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?!
Not so long ago I talked to the commissioning editor at one of the top garden book publishers who said they weren’t commissioning any more books about plants because people could get all the information on plants they needed online. Well, not so fast. This gold standard of plant books proves them wrong.
Kniphofias are – as we say these days – trending, so the appearance of Kniphofia: The Complete Guide by Christopher Whitehouse is very timely. In the last six years one American breeder alone has introduced thirteen new varieties (including 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle', above) and the trial at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley that ended in 2009 revealed some fine older cultivars.
This book does everything a monograph should: in its 456 pages it classifies and describes the seventy species thoroughly and with insight; over a thousand cultivars are covered, 160 that are grown today are described in detail and illustrated - grouped by the color of their flowers so we can more easily distinguish one from another. We gain a valuable understanding of how and where kniphofias grow in the wild, courtesy of a botanist who’s studied them in their native habitats. And if you want to know how to grow them… well, look no further.
That’s all well and good, but if this wealth of information is not provided in an attractive and accessible way then why bother? Fortunately, the design is elegant and stylish yet straightforward and accessible; the color reproduction is excellent and whatever I need to know about kniphofias, this is where I turn.
And, in some ways, that’s the most important feature of all. There’s no room in the gardening book market for more than one book on kniphofias, so the one that appears has to cover, well, everything. In recent years a number of plant books have appeared that have not been comprehensive but which have, by their very existence, prevented another book taking up the slack.
This is the first in a series of plant monographs from the Royal Horticultural Society, with books on some popular and important plants in the pipeline. It’s not cheap, but even so I’m sure it won't make the RHS or its author much money. But it’s part of the role of the world’s largest and most prestigious gardening society to make fundamental information about plants available for the gardening and botanical community across the world. Count this as a job very well done.
Kniphofia: The Complete Guide by Christopher Whitehouse is published by the Royal Horticultural Society at £40.00/c$50.00.
* Disclosure: I was paid for a fee for a small contribution to this book.
It’s been quiet around here recently, hasn’t it. Sorry about that: lyme disease, new grandchild, selling an apartment, buying a house, renovating a house… Lots of stuff going on. Not enough hours (or energy) in the day.
But here we are again, and we’re appreciating the perennial advice that when we move into a new home we should take a year assessing the garden before we make any changes. One of the few old garden maxims that actually makes sense.
We looked over our new English cottage (above), just round the corner from the previous one, two or three times in the spring and summer before buying it and noticed the mature specimen of the yellow-leaved form of the pheasant berry, Leycesteria formosa Golden Lanterns (‘Notbrue’) (below), with its supposedly golden leaves and purple late summer and autumn flowers. Have to say… the leaves look a little more bleached than gold. But I don't think it will be for the chop, I know its color will be better in spring: unlike the hideous pink and white variegated willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) which I just can't bear to illustrate – where's the saw?
Back in the summer, we had no idea that we had pink and white hardy cyclamen because they were dormant. Now, they’re lovely. Nor that the huge upright holly in the neighboring garden would prove to be a ‘Camelliifolia’, now heavily laden with scarlet berries. Or that there was a ‘Golden Hornet’ crab apple (above) on the other side also dripping in fruit: there should be plenty of birds enjoying the bounty.
And it turns out that we also have two large and mature (so far unidentified) viburnums, also developing berries. And I know there are snowdrops because some irritating creature had dug them up and scattered them about. The feeders are up, and the birds quickly found them. And the red kites continue to keep an eye on it all from overhead.
Anyway, I'm very pleased to say that postings from the Transatlantic Gardener have resumed. Thank you for your patience – and for checking in today. There'll be a little flurry of catch-ups before things settle down again.
I wrote about the Philadelphia Flower Show here last year, and ran a guest blog earlier this year about the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. Now, I’m just back from the granddaddy of them all, the Chelsea Flower Show.
Well, I remarked on the poor light in the exhibition center at Philadelphia, the shortage of actual flowers was a feature at San Francisco and the surfeit of irrelevant trade stands was noted at both – no such problems at Chelsea.
