Annual, perennial and interesting flowers with advice on culture, information, tips and recommended varieties
Use the comments section below to send us the name of your favourite gardener (not the gardener themselves).
We will add it to our list of 100+ Top Gardeners
Your nomination may be a gardener who inspired you or has left a legacy in the form of an outstanding garden. Both are true for me with Geoffrey Smith and his Rhododendron garden at the Royal Horticultural Garden Harlow Carr where this memorial stone is displayed.
Celebrity gardeners are well represented in our list but you may know of one we have forgotten. As we admit the plant hunter/gatherers are not well represented and we would appreciate nominations is this category.
Sponsors of gardens are becoming a regular feature at shows like Chelsea but the well-to-do have long financed the gardening exploits to create beautiful surroundings for their homes and estates. Do they deserve more recognition or should that only go to the more earthy recipients of the Victoria medal (VMH).
International gardeners deserve a bigger profile and multiple nominations would be welcome. We would all like to know whose work to look out for when visiting new places.
The new Alpine House at Harlow Carr has a plunge bed to be proud of as you may expect from the RHS. This Dionysia Curviflora has been double potted to facilitate watering and it’s flowers will be purple with a white inner ring and dark centre.
The plunge bed is at a good viewing height and the display can be changed as plants develop and seasons change. As a purpose built, alpine house plunge bed there are several features it would be hard to incorporate in my glasshouse but the rake from front to back and the use of rocks builds up height to provide a landscape rather than a flat two dimensional display.
The sand and gravel mixes vary depending on the plants being grown. Some free planting around the plunged pots adds to the attraction of this type of alpine display. The alpine house is climate controlled but much of the daily watering is done by hand before visitors arrive to view the gardens.
I am now keen to develop a better plunge area for my alpines. That is one of the joys or costs of visiting a best of class display like RHS gardens.
Tip – Study the best and think how you can incorporate new ideas in your gardening. The photo below shows how different coloured chippings and grits can work with your display.
The flowering crab apples, Malus Rosaceae, are excellent floral trees with the added bonus of small usually edible fruit. The Malus Red Sentinel above has a profusion of small hard red autumn fruit that can be admired in the garden, left to feed birds, converted into a jelly or added to other food dishes. Crab apples generally contain a deal of pectin and are seldom eaten uncooked.
Favourite Crab Apple Varieties
Outside Harlow Carr’s new Alpine house are a collection of troughs, stone sinks and other containers suitable for a collection of Alpine plants. The planting varies and is related to the soil and rock conditions each plant prefers. One container has old rotting logs and a richer soil for small rhododendrons and other species. Others have carefully inserted rock slivers to replicate mountain conditions giving shade and more importantly deep root runs and drainage.
Whilst the troughs vary in size they are all less than 6 feet by 4 feet and could fit into virtually any garden. There is also many more outdoor containers full of selected plants. I was amazed at the number and variety of plants on display in the middle of November. They are all carefully named on these black labels with a white fiber tip pen which I resolved to try in my garden. On some plants there is a topical note that explains why it currently features or how it is grown. ( An autumn flowering variety of snowdrop fit into that category)
The photographs can be enlarged using flickr by double clicking on the image and going to all sizes. I hope the name tags are then visible.
A picture inside the house is available on the RHS website. and for Alpine plant lovers Harlow Carr is now worth a special visit.
The Alpine garden society have a good article on your own Alpine trough
What is the flower that groups of people look at and sheep meet in ? Well it has to be Phlox and in this case the perennial Phlox paniculata.
Top Variety Tips
This small pot containing an even smaller Choisya ternata is growing happily in our front room. New leaves of light green are almost translucent and provide clean foliage. The leaves when crushed give off a very pleasant scent.
This plant was one of many grown from cuttings the siblings are now in the garden. Also called Mexican Orange Blossom I do not expect it to flower indoors but you never know and it is providing some interest in this quiet pre-Christmas season.
I have cheated a bit with the title as this is not yet a true bonsai plant but the restricted root run is constraining how it develops. I will prune and trim it carefully if it survives the dry conditions. That reminds me to water all the houseplants now the central heating is on full bore most days. Flushed with one success I may grow some Chiosya in bonsai pots for a miniature outdoor garden.
