Previous month:
February 2009
Next month:
April 2009

March 2009

Spring is here – and so is the new Plant Finder

RHSPLantFinder2009 I don’t know which day is the most exciting: the day the first spring flower opens after months of snow or the day (not long after, back in Pennsylvania) that the new annual edition of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Finder comes out.

Well the witch hazel, the snowdrops, the first crocuses and the good old skunk cabbage are flowering in Pennsylvania and now we have the new Plant Finder so spring has well and truly arrived.

Just to recap, the new Plant Finder is basically a list of over 71,000 plats available from British nurseries (71,177 to be precise) with sources indicated for each one and with every name checked for accuracy. So outside Britain it’s invaluable as an annually updated record of the correct names for this vast variety of garden plants.

One of the many interesting aspects of the book is to see which of the brand new plants is listed by the most nurseries. It’s a really good guide to the hot new plants.

GaurarosyjaneHCGPSo, what’s the top new plant this year? (Drum roll….) Gaura lindheimeri 'Rosyjane' with ten nurseries listing it in the new Plant Finder. I featured in last year’s pre-Chelsea Flower Show coverage and in my Hampton Court coverage. It’s gorgeous.

Close behind is Sedum ‘Mr Goodbud’, which won an Award of Garden Merit in the recent RHS trial. This is followed by a perennial becoming familiar to American gardeners, Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ raised at Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon who also raised the next on the list, x Heucherella 'Tapestry' which is equal with Clematis Diana's Delight ('Evipo026'), raised by clematis wizard Raymond Evison, and next, perhaps most surprising of all, a tree Sorbus commixta Olympic Flame ('Dodong'). Quite a mixture of new favourites.

EchinaceaTomatoSoup1bTN500 You can find which nurseries stock these plants – and what the correct names are for all 71,000+ of them, by buying a copy of the RHS Plant Finder. Or take a look at the online version – it’s free. Yes, the online version is free - and may it always be so – and it includes, by the way, records of all the plants which have been listed in the past but which are no longer included – nearly 45,000 of them.

Yes, spring has finally arrived. The new RHS Plant Finder is out.

British gardeners can buy the RHS Plant Finder here

But North American gardeners (gulp) will have to wait to get it from as they do not yet list it. The shame!! Of course, you can always get it shipped over from across the Atlantic.

Daffodils: good intention, rotten result

DaffsonBank600 Back in England, I was driving home from the airport and these daffodils just made me so mad I had to turn round, go back and take a picture in the wind and the rain.

Now I’m sure the people who planted these daffodils on a wild roadside bank amongst native shrubs, perennials and grasses had good intentions. But isn’t there an old proverb that fits right in here? “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. That would be the one.

You wouldn’t line up diagonal rows of yellow buckets on a country bank but you might just as well. The result is pretty much the same. And I’d feel a great deal better about kicking them if they were buckets. And you wouldn’t plant daffodils in diagonal rows in a garden so why plant them like that on a wild bank?

They just look so… (and so on for another five hundred words…)

Don't be fooled

Question: What’s wrong with this picture? (click on it to enlarge it)


Answer: This is not a plant growing in a pot.

This is an attractive nicely weathered, terra cotta pot (I’ve got one just like it myself). Inside is a block of Oasis, or potting soil straight out of the bag. And someone has gone round the nursery cutting foliage and flowers of Ligularia 'Little Rocket' and made an impressively unnatural arrangement.

What is so bizarre, is that a plant that really is growing in a pot looks so much better (even with a mark or two on the leaves)! As you can see here… So what’s the point?


Well, I suspect that what the first image tells us is that someone hadn’t been able to grow a plant that looked sufficiently impressive to photograph and so “made one up”. You may conclude that it’s not a very good plant in the first place, but no.

This excellent, shorter-than-usual ligularia, good in a large container, was raised in the Netherlands by Marco Fransen and is fine perennial for moist soil and is unusually prolific. It’s hybrid between the old favourite 'The Rocket' and 'Lanternchen’ (Little Lantern).

But expect it to look like the second picture – and not at all like the first!