Chelsea is about plants and gardens and the trade stands reflect that pre-occupation. There were seventeen outdoor show gardens (and the minimum size is 10m x 10m), thirteen smaller outdoor show gardens, and a generous helping of outdoor trade stands designed as gardens as well as garden-related sales booths. No booths promoting river cruises or kitchen gadgets or miracle cures.
In the three acre Great Pavilion, a bright, modern structure that replaced the vast canvas tent a few years ago, were one hundred and three floral exhibits staged by nurseries, growers, florists, specialist societies, horticultural colleges and scientific institutions.
Vast billows of roses, walls of phalaenopsis, cottage style perennial plantings, cacti, a whole stand of perhaps a hundred different miniature hostas (I lost count, I’m afraid), fragrant hyacinths, luscious strawberries ready to pick, strings of tempting cherry tomatoes and so much more. Daffodils were at their peak, dahlias were in full flower - a surprising duo and neither looked forced.
The Diamond Jubilee Award for the best exhibit in the Great Pavilion was awarded to Ashwood Nurseries for their stunning exhibit of hepaticas (above), they showed all twelve species together with a range of hybrids including some developed at Ashwood.
It’s a lot to take in but you can see the plants and gardens at the Show (and see how the show comes together in the three weeks running up to the opening) from home, check out this page of videos on the Royal Horticultural Society website.
I’ll also again be writing up the Chelsea Plant of The Year competition for the RHS magazine The Plantsman.
And I'll be discussing the Chelsea Plant of The Year winners here soon.
Driving around Pennsylvania or Northamptonshire, while keeping my eyes on the road, my peripheral vision always takes in what’s growing by the roadside. And there’s plenty to see.
One of the very first posts on this blog, way back in 2007, was about unexpected roadside plants and here we are almost ten years later and over the last few days I’ve spotted some more.
First, let’s revisit the Heathrow euphorbias (above). Having driven round the exit from London’s orbital motorway, the M25, for Heathrow every few months for more than fifteen years – about four years ago I spotted Mediterranean euphorbias bursting through the barrier. Driving my wife judy to the airport last week she snapped this picture on her phone through the car window as we whizzed by. Those euphorbias are still going strong.
Later, on the way home to Northamptonshire, I spotted something interesting as I turned off the northbound M1 motorway to head home. And it turned out to be a strange mixture of plants: stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) (below) scattered by the side of the road along with Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, grape hyacinths (Muscari), jonquil daffodils, flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and more: a strange mix of garden plants at an exit that’s a long way from a garden.
And then just yesterday, on the way back from the recycling centre, doing very nicely by the roadside – two or three patches of another Mediterranean plant: Alexanders (Smyrnium olustratum) (above right). The Flora of Northamptonshire tells me that it: “originates from it formerly being grown as a medicinal herb”.
Now that our roadsides are not treated like lawns and mown every two or three weeks, there’s more and more interesting plants to see.
I’ve been doing some weeding. This is in our British garden where the weeds are always jumping at this time of year, especially when it’s been so wet and it’s been unwise to get on the soil.
I’ve also been having a clear out, bringing files and folders out from the back of the file cabinets and what did I find? My weed collection, three fat folders of pressed plants, that I made when I was a student at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London almost forty years ago (below right, click to enlarge).
And the first pressed plant I found in the first folder I opened was the same plant I’d just been pulling out of the garden: hairy bitter cress (Cardamine hirsuta). We have a close relative, Pennsylvania bitter cress (Cardamine pennsylvanica) in our American garden.
And this brings me to my first rule of weeding: our top weeding priority should always be to pull out are the weeds that are in flower or developing seeds. Hairy bitter cress rarely grows more then 10in/25cm high but can still can produce 700 seeds and fling them 31in/80cm, but it can also produce seeds when just two inches (5cm) high. So pull it out. Now.
Many of the traditional rules of gardening have little value but “One year’s seeding makes ten years weeding” really is true. Dandelions (below), which as annoying in Pennsylvania as they are in Northamptonshire, can produce over two hundred seeds in one seed head. So - obviously - don’t let them seed.
My second rule of weeding is always to shake the soil off the roots after you pull out the weeds and before they go on the compost heap or (in those cities with green waste recycling) in the green waste bin. You can ship out a huge amount of good soil if you’re not careful.
