Previous month:
December 2009
Next month:
February 2010

January 2010

Jackanapes polyanthus - the Sylvan Series

Primula 'Sylvan Burgundy' Jackanapes polyanthus. Image ©Simon Crawford. Jackanapes is an old English word meaning a saucy or mischievous person. And I suppose the streaks running through the enlarged calyx of the Jackanapes polyanthus do give the flowers an impudent air.

This is one of the less common of what are often referred to as “anomalous” primroses and polyanthus, the oddities that intrigue so many people more than the familiar kinds. In the Jackanapes the green calyx of each flower is striped through with a flash of color which is the same as that of the petals - click to enlarge the disassembled flower below.

These have always been rare, but now through the work of British plant breeder Simon Crawford and especially Otka Plavcova at the Silva Tarouca Institute at Pruhonice near Prague they are available as the Sylvan Series in four colors and a mixture.

Like the You and Me Series, these are polyanthus plants with the clusters of Jackanapes flowers held on strong stems so that their detail can be seen more easily and they're lifted away from mud splash.

Primula 'Sylvan Lilac Rose' Jackanapes polyanthus. Image ©Simon Crawford. The basic material for this breeding work came from Barnhaven Primroses when it was still in Cumbria in England (it’s now moved to France). To go technical for a moment, Jack-in-the-Green lines (with an enlarged green calyx) have been selected so they are homozygous for the dominant gene. Meanwhile Otka Plavcova's hybridization with hardy polyanthus has yielded some parent lines which are true-breeding for the dominant Hose-in-Hose gene. This is no easy feat using conventional breeding methods with pin and thrum primulas! Bring the two together and Jackanapes is the result.

Newly launched, the number of colors and seed quantity available at the moment is still limited and therefore there's only enough stock for one North American source and one British source.

In North America you can buy a collection of three different plants of the Sylvan Mix from Heronswood Nursery.

You can buy seed for shipping in Britain and around the world in the four colors of the Sylvan Series and a mix from Owl’s Acre Speciality Seed.

Hose-in-Hose primulas – the You and Me Series

PrimulaYouAndMeCream In my last post I set the scene for the exciting recent developments in unusual primulas. Three much sought after types are now becoming available to everyone. And the first to be totally revitalized were the Hose-in-Hose types.

In the Hose-in-Hose form the calyx (the leafy part behind the flower) is transformed into the petals of another flower - so it looks as if one flower is nestling inside another. The name derives from the way fashionable Elizabethan gentlemen wore their long stockings (their “hose”) with one inside the other and with the top of the outer one turned down. Fascinating – and with double the color.PrimulaYouAndMeFour

These types turn up occasionally in the wild in Britain, amongst the familiar wild primroses, and plants were dug up and planted in gardens. But eventually they faded away, perhaps weakened by virus.

Barnhaven Primroses, who send seed all over the world, have always listed a mixture that included a few hose-in-hose types but now they're available in eight separate colors and a mixture from Owl’s Acre PrimulaYouAndMeBlue Speciality Seeds. Named the You and Me Series, they were developed by Dutch plant breeder Kees Sahin, British plant breeder Simon Crawford, and especially Otka Plavcova at the Silva Tarouca Institute at Pruhonice near Prague. These are polyanthus types, with a cluster of flowers held on strong stems to raise the double-weight blooms well off the ground and away from mud splash. Owl’s Acre also list an impressive hose-in-hose Gold Laced polyanthus, shown in my last post.

Plants of two of the colors, You and Me Maroon Lace and also You and Me Cream (seen atthe top here), are available in North America from Heronswood Nursery.

Seed of all eight individual colors, and a mixture, for shipping to Britain and around the world, is available from Owl’s Acre Speciality Seeds.

Thanks again to Simon Crawford for the pictures.

New ways with old-fashioned primulas

PrimulaGoldlaceHose The old Elizabethan primroses, the ones with the odd names and the odd flower structures, have always been elusive. Hose-in-Hose (left, with one flower set inside another), Jack-in-the-Green, Jackanapes (below) and Gallygaskins (definitions below) - for some reason the primrose and polyanthus have a tendency to throw these strange flower forms and gardeners have always desired them. Enthusiasm for these primroses and polyanthus is akin to the fanaticism that an increasing number of enthusiasts show for snowdrops – but just a tad less weirdly extreme. This is the first of a series of posts on these captivating plants.

