“The Christmas Roses with which one meets in the majority of gardens are not white, but pink, or more or less suffused with pink or dirty purple.”
Really? Well, perhaps it was true in 1878 when a certain Mr. D. T. Fish wrote those words in William Robinson’s epic journal, The Garden, although it seems unlikely. He then goes on to explain in detail how to make Christmas roses (Helleborus niger) white.
Even allowing for the artist’s overenthusiasm, this Giant Christmas Rose, illustrated in The Garden in 1878 (above), is impressive and well illustrates how the coloring works: individual flowers open white and develop pink tones and become richer in color as they mature. Sunset Group, collected in Slovenia by veteran British hellebore expert Will McLewin was similar (but a whole lot less dramatic). Dark stemmed ‘Louise Cobbett’ opens with pink backs to its flowers and later develops additional pink tints but it’s not the color of the Giant Christmas Rose.
Neither is Blackthorn Group (below), developed by acclaimed hellebore and daphne breeder Robin White from ‘Louise Cobbett’ (right) and ‘White Magic’ although it’s a lovely thing.
Strangely, Josef Heuger, in Germany, who has introduced so many fine forms of the Christmas rose recently - ‘Jacob’ flowers dependably in November here in Pennsylvania - has created no pinks. Most of the pink ones such as ‘Pink Frost’ which listed as H. niger by mail order nurseries are actually hybrids. If Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne of Northwest Garden Nursery in Oregon, who’ve created so many spectacular double and single forms of H. x hybridus, turned their attention to Christmas roses we’d be in for a treat.
Anyway, it’s interesting (if difficult to believe) that pink was once normal in Christmas roses and that detailed suggestions were given in The Garden for turning them white. And what, in short, were the recommendations: “light soil”, “a warm, sheltered, partly-shaded situation” and “cover them with glass”. Somehow that doesn’t really seem a very convincing way to change their color…
Coleus are enjoying a spectacular - and well deserved - revival. And while Dibleys in the UK and Glasshouse Works in the USA have kept the old favorites available for many years, amazing new varieties of coleus in even more colors and color combinations, from seed and from cuttings, are now being introduced at an astonishing rate. There are even coleus for hanging baskets.
A fine new book on coleus appeared about five years ago (forty years after the previous one), three years ago almost a hundred were trialed outside by the Royal Horticultural Society and so coleus are now again getting the recognition they deserve. Those startling colors just keep tempting us and they look so good with some many other foliage plants and flowers.
In North America coleus (and of course their botanical name is Solenostemon) have remained popular as outdoor summer foliage plants for borders and containers. In Britain, they were relegated to conservatories and greenhouses because of the strange belief that they didn’t perform well outside. But I remember back in the 1980s – yes, yes, I know – that one of the star plants of the summer plantings along the Broad Walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew was coleus. Two old varieties in particular, ‘Sunset’ and 'Picturatus', were often used to edge the beds.
As I write Glasshouse Works in the US are listing 132 different coleus, Dibleys are listing twenty four coleus, fifty three coleus are promoted by the Proven Winners brand in the US but in the UK Proven Winners don’t feature any at all. But in just two years Terra Nova Nurseries (famous for the vast number of heucheras they’ve developed over the years) has introduced thirty seven new coleus in seven different series - in just two years! And their 2016 introductions have not yet been announced.
Terra Nova have spent eight years developing coleus and their introductions vary from tight and compact to big and bushy with two series (Color Clouds, below, and Color Carpet) intended for ground cover and hanging baskets. You can check out their series and all the individual coleus varieties at the Terra Nova home gardeners website.
At the moment, on both sides of the Atlantic, you’re probably most likely to see seed-raised varieties such as the monster-leaved Kong Series and ‘Chocolate Mint’ (above). But look out for these new series from Terra Nova and give them a try.
