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November 2007

Oddities of transatlantic air travel

Kitkat4fingerdarkstandard I’ve just flown back to Pennsylvania from England and I must tell you about a couple of curious things about the trip.

First, there’s frankly bizarre regulations which allow anyone flying from the USA to the UK to take a laptop on the plane along with a carry-on bag – yet when you fly back home from the UK to the USA the same hand baggage will not be allowed on the plane! You’ll have to get the laptop inside the carrt-on bag – and throw something away to make it fit if necessary. In fact if you want to take a plastic bag with a book in it on to the plane they won’t let you take anything else. Just one bag of any kind. Stuff the book inside your shirt and nobody cares. [I should say that this rule is supposed to be changed from January 2008 - we shall see...]

Even more bizarre… Try to take a knife through the security check and on to the plane and the alarm bells ring. But along with my lunch I was handed a stainless steel knife, fork and spoon.

We all appreciate the need for security, but can’t it at least be consistent?

And... I almost forgot this one. I put three bars of the new British dark chocolate Kit-Kats (delicious!) in one of the suitcases for my wife and friend to try. When I unpacked, one of the cases had been very obviously gone through and two of the Kit-Kats had gone!

Happy Birthday Transatlantic Plantsman!

Fusionpeachfrost1500 It’s one year today since I started this blog… Almost 160 posts, countless pictures and plenty of interesting comments from you the readers. During this time I’ve featured some stunning new plants, like Impatiens ‘Fusion Peach Frost’ (pictured) from both sides of the Atlantic, some excellent books, and I’ve occasionally stretched the horticultural point a little to include fish and music. Sadly, I couldn’t find a way to include the startlingly inventive Imagined Village, a “folk” band featuring ex-punk Billy Bragg and veteran folkie Martin Carthy whom I saw recently in England,. On the other hand…

Thank you for your comments and suggestions, those posted publicly and those emailed privately, and here’s to another year of Transatlantic Plantsman.

I‘ll be recommending some recent books in the run up to the holidays… but, if I might be so bold, perhaps you’d be kind enough to take a look at my own books in the column to the left and see if any would make suitable gifts for your family or friends in the coming holiday season.

A super silver

Senecioview400It’s been chilly here in England this last week (well, -5C/23F… not cold by our Pennsylvania standards I know) but it’s clear that some supposedly tender annuals are taking it in their stride. In a local front garden I spotted a silver leaved Senecio cinerarea ‘Silverdust’ which had clearly been there for some years. I know that last winter in England was the mildest ever recorded but still…

Making a dramatic silver-leaved shrub over 60cm/2ft high, it’s turned itself into a super specimen while everything else is looking ragged and tired. The soil in this area is well drained but fertile and the garden faces south and is slightly protected – but it’s the drainage which is crucial. back in PA there was a plant of this in the garden when arrived. It survived the first winter with a few ragged stems - frozen solid for months – but it never really grew away well in spring.
So in milder, well-drained areas don’t tear it out in the autumn… just leave it and see what happens.

Discovering Scotland’s rarest tree

Sorbuspseudomeinichiisnh It’s not often that a completely new wild  species is found in Britain but a new whitebeam (Sorbus) has recently been discovered on an island off the coast of Scotland.

Well, that’s not precisely true. Phil Lusby, who for many years has worked tirelessly both to conserve Scotland’s rare plants and to tell people about them, was examining some pressed herbarium specimens at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Edinburgh. He noticed that one specimen was not what it was supposed to be and seemed to be a distinct new species.

It turned out that the specimen was collected on the Isle of Arran, off the south west coast of Scotland, an area already well known for its unique Sorbus species which are found nowhere else in the world. Investigation of the site, on a hillside in Glen Catacol, revealed that there are just two specimens alive – a third is thought to have been eaten by deer. A deer fence is in place and has been extended. The area is so remote that fencing material had to be flown in by helicopter.

It’s thought that the whitebeams on the island are in an active state of evolution, and that the Catacol whitebeam (Sorbus pseudomeincichii) is a hybrid between the familiar and widespread native Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), with its clusters of red berries at this time of year, and the Cut-leaved Whitebeam (Sorbus pseudofennica) which is itself a hybrid between the rowan and  the Arran Whitebeam (Sorbus arranensis). Complicated, isn’t it?

