New plants

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.


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.


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.


Happy 30th Anniversary to the RHS Plant Finder!

Plantfinder2017Cover
The 30th anniversary edition of the Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder has just arrived. And let’s be clear: just because it carries the stamp of the Royal Horticultural Society does not mean that it’s of no interest outside Britain. On the contrary.

The Plant Finder does two things and, in fact, it’s the one that’s not hinted at in its title that has universal value. Because, in order to establish which plants are sold by which nurseries, the names of the plants have to be standardised otherwise the same plant could be listed under three or four different names. And it’s the up-to-date determination of the correct plant names that’s so valuable across the globe. (The Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder also tells you where to buy every one of the 72,000 plants listed.)

A team of Royal Horticultural Society botanists make decisions on names based on the latest research around the world and in consultation with experts everywhere. And the RHS has become more conservative, over the years, only this year determining that the hardy perennial sedums belong in their own genus, Hylotelephium, a change made in North America some time ago. But this up-to-date standardisation of the names is what makes the book valuable on all continents.

One of the features of this 30th anniversary edition of the Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder is a range of contributions on the subject of the unique legacy of the 30th anniversary edition of the book. And one of the contributors is – me! I was asked to pick five plants included in the Plant Finder that I couldn’t do without. I chose a snowdrop, a hellebore, a sweet pea, a heucherella and a physocarpus.

Expert plantsman Tony Lord, who supervised the clarification of the plant names from the Plant Finder’s early days until soon after the RHS took it over, has included a history of the book but there’s one thing that he hasn’t mentioned. Eight years before the very first edition of the Plant Finder in 1987, I myself set out to produce exactly the same book. I had the support of leaders at Kew and the RHS and from one of the top British garden book publishers. So, early in 1979, I asked all the mail order nurseries I knew about across Britain and Ireland to send me their catalogues and I began collating their listings into a database from which the book would be produced.

I was living in Dublin at the time but no sooner had I set about acquiring catalogues than there was a postal strike – which lasted for eighteen weeks, that’s almost five months! And, of course, back then there was no internet and everything was done by post. So the whole project, which of course depended on being up to date, fell apart. And then I got a job as writer on the late lamented Practical Gardening magazine, hired by the influential UK TV gardener Geoff Hamilton, who was the magazine’s editor, and there was no time to revitalise the project.

Fortunately, Chris Phillip, his partner Denys Gueroult, and Tony Lord, with whom I trained at Kew (and who, let’s not mess about, usually beat me in the weekly plant identification test by a point or two…), made the Plant Finder the invaluable reference that it is today. Frankly, they did a better job than I would have done and I salute them and their RHS successors.

Every gardener, every plantsperson across the world, every nursery owner and propagator, every garden writer, every plant breeder - everyone with a serious interest in plants - should have the latest edition of the Plant Finder on their shelf. It’s that simple.

Order the 2017 RHS Plant Finder in the Britain and Ireland

Order the 2017 RHS Plant Finder in North America

Check out the Plant Finder's predecessor, the Plant Directory, produced by the Nottinghamshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society.


The foxglove revival

Digitalis Goldcrest (left), Knee High Lavender and Foxlight Ruby Glow
Almost two hundred years ago Alexander Campbell, curator of the Manchester Botanical and Horticultural Society’s Garden, crossed a foxglove and a gloxinia (Digitalis grandiflora and Sinningia speciosa) to create what was known as Campbell’s hybrid foxglove.

It looks a little like a rusty D. grandiflora (below, right) but pollen from another foxglove - D. obscura, perhaps? - must have achieved the fertilisation that pollen from a gloxinia could never manage.

The first genuine foxglove hybrid between, D. purpurea and D. grandiflora, was made in 1849 but the seedlings were all sterile and it was not until 1924 that two hybrids that are still grown today were created at England’s John Innes Horticultural Institution: D. × mertonensis and D. ‘John Innes Tetra’.

Campbell's Hybrid Foxglove from 1825, said to be a cross with a gloxiniaSince then a large number of hybrids between different foxglove species have been created although, sadly, many have been lost including an interesting range created by the short lived Europa Nursery (anyone know where the owners, Tim Branney and Adam Draper, are now?).