And my third rule of weeding is this: get them when they’re young. When nasty perennial weeds like bindweed come through at this time of year, a one inch shoot is often an indicator of yards of root underneath. Later, when their twirling stems become entwined with our garden plants, it’s all but impossible to remove them. It’s so much easier when they’re just an inch high and, at this time of year, if you disturb the plants you’re trying to protect when extracting bindweed roots they’ll soon settle down again. By the time the bindweed is strangling your cistus (top) it’s far far FAR too late.
My final rule is this: Don't spend half a day weeding and then the rest of the week nursing your aching back. I did half an hour this morning and half an hour this afternoon and I’ll try to keep that up. But if I’d spent two hours forking out weeds at a single stretch this morning (as I was tempted to do) I’d not be able to get out there again tomorrow or the next day or the rest of the week. Little and often…
OK, it's time to get back to the bindweed and dandelions and the dreaded hairy bitter cress.
Guest post by lawyer (and nephew) Jonathan Weisbrod
I distinctly remember the first Flower & Garden Expo I attended. In the mid-90s, my family went to the Philadelphia Flower & Garden Show. It was a rather grand experience, between floral displays and booths upon booths of plants I had never heard of or seen before. Admittedly grandeur to someone under the age of ten is easy to come by.
Over the years since I’ve attended a lot of festivals and conventions celebrating everything from hot air ballooning to chili peppers, but beyond “craft & garden” fairs – nothing with horticulture at the forefront. As a recent transplant from New Jersey to San Francisco, it seemed appropriate to try and take in my new coast. Why not spend a day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show? #throwbackthursday or in this case Saturday.
To be fair, I knew my past expectations needed to be tempered, still I was surprised by the amount of craft fair wares available relative to the garden vendors (how many people do you need selling aged balsamic vinegar?). The event felt more like a crafts fair with gardens added on than a garden expo colored by craft vendors. The proliferation of gutter cleaning devices, new windows, and college-student MLM king Cutco takes a bit away from the whimsy.
Oh right, the garden displays. There were some very pleasant, zen displays. However, they weren’t just an afterthought in this reflection on the show, they felt like one at the show itself. The actual garden displays numbered just over half a dozen but with rather narrow scope. As such a novice, perhaps it's not surprising the water displays jumped out at me most – but they certainly felt more the focus of each set up rather than anything floral (though a raining bridge is cool concept for a few minutes).
All-in-all mixed feelings, not an overwhelming disappointment, but far from a success in my book. I was able to learn a bit about products to implement in my own garden which certainly a big plus, if only I gleaned more about plants to put in it…
Gardeners and botanists both use common names as well as scientific names when referring to plants. Using common names for plants is more widespread in North America than it is in Britain, even among botanists, and even though common names are often simply made up if there doesn’t seem to be one already in use. But common names are confusing. After all, there are more than twenty different plants, from around the world, that are called “bluebells”.
Native Americans must have had local names for many native plants when settlers first arrived in North America but the settlers didn’t bother to learn them and simply made up new ones - or, as with birds like the robin, transferred a familiar common name to a plant that looked vaguely similar to one from back home.
So when I saw a large mature sycamore (above) way across the Delaware River the other day, its white branches ghosting against the oaks and maples behind, I was reminded of this: in Europe, sycamore is used for Acer pseudoplatanus; here in North America sycamore is Platanus occidentalis. The leaves are very similar, so I presume settlers simply transferred the name. But surely, native Americans must have had a common name for P. occidentalis. After all, I’m told they used to tap it for sap in the same way as sugar maples.
In Europe, P. occidentalis is the plane tree and its hybrid with P. orientalis is a familiar city street tree. In Paris, large plane trees in the streets are pruned – literally – into a plane with all the branches parallel to the street and none overhanging.
The sycamore of Europe, Acer pseudoplatanus (below) - whose botanical name, by the way, literally translates as “the maple that looks like a plane tree”! - is a menace. There’s a huge one in our neighbor’s garden in England and its seedlings spring up all over the place. What’s worse is that they get their new roots down deep quickly so that even when they’re less than a foot high they can be tough to extract, especially between the cracks in paving.
I’d much rather have the American version.
Acer speudoplatanus image (above) © Jean-Pol Grandmont. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.