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Graham Rice on Trials

Updates on trials and awards from the Royal Horticultural Society by Graham Rice

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  • Daffodils at their peak

    Graham Rice on 29 Mar 2009 at 04:29 PM

    Narcissus 'Patrick Hackett'. Image: ©Sue Drew/RHS Trials OfficeMany of the trials at Wisley are composed of two parts: the trial of all the varieties in contention for an Award of Garden Merit and, alongside, a demonstration and those which already hold the award. So visitors not only get to see all the newcomers but also those whose standard they have to reach. And the result is a colourful collection of intriguing varieties - and now's the time to see them. Take note of those you like ready to order for planting in the autumn.

    The assessment panel has been looking over the plants since long before they started flowering, keeping their eyes open for disease problems, but now that flowering is well under way a number of the new entries have proved especially impressive.



  • Late cauliflowers

    Graham Rice on 22 Mar 2009 at 02:17 PM

    Assessing the RHS cauliflower trial. Image: ©RHS Trials Office.Cauliflowers are not the easiest vegetable to grow but they are amongst the relatively few vegetables that can be grown to cut in late autumn and winter. And fresh food from the garden at that time of year is always a treat so this cauliflower trial, recently ended, was especially useful.

    Twenty eight varieties were sown, including some with coloured heads, and it was the quality of the heads that was the most important factor in the judges' assessment. Quality is made up of a number of factors including colour, smoothness, uniformity, the depth of the curd and how well the foliage folds over the head as protection against winter weather.Cauliflower 'Belot'. Image: ©Clause Teziér.

    It was a difficult winter, exceptionally cold at times, but although the heads froze sometimes solid the crop was largely undamaged. Cutting on frost-free days was recommended. All the seed was sown inside at 15-20C  in mid June and the young plants set out in late July.Cauliflower 'Triomphant'. Image: RHS Trials Office..

    Four varieties were recommended to receive the Award of Garden Merit.
    'Belot', at its peak in January, and ‘Deakin', at its best in November, both produced a good crop of solid white curds well protected by their foliage.  ‘Regata', at its best in November, was vigorous and especially useful for home gardeners as it tended to produce side shoots as well as heads of good quality. The January cropping ‘Triomphant' made large plants with well protected heads that, while smaller than many, were unusually deep and solid.

    No varieties with coloured heads received awards but one of the assessment panel, Paul Corfield of vegetable breeders Clause Teziér Seeds, reported that they had developed some good late cropping green-headed Romanesco types but they were not being released. "They damage too easily in transport to appeal to supermarkets," he said, "and with the only interest coming from the retail seed companies for home gardeners, this was unlikely to provide large enough volume of seed sales to make the varieties commercially viable."

    Please add a comment below if you'd like to see these released - perhaps they can be persuaded!

    Seed of cauliflower 'Belot' is available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue

    Young plants of cauliflower 'Belot' are available from Vegetable Plants Direct

    Young plants of cauliflower ‘Deakin' are available from Gardening Direct and from Vegetable Plants Direct Read More...

  • Crocus vote

    Graham Rice on 14 Mar 2009 at 01:53 PM

    Crocus 'Jeanne d'Arc'. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comAs the mild weather brings the crocus season to a close, I can bring you the results of the visitors' vote for their favourite in the Wisley crocus trial. For a couple of years the trial was grown in the Alpine Department where there is, unfortunately, limited access for visitors. So, for its final year, it was replanted on the trials field where visitors could take a look at any time.

    To be honest, I was disappointed at the number of votes cast - this is such a great opportunity for visitors to have their say it was a shame that more didn't make the most of it.

    And then, after all that, it turned out that the top two in the voting were rather problematical choices. Top in the voting came the pure white ‘Jeanne d'Arc'. As some of the visitors described it in their comments: "A beautiful strong-looking white. Lovely!", "Stunning" and "Not only looks great but the bees loved this one the best which adds to the interest and beauty".

    The problem was that Dutch Hybrids like ‘Jeanne d'Arc' were not supposed to have been included in the trial - it was supposed to have been restricted to species! I'm sure the visitors' vote will be kept in mind when all the Dutch Hybrid crocus are trialled side-by-side but this time it's unlikely to get an award as it wasn't compared with similar types.

    Crocus 'Margot'. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comAnd although the second in the voting, the lovely bicoloured purple ‘Margot', has been known for almost a hundred years it's now so rare that, according to the RHS Plant Finder, no nurseries sell it! And that's a shame as visitors found it especially appealing - "Lovely double colours", "Lovely colour" and "Nice contrast of purples". It was one of my favourites too. The third in the voting, ‘Little Amber' (rich amber yellow, with brown tiger-stripes on the outside petals), also goes unlisted by nurseries.

    But this illustrates another great virtue of these trials. When neglected varieties like ‘Margot' and ‘Little Amber' perform so well and are so appreciated by visitors - it's a great encouragement for nurseries to list them.

    Bulb nurseries: please let me know if you're adding these two varieties to your catalogues.


  • Carnation and garden chrysanths awarded AGM

    Graham Rice on 06 Mar 2009 at 12:18 PM

    Carnation 'Spinfield Charm'. Image: RHS Trials OfficeTrials of outdoor carnations and chrysanthemums take place every year at Wisley. It's a long standing tradition and even after so many years fine new varieties are still being recognised and receiving the Award of Garden Merit. The latest awards have just been confirmed.

    Although attracting a fervent following amongst specialists, most gardeners do not yet realise what wonderful plants border carnations are. Their colouring, pattering and fragrance are outstanding and they're not difficult to grow given sun and well-drained soil. The only problem is that they always need support - but their gorgeous flowers are well worth a little effort.

    ‘Spinfield Charm' looks to be a step in the right direction for most of us as the judges described it as being sturdy with an erect habit. They admired the flowers too, which they described as having "good form and a lovely colour which does not fade" and all set off by "wonderful grey foliage". As soon as some enterprising nursery offers it for sale its AGM can be confirmed.

    Described as "fantastic" by the expert carnation judges, ‘Spinfield Crimson' is already available. Its beautiful form, lovely rich red colouring and again its vigour set it apart.

    All the varieties with the Spinfield prefix are raised by Buckinghamshire's Peter Russell, former President of the British National Carnation Society. ‘Spinfield Lane' already has an award.

    Chrysanthemum 'Myss Marion'. Image: ©RHS Trials Office.Old fashioned spray chrysanthemums, like the traditional Koreans, are increasingly seen as valuable autumn perennials but modern spray chrysanths also pack a powerful floral punch. Two have recently had their awards confirmed, ‘Myss Saffron' and ‘Myss Marion'.

    ‘Myss Marion' is rich creamy yellow in the centre of each flower, shading to white at the edges, while ‘Myss Saffron' is a brilliant rich yellow with an amber centre in younger flowers. Both are prized for exhibition as well as the garden.

    You can order these new award winners now and grow them in your own garden.

    Order carnation ‘Spinfield Crimson' from Bofield Carnations

    Order Chrysanthemum ‘Myss Marion' from Halls of Heddon

  • Take part in an RHS trial - in your own garden

    Graham Rice on 05 Mar 2009 at 02:42 PM

    Sugarsnap pea 'Sugar Ann'. Image©Thompson & Morgan.This year the RHS is running a trial of sugarsnap and mangetout peas both at Wisley and at Rosemoor. And you can take part at home as well.

    The RHS is looking for 200 gardeners around the country to grow two varieties of peas and report on their experieces.

    Check out the online mangetout and sugarsnap pea trial webpage on the RHS website to find out how to take part.