RHS Award of Garden Merit
These eleven coleus were awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit, or had earlier awards reconfirmed, after being trialed the RHS Garden at Wisley and also on the Victoria Embankment in central London: ‘Black Prince’, ‘China Rose’, ‘Gay’s Delight’, Henna (‘Balcenna’), ‘Juliet Quartermain’, ‘Pineapple Beauty’, ‘Pink Chaos’, Redhead (‘Uf0646’), Trusty Rusty (‘Ufo6419’), Versa Crimson Gold (‘Pas733805’), ‘Winsome’.
As you take time off over the holiday season, here's some reading to set you up for the best of this season in the garden.
Choosing Flowers: Hellebore Combinations (Organic Life - US)
Edibles: Cooking with nasturtiums (Plant Talk blog - UK)
Award Winners: Ten of the hardiest plants for British gardens (Royal Horticultural Society - UK)
This strange season: Not yet winter in Pennsylvania (Transatlantic Gardener - US)
Movies: Not reading but viewing (Transatlantic - US)
Choosing Flowers: Five Super-Hardy Perennials (Organic Life - US)
New Plants: Sparkling new yellow cosmos (Royal Horticultural Society - UK)
Choosing Flowers: Five Shrubs That Add Color To Winter Landscapes (Organic Life - US)
Propagation: Raising plants from seed in Rootrainers (Plant Talk blog - UK)
Award Winners: Ten winter shrubs for fragrance (Royal Horticultural Society - UK)
Edibles: Kale belongs in the flower beds (Organic Life - US)
Choosing Flowers: Black(ish) beauties (Plant Talk blog - UK)
Indoor plants: Indoor foliage climbers (Royal Horticultural Society - UK)
This strange season: Warmest ever autumn in Britain (Transatlantic Gardener - UK)
New Plants: Trends in hellebores (Royal Horticultural Society - UK)
Choosing Flowers: Blue favorites spark white varieties (Plant Talk blog - UK)
Award Winners: Pick of the latest awards to perennials (Royal Horticultural Society - UK)
New Plants: A big step forward in Sweet Williams (Royal Horticultural Society - UK)
I just thought I’d remind you that our movie, Lies I Told My Little Sister, is available for streaming over the holidays and well worth putting your feet up and taking a break for.
It's a female-driven family drama/comedy with a unique blend of heart and humor.
Amazon customers say in their reviews:
“Overall a great find & fantastic movie. Wonderful performances by Lucy Walters & cast with a touching, thought provoking, story line I think many will be able to relate to for a variety of reasons.”
“I recently rented Lies I Told My Little Sister to watch at home and I loved it! The family’s story of finding hope after loss was heartwarming and I very much enjoyed the main character’s journey. “
“I loved this movie. it was smart, sexy, warm, and poignant…a great movie to curl up with.”
“This is one of those lovely little gems of a film that manages to bridge the gender gap. It's story and fine acting touches the heart, stirs up memories and throws in relatable moments. Many of us have been down a similar path. Although not a classic "tearjerker"' do have a box of tissues handy... just in case.”
(Only available in the US at the moment, sorry.)
National Public Radio reported this week that lilacs were in bloom in Washington, DC. A friend near here in Pennsylvania reports picking salad leaves from the open garden just a few days ago while anther says her spring crocuses are in bloom. It’s been mild back in Britain too.
Here in our garden the mild season has ensured that some plants developing late fall color have lasted and lasted. One young seedling of Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’ has produced some spectacular leaves (above, click to enlarge); the original plant and other seedlings are more of a blotchy yellow.
One of my favorite shrubs, Hydrangea Little Honey (‘Brihon’) (right, click to enlarge), a dwarf yellow-leaved form of the oak-leaved hydrangea, always turns burgundy red in the fall but often a couple of sharp frosts reduces the plant to bare stems. Not this year, the leaves have been wine red for weeks with a few just starting to develop fierier tones as they prepare to drop.
The other effect of these unseasonably mild weeks has been that after the first few, relatively gentle, frosts turned everything in the riverside meadows tawny brown – that’s how they stayed. The foxtail grass in the fields where the rudbeckias are such summer stars, I think this is Setaria viridis, has neither been crippled by frost nor battered by rain or snow and still stands out against the leafless escarpment. Lovely.
