New Varieties in the Burpee Advent Calendar

Burpee 2017 Advent Calendar
Guest post by judywhite

Last year, as garden writers, we were treated to the Burpee seed company's wonderful Advent Calendar, a big cardboard publicity piece that was an instant hit. (Sorry to say it's not available for sale; Burpee should launch a limited edition for holiday purchase.) Instead of a manger or Santa Claus on the cover, there was a snowy image of Burpee's Seed House Barn (below), which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And instead of chocolate behind each calendar date "window" from December 1st thru Christmas Day, there was a mini-packet of a new variety of Burpee seed to grow.

Burpee is well-known in the States. Founded in 1876, the company has long been a gardening source of new seed hybrids. Their 2016 Advent Calendar (above) featured 25 new varieties, many of which some friends grew for us this summer in a Zone 6 NJ test garden. (Thanks, Dave and Jonathan!)

Cauliflower 'Depurple'Some surprises were Canna 'Cannova Rose', a dwarf type that actually did bloom from seed within a few months, and purple cauliflower 'Depurple Hybrid' which, unlike purple potatoes, actually kept its color when cooked. Of the tomatoes, the roma 'Gladiator' was most bountiful, right up to frost, firm and good sauce-making. 'Oh Happy Day' was a sweet, perfect salad tomato, and the Italian pink cherry tomato 'Maglia Rosa' was also excellent. Basil 'Pesto Party' grew well, as did mildly hot Pepper 'Dragon Roll Hybrid,' Eggplant 'Patio Baby,' and variegated Nasturtium 'Orange Troika.' There were a few disappointments: 'Prism' Kale, Pepper 'Gold Standard' and Watermelon 'Mama's Girl' didn't do so well.

This week, we were delighted to again find a Burpee promotional Advent Calendar in the mail. The 2017 cover (above) depicts Burpee's historic Fordhook Farm House decked out in wreaths, with a vintage truck out front. The 25 new varieties in this 2017 calendar include an intriguing green sunflower that's supposed to be great for cut flowers ('Sun-Fill Green'), a yellow Cosmos with white centers ('Lemonade', which did well on trial in England this year), a prolific striped green and gold-bronze small plum tomato ('Shimmer'), and a huge 7"x5" red pepper called 'Stuff Enuff.' Info about their many new varieties can be found on Burpee site.

Burpee's Fordhook Farm, located in Doylestown in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has Open Days in summers, often thru The Garden Conservancy. The historic buildings and the test gardens are well worth a visit.

Burpee 2016 Advent Calendar


Cosmos on trial

Cosmos 'Lemonade' ©GardenPhotos.com

I grew some of the new cosmos on my trial ground this summer - with mixed results, I have to say, although some of that was my own fault.

I was especially interested in growing the two new lemony yellow varieties, ‘Xanthos’ and ‘Lemonade’ (above), side by side but also grew ‘Cupcakes’ and ‘Cupcakes White’, ‘Apollo White’ and ‘Capriola’ plus an impressive form of Cosmos atrosanguineus, Eclipse (‘Hamcoec’) which we’ll get to another time.

With ‘Capriola’, I messed up. I put the plants too close to a newly planted, dark-leaved hybrid elder that grew prodigiously, made over 2m high in its first season and bushed out to elbow the cosmos aside.

At the other extreme ‘Cupcakes White’ was superb. It was rather leafy at first, and not as early as ‘Xanthos’, ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Apollo White’, and started flowering at about 90cm with the purest white cups. Some flowers were simply cupped, some had a ring of slim, shorter petals around the golden eye. Lovely.

Cosmos 'Cupcakes White'‘Cupcakes Mixed’ turned out to be mostly white, but with a few flowers in magenta pink or palest rose and one in magenta pink with a crimson center. Not a very effective display, frankly.

‘Apollo White’, and indeed the others in the series, has made its mark in overtaking the Sonata Series as the gold standard in dwarf single cosmos. The whole Apollo Series was superb in the Royal Horticultural Society trial last year. Reaching 50-60cm, ‘Apollo White’ began flowering early but in early October started to collapse for no apparent reason. Still excellent, though.

Now we come to yellow-flowered ‘Xanthos’ and ‘Lemonade’. Basically, they’re the same. OK, British-bred ‘Lemonade’ was a little later into flower, a little leafier at first, perhaps with occasional pink tints slightly more pronounced. But, especially as summer wore on, you’d be hard pressed to say which was which without checking the labels. Both were strong yellow at first, maturing to soft yellow with a white center. Lovely. Dead headed every few days they both flowered well into October.

