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February 2007

Hollies book review

Holliescover Hollies for Gardeners by Christopher Bailes

  • Thorough treatment of both European and American hollies
  • Good for gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic, not focused on England
  • Accessible writing style
  • Great photography
  • Makes you want to grow more hollies

It’s always a big gamble reviewing a book written by a friend and I committed to reviewing this book even before I saw it – such is my faith.

Transatlantically, so to speak, hollies are interesting. In Britain we grow almost exclusively two evergreen species – the English holly, Ilex aquifolium, and I. x altaclerensis – while in North America the deciduous winterberry, Ilex verticillata, and its hybrids are more common along with the evergreen American holly, I. opaca. And this a book by a British author, the Curator of the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Rosemoor in Devon, in the south west of England, where almost 200 different hollies are grown. He’s had a very long standing interest in hollies and I know he’s spent a great deal of time studying hollies in North America.

So, is his book any good?

Continue reading "Hollies book review" »

Another nursery plant name fiasco

Bulbsdirectnotechinacea Some great new echinaceas in yellow and peachy shades have been introduced in recent years so when you see Bulbs Direct listing a plant as Echinacea ‘Yellow Storm’ you might well think that you’d be ordering the latest of these.

Not so fast. In fact what you’ll be getting is good old Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ - just click on the picture (although even then it's not really the right color)! There’s a wopping clue there, of course, Goldsturm is German for – Golden Storm.Echinaceagoldstorm

Innocent mistake? Or a nursery trying to cash in on the popularity of these new echinaceas? Either way, don’t be taken in. Of course, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm is a colorful and dependable plant. It was Perennial Plant of the Year in 1999 and has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. But if you’re looking for a yellow echinacea – look elsewhere.

I’ve emailed them to point out their error… we shall see.

Where to buy sweet pea seed

Davematthewmansweetpeas500 Most mail order seed companies, on both sides of the Atlantic, sell sweet pea seeds but there are relatively few which offer a really good range. And only one sells a good range of sweet pea plants. As spring approaches (in some places at least) I’ve had a couple of emails recently asking for good sources of sweet pea seeds - so here goes.

North America
There are three excellent American suppliers who specialize exclusively in sweet pea seeds.
Enchanting Sweet Peas 244 Florence Avenue, Sebastopol, CA 95472.
Fragrant Garden Nursery P.O. Box 4246, Brookings, OR 97415.
Sweet Pea Gardens 614 Surry Road, Surry, ME 04684

In addition, Renee's Garden (Online only), has an fine range along with many other heirloom flowers.

There are more sweet pea specialists in Britain and Simply Sweet Peas (online only) specialize in sweet pea plants, which is ideal for many gardeners. In addition, I would single out these seed specialists although none in my comprehensive list will disappoint.

Matthewman's Sweet Peas 14 Chariot Way, Thorpe Audlin, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, WF8 3EZ
Cooltonagh Irish Sweet Peas
(Online only)
Owls Acre Sweet Peas Owl's Acre, Kellett Gate, Low Fulney, Spalding, Lincolnshire, PE12 6EJ.
Roger Parsons Sweet Peas Primrose Cottage, Clayton Lane, Bracklesham Bay, Chichester, PO20 8JQ

In addition, these two companies list an exceptional range along with a very wide range of other seeds.

Kings Seeds Monks Farm, Kelvedon, Colchester, Essex, CO5 9PG
Unwins Seeds Alconbury Hill, Huntingdon, Cambs, PE28 4HY.

Please click here for my latest comprehensive list of suppliers on both sides of the Atlantic.

And don’t forget my own book on sweet peas The Sweet Pea Book – just click on the jacket (below left) to find out more.

Good luck with your sweet peas this season.

Beanie the horticultural Real Estate Sales Puppy – RIP

Beanie I’m very sad to report that Beanie, the real estate sales puppy, has passed away. For many years Beanie has been a much loved New Jersey Licensed Real Estate Salesdog at the long established Union New Jersey real estate office, White Realty Co.

Beanie was an Official Mascot of the office and also a member of New Jersey Association of Everything Chewers, a member of the National Association of FaceLickers, a member of the Greater Union County Board of Say-Hello- To-Everyone-In-The-World-ers and a member of the Garden State Multiple Wagging League. As such, she was also a Certified Therapy Dog, and gave much joy to the ill and elderly, as well as everyone who ever met her.