We’ve gentle frosts forecast for the weekend, with a high of 57F and a low of 39F forecast for Christmas Day. The snowdrops are in bud, but check out the Snowdrops In American Gardens Facebook group for news of plenty of snowdrops blooming merrily all over the country.
Oh, and a friend in Downeast Maine reports that the grass is growing and needs a trim. But I don’t care how long it gets here we’re not cutting the grass in December.
In case you’re on the look out for gifts, I just thought I’d quickly remind you of the books I’ve discussed here this last year.
The Irish Garden
"a book for the far away voyeur and a before-you-visit book. If you never visit Ireland you’ll enjoy this book anyway". Listen to my audio review of The Irish Garden specially recorded for The Guardian podcast Sow. Grow. Repeat. (But inexplicably not used!)
Himalayan blue poppies: A stupendous new book
"the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study"
the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study
the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study
the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study"
Books with a local focus
Featuring Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds by Victoria Summerley, Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania by Liz Ball and George Weigel, and Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson.
"a book with limited focus can have universal appeal"
a book with limited focus can have universal appeal - See more at: http://www.transatlanticplantsman.com/transatlantic_plantsman/2015/09/books-with-a-local-focus.html#sthash.QH8n145C.dpuf
Shades Of Blue
"a series of stories to inspire and hearten us".
Just back in Pennsylvania, after a trip to England, and it’s been an unusually mild late fall and early winter on both sides of the water. Britain saw its warmest November day ever when the temperature reached 72.3F (22.4C) in mid Wales - “Remarkably mild for the time of year,” said the BBC radio weather man - and here in PA a friend told me last night that he’d just been out harvesting mesclun and baby greens from the open garden. Not bad.
Back in Britain the thing that especially struck me was the amazingly prolific flowering on Viburnum tinus, laurustinus as it’s sometimes called. Front gardens were full of their billowing flowers last week.
This is one of my favorite shrubs, with neat evergreen foliage, pink buds, clusters of white flowers and blue-black berries. The only problem, for American gardeners anyway, is that it’s not as hardy as we’d like. At USDA Zone 8 (perhaps 7) it’s fine in our English garden but wouldn’t survive even a relatively mild winter here in PA.
In his classic monograph on viburnums (still available on UK amazon and on US amazon), Michael Dirr describes twenty forms although almost twenty years later the RHS Plant Finder lists over thirty. My favorite variety is ‘Gwenllian’ with pink buds, blushed white flowers and reliably prolific berries that often last so long that they sit next to the following year’s flowers. But ‘Lisarose’ (inset left, above), with almost scarlet buds, certainly looks tempting and the pure white flowers of ‘Purpureum’ (inset right, above), with their white buds have a very clean look and in spring there’s purple-flushed new growth.
The other thing about the mild autumn in England has been now long the annuals have been flowering. In some parts of the London suburbs, the roundabouts and roadsides were planted not with geraniums and petunias and marigolds for the summer, but with direct sown hardy annuals such as Linaria ‘Fairy Bouquet’ (left) in mixtures with Cosmidium ‘Brunette’ and the blue bracts of Salvia viridis. They were still attracting attention when I left a few days ago.
Next time: What’s striking about the late fall and early winter back here in PA.
I’ve been trying to get out for a good walk every day - weather permitting - since I’ve been here in Britain and since a few chilly nights brought the last of the fall foliage to the ground the hedgerows are revealed as dripping with fruits.
Two plants stand out, their vivid red fruits shining brightly in the low late autumn sun.
There are two unrelated forms of bryony and the one with the crowded clusters of scarlet fruits now at their peak in the British hedgerow is known, perversely, as Black Bryony, Tamus communis (left, click to enlarge). Closely related to the yams of the tropics, this is a vigorous twining plant, snaking its way through woody hedge plants. As well as its scarlet berries it has fat tuberous roots, deeply ribbed triangular leaves, small green and white flowers – with male and female plants on different plants… And every part of the plant is poisonous.
It’s sometimes used as poultice to treat internal injuries but, frankly, it’s best just to admire it from a distance. Gardeners around the world can order Black Bryony seeds from Plant World Seeds.