Next year? 'Cupcakes White' and 'Lemonade' - but I'll have to give them more space, that will be a challenge...

 


Grow, Cut, and Arrange

A spring arrangement from Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein (with Julie Chai)
Our gardens are full of flowers and we like to have them in the house too but so many of us fail to make the best of our cut blooms. Which are the best flowers to grow for cutting at home? How should we grow them? How should we treat them to ensure they last as long as possible? How should we arrange them for the house? An inspiring new book by the owner of Washington State’s Floret Flower Farm aims to answer all these questions for gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic.

Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein (with Julie Chai) is a lovely looking book. Organised by season, the challenge has been to adapt large scale commercial techniques to the needs of home gardeners. Few of us grow on the scale of Erin’s farm and none of us have the experience of growing so many different flowers. She wants us to do more than simply cut what we have plenty of and stick them in a jar.

Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai is published by Chronicle Books at $29.95/£21.99.Which are the best? Erin does not say “grow this” or “grow that”, she simply covers a huge variety of flowers and leaves it up to you, from roses and sweet peas to flowering carrots and hellebores. However, I was very surprised to find that calendulas, annual asters and Shasta daisies are left out entirely. I’ve been enjoying one or the other – and sometimes all three – in a jug on my kitchen table for months.

How to grow them? The climate in Washington State is closer to the climate of the UK than it is to the climate in much of the rest of North America so although her cultural advice is excellent, growers in many parts of the US will have to adapt to their own conditions. I’d never heard the surprising advice to leave dahlia tubers in the ground for the winter but to divide them every year because otherwise they'll become too heavy to lift! Not in Britain!

How to make them last? There’s excellent advice on caring for cut flowers and for every flower covered there’s an invaluable Vase Life Tricks section which is perhaps the most universally valuable part of the book. This is the part I’ve used the most.

How to arrange them? Each seasonal section includes very useful step-by-step illustrated guides on how to create a series of arrangements in a variety of styles. Oddly, the individual pictures are quite small while a great deal of page-space remains empty. Seems a waste...

This is an elegant and very useful book, full of valuable advice presented attractively. But the fact remains that there’s no one book that provides all guidance we need. And no asters?!

Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai is published by Chronicle Books at $29.95/£21.99. 

 

                                     


Roadside apples

Apple 'Christmas Pippin'. Image ©Pomona Fruits

In one of my very first posts here on my Transatlantic Gardener blog – ten years and 861 posts ago – I commented on the number of apple trees growing by the roadside. Since then there seem to be more and more, as passengers throw apple cores out of their car windows although, unfortunately, some of the best British examples have been destroyed by road widening.

Now, having not really paid attention (I have to say), I find that an apple found by a roadside in 2003 was introduced in 2010. I spotted the story in the latest catalogue from Pomona Fruits, one of Britain’s finest fruit nurseries. The apple is called ‘Christmas Pippin’ and it’s an easy-to-grow version of Britain’s all time favourite apple, ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’.

“The eating quality is exceptional,” say the good people at Pomona Fruits, “characterised by a sweet and aromatic flavour, lovely perfume and a very pleasant honey after-taste. The fruits are crisp and juicy with a melt in the mouth texture that makes each bite increasingly more pleasurable.” They also say that it’s “very easy to grow and produces reliable, heavy crops countrywide.” Sounds like the perfect apple and the Royal Horticultural Society thought it so good that they gave it their Award of Garden Merit in 2014.

‘Christmas Pippin’ was spotted by the side of the M5 motorway in Somerset in western England, assessed at Britain’s National Fruit Collection and at the country’s largest commercial grower of apple trees and introduced in 2010. It was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 2014. You can read the full story here.

In this case it turns out that ‘Christmas Pippin’ is probably a seedling from a lost tree that once grew in an orchard nearby. It's available in Britain from Pomona Fruits but unfortunately it doesn’t yet seem to be available in North America.

But wherever you’re stuck in traffic, just look out of the window and see what you can see…


First thoughts on trialling Shasta daisies

Leucanthemum- 'Real Galaxy'. Image © GardenPhotos.com

Shasta daisies have come a long way in recent years, with developments on both sides of the Atlantic, and this year I’ve been looking at some of the recent introductions in my new trial garden.

