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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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  • Vote for your favourite

    Graham Rice on 28 Aug 2009 at 04:52 PM

    Buddleja trial at the RHS Garden, Wisley. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comOne of the most exciting developments on the Wisley trials in recent years has been the new opportunity for visitors to vote on their favourite plants.

    For a number of selected trials, voting papers and a voting box are set up alongside the trial. Just tell us your favourite, add a quick comments to tell us why you like it - and all the votes will be tallied and published, along with the comments, at the end of the season.

    Voting on the Buddleja trial is going on now. It'll be interesting to see how this year's vote compares with last year's voting. The Buddleja trial is not on the trials field with the perennials, annuals and veg. It's at the opposite end of the garden, past the restaurant and through the Pinetum. You'll also find the trial of Weigela down there - this trial focuses on the coloured-leaved forms (purple, variegated etc) which have become so popular recently - along with the trial of Indigofera, much under rated shrubs in the pea family, which is looking good now.

    Amaranthus with colourful foliage and flowers. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comOn the main trials field, you can vote for Amaranthus and Celosia. The Celosia trial is especially interesting as this is a plant  which is much underused in summer borders - the trial show how good some of them are. And with both flower and foliage appeal, the Amaranthus are also in need of your vote.

    Voting on the Dahlia trial is about to start and in October voting will begin on the Cortaderia (pampas grasses).

    This is a great opportunity to make your views known, please cast your vote and tell us what you think.

  • Online pea trial

    Graham Rice on 20 Aug 2009 at 07:21 PM

    Pea 'Sugar Ann'. Image: ©RHS TrialsEvery year the RHS tries to accompany its huge trials programme with ventures at its regional gardens and also at East Ruston. And every year we also try to involve RHS members in a trial, to give gardeners and schools around the country the chance to compare varieties, report back and have their results included as part of the assessment of varieties for the Award of Garden Merit.

    This year it was snap peas and sugar peas and 200 members along with schools around the country grew two varieties and kept records of how well (or how badly) they did. The varieties grown were ‘Sugar Ann' (above) and ‘Oregon Sugar Pod', both widely listed in catalogues.

    Pea 'Oregon Sugar Pod'. Image: ©RHS TrialsWell, reports are starting to come in. And, without giving the game away before all the results are received and collated, the comments so far have been very interesting. Some people found that just as the seedlings were emerging they disappeared: sounds like slugs or mice or pigeons to me. Some growers re-sowed.

    Both were rated "sweet" in reports and also as and "stringy" (!) and interesting details were revealed: one grower reported that ‘Sugar Ann' could be eaten very early or allowed to mature and it seemed that ‘Sugar Ann' was also a favourite with pigeons and slugs. Another reported plants of  ‘Oregon Sugar Pod' with pink flowers instead of the usual white - a sign that this variety is deteriorating.

    But there are still reports to come - so if you participated in this trial please get your reports in as soon as possible. The hard-working team in the Trials Office (not to mention Thompson & Morgan who generously donated the seeds) have put a lot into this - and you've put a lot into growing and assessing the crop. So please don't fall at the last hurdle, get those reports sent in. the more reports we have, the better picture we can create of how these two varieties performed across the country.


  • Early favourites in the veg trials

    Graham Rice on 14 Aug 2009 at 03:03 PM

    Lots going on amongst the vegetable trials at the moment.

    Cucumber 'Cucino' - looking good in the Wisley trial. Image: ©Thompson & Morgan.The all-female cucumber trial is being grown in a polythene tunnel in the way that most keen home veg gardeners will grow them. This is not a sophisticated commercial poly tunnel with heat for chilly early summer night, and fans to keep the air moving and sides which roll up for ventilation. If you need some air, open the doors! So this is a good test of which varieties will suit home gardeners and there are some early leaders.

    For flavour, ‘Byblos' (below), ‘Carmen', ‘Emilie', ‘Mini Munch', ‘Naomi', ‘Socrates' and ‘Tyria' stood out. For productivity ‘Cucino' (above) and ‘Mini Munch' got special mention from the assessors, while ‘Tiffany' was appreciated for its even shape. All these were thought to be a cut above the others amongst the twenty two varieties in the trial


  • Trials at East Ruston in Norfolk

    Graham Rice on 06 Aug 2009 at 03:45 PM

    Pinks in the RHS trial at East Ruston in Norfolk. Image: ©RHS TrialsThe trials at the RHS garden at Wisley in Surrey, just off the M25, are the most impressive trials of garden plants in the country, probably in the world. But the RHS also has a secondary trials site in Norfolk at the gardens at The Old Vicarage at East Ruston.

    Thanks to the continuing generosity of  owners Alan Gray and Graham Robeson, a range of trials is again planted at the garden for visitors to enjoy.

    The trial of garden pinks is still in bloom and, in fact, the extent to which these plants are still blooming a couple of months after their June peak will play a significant part in which are awarded AGMs and which are not. Varieties with a long flowering season have quite an advantage.

    Ipomoea 'Star of Yelta'. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comThe trial of annual climbers, which is such a fascinating feature at Wisley, is replicated at East Ruston and the ipomoeas - look out for the sumptuous colouring of ‘Star of Yelta' (left) - should be at their peak through this month along with Eccremocarpus and many others.

    It's only the first summer of the perennial Phlox trial and, as at Wisley, their peak will be next year and the year after but it will be interesting to see if the kniphofias raised from seed - about which I was so rude here recently - are just as bad at East Ruston as they are at Wisley!

    Amongst vegetables, there are two intriguing trials at East Ruston which will be worth seeing this month. The melons and watermelons will be at their peak, and this trial is restricted to the small-fruited, one-person varieties which have such wide appeal.

    There's also a trial of sweet corn which will be well worth a look, it focuses in particular on the super sweet types which really do have the best flavour.

    Next month check which pinks are still going, many annual climbers will still show plenty of colour, the trial of June-sown calabrese will be at its peak as will the trial of cabbage, including red cabbage, for autumn cropping.

    The garden at East Ruston is always worth a visit and the chance to check out some of the RHS trials - without negotiating the M25 - makes a visit all the more worthwhile.