Beanie was especially well known for her horticultural interests. Even in her last days as she took my doting my brother-in-law David Weisbrod, a broker at White Realty Co, for his daily walk round the block she continued to show a keen interest in the local plant life – especially woody plants. She brought home specimens for more detailed examination every day and red and white oaks, Quercus rubra and Q. alba, were special favorites although red maple, Acer rubrum, was generally preferred for its lighter weight in the mouth. On returning home these specimens, often thoughtlessly referred to as “sticks” by those who should have known better, were subjected to further investigation on the front lawn. Beanie became a noted authority on the lignin content of New Jersey hardwoods.Beanie2

Beanie leaves a devoted lead holder, a loving family and a melancholy real estate office that had always been prepared with treats.

Sadly, this is one of several recent blows to the White Realty office as Bear, another of the office’s New Jersey Licensed Real Estate Salesdogs, has also passed away. A Member of the New Jersey Association of Bonechewers, a devoted member of the National Association of RugPotatoes (NAR), a member of Greater Union County Board of Hydrant-Sniffers and, of course, an Official Mascot of White Realty, Bear was also the sweetest, handsome-ist canine in the world. Bear’s horticultural interests were remarkably similar to those of Beanie.

They will both be greatly missed.

Stinking hellebores and spurge laurel

Over on the consistently excellent mostlymacro, Dean Stables has been out and about in Yorkshire, as he often is. He's posted a great picture of the rare local native the spurge laurel, Daphne laureola, which also makes a good early dwarf evergreen shrub for the shade garden featuring clusters of greenish yellow flowers with a lovely fragrance. '€˜Margaret Mathew'€™ is an especially bushy and prolific form.

He'€™s also posted some lovely pictures of the stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, in flower although -€“ according to the New Atlas of the British Flora, my bible on such matters - it may not be truly native in his part of the world. But it's revealed as a lovely plant.

Helleborusfoetidus2121500 It’s impressive in gardens too and can make an dramatic specimen, as my picture of a plant with especially leaden-green foliage shows. Although it'€™s usually relatively short lived, it seeds around so once you have it you rarely lose it. Oh, and it doesn't really stink, Well, the leaves are have a slightly unpleasant smell, I suppose, but only when they'€™re bruised.

Hellebores in Pennsylvania and Northamptonshire

Snowblowing600 A couple of years ago, more or less on this day, I was leaving Pennsylvania to fly back to England. But first, before I could even drive to the airport, I had to fire up the snow blower and clear the driveway. Clearing snow, walking and making snowmen (plus skating if you feel inclined) are about the only outdoor activities at this time of year here in Pennsylvania. Gardening? Flowers? Forget it.

So it was a real treat to arrive back in Northamptonshire in England the next day and find this big clump of hellebores in full flower. And that contrast is a genuine distillation of the difference in winter conditions between our two homes. It’s a foreign country, things are different there…Helleborusbowlesyellow2337

And, as it happens, this hellebore is especially interesting. It came from Myddelton House, home of the great plantsman E. A. Bowles on the northern edge of London, and when my fellow Kew trained horticulturalist Geoff Stebbings was in charge of the garden it was the only impressive yellow flowered hellebore growing there. So it was presumed to be the famous ‘Bowles Yellow’ - except that another great plantsman, Graham Stuart Thomas, had determined that a rather unremarkable, much greener flowered plant was the correct bearer of the name 'Bowles Yellow'. Such is the arcane world of old hellebore cultivars.

Suffice it to say that this is lovely and vigorous plant, with large and impressive yellow flowers. I coined the name ‘Myddelton Yellow’ for it, to avoid confusion with the Thomas-approved plant. And it provided a real heart-warming welcome less than 24 hours after wrestling with the snow blower, with all the Pennsylvania hellebores under a foot or more of snow – as they are now.

Cannas, agastaches, bluebells, bluebonnets – and Star Trek Voyager

Naturehillsheatherqueen There’s been an burst of indignation this week on the Yahoo Group devoted to cannas. Nature Hills Nursery has a new “canna” listed – Canna ‘Heather Queen’; it appears amongst their list of other canna varieties. Trouble is, ‘Heather Queen’ is an agastache.

The problem doubtless arose because there’s an Agastache species called Agastache cana (with one n). At some point someone at the nursery probably mis-typed it and then their software has dumped it in with the cannas and no one has bothered to change it. What's more, 'Heather Queen' is not even a cultivar of A. cana, the latest thinking is that it's a hybrid of A. cana and either A. mexicana or A. pallida.

I know, a typing slip is easily made. But someone at a nursery with such a vast range of plants really should have spotted it. Come on folks, does it really look like a canna? Anyway, it’s sold out – so perhaps some canna enthusiasts are in for surprise in the summer. This is the sort of nonsense that puts people off mail order.

