never before seen in Britain, is ‘Blackberry Jam', in silvery mauve with charcoal veins and blackberry undersides to the leaves. (Note that both these creators of new heucheras give their plants foodie names!)


  • Dahlias – wild, traditional and brand new

    Graham Rice on 11 Jul 2008 at 04:28 PM

    There’s nothing so flamboyant as a dahlia. But the Gold Medal winning exhibit from The National Dahlia Collection held in Cornwall by Winchester Growers, featuring both traditional varieties and some too new to have been seen before, proves that they can also be subtle and refined.

    And what a range. Banked from close to the ground to the canvas roof of the marquee, the display is unusual amongst dahlia displays not only for showing such a vast range of varieties but also for staging them in pots. Most dahlia displays at RHS flower shows feature cut blooms arranged with one variety to a vase, in tiered rows. But by growing the plants in pots not only can far more varieties be shown but their foliage can be appreciated and it’s easier to create a display on which one variety swirls around another. It’s quite a spectacle.

    Top dahlia-breeder Mark Twyning is here at the show, talking to visitors about dahlias, and he’s the man responsible for creating some of the best of recent dahlia introductions. It’s a great opportunity for him to appreciate what people are looking for in dahlias and for them to learn from a real expert.

    Amongst his varieties are ‘Twyning’s After Eight’, with purple bronze leaves and white flowers lightly stained pink on the backs of the petals. The contrast is dramatic. Another of his, ‘Magenta Star’, with single magenta pink flowers against a dark foliage lit up the very top of the exhibit whilst visitors are also getting the chance to see his very latest variety, ‘Twyning’s Revel’, in vibrant reddish-pink shading to a yellow centre.

    Meanwhile over on the Avon Bulbs stand, is a rather different dahlia. Dahlia coccinea var. palmeri was collected in South America by botanist Dr James Compton. Its daintily cinnamon-spotted, bright orange, single flowers are not so very unusual but the foliage! Repeatedly split into the most slender of divisions, it’s finer and more delicate than the foliage of any dahlia I’ve seen – quite the opposite of so many varieties.

    And Alan Street of Avon Bulbs told me that it’s been left outside in clay soil in Somerset for seven years and it comes up again undamaged every year, growing at a foot (30cm) a week at times as it races to 8ft (2.4m) high and 6ft (1.8m) across. Perhaps Mark Twyning can do a little creative breeding to add that lacy look to his lusciously dark-leaved varieties.

    For more on the National Collection click here, and to order rooted cuttings for delivery next year start here


  • Gold Medal winning lilies

    Graham Rice on 08 Jul 2008 at 06:00 PM

    All this week  the multicoloured exhibit of lilies from Wilford Bulbs has brought sunshine to a very soggy show and now the rain has passed us by for a change it still gleams brightly. But I was struck by something unexpected: there were very few familiar varieties on show. A quick check in the RHS Plant Finder revealed that almost none of them were listed! So this was a whole exhibit of lilies most of which were available from no one in the RHS Plant Finder.

    And they varied from the startlingly flamboyant to more demure and discreet varieties. ‘Aktiva’ has pink flowers with delicate spotting towards the throat and pale edge while ‘Nuance’ has huge white flowers with a pink streak in each petal. Others include ‘Shocking’ and ‘Tiber’ while some like ‘Aukland’ and ‘Kabona’ have never been in the RHS Plant Finder. But Pam Cross of Wilford Bulbs pointed out that such large flowers of varieties like ‘Nuance' are not necessarily a good thing.

    “The breeders keep trying to breed lilies with a large a flower as possible but some lilies have flowers which are far too large to use in most mixed bouquets,” she told me. “And now that breeders are crossing Oriental lilies with Asiatic lilies, the result is an Asiatic lily with scent. But not everyone wants a scented lily, for many people the scent is just too strong.” The very attractive much smaller flowers of  ‘La Reve’ are much

    But I was sad to hear from Pam that she and her husband Tony, who founded the nursery 45 years ago, and planning to retire and do what most nurserypeople don’t have time to do – create a garden of their own. So Wilford Bulbs is up for sale and with some great new varieties in the pipeline this is a great opportunity for someone wanting to run a gardening business. Their exhibit, by the way, won a well-deserved Gold Medal. A fitting tribute.