Ligularia ‘Little Rocket’ is available in Britain from Suttons and from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.

Ligularia ‘Little Rocket’ is available in North America from Big Dipper Farm (scroll down) amongst others.

Beware of the beetles

600px-Popillia_japonica.jpg One major American pest that we don’t have in Britain, thank goodness, is the Japanese beetle. Especially familiar in the east, the grubs eat roots and are especially fond of the roots of lawn grasses. The adults eat a vast variety of plants, and once you’ve got them you soon know about it. They really can eat. They’re a menace. And they’re not easy to control.

There are chemicals will control Japanese beetles – but many of them are pretty nasty. So gardeners often use traps. They work by using a pheromone to attract male beetles or a sweet food lure to attack both males and females. You can buy a Japanese Beetle trap from Gardener’s Supply Company and other mail order and retail sources, or you can make your own beetle trap. They work, they really do work, they work very well, you can trap a huge number of beetles. Trouble is, they work too well.

Let me quote the University of Kentucky website, their Japanese beetle page is really excellent.

“Research conducted at the University of Kentucky showed that the traps attract many more beetles than are actually caught. Consequently, susceptible plants along the flight path of the beetles and in the vicinity of traps are likely to suffer much more damage than if no traps are used at all.

“In most landscape situations, use of Japanese beetle traps probably will do more harm than good.”

Yes, the attractants in the trap are so good that beetles head for the trap from all far and wide – and end up in your yard.

05-268.jpg Now, the canister on that mail order trap holds 400 beetles. Sounds like a lot of beetles. But just take a look at this home video (it’s a bit wobbly, but you’ll get the point) to see how many beetles just one trap can attract in just one day. And what do they do when the canister on your mail order trap is full? They eat your plants. Be warned.

Try a trap by all means – but be prepared to empty it about every, err… twenty minutes?! And over in Britain - just think yourselves lucky.

Now check out the video, and be afraid.

Color revealed after the snow

OK…  enough wildlife… back to plants. (Interesting stand-off between the pileated woodpecker and the black squirrel by the suet feeder this morning, though.)

Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance'. Image: © When the snow first melts and before the spring flowers emerge evergreen perennials which really are evergreen after winter temperatures 0F and below are invaluable.

It always amazes me how tough Arum italicum forms are (I think I talk them up every year) but this year they look a little less perky than usual I have to say – it’s been the coldest winter in ten years at least - but still colorful in their white-on-green patterns. The recent heucheras bred by Thierry Delabroye in France are also revealed pretty much unscathed after the snow and sunny ‘Citronelle’ lights up its quiet corner again. We need the full set, there must be a dozen now.

The foliage of hellebores, H. x hybridus, seems indestructible but is just a little bit leaden in its coloring. Hellebore queen Elizabeth Strangman always used to throw out any variegated seedlings with no reservations at all but a tasteful splash on a leaf might be just the thing when so much of the garden is, well, brown.

The yellow splashed leaves of Vinca ‘Illumination’, like the arums, are a little less pristine than usual but already seem to be freshening up while ‘Eco Treasure’, the prettily patterned form of the native Pachysandra procumbens selected by Don Jacobs, is invaluable in a quieter way.

One new star, though, is Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’. Its deep green, creamy-edged foliage is almost entirely unscathed except a little at the tips. It’s a spreader… So this time next year I hope we’ll have quite a patch.

Everyone loves the bird feeder


Raccoons generally seem to be nocturnal, so we don’t see them very often. We’ve been woken up by a whole family playing soccer with a feeder on the deck at midnight or by them pulling tomato plants in deck pots to pieces to get at the fruit – before it’s even ripe. And it was delightful to see a whole family lined up on a tree branch one summer. But generally it’s the results of their being around that we see.

So it was a treat to catch this one pausing in investigation of the thistle feeder. Just at the point on the deckrail where the bear in yesterday’s post was climbing down.

Next time... back to plants.

The biggest bird feeder problem


This quick snapshot, taken through our kitchen window a year or two back, sees the black bear climbing down from our raised deck with the suet feeder. We later found the feeder in the woods – mangled beyond hope.