The great American plant breeder Luther Burbank is said to have created the Shasta daisy using some creative, though now discredited, hybridisations between leucanthemums and related genera. He made pollinations between various species and genera but it seems certain that the resulting seedlings were not actually hybrids: pollination but no fertilisation.

The first double-flowered variety was spotted from a train passing through Norfolk in eastern England, growing wild, by Horace Read. On his return journey he’s said to have pulled the emergency cord, jumped out, dug up the plant and quickly got back on the train. That was in the 1920s.

These days, one of the leading breeders is North American, Terra Nova Nurseries, the other British, RealFlor, with other breeders in North America, Britain and Holland also making improvements.

This year I grew almost all the recent Shasta daisy introductions. I can’t make definitive judgements in their first season, the plants went in at different times and varied in size enormously, but a few things are clear.

The range of flower forms is impressive with neat doubles and tightly anemone-centred forms and, while we still have no pink-flowered forms, the yellow-flowered varieties are becoming increasingly impressive.

As I write in early October, most still feature a few flowers except for 'Shapcott Gossamer' and 'Shapcott Ruffles' which have been over for many weeks, in spite of regular deadheading.

Both ‘Real Galaxy’ (above, in summer) and ‘Goldfinch’ are still opening new buds, as is ‘Victoria’s Secret’ but its stems are so thin that they’re collapsing under the weight of the flowers. ‘Lacrosse’ had a break but this morning I see that it's producing new buds. ‘Real Charmer’ has no buds coming but the open flowers still look good.

Next season will be a much better test as all will be starting from established plants. I’m looking forward to it, and all thanks to Luther Burbank and Horace Read.


Ivy: Friend or Foe?

Hederacolchica'Dentata Variegata'-26704

Ivy is a plant that divides opinions. Attractive foliage, good for wildlife, cools buildings… Invasive, ruins walls, harbours pests…. Research and opinion on all these issues has been in the news increasingly in recent years and now the most comprehensive book on ivies ever produced has been published by The Royal Horticultural Society.

Hedera: The Complete Guide by Hugh McAllister and Rosalyn Marshall is exactly that – the complete guide. With more than four hundred pages, and impressively illustrated in colour throughout, this is the second in the RHS Horticultural Monograph series which began with last year’s excellent book on kniphofias.

This is an attractively designed book – far more appealing than most gardeners expect from a serious plant monograph even though the predominant colour of ivies is, well, green. All the species are described in detail, but not in torrents of baffling technical language; two hundred cultivars are illustrated and described, and the fat descriptive checklist covers all the other names that have ever been used, over two thousand of them.

One very useful feature of the book is its use of the Pierot system of classification. This was created by Suzanne Pierot, the first President of the American Ivy Society, in the 1970s and divides ivies into nine convenient groups based on easily-seen features of the foliage. Brits are largely unfamiliar with this approach so its use in this book should help it stick.

HederaBookCover9781907057731But what does the book have to say about those pros and cons?
Attractive foliage? Obviously.
Good for wildlife? Yes. “Ivy berries are eaten by at least 17 species of bird in Britain indicating the importance of this plant group for the support of vertebrate wildlife…. They have a high energy, though low protein, content and form a large part of the diet of several species at this time of year (winter).” “The autumn flowering of ivy provides nectar for a wide range of invertebrates at a lean time of year.” Not to mention ivy as a valuable nest site.
Cools buildings in summer, warms buildings in winter? Yes. “Measurements on ivy-covered stone walls across several historic sites in England… showed that an ivy covering resulted in cooler walls in summer and warmer walls in winter.” “Recent research on the climate of southeast UK… suggests that a 21-37% reduction in winter heating could be achieved.”

Invasive? Sometimes. While most ivies can develop vigorous growth in their native habitats, it is almost always H. hibernica that causes problems as a non-native plant. “All ivies need not be banned in climates where invasive ivies are a problem. There are enough dwarf, miniature and slow-growing cultivars of H. helix to provide a good range of safe and attractive plants for indoor and outdoor use.” In my Pennsylvania garden, as soon as an ivy shoot penetrates the deer fence the deer eat it.

Damages walls? Sometimes. “Any increase in relative humidity due to wall plant cover is offset by lack of rain reaching the building.” But: “ivy can root into weakened historic walls or buildings, and can lift blocks of stone off walls” and also damage walls built and pointed using soft mortar.

