In Europe, this year is – wait for it – The Year Of The Bean! Yes, really!
Each year a flower and a vegetable are chosen for special attention by The Home Garden Association, a European industry organization that promotes seed-raised flowers and vegetables. So 2017 is The Year Of The Bean – as well as The Year Of The Zinnia (we’ll get to zinnias another time).
But, when I remembered that it was The Year Of The Bean - actually, it’s hard to forget, don't you think? – the first bean that came to mind was one that’s never grown for its beans.
Well, just take a look at this crimson flowered broad/fava bean (above) - it’s called, well, ‘Crimson Flowered’! Isn’t it lovely?
What we grow today is a descendant of the 'Red Blossomed' bean that was first mentioned in England in 1778, and discussed in a report from the Horticultural Society of London in 1831. The report says: “Stem about four and a half feet high. Blossoms varying, sometimes of a light red, at others of a dark crimson color. Pods short and much pointed, seldom containing more than three Beans, which are small, short, and thick, of a rusty white color when ripe. This is only fit for ornament; it is but a moderate bearer, and will not keep long after gathering, as it soon turns black.” So, the flowers were the thing, and they still are.
So here's the story: The only reason that we can grow it today is that a gardener from Kent, Miss Rhoda Cutbush, donated four seeds to Britain's Heritage Seed Library exactly two hundred years after its first mention in print. It had been handed down to her many years previously by her father, who’d been given it before the First World War, and she’d saved seed every year and kept it going. The Heritage Seed Library increased stock and passed it around.
But I’m sure that today’s ‘Crimson Flowered’ is a different plant from the one that the Horticultural Society of London reported on in 1831. Selection, conscious or not, will have taken place by a number of gardeners over the decades and things change.
Today, it grows to about 90cm/3ft, instead of the 1.4m/4.5ft noted back then. Also, the British catalogue from Mr Fothergill's describes the beans as “flavourful” and Chiltern Seeds describe it as “very tasty”. I have to say that the last time I grew it I seem to remember that “unremarkable” was a better description.
In North America The Sustainable Seed Company describes them as “much shorter” than most other fava beans (Not in my experience) and Heritage Harvest describe them as “tasty”.
But there’s no doubt that this is a lovely thing and I’ll be growing it again this year – and will report on the flavor of the beans, and the height of the plants. And be prepared for more occasional bean-related (and zinnia-related) Year Of posts later this year.
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’
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'
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.
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') 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.
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.
Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip (‘America Irene Scott’).
Basically, this is a prettily variegated hardy hibiscus with prolific soft pink double flowers and it has four main features going for it.
Firstly, the variegated foliage is neat and soft greyish green in color with an irregular, but neat, creamy white margin so even if the plant never flowered it would still be attractive.
Secondly, the soft rosy pink flowers, each with a crimson stain at the base of the petals, are double and don’t set seed so they last longer than single-flowered varieties.
Thirdly, unlike ‘Purpurea Variegata’, it actually flowers and, unlike ‘Meehanii’, also variegated, the flowers and foliage make a prettily harmonious combination.
Finally we’ve had our plant in the garden here in Pennsylvania for about ten years and it’s reached about 10ft/3m in height. But its narrow, upright growth means that it’s only about 5ft/1/5m wide at most – so it doesn’t cast too much shade on the plants around it and fits well into a small space. I’ll have to get one for our British garden.
Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip (‘America Irene Scott’) is a variegated sport of the old classic ‘Lady Stanley’ (introduced in 1861) and was found by Sharon Gerlt on her nursery in Independence, MO in 2001.
Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip is currently available by mail order in the UK only from Gardening Express.
Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip is currently available retail in North America in the Proven Winners and Monrovia retail ranges and by mail order from Garden Crossings and from Nature Hills.
Image courtesy of Proven Winners - www.provenwinners.com
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.
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.
Just because posting here paused for a while this year didn’t mean that impressions of new and old favorite plants failed to penetrate into the brain. Far from it. So, starting today, I switch to the opposite extreme with brief daily thoughts on five plants – new and old - that caught my attention this year plus two or three that I haven’t even seen yet but which look really exciting. Here’s the first.
Argyranthemum GranDaisy Pink
The four plants in the GranDaisy Series are all hybrids between marguerites, Argyranthemum, and annual chrysanthemums (Gledionis coronaria, better known as Chrysanthemum coronarium). Yes, a shrub crossed with an annual in a different genus. The botanists are working on its correct name.
The results are plants with flowers in unusually pure colors in the red, yellow and white varieties and with flowers opening over an exceptionally long season without pauses for breath. But Argyranthemum GranDaisy Pink has also inherited the ring around the eye seen so often in annual chrysanthemums and the effect is exceptional.