The other plant that stands out is the dog rose, Rosa canina (below, click to enlarge), a much more substantial, even imposing, feature of the hedgerow with clusters of red hips which are a little less shiny than the black bryony berries so that they gleam in the sun but look more dull in the shade.
Mind you… I say dog rose, Rosa canina… But these hedgerow roses come in a confusing number of micro species, about thirty very similar but slightly different species some of which have five or even six times as many pairs of chromosomes as usual. They also have a slightly quirky form of reproduction known as permanent odd polyploidy – but you and I can both be delighted that I’m not going to try and explain it.
But what I can do is remind you that rose hips can contain as much fifty (yes, FIFTY) times as much Vitamin C as oranges! So those hedgerow rose hips can bring you a genuine health benefit. There’s more about Vitamin C in the hedgerows in a post from September last year. Gardeners around the world can also order seeds of Rosa canina from Plant World Seeds.
The final fruity feature of the Northamptonshire hedgerows along which I’ve been walking these last few days has been the sloes, Prunus spinosa. These are like small plums in both their appearance and their botanical connections – but not in taste. “Tart” is hardly the word but sloes make a fantastic flavored gin, as I discussed here back in 2007.
One other thing I’ve noticed these last few days is that the birds haven't got stuck in to all these fruits yet. But this looks like an exceptionally good year for hips and berries and other fruits, all of which will help so many birds, and small mammals, through the winter ahead – however tough it turns out to be.
Cowering in bed under the influence of the Great British Headcold, a little light reading was required. I looked shivveringly at the bookshelves and my eyes fell on a little cluster of “comic” gardening titles. I grabbed them and staggered back to bed.
The undoubted star of these four titles was the most recent, The Revolting Garden by Rose Blight. Rose Blight is the 1970s pseudonym used by none other than Germaine Greer for a series in Private Eye, the pioneering British satirical magazine. This little book is a collection of her columns. Here’s a taste of her style, she’s discussing the garden built in London to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1976.
“The ghosts of deluded planting schemes of love-lies-bleeding, mignonette and snow-on-the-mountain gibber and grin hideously over turbulent brick paths. This arid expanse is made to seem as vast and uncrossable as the Gobi by absurdly out-of-scale architectural embellishments, a dwarfish obelisk (erected no doubt to the memory of the plants whose cadavers lean against the winds of January), and knee-high balustrades. Diagonally opposite the mini obelisk, a very tall (and ergo very costly), hopelessly miserable cypress strains against its guy-ropes, doubtless trying with all its might not to root in such an ill-omened spot… It is too much to hope that the Duke of Gloucester who opened the garden… will have the goodness to come and close it again.”
No one writes about gardens like that any more, I’m sorry to say.
Going back to 1936, we come to Garden Rubbish by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, trying to cash in on their very funny bestseller 1066 And All That. Trying in vain, unfortunately. Here’s a few of their thoughts on garden pests.
"i. Onion-fly. A species of Fly which, being devoid of original ideas, attacks Onions. Withhold the Onion and the Fly dies. No need to be cruel: don’t keep letting the fly see the onion. Take it right away and hide it.
ii. The Woolly Aphis. Send it to the Laundry. When it comes back send it to the wash again. After two or three goes it will shrink so tight on to itself that it will suffocate.
iii. Wire-worm. Easily distinguishable by its long slender yellowish body. Easily caught by burying slices of turnip (ground bait) secured on a skewer.
iv. Weevils. Ignore them - remember the old warning “Hear no weevil, see no weevil, speak no weevil” and cut them dead.””
1944 brings us Flower Gardening for Ungardeners by Ethelind Fearon (author, also, of Cakes for Occasions). I know she sounds like an anagram, but in fact she was H. G. Wells’s gardener. To be honest, the best part of this book is the cover by Alex Jardine. I think the book's intended to be “light” rather than comic and it begins like this.
“What is an ungardener anyway?
“Obviously one who instinctively dodges gardening. He, or more likely she, is averse from any sort of toil, moil or soil and intends, by reason of tough resistance and imperviousness to hints, bribes or threats, to remain so.