Unfortunately, over the years, repeated division and virus infection (often unrecognized) made these much desired plants weaker and weaker. So they were always difficult to grow and difficult to propagate. Seed was sometimes available but, in my experience, only a plant or two from each batch would mature as that elusive special form.

But things have changed. Three people, two in England and one in the Czech Republic, have been working towards making these unusual primroses and polyanthus widely available – and with the certainty that the plants will be as you expect. And you can now order the plants both in the UK and the USA. It’s a true Transatlantic Plantsman story.

Simon Crawford is a plant breeder with a wide range of interests. He worked on the Super Elfin impatiens, he created some superb modern bush tomatoes - ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Tornado’ - and now he’s fostering work on these unusual polyanthus. With Otka Plavcova at the Silva Tarouca Institute at Pruhonice near Prague and Margaret Webster, in Bristol in England, who’s been studying the genetics of these unusual forms for many years, Simon has three series on the market, three quite different types. Two are based on heirloom types, one is new.
PrimulaJackanapesMaroon Over the next few posts, I’ll be focusing on each in turn. I’m just as much a fanatic as they all are!

But first, let’s get the definitions of the old heirloom types first. Most primroses and polyanthus have the colorful flower set in a green calyx, which forms the bud before the flowers open and then folds back so the colorful flower can display itself. But:
Hose-in-Hose No green calyx, but with one flower set inside another identically patterned flower.
Jack-in-the-Green With a much large enlarged green calyx surrounding the double or single flower.
Jackanapes With an extended green calyx, mixed (usually striped) with petal tissue the same color as the petals
Gallygaskins Confusion here; some say with large and sometimes slightly twisted leafy calyx, others imply a swollen calyx. Historically, the engravings don’t always match the text!

As for Jackanapes-on-Horseback, Pantaloons and Feathers (or Shags) – let’s just put them on one side.

It’s great to see some of these old fashioned Elizabethan types available to far more people than they ever have been before. OK, a few plant snobs will say it’s disgraceful – they said that when double flowered primroses were first made available to everyone through laboratory propagation. Well, they’re wrong. Let's all enjoy them.

Read more about these unusual primulas in Hose-in-Hose Primulas by Simon Crawford

Next time - Hose-in-Hose primroses and polyanthus.

Thank you to Simon Crawford for the pictures.

A brand new vegetable!

New brassica hybrid Petit Posy. Brussels sprout, kale, Tozer. Image ©Thompson & Morgan Seeds. It’s not often we get a brand new vegetable in our catalogs but this season sees exactly that – at least in Britain. It’s a hybrid between kale and a Brussels sprout! And the result is, basically, a Brussels sprout plant that produces fluffy buttons – and tastes of spring greens. It’s called Petit Posy™.

This first season it comes in a mix of three colours: purple, green, and green with purple. Bred by top Britsh veg breeders Tozer Seeds, just down the road from the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley, in Surrey. Tozer say that you can steam the leafy heads like ‘Cavello Nero’ or kale and stir fry the florets. And the plants are tough, they’ll stand the winter well. And Petit Posy™ has been developed by traditional breeding techniques, no GM.

Petit Posy™ will also be available in Marks and Spencer food stores in Britain from next Monday, 25 January.

Tozer have also been crossing ‘Cavello Nero’ and red Russian kales with ornamental brassicas to create highly mildew-resistant decorative edibles to sell in packs in the same way as baby leaf salads and of course these will soon come through to the home gardener.

In the meantime try Petit Posy™ – at least they didn’t call this sprouts/kale hyrids Krouts or Sprale.

You can buy seed of Petit Posy™ from Thompson & Morgan.

You can buy young plants from Dobies and from Suttons.

T&M Worldwide will also send seeds to most countries around the world – but not to North America.

Plants for cold climates

Snow blower, driveway, winter, gardening in winter. Image © Do not reproduce without permission. In a fortuitous conjunction of unrelated events, I’ve been thinking about plants for cold gardens at a time when Britain is “enjoying” snow and frost unseen since 1963 when I remember the River Thames froze over west of London not far from where I lived, where it’s about 325ft/100metres wide.