Harbours pests? Sometimes. Ivy is attacked by viburnum scale which also attacks Viburnum tinus. “In pots, by far the most serious pest of ivy is vine weevil” – which attacks a wider range of other plants. I’d be interested to know if outdoor ivy has a role as a reservoir of vine weevil infestation.

This is an impressive book by one of our most seasoned horticultural taxonomists and a relatively young recruit to the RHS botany team. The RHS has more in the series on the way, I look forward to the series building into an invaluable resource.

Hedera: The Complete Guide by Hugh McAllister and Rosalyn Marshall is published by the Royal Horticultural Society at £40.00/$53.45.

You can read more about ivies in gardens and in the wild in these Transatlantic Gardener posts.
Ivy is not always a menace
Ivy reveals how nature is nuanced
Ivy goes green

 

 

                         

Outstanding new perennial

Heliopsis Burning Hearts_G022907
 The outstanding new perennial I grew this year was in the garden only by chance. Heliopsis ‘Burning Hearts’ was a trade from Ian Hodgson, Editor-at-Large for the UK weekly magazine Garden News, and it’s been exceptional. I passed him some new heucheras, he gave me the heliopsis.

This hardy bronze-leaved perennial is a form of the North American native H. helianthoides var. scabra which grows in much of the east and south of the USA as well as in Canada. A number of things impressed me about ‘Burning Hearts’.

I planted three young plants, raised from seed Ian had sown earlier in the spring, in mid May. The purple-bronze foliage was impressive straight away, the plants grew away well and in June they were in flower. They’re still flowering today at about 90cm/3ft, in spite of being partially shaded by the unexpected vigour of a new physocarpus (not to mention some rampageous climbing beans).

The bright, slightly golden yellow petals are rolled back gently from the dark eye, each one stained red-orange at the base, and are perfectly shown off by those dark leaves although the red centres fades as the individual flowers age. The plants have been dead-headed regularly and a long succession of stems have been cut for fiery bouquets. They’ve been amazingly productive.

Jelitto Perennial Seeds, who developed ‘Burning Hearts’, point out this is like a supercharged version of ‘Summer Nights’ with darker leaves and flowers in more dramatically contrasting colours. They say it’s been in the works in Germany since 2004 when, the catalogue from Jelitto reveals, “the idea for ‘Burning Hearts’ came in a dream”. Hmmm…

Gardeners in both Britain and North America can order seed of H. helianthoides var. scabra 'Burning Hearts' from Jelitto Perennial Seeds.


Testing new varieties in my trial garden

Part of my new Northamptonshire trial garden.  Image ©GardenPhotos.com

Back in March, I started to create a trial garden, a test garden if you like, in Northamptonshire. The idea was to grow new, recent and upcoming varieties so I can report on them from experience as well as grow cut flowers and vegetables. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

During winter, my friend and helper (and artist) Carol Parfitt made a start by digging out bindweed and just about everything else that was growing in the plot leaving me a clear canvas. Then I made a series of rectangular raised beds using 15cm (6in) pressure treated boards, each bed is 1.2m (4ft) wide with 60cm (2ft) paths between.

The soil is good: old English cottage garden soil that has been improved with soot and compost for generations (not to mention, in earlier days) enrichment from pigs and chickens. Most of the new beds had soil improver added.

Things were a little late getting going, after all I was making beds long after planting and sowing time for many varieties. But as soon as each bed was ready, plants and seeds went in. Then I’d make the next bed, and more plants went in.

Weeding has been a big issue, the tiniest slivers of bindweed root will grow, after all, and moving soil around exposed the seeds of annual weeds which soon germinated. But regular weeding has kept them down and only what Brits call the Duke of Argyll’s Tea Plant (Lycium barbarum) has proved a lasting problem. More about that another time.

The trials of leucanthemums and cosmos and clematis and calendula have been fascinating. Leucanthemum ‘Real Glory’ (below) has been a real star. We’ve had more cucumbers and tomatoes and zucchini than we could cope with (though not enough lettuces). Cut flowers have filled our tables and windowsills and been given away and there’ve been successes and failures amongst the American varieties I’ve been growing in Britain for the first time.

Through the autumn I’ll be discussing some of the results of this year’s trials here and also on my Plant Talk blog for Mr Fothergill’s. Please check back and take a look.

Leucanthemum 'Real 'Glory'. Image ©GardenPhotos.com


New ways with phlox

PhloxEarlibeautyZenithDaughterofPearl
The tall and colorful American native summer phlox, Phlox paniculata, has been popular for more than a hundred years. In 1917 five hundred and eighty four (yes, 584) different varieties were grown in the USA and in 1907 one Scottish nursery alone listed well over three hundred varieties. In Britain, the Royal Horticultural Society currently has a grand total of 577 in its database.

