New plants

The coleus revival

'Rustic Orange' coleus, curly Kale, 'Pineapple Beauty' coleus and Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'. Image ©GardenPhotos.comColeus are enjoying a spectacular - and well deserved - revival. And while Dibleys in the UK and Glasshouse Works in the USA have kept the old favorites available for many years, amazing new varieties of coleus in even more colors and color combinations, from seed and from cuttings, are now being introduced at an astonishing rate. There are even coleus for hanging baskets.

A fine new book on coleus appeared about five years ago (forty years after the previous one), three years ago almost a hundred were trialed outside by the Royal Horticultural Society and so coleus are now again getting the recognition they deserve. Those startling colors just keep tempting us and they look so good with some many other foliage plants and flowers.

In North America coleus (and of course their botanical name is Solenostemon) have remained popular as outdoor summer foliage plants for borders and containers. In Britain, they were relegated to conservatories and greenhouses because of the strange belief that they didn’t perform well outside. But I remember back in the 1980s – yes, yes, I know – that one of the star plants of the summer plantings along the Broad Walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew was coleus. Two old varieties in particular, ‘Sunset’ and 'Picturatus', were often used to edge the beds.

'Chocolate Mint' coleus. Image ©GardenPhotos.comAs I write Glasshouse Works in the US are listing 132 different coleus, Dibleys are listing twenty four coleus, fifty three coleus are promoted by the Proven Winners brand in the US but in the UK Proven Winners don’t feature any at all. But in just two years Terra Nova Nurseries (famous for the vast number of heucheras they’ve developed over the years) has introduced thirty seven new coleus in seven different series - in just two years! And their 2016 introductions have not yet been announced.

Terra Nova have spent eight years developing coleus and their introductions vary from tight and compact to big and bushy with two series (Color Clouds, below, and Color Carpet) intended for ground cover and hanging baskets. You can check out their series and all the individual coleus varieties at the Terra Nova home gardeners website.

At the moment, on both sides of the Atlantic, you’re probably most likely to see seed-raised varieties such as the monster-leaved Kong Series and ‘Chocolate Mint’ (above). But look out for these new series from Terra Nova and give them a try.

RHS Award of Garden Merit
These eleven coleus were awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit, or had earlier awards reconfirmed, after being trialed the RHS Garden at Wisley and also on the Victoria Embankment in central London: ‘Black Prince’, ‘China Rose’, ‘Gay’s Delight’, Henna (‘Balcenna’), ‘Juliet Quartermain’, ‘Pineapple Beauty’, ‘Pink Chaos’, Redhead (‘Uf0646’), Trusty Rusty (‘Ufo6419’), Versa Crimson Gold (‘Pas733805’), ‘Winsome’.

Download the report on the RHS coleus trial.

Here are some more colorful examples of coleus from our image library at GardenPhotos.com


Coleus 'Color Clouds Honey Pie' Image ©Terra Nova Nurseries


New varieties of the easy and elegant primula

746_primula_flamenco-1000x750_0
In recent years, Barnhaven Primroses, originally from Oregon and now in France (via England) have been branching out. Nothing dramatic, but alongside primroses they’ve been expanding their choice of other primulas and also added hellebores to their range.

One exceptional, and much underrated, plant they’ve been championing is Primula sieboldii and they’ve recently announced the availability of some lovely forms from Japan, including the double-flowered ‘Flamenco’ (above). They’ve been quietly been building up stock for some time.

This is an exceptional species, with fresh looking, bright, divided leaves and a flurry of up to ten spring flowers held on upright stems. Sound like a polyanthus? Yes, but so much more delicate and stylish.

In the wild, it’s a woodlander creeping through wet woods in Japan, Korea, China, Russia and, as the canopy closes, the foliage fades away. In summer I find it will take drought, although it’s worth remembering that the plants dislike lime. And it’s very hardy: USDA Z4, RHS H7.

The only problem is that with no sign of it above ground from late summer until mid or late spring, it’s easy to forget precisely where you planted it and attempt to plant something else in its space.

Our plants here in Pennsylvania came from the late and much lamented Seneca Hill Nursery in upstate NY and I always pick a few stems to bring indoors from the expanding clumps. Some of the clumps have expanded so much that they’ve escaped the borders, meandered under the boards supporting the raised bed and emerged on the path.

764-sieboldii-Trade-Winds-1000x750_0Lazy’s Farm now seems to have the best choice in the US but, in Europe, always start at Barnhaven. They have seventeen varieties of their own raising, including ‘Trade Winds’ (right, click to enlarge) and twelve Japanese varieties available as plants, including the lovely ‘Flamenco’ (top) and some delightful forms with white picotee edges to the flowers. Nine more varieties are available as seed. 