Now, digitalis breeding is enjoying a bright revival with new hybrids being developed on both sides of the Atlantic. Goldcrest (‘Waldigone’) (above, left) was one of the first recent hybrids to make its mark. Three different breeding programmes in The Netherlands, in Suffolk (UK), and in Michigan, bring together the familiar British Native foxglove, D. purpurea, and D. canariensis from the Canary Islands. Foxlight Ruby Glow (‘Takforugl’) (above, right) is one of them. And, please, both parent plants are Digitalis. Let's not mess around with creating an imaginary new genus – Digiplexus.

Two new series of prolific dwarf hybrids are also just coming on to the market, the very short Knee High Series (‘Knee High Lavender’ above centre) from England and ‘Lucas’ and ‘Martina’ from The Netherlands.

I’ve recently published a long piece about the history of foxglove hybrids, from that early attempt using pollen from a gloxinia to the very latest developments. It appears in the current (March) issue of The Royal Horticultural Society magazine The Plantsman.

You can read my piece on foxglove hybrids online, but please take a moment to subscribe to The Plantsman: you can subscribe to The Plantsman here.


Plants For 2017: Perennials for 2017

Finally, in this week of daily postings on the best of 2016 and looking ahead to 2017, two exciting perennials to look out for in the year ahead.

Hosta 'Branching Out'. Image ©Plant Delights
Hosta
‘Branching Out’

Tony Avent at Plant Delights in North Carolina started out to create a hosta with branching flowering stems back in 1989 and, usig five different parents and after a number of generations of crossing and selection, ‘Branching Out’ is the result. (You can read more on Tony’s blog.)

Its pale lavender flowers on their sturdy 30in/90cm branching stems make an attractive and prolific show in mid summer over broad, heavily veined, dark green leaves. All we need now is added fragrance.

Hosta ‘Branching Out’ is available in North America from Plant Delights, it is not yet available in Britain.


Ajuga reptans 'Choc Ice'. Image ©Monksilver NurseryAjuga reptans 'Choc Ice'
There are few plants with bronze or purple foliage and white flowers. It’s a matter of genetics, the bronze or purple leaf colouring tends come with flowers colours at the same end of the spectrum. Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’ is close, its chocolaty purple leaves topped with pale pink plumes.

And here’s another candidate, a bugle with white flowers held above purple leaves and bracts. OK, it all turns greener late in the season but at flowering season, it looks impressive. Discovered by plantsman Geoff Hitchens.

Ajuga reptans 'Choc Ice' will be available again soon in Britain from Monksilver Nursery. It is not yet available in North America.



Plants For 2017: New shrubs for 2017

Abelia Pink Pong (‘abenov41’)
Having picked out five new and old plants that were especially memorable in 2016, let's look ahead to plants I haven't even seen yet but which look unusually promising for the year ahead. First, two shrubs…

Abelia Pink Pong (‘abenov41’)
Abelia Pink Pong (‘abenov41’) must win the prize for one of the worst plant names ever – Pink Pong! Or perhaps I’m just a little old fashioned? Anyway, this is the first Abelia with a long season of large colorful flowers and a lovely fragrance.

There are other fragrant abelias but none combines large pink flowers opening from purple buds from May to October with a strong fragrance, dependably evergreen foliage, reliable hardiness and colorful autumn bracts to extend the season. Sounds worth trying, to me.

Pink Pong is a cross between Abelia schumannii '’Bumblebee’ and A. x grandiflora ‘Semperflorus’ and was selected in France in 2006.

Abelia Pink Pong (‘abenov41’) is available in Britain from Thompson & Morgan. It is not yet available in North America but should be soon.


Caryopteris Pink Perfection ('Lisspin')Caryopteris Pink Perfection ('Lisspin') and Stephi (‘Lissteph’)
Two new pink flowered forms of Caryopteris, bluebeard, are coming on to the market just as two older varieties become unavailable. It will be interesting to see whether they have more lasting quality.

For some years the very late flowering, and not very hardy, C. incana ‘Autumn Blue’ was the only pink flowered form around but has now disappeared. Pink Chablis (‘Dureo’) was introduced in the US about fifteen years ago, but is no longer available, and I’m not sure it ever made it to Britain.