These plants have the unusual ability of produce seed without fertilisation (as can dandelions and brambles, amongst other plants) so the offspring will usually be exactly the same as the parent. Seedlings and cuttings are being grown at the botanic gardens so that the trees can be studied more closely – and just in case the deer get through the new fence.

Oriental Vegetables - Book review

Orientalvegetables In the run up to the holiday season I’m going to take a quick look at some new and recent books that will make great gifts. I’m not going to waste your time on books that are below average, I’ll only be telling you about those that are really good.

First off: Oriental Vegetables – The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook by Joy Larkcom.

This thoroughly revised paperback edition of her classic book is a triumph of diligent research and practical experience and all expressed in her trademark style in which a vast wealth of information is made easily readable.

One of the reasons that many of these tasty and easy-to-grow vegetables are in every supermarket and on every plate is because Joy went to China to study them, grew them herself in Europe (zone 8) then popularised a Western way to produce them easily in the garden. She explains the distinctions, recommends varieties, and describes how to grow and harvest them. These wonderful flavours (the book includes plenty of recipes) – not to mention the ornamental value of so many – should be in every garden and every kitchen. No colour pictures, but vast quantities of wisdom and comprehensive lists of seed suppliers in both Britain and North America. Great value.

Joy Larkcom is the recipient of the British Garden Writers’ Guild Liftetime Achievement Award.

Buy Oriental Vegetables in Britain

Pre-order Oriental Vegetables in North America for delivery in February 2008

Sparkling new geranium from T&M

Geraniumhorizonorangeice There are few companies which are familiar to gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic – in fact Thompson & Morgan Seeds is about the only one which sells such an extensive range in both North America and Britain.

One of the highlights of their introductions for the new season is Geranium ‘Horizon Orange Ice’. This is a seed-raised annual geranium (correctly Pelargonium of course and probably hardy in zone 9) which I saw at T&M’s trials in the summer and it really is special. Its unique combination of white and orange in every flower sparkles brightly and it’s impressively prolific – it’s a superb patio plant.

Raised in Norfolk, England, by Floranova, one of the world’s leading breeders of annuals, its colouring is reminiscent of the wonderful ‘Sensation Picotee’ from some years ago. Also originally from Floranova, this was rarely available as seed proved so difficult to produce in sufficient quantities.

‘Horizon Orange Ice’ is ideal in containers with the yellow leaves of Helichrysum petiolare (licorice plant) ‘Limelight’ or ‘Friolina’ trailing violas. For a foliage partner try one of the superb trailing ipomoeas, the purple-bronze ‘Blackie’ or the new ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ with its sharply divided, red-tinted bronze leaves.

Two new colours in this style, a red and a pink. are on the way (in the picture with ‘Horizon Orange Ice’), so look out for them in retail seed catalogues next year.Geraniumhorizonicemix

Geranium ‘Horizon Orange Ice’ is available in North America here
Geranium ‘Horizon Orange Ice’ is available in Britain here
Floranova does not sell seed or plants to home gardeners

British Garden Writers' Guild Awards

Gardenpeople I intended to tell you about the other British Garden Writers Guild award winners sooner but my more or less failed internet connection here in England has prevented me from doing so till now. The situation was exacerbated by my fury at the ISP which charges 10p (=20c) per minute for the phone call to discuss the correction of a problem which is entirely of their own creation – and which they repeatedly fail to correct!

Anyway… Be that as it may… When I finally got to a proper connection, first I posted an update on my own award (well, you would, wouldn’t you…?). Now, the other awards…

There follows the full list of winners. I hope to review the two other winning books before the holidays… I’m sure you’ve heard enough about my own book. If not, check out the judges’ enthusiastic remarks.