Barnhaven will send seeds, and also plants, to the US, with a phytosanitary certificate at a cost of 11.43 euros. If customers have a small seed lots permit there is no phyto charge for sending seeds. [After six months I'm still waiting for my small seed lots permit...]

Perhaps people are disconcerted by the fact that the plants disappear for much of the year, or perhaps the intolerance of too much lime puts people off. But considering how easy they are to grow, we really don’t see them enough. They’re much easier to keep over the long term than the special varieties of primroses and polyanthus which so often seem to fade away after a few years.

In Japan, the heyday of Primula sieboldii was from the beginning of the 17th century to the mid 19th century but now Barnhaven and others are re-inventing them after so many varieties have been lost over the centuries. And it’s not as if they need careful cossetting and conditions it’s tough to provide. They’re easy… give them a go.


New heuchera that's quietly different

Heuchera 'Berry Timeless' is a container in partial shade. Image © GardenPhotos.comIn the first waves of enthusiasm for heucheras, back in the 1930s and then the 1950s, it was the flowers that were key and in fact many varieties were developed specifically as commercial cut flowers.

More recently, of course, foliage has been the thing and an astonishing range of foliage colors and patterns has been developed although many have poor flowers which are best snipped away.

So, obviously, the next thing was to bring the two features together. ‘Rave On’ is pretty good in combining good foliage with good flowers, but flowering tails off as spring passes. But, so far, ‘Berry Timeless’ (left, click to enlarge) really does look the part - even if the name is a bit corny.

OK, this is its first season on trial here but it’s clear that its bright silver foliage with minty green veins makes a lovely low dense mound. The flowers open in pale pink and fade to richer tones and, unlike the flowers many heucheras, they don’t fall off. Even while the little green seed capsules are developing the dusky reddish pink flowers are still colorful.

Old and new flowers on Heuchera 'Berry Timeless'. Image © GardenPhotos.comIt’s now August and there’s plenty of old flowers, new flowers and buds still on the plants (right, click to enlarge). And there’s another thing about the flowers: the length of bare stem below the flowers is relatively short so the flowers sit just above the leaves without a long length of bare stem in between. That’s a feature that really improves the look of the plant.

Developed by Walters Gardens in Michigan rather than the heuchera hatchery that is Terra Nova Nurseries, where most new heucheras originate; look out for more from them in the future.

Heuchera ‘Berry Timeless' is available in Canada from Canning Perennials and in the USA from Garden Crossings. It’s not yet available in Britain, but should be soon.


Powerhouse Plant wins Chelsea Plant Of The Year award

Viburnum Kilimanjaro Sunset: Chelsea Plant Of The Year Image ©GardenPhotos.com
A couple of years ago I published a book called Powerhouse Plants. It was my choice of individual plants that have two, three or even four different features that bring colour and interest to our gardens at different seasons of the year. Now, a Powerhouse Plant has won the sixth Chelsea Plant of The Year award.

Announced recently at the Chelsea Flower Show, Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum Kilimanjaro Sunrise (‘Jww5’) (above, click to enlarge) won this year’s award, its four seasons of interest marking it out from the other entries.

The white lacecap spring flowers, developing pink tints as they age, are followed by red berries maturing to black, then a second flush of flowers opens later in the year which is rounded off by a fiery burst of autumn leaf colour. This form develops into a slightly smaller shrub than previous varieties but is as tough and easy to grow.

Salpiglossis 'Polka-Dot Purple' Image ©GardenPhotos.comIn second place was a very different plant, a streptocarpus called ‘Polka-Dot Purple’ (left, click to enlarge), from Dibleys, the world’s leading streptocarpus breeder and the same breeder that created the first winner of this award back in 2010. The prettily purple patterned white flowers caught everyone’s eye. This is an ideal windowsill house plant that flowers for ten months of the year.

In third place, Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ (below, click to enlarge) is a richly coloured half-hardy perennial developed in Australia. This long-flowering plant is hardy in warm gardens and is superb for summer patio containers everywhere else.

It’s a great to see a plant to that so completely fulfils the Powerhouse Plants ideal of multiseason interest winning this prestigious award.

Viiburnum plicatum f. tomentosum Kilimanjaro Sunrise (‘Jww5’) is available in Britain from Crocus but is not yet available in North America.

Streptocarpus ‘Polka-Dot Purple’ is available in Britain from Dibleys and will be available in North America in a year or two.

Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ is available in Britain from Dysons Nurseries. The plant has its very own website and in North America is part of the Southern Living Plant Collection.

Find out more about Powerhouse Plants.
Salvia 'Love And Wishes' Image ©GardenPhotos.com


New plants on the Royal Horticultural Society website

As we approach the mass launch of new varieties at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, I just thought you might like to see the new plants I've been writing up over the last few months on my New Plants blog on the Royal Horticultural Society website. Lots of goodies... And news of the newcomers at Chelsea will be here soon.

HelleborusSnowFrills

'Black Truffle': a superb new dark-leaved perennial lobelia

Heavenly (more or less) hardy begonias

A new star Is born: Clematis Astra Nova

New blue-and-white flowered brunnera

New double-flowered Christmas rose (left)

The first golden-leaved pyracantha

Nandina Blush Pink: new for its colourful foliage

World’s first 100% blight resistant tomato

Unique new pastel French marigold (below)

   MarigoldAlumia


Anniversary pansies span the years and the river

160 baskets of Viola 'Waterfall' on a bridge in Suffolk. Images © Thompson & Morgan

Now here’s a way to celebrate!

British seed and plant company Thompson & Morgan celebrates its 160th anniversary this year and to mark the occasion they’ve done something rather amazing. They’ve hung 320 hanging baskets from a bridge over the river near their headquarters in Suffolk, 160 on each side (click the picture to enlarge). And they’re all planted with T&M’s brand new, own-bred, fragrant, trailing viola mixture – ‘Waterfall’ (Brits will be able to order it in May).

First, they hired specialist highway contractors to fix the 320 heavy-duty hanging brackets in place, 8m (26ft) apart along the 1287m (4200ft) bridge, and then the baskets were hung. The teams worked from 12-4am over the last three nights. of March in liaison with local authorities. to cause minimal disruption to traffic. All be revealed today, 1 April.

A total of 5,760 violas have been planted in 3,200 liters (845 US gallons) of T&M’s own Incredicompost (yes, that’s what it’s called!) with 9.6kg (21 ponds) of their Incredibloom plant food added to keep them going till 1 June when they’ll be removed.

Of course, once they’re all in place, watering is the big challenge. But they’ve installed an automatic desalinating system that draws water from the brackish River Orwell below the bridge and doses the baskets with 2200 liters (580 US gallons) of water every day.

Well, I think this is pretty amazing. And I especially like the fact that they’re watered with desalinated water from the river below.

T&M say that “depending on public support” they’ll replace them all with summer flowers in June. So why not check in with Thompson & Morgan on the T&M Facebook page or follow T&M on Twitter and tell them what a great idea it is?


Developments in sweet peas

Lathyrus belinensis, discovered in Turkey in 1987A couple of interesting sweet pea developments to tell you about.

First of all, the hybrid made by Keith Hammett between the familiar sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, and L. belinensis (click to enlarge), discovered in Turkey in 1987, has been formally named by RHS botanist Dawn Edwards – Lathyrus x hammettii.

Keith worked for many years using L. belinensis with its yellow and orange flowers, to create a yellow flowered sweet pea – he started by crossing it with ‘Mrs Collier’ - and that work continues. But along the way it has, rather surprisingly, led to the development of some impressive reverse bicolours, sweet peas with the standard paler than the dark wings; ‘Erewhon’, which I discussed here a couple of years ago, is perhaps the best example so far. A full account of these hybrid and their origins was recently published in the Royal Horticultural Society magazine The Plantsman.

The other, perhaps even more startling development, relates to sweet peas as cut flowers. As you can see Long stemmed sweet peas from Japandfrom the picture (click to enlarge), a Japanese grower has managed to create sweet peas with extraordinarily long stems. I’ve yet to find out quite how they did it – not being fluent in Japanese is, of course, an impediment. But whether it’s new breeding or new growing techniques it would be interesting to know quite how they did it.


New colors in bidens for baskets

Bidens 'Goldeneye'Bidens, tickseed, is not a plant that leaps to mind when we first think about annuals for baskets and other patio containers. It’s just not. A few years ago Bidens ferulifolia was touted as a useful basket plant but although its bright yellow daisies look good against the slender dark green leaves, and it develops an appealingly billowing habit, it makes such a big plant that almost everything else is overwhelmed.

But things have changed, and new varieties from two different sources have ensured that we all take another look at bidens.

In Britain, the Thompson & Morgan breeding program has developed a series of varieties which are much more neat and compact than Bidens ferulifolia, come in new colors and flower forms and which are also more prolific.