[, by the way, says “Although the Thames may have frozen slightly since 1814, with rising global temperatures, the demolition of London Bridge and the embankment of the river, it is unlikely it ever happened to any great degree and certainly not in the 20/21st centuries.” – Shows what they know, I was there. Idiots.]

Anyway, Britain is grinding to a halt after the sort of snow we get in Pennsylvania every winter. (Unfortunately, that snow blower went bang in a cloud of smoke and blows no more...)  But let’s be fair, the Brits can’t have flotillas of snow plows waiting 45 years to be us, the taxpayers wouldn’t stand for it. But the temperatures at one Scottish weather station have been down to -6F/-22C and more snow is forecast this week. We have freezing rain here in PA and at this desk is a man wondering what will grow in the very coldest parts of the country.

Phlox subulata 'Scarlet Flame', moss phlox, cold hardy, zone 2 . Image © Do not reproduce without permission. For recently I’ve been revising one of my books that’s been out of print for a while and been doing some new research on plants that grow in cold gardens. Of course Britain is positively balmy (mostly in zone 8) compared with, say, parts of Canada’s Yukon Territory, Alberta, and Saskatchewan which are in zone 1 where winter temperatures are below -50F/-46° C. The coldest parts of the USA are a little less cold, in zone 2, and include Alaska plus a few mountains in Wyoming and Montana.

So there’s cold – only just below freezing in my home town in Britain this last week – and there’s cold.

So what grows in zone 2?

Well, the United States department of Agriculture suggests these plants – for zone 1: Betula glandulosa  (dwarf birch), 
Empetrum nigrum  (black crowberry), 
Populus tremuloides  (quaking aspen), 
Potentilla pensylvanica  (Pennsylvania cinquefoil), 
Rhododendron lapponicum  (Lapland rhododendron) 
and Salix reticulata  (netleaf willow). Nothing outstandingly flamboyant, there, I have to say.

But step up to zone 2 (-40 to -50F/-46 to 40C)) and the choice is unexpectedly impressive. There’s the short USDA list and there are suggestions on the Ground Effects (wholesale) nursery website and you can search Rare Find Nursery listings by hardiness zone.

It’s interesting to see that different sources don’t necessarily agree but the two standouts for me, plants that would really cheer me up after all those months of snow are lilac and creeping phlox.

Syringa vulgaris 'Firmament' lilac, 'Krasavitsa Moskvy' cold hardy, zone 2 . Image ©Rare Find Nursery. Rare Find suggests most, but not all, of their varieties of the familiar common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, are hardy down to zone 2; Ground Effects suggests that four forms of moss phlox (P. douglasii and P. subulata) are also tough enough for zone 2. The big fat American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants does not agree. What do you think? Any recommendations for plants to take the most ferocious winters?

And finally, I can’t talk about plants for cold climates without recommending Kathy Purdy’s superb Cold Climate Gardening blog.

Rare Find's recommended zone 2 lilacs:  Syringa vulgaris 'Agincourt Beauty', 'Firmament' (above left), 'Frederick Law Olmsted'. 'Krasavitsa Moskvy' (above right) and 'Lucie Baltet' plus the hybrid repeat flowering Josee™ ('MORjos 060F').

Ground Effects (wholesale) nursery recommend Phlox douglasii 'Crackerjack' and 'Rose Cushion', and P. subulata 'Crimson Beauty' and 'White Delight'. Phlox subulata 'Scarlet Flame' (above) is also reckoned to be hardy to zone 2.

Other nurseries also allow you to search their listings by zone.

Lilac pictures courtesy of Rare Find Nursery.

New hellebore breeding

The Garden, December 2009, hellebores. Images ©RHS.Last month I published two articles on recent and upcoming developments in hellebore breeding. Both are now available online at the Royal Horticultural Society website.

In the December issue of the Royal Horticultural Society's membership magazine The Garden I wrote about hybrids between the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, and other hellebore species. Read it here.

In the December issue of Royal Horticultural Society's subscription magazine The Plantsman I've focused on  hybrids between H. niger and the Lenten rose, H. x hybridus. Read it here.