These are plants for summer containers and well-drained sunny summer borders, probably hardy in zone 9, perhaps zone 8, and tolerant of summer heat but not happy in high summer humidity.
The series has its own website, but the text needs more information and less whimsy: “GranDaisy is an uncomplicated, unassuming and understated plant that will give you summer every day” the site tells us and “GranDaisy is more than a plant, it's an experience”. Hmmm…
The GranDaisy Series of Argyranthemum hybrids was developed in Japan by Suntory, who also developed the Surfinia trailing petunias.
Argyranthemum GranDaisy Pink is currently available retail in the UK, in a collection with the red and yellow forms, from Thompson & Morgan.
Argyranthemum GranDaisy Pink will be available soon in North America.
A few days ago we went out to buy our Christmas tree. After five stops at different places we finally found one we were happy with and were told it was a Canaan Fir, a hybrid between the balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri). I’d never heard of it so when we got home I looked it up.
It turns out that there’s a good reason that I’d never heard of this hybrid – it doesn’t exist. And the name Canaan Fir doesn’t mean that it’s found in Canaan (as in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan).
The Canaan Fir is actually a variety of the balsam fir, A. balsamea var. phanerolepis, which is distinguished from the regular balsam fir in details of the shape of parts of the cone. Not only that, it’s actually a local ecotype, a specific regional variant.
Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis grows wild from Labrador south to Ontario, and continuing south along the coast of Maine all the way to the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. But some that grow in a small area of West Virginia, known locally as the Canaan Valley (with the weight on the second syllable of Canaan) are slightly different and it is from seed of these, collected at elevations over 3000ft, that cultivated Canaan Fir Christmas trees are derived.
The Canaan Fir has become popular as a Christmas Tree in recent years because it’s especially long lasting when cut, it retains its needles well and also retains the fragrance of the balsam fir. At first I thought its branches seemed rather weak but now, after a couple of days fully laden with ornaments and lights (nine hundred of them!), it’s actually holding up very well. I’ll add an update to this post around Twelfth Night/Little Christmas/Women’s Christmas (6 January, when we take the tree down) and report on how it’s doing.
Also, on a related topic (deep breath, please)… When we unpacked our nine strings of red and gold Christmas tree lights it turned out that after a year in a box in the basement only three of them still worked. So off I dashed to Lowes (Brits: = B&Q) to buy more.
And I was amazed at the price. Amazed! The price was absolutely outrageous! Each box of 100 minilights cost me $1.44 (including sales tax). Yes, $1.44.
Of course, they were made in China. And they were so cheap because wages there are so low. So if Mr. Trump brings these jobs back to America and pays American workers an American wage to make them, how much do you think those lights will cost? $15? $20? Will you buy them at that price? And, if you do, what will you do when they pack up after spending a year tucked away in a big brown box? You’ll be back to Lowes raising hell. And, if you want better lights that last for years, how much are you prepared to pay? It’s not as simple as Mr. Trump would have us believe.
I recently contributed a foreword, and discussed some of the plants, in a big fat new book called, in Britain, 1001 Plants You Must Grow Before You Die and called, in North America, 1001 Plants To Dream Of Growing. Perhaps the publishers thought that the sensibilities of American readers are a little more delicate that those of the Brits and that they’d be discouraged from buying the book by the reminder of the fact that, one day, they’ll be pushing up daisies. Anyway, both titles give you idea.
The book runs to 960 pages – yes, really!, weighs in at 4lb 9.4oz/2.08kg, and every one of the 1001 plant choices is, of course, handsomely illustrated in color. Editor Liz Dobbs did a great job. The book is split into sections – annuals, perennials, shrubs, climbers, edibles and so on – and each chosen plant is discussed by an expert who reveals interesting insights into the plant, its origins, its habits, its associations and why it deserves to be chosen. It really is a good read.
I’m delighted to say that the book has been well-received. To pick just two reviews, The New York Journal Of Books said: "This gorgeous book is meant for anyone who is an aspiring gardener or an expert horticulturist, regardless of green-thumb abilities or current state of a reader’s yard or window box.". And an enthusiastic reviewer on amazon.co.uk said: “Brilliant book and when it's laying out on the counter even the non gardeners in the family pick it up for a browse though and read aloud the plants that they find interesting or unusual.”
Now, here’s my advice. If you’d like to send a friend a plant book for the holidays, this is the book. But here’s the thing. It’s so heavy that it will cost you a fortune to send it. But if you order through amazon and have it sent direct to the friend then the shipping can be free if you’re not in a rush – and think about having them gift wrap it too. Don’t you just love a bargain?!