Pink Perfection ('Lisspin'), sometimes offered a Best Pink, and the bushier and more compact Stephi (‘Lissteph’) were both developed by the renowned British breeder of new shrubs Peter Catt. I’ve not seen them yet but they’re said to be as prolific and hardy as the best blue-flowered forms with a good strong pink coloring. I look forward to comparing them this coming season.

Caryopteris × clandonensis Pink Perfection (‘Lisspin’), sometimes listed as Best Pink, is available in Britain from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries. It will be available in North America soon.

Caryopteris × clandonensis Stephi (‘Lissteph’) is available in Britain from Hayloft Plants, and will be available in North America soon.


Plants Of The Year 5: Cool new primula

PrimulavialiiAlisonHolland-900
Ending the first part of my daily review of the some of the most memorable plants, new and old, from last year we come to the 2016 Chelsea Flower Show favorite – the new white flowered form of Primula vialii .

Primula vialii 'Alison Holland’
As soon as I entered the showground on the Sunday morning before the show opened on the Tuesday, plantspeople were asking me: “Have you seen the new white primula?” So off I rushed to take a look – and it’s lovely. I wrote it up on my RHS New Plants blog back in June. It was shortlisted for the 2016 Chelsea Plant of The Year award.

Basically, instead of the red buds and lilac flowers of the wild Primula vialii from China, ‘Alison Holland’ has creamy green buds and cool white flowers. Gary McDermott of Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries, who introduced the plant at Chelsea, told me that it’s more vigorous and flowers for longer than the usual form. But it hates drought.

‘Alison Holland’ was found in 2011 in his garden in the north east of England by John Holland who named it for his daughter-in-law. Plants never set seed but this form has proved easy to propagate by tissue culture.
 
Primula vialii 'Alison Holland' is available in the UK from Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries.

Primula vialii 'Alison Holland' is not yet available in North America but should be soon.


Plants Of The Year 3: Unique foliage perennial

HeucherellaSolarEclipse
Continuing with the third of seven daily posts about the plants that caught my eye last year, we come to a fine perennial that I noted thriving in a number of different situations.

xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’
With so many heucherellas on the market, its important to take a deep breath before pronouncing one as “unique” – but here goes: xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is unique.

This distinctive clump-forming variety has slightly ruffled, prettily scalloped, reddish brown, almost chocolate brown, leaves with a neat minty green margin. It keeps its color well and matures into a clump about 20cm high and 40cm wide. The flowers are white – but not really the point. The cut leaves last quite well in water, too.

Lovely in a terracotta pot, it also looked unexpectedly good in a blue pot and at the front of border in dappled shade. In cool areas with water retentive soil it will grow happily in full sun but is general happier in some shade.

‘Solar Eclipse’ is sport of ‘Solar Power’ (which has yellow leaves with a red central pattern) and was developed by Janet Egger and Chuck Pavlich at specialist perennial breeders Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon.

xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is currently available retail in the UK from these Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder nurseries.

xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is currently available retail in North America from many suppliers including Bluestone Perennials and Plant Delights.


Plants Of The Year 2: The first white calendula

CalendulaSnowPrincess
Making up for my summer break in posting, this is the second of seven daily posts featuring plants that caught my attention this year. Today, the first calendula with white flowers.

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’
The arrival of the PowerDaisy Sunny, the first hybrid between shrubby and annual calendulas, caught everyone’s attention a year or two back and now we have a calendula in a more familiar style but in a new color.

In fact each of the white petals shades into soft yellow towards the base and features a tiny bronze flash at the jagged tip of every petal. The eyes of the large flowers are either gold or deep brown – mine were all dark-eyed but in other plantings I saw they were mixed.

The good people at Thompson & Morgan gave me some advance seed at the end of July, I sowed it in England a few days later and plants were in flower in about nine weeks, bloomed happily through October and they seemed to thrive in spite of a little mildew. When I flew back to the US in November they were looking a little sad but still flowering.

The plants bushed out nicely without pinching and I cut most of the flowers for the house where they lasted well. Next season I’ll be sowing them in March.

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ was developed in Europe by the Dutch subsidiary of Takii, formerly Sahin BV, who specialized in hardy annuals for many years.

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is currently available retail in the UK from many seed companies including Mr. Fothergill’s, and also Suttons and also Thompson & Morgan.

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is currently available retail in North America from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.