    For details of the nursery, click here


  • Multi-purpose chillies

    Graham Rice on 08 Jul 2008 at 05:17 PM

    For some people – men, mostly, it has to be said – it’s how hot chilli peppers are that counts.  But for Perry and Ali Drew-Cook of Cookoo Box Chillies there’s far more too it. They’ve been growing chillies for twenty years so they’ve seen enthusiasm grow, especially in the last five or six years. “Chillies are really good plants for the patio or around the barbecue,” said Perry as he checked the labels on their exhibit. “They’re valuable ingredients in so much cooking these days with a flavour that’s far more subtle than just the heat.” “And chillies should look good and taste good,” added Ali.

    But when the variety ‘Medusa’ came out, with slim upright fruits gathered tightly on bushy little plants, they were so disappointed. It looks wonderful, ideal for small containers and around the patio, but the flavour is almost non-existent. So they created a new variety, ‘Cookoo Box King Good’, in the same style. It’s as attractive as ‘Medusa’ but with its fine flavour ‘Cookoo Box King Good’ combines both good looks and taste. It’s so new it’s not yet in their catalogue.

    Perry also had some advice on growing chillies. “Don’t grow them in the greenhouse,” he said. “Plant them round the patio, in containers or raised beds. But they don’t like wind so a patio garden in often ideal.

    “Some varieties are rated hotter than others but it’s not that simple,” says Perry. “Some people like hot chillies, some people like them milder. But you can get both from the same plant by picking them green for a mild flavour and red for more heat.

    “Watering also plays a part. Plants grown dry produce hotter chillies than those grown with more water and a good soak four days before picking will make them less hot.”

    Perry has a number of other chillies of his own raising. ‘Chill Out’ has purple foliage and small black fruits and a plant brought into the house and set against a white background looks very stylish.

    For more on chillies from Cookoo Box Chillies, take a look at their website.


  • Two surprising hosta sisters

    Graham Rice on 06 Jul 2008 at 06:55 PM

    Sandra Bond has been coming to Hampton Court for many years with hostas from her Suffolk nursery, Goldbrook Plants. She always features mature specimens grown in large pots on her exhibits and a couple of new introductions caught my eye.

    ‘Rise and Shine’ makes a neat plant, the rounded leaves with their creamy edges just 15cm high but with attractive spikes of lavender-blue flowers in just the right proportion. One special feature is that the leaf stems are red, which adds a whole new dimension to the appeal of the plant.

    “It’s a cross between the white edged ‘Little Wonder’ and Hosta yingeri,” Sandra told me as she carefully adjusted the positions of her plants prior to judging. “ It was raised by Ian Chrystal, the most active, best organised and most prolific of the few British hosta breeders. The slightly spidery shape of the flowers is inherited from H. yingeri.”

    Surprisingly, the nearby plant of ‘Wakey Wakey’, identical to ‘Rise and Shine’ except that the leaves are green, has the same two parents. Both plants would be excellent in small containers and as edging. They're available for the first time this year from Goldbrook Plants.

    Nearby was a plant of ‘Torchlight’, also variegated and with red stems, but one size larger. This reminded Sandra to mention to me of the dangers of raising hostas in the laboratory using tissue culture – and in particular of using plants which themselves have been propagated by tissue culture as parents of more tissue cultured plants.

    “Plants of ‘Torchlight’ from tissue culture,” she told me “have stems which are less red than plants propagated by division. Tissue cultured plants of ‘June’ are less blue, while some plants of ‘Mildred Seaver’ in tissue culture lose the gloss from the back of the leaves giving the foliage a completely different look.” These variants on ‘Mildred Seaver’ as so different that Sandra has named them ‘Goldbrook Gratis’.

    “And there are more red stemmed hostas on the way,” she said. “look out for ‘Designer Genes’ where the red colouring extends into the blade of the leaf. Now that sounds tempting... How long before we have hostas whose leaves are entirely red? It will be a while, I think. But breeeders are working steadily in that direction

     All these hostas are available from Goldbrook Plants.


  • Rose of the Year 2009

    Graham Rice on 06 Jul 2008 at 06:22 PM
    Every year since 1982, rose experts have chosen a Rose of the Year. ‘Mountbatten' was the first, and the 2009 winner was launched at yesterday's press preview of the show - ‘Lucky', bred by Gareth Fryer.