Most of these have now vanished, but there are a number of impressive breeding programmes, many using other species in addition to P. paniculata, going on in both North America and in Europe. Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan, with his Opening Act and Fashionably Early series, and Charles Oliver at The Primrose Path in Pennsylvania, with his Earlibeauty Series (above), are leading the way along with Gosen Bartels in The Netherlands with his Flame Series.

But some of the best known varieties of the summer phlox have arisen in another way – they’ve been spotted in the wild or in abandoned gardens by plants people with a good eye, and an appreciation of something special.

I’ve mentioned these in my article about phlox in the current issue of The American Gardener but space was tight so I thought you’d be interested in a little more detail. These were all chosen for their freedom from mildew, but it’s important to remember that mildew resistance is not constant. I’ve seen ‘David’, and ‘David’s Lavender’, completely ruined by mildew.

‘Common Purple’ Found in 1982 by Marc Richardson and Richard Berry, founders of Goodness Grows Nursery, at an old abandoned homesite in Greene County, Georgia. The plant was in full bloom, with no sign of disease or problems. It was introduced by Goodness Grows in 1984.

PhloxSpeedLimit45‘David’ Selected at the Brandywine Conservancy, Chadds Ford, PAennsylvania by nurseryman Richard Simon and the Conservancy’s Horticulture Coordinator Mrs. F. M. Mooberry for its unusually large white flower heads and freedom from mildew. ‘David’s Lavender’ is a sport discovered in 2002 by Kathryn Litton at ItSaul Plants, Georgia.

‘Jeana’ Found in the 1990s by Jeana Prewitt of Nashville, Tennessee, growing mildew-free among "many thousands" of mildew-covered wild plants. Introduced in 2001 by the much missed Seneca Hill Perennials.

‘Speed Limit 45’ Spotted by Pierre Brunnerup, in the company of Allen Bush, by the sign on the roadside near Bush’s nursery in North Carolina and seen to be mildew free. Propagated by Bush and introduced in 2003.

These are exciting time for phlox enthusiasts, with so many new introductions. Those such as the Earlibeauty Series, with no P. paniculata in their background, seem best placed to remain mildew-resistant in the long term.

* Thank you to Charles Oliver and Allen Bush for the pictures.


Chocolate cosmos alive and well in Mexico, not extinct!

Chocolate cosmos growing in the wild in Mexico. © Universidad de Guadalajara

Since the chocolate cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus, began to be widely grown in the 1980s we’ve all assumed two things: that it was extinct the wild and that there was only one clone grown which never set any seed. Well, that’s what the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and others told us. They even participated in a plan to reintroduce it to the wild. It was all part of the mystique attached to this captivating chocolate-coloured and chocolate-scented plant.

Now, it turns out, Chocolate cosmos has been growing happily in Mexico all this time, and in a number of different locations. So it has no need of re-introduction. And, in New Zealand, chocolate cosmos has been grown from seed since 1990.

Mexican botanist Dr Aarón Rodríguez and his team found eleven relatively recent records of C. atrosanguineus, the earliest of which was from 1986, and the locations mentioned in the records led them out to find the plant in the wild. Dr Rodríguez told me: “The populations are quite numerous. Plants grow in mixed pine and oak forest.” They were found in three different Mexican counties.

From around the same time Dr Russell Poulter, a geneticist in New Zealand, has been raising plants from seed and working to ensure that the plants resembled the original wild form.

Dr Poulter’s work is the origin of the seed raised varieties now available, ‘Black Magic’ from Jelitto Perennial Seeds, and an unnamed form from Plant World Seeds. At least one more is on the way. His plants have also led to the introduction of new cuttings raised varieties including Dark Secret (‘3013/01’), Eclipse ('Hamcoec') and Spellbound (‘Hamcosp’).

It’s a little baffling that these two fundamental facts have slipped us by all these years. But it’s great news that this lovely plant remains established in the wild and that new introductions are being developed from seed-raised plants.

* Find out more in the June issue of the Royal Horticultural Society magazine The Plantsman, where I describe the horticultural history of the chocolate cosmos from its introduction to Britain in 1861 to the confirmation of its status in the wild and recent development of new cultivars, including those raised from seed. Please subscribe here.
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