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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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  • Gold Medal winners in Wisley/Fleuroselect trial

    Graham Rice on 25 Feb 2010 at 11:42 AM

    Sanvitalia speciosa 'Million Suns' - 2010 Fleuroselect Gold Medal. Image: ©FleuroselectThe vast array of trials held at the RHS Garden at Wisley is impressive in itself. But the RHS also participates in another trial, a pan-European trial to find the best new annual flowers.

    Fleuroselect has trial gardens in about thirty places across Europe in a wide range of climates and soil conditions. And one is at Wisley, not in the garden but at Deers Farm in Wisley village, the site of some of the Society's trials of shrubs and climbers. Deers Farm is only open on special open days, so look out for the opportunity to visit.

    In the Fleuroselect trial, new varieties are grown anonymously alongside the most similar existing variety and inspected by expert judges regularly through the growing season. The highest award is the Gold Medal and one interesting stipulation is that all Gold Medal winners must be made available to all other members of the Fleuroselect organisation - so Gold Medal winners have the potential quickly to become widely available from a range of suppliers.

    So what are the winners for this year, which did well both at the Wisley trial site and across Europe? There are three.Physostegia virginiana 'Crystal Peak White' - 2010 Fleuroselect Gold Medal. Image: ©Fleuroselect

    Sanvitalia speciosa 'Million Suns' (top, click to enlarge) combines three valuable features: it's colourful, compact and prolific. Ideal at the edge of containers or as neat ground cover at the front of a sunny border, 'Million Suns' needs little maintenance, rarely suffers from pests and diseases and will flower from May until the frosts. It branches well from the base and thrives in any sunny place in fertile soil that is not too soggy.

    Also winning a Gold Medal for this year is Physostegia virginiana 'Crystal Peak White' (right). This is a white flowered, seed-raised version of the familiar Obedient Plant with upright spikes densely packed with white flowers. The flowers drop off as they fade so there's no distraction from the clean look of the remaining flowers. Sow early, the plants will flower well in their first summer. Use them in containers in their first season, then move plants to the border in the autumn.

    Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Mesa Yellow' - 2010 Fleuroselect Gold Medal. Image: ©Fleuroselect Read More...

  • Smaller melons score well in a cloudy summer

    Graham Rice on 20 Feb 2010 at 12:20 PM

    Melon 'Emir',AGM,Wisley. Image: ©RHSSome gardeners are wary of growing melons. But last year’s trial of small-fruited varieties, grown outside, proved that they are not difficult – even in a relatively sunless summer. And these “single portion” melons are great for most households as each fruit is eaten fairly quickly so never gets the chance to spoil.

    Twenty varieties were grown, including some too new even to have a name, and seed was sown singly in 9cm pots at the end of April at 20-30C/68-80F. They were grown on at 20C/68F, potted into one litre pots and hardened off carefully from the end of May then planted out through black landscape fabric in mid June. The whole trial was covered in fleece to retain warmth until the plants flowered.

    It’s interesting to note that where the fruits rested on the landscape fabric some started to rot. The traditional practice of placing a tile or straw under each fruit to keep it off the round would have solved the problem.

    Melon 'Alvaro',AGM,Wisley. Image: ©RHS

  • AGMs for hardy chrysanths

    Graham Rice on 10 Feb 2010 at 01:59 PM

    Chrysanthemum 'Nell Gwynn',hardy,spray,chrysanthemum,AGM,Wisley. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comIn recent years, the Chrysanthemum trial at Wisley has been updated. And the way in which it’s been updated may seem surprising: more older varieties are being included. The reason for this is that the trial tended to focus on the latest varieties, but many older varieties of hardy garden chrysanths have become very popular, after a long period of relative neglect.

    So old Korean and Rubellum chrysanths are now being trialed and assessed, in particular, for how they perform grown naturally as hardy perennials for use in herbaceous and mixed borders - without the disbudding technique that exhibitors use. Newer varieties in this old style are also being included.

    Last year five of these hardy traditional varieties gained Awards of Garden Merit. Judy Barker, holder of the National Collection of  Korean, Rubellum and hardy spray chrysanthemums, is one of the assessment panel that judged these chrysanths, she told me about the hardiest of the AGM winners.

    ‘Aunt Millicent’ “Single flowers in very light pink fading to white, flowering in October forming a much branched dome. Found in an old garden in Kent.”

    ‘Carmine Blush’ “A lovely much branched dome of late flowering mauve-pink single flowers. A very tough plant giving a flush of weather resistant flowers at a time when most of the garden is finishing.”