Sowing the Seeds of Success – Rose Hips containing Seeds
All good gardeners know that seeds are on your side they want to grow and thrive. Apart for some weedy exceptions that I will save until the end of this article seeds can be coaxed into blooming excess with only a little know how.
Help From the Seeds.
Every seed tells a story and you can learn to read that story by considering the parent plant and the seed itself. To set seed most plants need to be pollinated male to female and many plants are self-fertile. Having taken a deal of trouble to attract pollinators or pollination most plants package up the seeds and plan how to distribute them.
Berries and fruit have a soft or pithy outer case to help. Birds ingest elderberries and deposit the seed where they will.
Poppies have a pepperpot shaker type seed head that allows some ripe seed to be sprinkled each day over several days or weeks.
Aquilegia seed pods contort and twist to ping out seeds in a squirting motion so they travel a distance.
Dandelion seeds have feathery tufts to allow the wind to blow them where you don’t want them (but I said I would save these comments to the end)
So from these examples you can see seed pods protect and help distribution of the seed.
Seed Size and Features
Seeds vary in size and shape and many will become familiar to the regular gardener. A conker, pea or a grain sized Mesembryanthemum all have the same function to reproduce plants and maintain the survival of the species.
A good big one beats a good small one is a modern quote and in the vegetable garden leek and runner bean seeds are saved from good parent plants. Note it is the plant not necessarily the seed where size counts. Flower seeds should all be sown to get a choice of seedlings to plant out.
Some seeds have hard coats to protect them and legumes like Lupins or Sweetpeas may need the coat soaking in water or chipping or sanding the outer coat to allow moisture to start the germination phase.
Seeds from Alpines or bulbs generally need a period of cold so are sown in autumn or stratified in the fridge and brought into gentle heat in spring.
Seeds are programmed to germinate when they expect conditions to suit. You can help provide the growing conditions they need.
Moisture or water is the first key ( so do not save seeds in damp conditions for later sowing they may have germinated and died before you get to sow them). Temperature is the second issue as seeds are programmed to germinate when the seedling has a chance of survival. So tropical plants will need more warmth than say native Cornflowers.
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Radishes not tasting like they use too? Blemish free supermarket crops without taste or aroma? A bland selection of seeds from your nurseryman to grow the same varieties as your neighbour? Well there is a movement to bring back and promote the old varieties that would change all that. Heritage varieties are an imposing collection of ancient vegetable and other varieties saved and collected by specialist companies to tempt our taste buds and maintain our heritage plants.
Here are some UK seed supplier links together with many other international seedsmen offering specialist heritage and heirloom varieties.
Gardeners like growing plants and in winter the best location to do this is indoors or a heated greenhouse and foliage houseplants are one group that work well in these environments.
Begonia masoniana has rough surface leaves with a distinctive central brown cross. The plant grows to a good size in the right conditions but may loose some lower leaves in winter. Begonia Rex above is available in all sorts of shapes and colours of leaf and can be propagated from leaf cuttings.
Ferns like the Maidenhair fern Adiantum make shapely plants with fine green leaves on black stems. Ficus, Yucca, Dracaena and Fatshedera plants are currently less fashionable (thank goodness) but you may wish to try a Creeping Fig Ficus Pumila with small oval leaves.
The old varieties are often the better for longevity than style so Tradescantia, Spider plants (St Bernards lily) Chlorophytum comosum variegatum and Aspidistra elatior with its large, tough, sword shaped leaves are still popular. These plants will survive most conditions but thrive when given good conditions.
For architectural leaves I like the Bromeliad family like Cryptanthus Foster’s Favouirite or Cryptanthus bromelioides tricolour with pink green and white leaves. Neoregelia carolinae tricolour has a rosette of leaves that creates an urn for water.
Houseplants can help keep a room fresh, produce oxygen, add precious moisture and filter toxins to reduce pollution. They are better value than a bunch of flowers and with the right TLC can last for years. For a last selection try the Peperomia family Magnoliaefolia Desert Privet, Argyreia, Caperata or the grey green leaved Hederaefolia