Continue reading "Cannas, agastaches, bluebells, bluebonnets – and Star Trek Voyager" »

Valentine's Day tribute - Joy Larkcom

Joygraham500_1 Joy Larkcom is one of the most influential of all garden writers – ever.  She’s written many books on vegetables and organic gardening, published  both in the UK and in the USA, and her pioneering work in bringing heirloom vegetables to the attention of the big seed companies and so to the gardens of us all has changed the way we grow vegetables and greatly expanded the range of vegetables whose seeds we sow. And if it wasn’t for Joy, those bags of tasty and nutritious mixed baby salad leaves we find in the supermarket probably wouldn’t be there.

She’s recently finished revising one of her most influential books, Oriental Vegetables (I'll let you know when the new edition is published), and at the end of this post you’ll find links to some of her other books on amazon, both in the UK and the USA.

But why is it that I mention all this today, St Valentine’s Day?

Continue reading "Valentine's Day tribute - Joy Larkcom" »

Nursery in a snowstorm

Senecahillsnow3_1 Well, there’s been quite a snowstorm in upstate New York this last week, the Weather Channel reported this morning a suspected record of 146in (that’s over 12ft, 5.8m) in Redfield, NY and yesterday the New York Times ran a report on the situation in Oswego, NY. And that’s right where our friends at Seneca Hill Perennials have their wonderful nursery. They’re right in the middle of it – as you can see – although you could say they’ve been let off lightly.

“Amazingly,” owner Ellen Hornig tells me, “the greenhouses are still standing after about 2m of snow... the best part has been the steady stream of inquiries and condolences from friends near and far. But,” she sighed, “I see it's snowing again...”Senecahillsnow1_1

Have no fear, the nursery will be up and running for the spring shipping season. And, in the meantime, take a look at their smart new website – featuring an amazing 106 newcomers to their catalog. Specialist nurseries like Seneca Hill deserve our support - and especially in times like these.

How to read blogs – by request

A number of readers, especially in England, are new to blogs and have asked about how to read blogs and how to find out when there’s a new post at Transatlantic Plantsman.

The Simplest Way

  1. Bookmark/Favorite Transatlantic Plantsman - – just like any other website.
  2. Click on it whenever you remember.

Better still, and still very easy

  1. Bookmark/Favorite the site, as above.
  2. Enter your email address in the window above the Subscribe button, top right, click the button and follow the simple steps. Then, whenever there’s something new to read, you’ll receive an email to prompt you to take a look. You can either follow the link in the email, or click on your Bookmark/Favorite.

Simple way for people already reading blogs

  1. Click the Subscribe to this blog's feed link, top right.
  2. Some browsers will simply let you Bookmark/Favorite the page (e.g. the latest Firefox or latest Explorer) and will automatically bring up the most recent posts.
  3. Otherwise, it will open up a window allowing you to click on buttons through which you can easily subscribe using one of the popular blog readers. If you’re already set up with a reader, it should be there.

If you don’t have a blog reader and think you might want to read lots of blogs

  • Sign up with a free reader and I suggest Bloglines, a service which checks the blogs you want to read and highlights new posts. (There are other similar services.) It’s easy to set up, just follow it step-by-step.

If you use the Firefox browser…

  • The Sage reader is excellent. It creates a sidebar which lists the blogs to which you subscribe, and highlights in bold those with new posts. One click, and all the posts appear in the browser window. This is what I use.

Searching for a blog?

  1. Try Google Blog Search
  2. Or try Technorai Blog Search

Ten recommended blogs
Finally, to get you started, here are ten recommended gardening and plant blogs from the UK and USA. There are more in the sidebar over on the right.

GardenWeb’s Garden Voices
Daily highlights from the gardening blogs

Garden Rant
Firm opinion, with an endearing touch of justified hysteria from Susan Harris, Elizabeth Licata, Michelle Owens and Amy Stewart. Superb. There are links to their own individual blogs too.

Jane Perrone's organic allotment and garden blog from England.

Invasive Plants in Arlington
Photo diary or working on non-native, invasive plants in Arlington, Virginia.

Sightings and photographs from the natural world in Yorkshire, England.

Irene's Garden and Beyond
New York Newsday’s gardening columnist Irene Virag on her garden and beyond

Gardening and landscape design with attitude from Jane Berger in Washington DC and Woods Hole, Massechussets.

Cold Climate Gardening
Hardy plants for hardy souls from Kathy Purdy in zone 4, New York state.

A Study in Contrasts
Mostly garden-related musings of a transplant living near the sandy shores of Lake Erie.

May Dreams Gardens
From Indiana, including the Garden Bloggers' Book Club