    ‘Grandchild’ “Neat cushion of shocking pink double flowers flowering Sept-Oct. Imported from Minnesota in the 1980s.”

    ‘Nell Gwynn’ (top, click to enlarge) “The reason the committee liked this plant was the length of flowering time, from July-October. The single pink flowers tend to fade somewhat in strong sunshine but the colour deepens with lower temperatures. As it has a distinctive primrose yellow ring this could be picked up with companion planting.”Chrysanthemum 'Perry's Peach',hardy,spray,chrysanthemum,AGM,Wisley. Image: ©

     ‘Perry’s Peach’ (left, click to enlarge) “Single peachy flowers. Found in an old garden in Whitby in 1980 but without a name, so named by Perry’s Plants and sold from their nursery. They have it running around their border shrubs.”

    For more on these chrysanthemums, check out Judy Barker’s excellent National Collection website.


  • Sweet pea AGMs

    Graham Rice on 05 Feb 2010 at 09:27 AM

    Sweet pea 'John Gray', AGM, RHS, Wisley. Image ©Roger Parsons.The sweet pea trial at Wisley is always a big attraction to visitors – and the fragrance is often as powerful as the colour is enticing. But it’s not just an attractive display, it’s a serious trial with the expert sweet pea judges assessing the entries for both use in the garden and for exhibition.

    Just one new variety was considered of sufficiently high standard to be awarded an Award of Garden Merit this year - ‘John Gray’ (left, click top enlarge). Raised by Roger Parsons, holder of the National Collection of Sweet Peas, its large, boldly waved flowers are pale pink shading to white at the base.

    Roger told me about his new award-winning sweet pea: “'John Gray' is remarkable in being exceptionally good both for garden decoration and for cut flowers. Growth is vigorous and it flowers prolifically so that a clump of plants in the garden is covered in blooms. It has exceptionally large flowers and long stems for cutting.

    “Larger petals are generally more prone to weather damage,’ he added, “but 'John Gray' has good petal texture to resist this.”

    Named for the father of a Roger Parsons customer, who simply loved gardening, not only did ‘John Gray’ receive an AGM last year, but it also received an Award of Merit for Exhibition following the trial at Wisley in 2007.

    The panel of judges also assessed sweet peas given an AGM in earlier years to be sure that they continued to perform at AGM standard. For one variety, the news was not good. ‘Florencecourt’, given an AGM in 1997, was disappointing. Not only was there noticeable variation in the colour of the flowers on display but it was known that a completely incorrect variety was being sold under this name. So it was recommended that its AGM be withdrawn.Sweet pea 'Gwendoline', AGM, RHS, Wisley. Image ©Flower Seed World.

    Four other older varieties were also checked carefully but these were considered to still be of AGM standard. These were ‘Evening Glow’, the very popular ‘Gwendoline’ (left), 'Toby Robinson’ and ‘White Supreme’ – which gained its AGM as long ago as 1994.

    Seed of sweet pea ‘John Gray is available only from Roger Parsons.


  • Echinacea Fruity Doubles: New from Thompson & Morgan

    Graham Rice on 01 Feb 2010 at 10:31 PM

    Echinacea Coconut Lime, Pink Double Delight, Hot Papaya, Double Marmalade. Image ©Thompson & Morgan Seeds.In recent years there’s been a flood of new echinaceas, mainly from specialist breeders in North America and Europe. First it was all the new yellow and orange and red shades, now it’s double flowered varieties. Like the single flowered varieties, the first doubles that were available came in pink and white – now we have the ‘Fruity Doubles’ (click the picture to enlarge it).

    This collection is made up of four of the best varieties from master Dutch echinacea breeder Arie Blom. Specialising in double echinaceas propagated vegetatively so they’re all identical, and never from seed, these are so superior to the original double, ‘Razzmatazz’, which I found to be a poor plant. The colours are better, they don’t produce single flowers, and they support themselves much more effectively.

    This collection includes: ‘Coconut Lime’, white rays with a fluffy creamy lime cone; ‘Pink Double Delight’, in bright pink and like a more stable, self supporting version of ‘Razzmatazz’; and last year’s hot newcomer ‘Hot Papaya’, the first red double.

    Completing the collection is the latest of Arie Blom’s new doubles – ‘Double Marmalade’, a fiery orange double which is also available separately.

    Impressive in the garden and long lasting as cut flowers, give them plenty of sun and fertile soil which is well-drained in winter and they’ll thrive.

    You can order the Echinacea Fruity Doubles Collection of plants from Thompson & Morgan.

    You can also order Echinacea 'Double Marmalade', individually, from Thompson & Morgan and also from Mr Fothergill’s.