You can also see who actually judged the awards here

And you can see the Garden Writers' Guild’s own report here

Ken Muir

TV Broadcast of the Year
Grow Your Own Veg produced by Juliet Glaves for BBC Birmingham (for BBC2)

Radio Broadcast of the Year
Gardens of Faith by Natural History Unit Radio at BBC Bristol (for Radio 4), produced by Mary Colwel

Electronic Media Award edited by Camilla Phelps

New Writer Award
Louise Zass-Bangham for her article Is all wood good? in Garden Design Journal

Environmental Award
John Walker for his article Time to power down? in Organic Gardening

Photographer of the Year
Andrew Lawson

Features Photographer of the Year
Michelle Garrett for images in the article Mosses & liverworts by Jacky Hobbs in Homes & Gardens

Single Image of the Year
Jonathan Buckley for his image entitled Orchid

Reference Book of the Year
RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials by Graham Rice, Editor-in-Chief published by Dorling Kindersley

Enthusiasts' Book of the Year
Garden People: Valerie Finnis & The Golden Age of Gardening by Ursula Buchan, published by Thames & Hudson (Jacket Illustrated above)

Practical Book of the Year
RHS New Gardening by Matthew Wilson, published by Mitchell Beazley

Newspaper of the Year
The Daily Telegraph, Kylie O’Brien, Editor Telegraph Gardening

Magazine of the Year
Gardens Illustrated, edited by Juliet Roberts

Journalist of the Year
Jane Moore for articles in Gardeners’ World Magazine

Practical Journalist of the Year
Andi Clevely for his article To dig or not to dig? in The Garden

Trade Journalist of the Year
Graham Clarke for his article Developments in tougher turf in Horticulture Week

Update on my book award

Grandperrier400 Here’s what the judges said about the Encyclopedia of Perennials,which has just won the Laurent-Perrier Reference Book of the Year award from the British garden  Writers Guild.:
“The judges felt that on publication the winner had immediately become the standard reference book on perennials for gardeners. Put together with a great attention to detail, the quality of illustration is exceedingly high. This is supported with an extensive and detailed text that balances the need for including and describing many thousands of good new cultivars without excluding those older ones still worthy of cultivation. The coverage of many large groups such as Hosta and Geranium is impressive, but equal importance has been paid to hundreds of smaller genera also. At only £25, this is one of the best-value books on the market this year.”

The picture shows me receiving my award from David Hesketh of sponsor Laurent-Perrier. Sadly, a bottle of their superb champagne did not come as part of the award.

Rhsperennialsuk British readers can buy the book here.

North American readers can buy the American edition here

And I promise not to mention this award again - well... probably not... maybe... depends... But next time I'll tell you about the other excellent award winners.

Yippee!! (Blowing own trumpet time…)

Rhsperennialsuk I’m just back from the British Garden Writers’ Guild annual awards… Five hundred writers and photographers having a lovely lunch and celebrating the best horticultural work of the last year. And celebrations are certainly in order here! My Royal Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia of Perennials won the Laurent-Perrier Reference Book of the Year award. (There’s no overall “best book” award.) That's my sixth award for writing about plants and gardens. Yippee!

Thank you Dorling Kindersley for commissioning the book, thank you to the RHS for supporting it so wholeheartedly, and thank you to all the contributors who helped make the book such a success.

British readers can buy the book here.

North American readers can buy the American edition here

A Transatlantic chrysanthemum

Chrysanthwillswonderful400 Back in England, and this trip’s first visit to the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley today... and what do I find – under the dark and drizzly skies? A chrysanthemum from Illinois.

I acquired ‘Will’s Wonderful’ from Ellen Hornig at Seneca Hill Perennials in New York. She got it from Will Forster who rescued it from his grandmother’s Illinois garden. I then passed some on to Judy Barker, the holder of the British National Collection of Korean, Rubellum and Hardy Spray Chrysanthemums; she gave stock to Wisley. And today, on 13 November, at Wisley - it’s at its peak. The other chrysanths are mostly cut down for the winter but ‘Will’s Wonderful’, with its billows of single, pink-tipped, white flowers proves that it’s worth a place in any garden. It was doing even better here than back in our Pennsylvania garden.

If this isn’t an RHS Award of Garden Merit Plant…

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