    A gorgeous Floribunda (cluster-flowered) rose with an old-fashioned air, ‘Lucky' is a lovely lilac-pink, darkest in bud then fading attractively. The fragrant flowers have an appealing wave to the petals and are carried in great profusion.  Ideal in mixed borders, it's unusually healthy and easy to grow. "People are looking for fragrance and good health in roses these days," said Marilyn Stevens of Roses-UK, who organise the Rose of the Year, as she put the finishing touches to the exhibit of ‘Lucky' in the Festival of Roses. ‘Lucky' has both.

    The Rose of the Year is chosen from the very best roses submitted each year by rose breeders around the world. They're grown in sites across the country from Aberdeen to Hampshire, from Northern Ireland to East Anglia, and a team of amateur and professional rose experts assess them at all the sites over a two year period and choose the best. So if a rose passes that scrutiny around the country it really must be good. You'll find a full list here. ‘Lucky' will be available from most rose growers in the autumn, and in particular from the raiser Fryers Roses.

    The 2008 Rose of the Year was ‘Sweet Haze', a very pretty dwarf shrub rose with a long season of small pink flowers wand a delightful fragrance. It's available from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.


  • A Chelsea no-show on show - plus a superb new dahlia

    Graham Rice on 06 Jul 2008 at 05:48 PM

    As the exhibitors put the final touches to their floral displays in preparation for this afternoon's judging - in the welcome shelter of the marquees as the rain pelts down outside - I spotted some treats on the exhibit being staged by Rosy Hardy of Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants. Rosy always creates a stylish display - for many visitors it's their first stop - and her circular exhibit of beautifully grown perennials features some intriguing newcomers.

    Campanula ‘Jenny' was supposed to be launched at Chelsea but, as it turned out, it wasn't quite ready. But it's here at Hampton Court and covered in flowers. The pure white bells, which face outward and upward, are sparked by a ring of deep blue round the base of the flower. Then on the back of each flower there's a blue stain around the stalk and as the flower ages the colour seeps towards the edge. Lovely, and very prolific.

    Also on the stand is the big hit plant from last year's Chelsea, a spectacular bicoloured form of Salvia patens, with huge blue-and-white flowers; it's called ‘Dot's Delight'. This is one of the best new half-hardies of recent years.

    Hardy's also have a new dahlia - and it's clear that dahlias are big at this year's show. ‘Candy Eyes' has bronze foliage which makes the perfect background for the single flowers which are pale lavender pink with white edges to the petals and are especially vivid, with a slight cerise cast to the central stripe, when they first open.

    ‘Candy Eyes' was raised in New Zealand by the eminent dahlia breeder Dr Keith Hammett, who also breeds clivias. polyanthus, dianthus and sweet peas. It's one of his Mystic Ladies series of dark-leaved dahlias, look out too for the red ‘Scarlet Fern' and the yellow ‘Knockout', though I've not seen them here at the show. I'm not quite sure why the series is called Mystic Ladies, the names of the individual varieties seem to have nothing mystic of ladylike about them at all! ‘Candy Eyes' looks superb, though.

    Check out the Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants website for more on these tempting new plants. 


  • Hampton Court plants blog

    Graham Rice on 27 Jun 2008 at 05:26 PM

    The Hampton Court Palace Flower Show presents the perfect combination of temptation and availability! At Chelsea some wondrous plants, brand new introductions as well as old friends, are on display - but you can't buy them and take them home; you have to place your order and wait for them to be delivered. No need for such delayed gratification at Hampton Court where you can both be tempted and promptly give in to temptation - then leave your purchases in the Plant Crèche while you load up with more and then have a Plant Porter deliver everything to your car.

    But if you can't make it to the show (or even if you can) starting on Press `Preview Day (Monday 7 July) I'll be posting here every day of the show and focusing on plants old and new. the Daily Mail Pavilion, the Festival of Roses, the Plant Heritage Marquee, the Growing Tastes Marquee, the Plant Plots - and of course show gardens large and small - will all be bursting with plants. And I'll be scouring them all for the most interesting of those on display - including this lovely Gaura 'Rosyjane' launched at Chelsea in May and sure to make even more of an impact at Hampton Court. So check back here on Monday 7 July for the first of my daily posts.