Nothing like this is ever seen in Britain, of course. The last bear was killed in Britain many hundreds of years ago. Last year in Pennsylvania, which is about the size of England, 3,458 bears were "harvested" - the second highest number ever.

Sights like this tell us that it's time to take the feeders in. Encouraging bears by leaving out bird feeders is illegal in our state, so as soon as the feeders are hit in the spring we take them in. The birds, of course, are not happy but they probably have a few more weeks of free food before the bears come out of hibernation.

Genuinely squirrel-proof bird feeder (it really is!)

Woodpecker on Squirrel Buster Plus birdfeeder. Image: ©GrahamRice/GardenPhotos.comYes, that’s right. At last – a genuinely squirrel-proof bird feeder.

We must have spent hundreds of dollars on bird feeders over the years… Our main aim has been to keep the squirrels from hogging the bird feeder so they get all the bird food and the birds get none. And this bird feeder, the SquirrelBuster Plus from Brome Bird Care, actually works.

The main feature of the SquirrelBuster Plus is that the perches are supported on a spring so that when a squirrel lands the spring stretches, the perches are lowered and in the process access to the feeding ports is blocked off. Songbirds are too light to trigger the mechanism. Simple really.

The squirrels soon learn that they simply can’t get at the food. And the structure is so robust that although they start to chew at it they get nowhere and just give up. They can’t get the top off either as it’s cleverly locked in place.

So the squirrels just sit sadly on the rail nearby watching the chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers and other birds get their fill – knowing there’s no point trying.

 Some people don’t want larger birds getting at the food either and the spring can be adjusted so that larger birds like jays and grackles are also locked out. But we have it set so that only the squirrels are barred. Which is clearly not the case with another so-called squirrel-proof feeder we tried (see picture).

Squirrel inside caged bird feeder. Image: ©judywhite/GardenPhotos.comIn fact, our feeder has been attracting so many birds this winter that they squabble to get at the seed. We should think about getting another.Squabbling on the bird feeder. Image: ©GrahamRice/

We also have problems with bears so we’re careful about leaving the feeders out in summer. But sometimes the bears get to it – I think it was the fourth attack before the feeder the manufacturer sent us to try was too broken to re-assemble. We just went and bought another. Though now I hear you can get spare parts! What a service!

Blue Jay on Squirrel Buster Plus bird feeder. Image:©GrahamRice/ Oh, and you can even take the whole thing to pieces and put it in the dishwasher!

The manufacturer doesn’t sell direct, but North American bird lovers can order a Squirrel Buster Plus bird feeder from

British bird lovers can order the Squirrel Buster Plus bird feeder from

Squirrel proof? You must be joking!

Squirrel inside caged squirrel proof bird feeder. Image:©judywhite/ I was so frustrated with all the useless squirrel proof bird feeders that I’d wasted money on here in the US that I brought this one all the way from England. It looked promising. As you can see, it’s just as useless.

When this squirrel tried to get out he got stuck half way – he was full of seeds, of course, and so a great deal fatter than when he went in! I had to hold the feeder next to a branch so he could grab the branch with his front paws – then the squirrel hung on while I pulled gently backwards until, eventually, he popped out and scampered away.

Now, after a year on trial, I’ve found the answer… The genuine squirrel-proof bird feeder - from Canada. Check tomorrow’s post for more details.

Hybrid hellebore on trial

Helleborus 'Walberton's Rosemary'. Image: ©Tracey Mathieson Here's my plant of the new hybrid between Helleborus niger and Helleborus x hybridus - 'Walberton's Rosemary'. I posted about it in August and again in October over on my Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog. The plant is growing in a friend's garden "somewhere in England". This is her picture showing a very large flower with plenty of buds still to come... It's been blooming since before Christmas.

Anyone with experience of growing any of the (admittedly rather few hybrids) between Helleborus niger and Helleborus x hybridus please post a comment here and tell us all about how the plants are doing or email me off list. Thanks - I'm working on an article about them.