There are eight varieties in their Pirates Series with ‘Golden Eye’ (above, click to enlarge) probably the pick, its golden centered white flowers are outstanding. There’s also the pure white ‘Pirates Pearl’, the double yellow ‘Pirates Booty’ as well as single and semi-double yellow varieties. Unless your containers are huge, all are improvements on Bidens ferulifolia.

Then from Japan comes the Hawaiian Flare Series. No pure yellows at all in this series, which concentrates on orange and red shades and color combinations. The plants are larger than those in the Pirates Series with a semi-trailing habit and are very prolific. The first three in the Hawaiian Flare Series are ‘Hawaiian Flare Orange Yellow Brush’ (below right, click to enlarge), with gold-centered orange flowers, ‘Hawaiian Flare Orange Drop’ (below left), which is the reverse with vivid orange flowers and yellow-tipped petals while ‘Hawaiian Flare Red Drop’ (below center) is soft red in color. More are on the way.

These are all just starting to appear on websites, in catalogs and in nurseries. In Britain try Mr. Fothergill’s, Brookside Nursery and good garden centers. In North America try Burpee and good local retail sources, across the Pacific North West plants are also available in nurseries supplied by wholesaler Log House Plants.
Bidens ‘Hawaiian Flare Orange Drop’ (left), ‘Hawaiian Flare Red Drop’ (center) and ‘Hawaiian Flare Orange Yellow Brush’ (right)



Blue poinsettias: A sin against nature

Hideous blue and lilac poinsettias. Images ©GardenPhotos.com
Last night at the local supermarket I spotted these: Blue poinsettias – and lilac poinsettias! I’d heard about them but never quite believed it could be true. I thought the red ones were bad enough. Silly me. The lilac one makes me feel especially ill.

These abominations are coming your way, Brits. Perhaps even with added glitter.

They're the perfect present for someone you’re obliged to buy for – but secretly hate! But guess what: after about a week they will start turning red.

And let’s be clear: any plant dyed blue is a sin against nature. Glad we’ve got that clear. Happy Holidays!


Chelsea Flower Show Plant Of The Year 2014

Chelsea Plant Of The Year winner and runners up 2014. Images ©RHS except the tomato ©Tiffany Woods/Oregon State University
There are plenty of trade shows around the world where awards are given for new plants. But the Chelsea Plant Of The Year is one of the few awards made to new plants as they’re launched to gardeners. The 2014 award, the fifth, was made last week at London’s prestigious Chelsea Flower Show and the winner was a double flowered, bicolored variety of mophead/Hortensia hydrangea - Hydrangea macrophylla called Miss Saori (‘H20-2’) - which is not only an eye-catchingly attractive hardy garden shrub but which has already had success as a cut flower.

This year’s runner up was the unique black and white tall bearded iris ‘Domino Noir’, raised in France, and in third place was the Dutch, long flowering, hardiest yet Gerbera 'Garvinia Sweet Glow' with vibrant orange flowers.

Highlights amongst the rather long shortlist of twenty plants were the first double-flowered black petunia, ‘Black Knight’, the antioxidant-rich purple tomato ‘Indigo Rose’, the largest flowered Alstroemeria yet seen Inca Smile (‘Koncasmile’) and the lovely golden leaved Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold. All are illustrated above (click to enlarge) and should become available to gardeners soon.

Chelsea Plant Of The Year winners 2010-2013. Images ©RHS.As for previous winners, so far the track record and the international availability have been mixed. Previous winners were (left, click to enlarge):
Streptocarpus ‘Harlequin Blue’ (2010): Beautiful, compact and with a long season but as a house plant it has limited appeal. Not yet available in North America.
Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ (2011): A lovely white flowered variety with blue backs to the petals but, as the plant buyer for a major UK mail order nursery told me: “We had huge problems with it – we received poor quality plants and there were long delays. My understanding is that there are still problems, so we won't be listing it in the near future”. Available on both sides of the Atlantic.
Digitalis Illumination Pink (‘Tmdgfp001’) (2102): A spectacular breeding breakthrough with dramatic, colourful, bee-friendly flower spikes and now widely available on both sides of the Atlantic but less hardy than first claimed.
Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’: The first winner to be developed in the US, and an excellent evergreen shrub without the spines that so many mahonias have and which many people find annoying. Available on both sides of the Atlantic.

You can find a full list of this year’s shortlisted plants on the RHS website.

All Images ©RHS except Tomato 'Indigo Rose'  ©Tiffany Woods/Oregon State University.