“Occasionally this happy situation, this care-free attitude, is upset by the acquisition of a piece of land which for very shame, you must tend - some dump left in hideous disarray by the builder when you move into a new house, or a despondent jungle of non-productive and funeral conifers knee-high in nettles if it’s an old one. However, in either case I can tell you how to make it bloom like mad while you remain almost totally inactive and acquire never a callus, except those on your shoulder blades, from lounging too low, too long, in a deck chair.”
Finally, from 1944, Tubers and Taradiddle (or The Gardener’s Entertainment) a year in the garden of Donald Cowie who's described in the blurb as “already known to the discriminating as a satirist to be taken seriously, he has a considerable reputation among writers of the younger school.” Here's a sample.
“Already I feel approaching summer in the air, and cannot understand why people say it’s still too early to plant most vegetables. So I put in spring onions today, between broad bean rows. Packet said: “make a drill”. Not sure what that meant, I asked Carstairs (the neighbour), who informed me: “Well, you know, a kind of ditch you make, or a hole, not too deep, you know, but then you don’t want it too shallow.” I tried to follow neighbourly instructions, but making ditch was heavy work, as I came eventually to a bed of yellow clay, far below sub-soil….
“Onion seeds, ridiculously small and liable to run through hands, I inserted carefully, one by one, in bottom of ditch then shovelled clay back. Job took five hours….
“Waiting till frosts are finished, indeed! Why, we might not have another frost this year…
“For the last eight days - nothing but snow, snow, snow.”
So they were the books I chose to enliven my sickbed.
Do you know? I’m feeling better. Not sure if the humour of these four little books cheered me up or the lack of it forced me out of bed to do something else and get away from them. The Rose Blight book I definitely recommend and of the others Tubers and Taradiddle is the pick – except for the stylish jacket of Flower Gardening for Ungardeners.
Any other suggestions for funny gardening books - from any era - that really are funny? Apart from Christopher Lloyd, of course.
Lies I Told My Little Sister, the feature film written by my wife judywhite and nephew Jonathan Weisbrod, has recently been released in the USA. Hooray!! It stars Lucy Walters, currently making waves in the hit TV drama series Power, and rocker turned actress Ellen Foley, Meat Loaf’s duet partner from the Bat Out of Hell album. It also features US soap star Alicia Minshew of All My Children and Donovan Patton of the pioneering children’s US TV series Blues Clues. Oh, and me…! Not starring, exactly, but still…
Telling the story of a globe trotting photographer and the little sister she used to persecute with outrageous lies, as the whole family adjusts to the death of the oldest third sister they all head off on a family vacation – packing, as it says on the DVD cover, all the childhood baggage.
The resulting fun, fury and frustration, fuelled by vodka and love, makes a tender and warm-hearted movie revealing the elastic boundaries, and the unbreakable connections, of family love. Shot on Cape Cod, in New Jersey and at The Phoenix Store just a few miles from our front door in Pennsylvania, the film won awards at more than twenty festivals across the country last year with all the main players and the film itself being nominated or winning awards.
Horticulture? Well, apart from some lovely blue hydrangeas… not much. Although your humble blogger has a small part playing Ellen Foley’s love interest – and who could ask for more in their first movie part?!
This is a really enjoyable drama/comedy about a family full of engaging characters and how they react to their past and to the death of the oldest sister. It’s funny as well as poignant. The director and crew are almost all recent graduates of New York University film school as they embark on their careers after making some award-winning short films while at college.
It was fascinating to participate, even in a small way, and I came away full of admiration for the craft of acting; seeing these fine actors at work made me realize how good they are.
You can watch the trailer below, or watch the first two minutes of the movie here (just click the tab).
Chosen by Geena Davis as a special selection for Walmart, Lies I Told My Little Sister is available for streaming now at Walmart, amazon, iTunes, VUDU, Google Play and other services. DVDs are available in about 3000 Walmart stores. Negotiations continue about a European release.
Go on... Give it a try… I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
Next time, back to plants...