Plant news


Once upon a time tulips used to be simple, though that time was long ago. You can still get simple tulips (I’m glad to say), but their popularity over several centuries has led to the breeding of endless variations. Flowers come in a wildly different range of shapes and colours that are categorised into 15 different groups. Unless you’re planning to take your tulips to the show bench you probably don’t need to know much about those groups, but the descriptive names can be handy when you’re browsing for new ones. Singles and doubles are the tip of an iceberg that includes lily-flowered, peony-flowered, parrot, viridiflora, fringed and dwarf. There is a lot of choice, and that’s before you include the lovely species tulips and the different flowering seasons, early, mid and late.

Breeding hasn’t stopped, either. Recently, crown tulips were introduced and while this isn’t a separate group (I believe they have been tucked into the triumph group, which is already very varied), it is a name that’s once again descriptive of a flower shape that in this case is a little bit different and very attractive.

I grew around five varieties this year, all of them new or newish varieties (introduced in the last couple of years). As you’ll see, some of these should become classics and the first of them, the delicate, two-toned pink ‘Bella Blush’ below, is sophisticated and elegant, with long, straight stems and large blooms.

I also grew two new purple varieties. This came about because after ordering the one in the right two pictures, below, called ‘Lavender Love’, the company I was ordering from told me they had none in stock but recommended that I should try the one in the left two pictures, ‘Magic Lavender’, instead. Having looked them both up online, I was still keen to grow ‘Lavender Love’ and managed to buy that from someone else instead. I was glad I ended up with both. The colour of ‘Magic Lavender’ made it well worth growing. An odd mix of purple and metallic-pink, it was striking, and I liked the flower shape, too, especially as it didn’t open up too much in the sun like some tulips do. They can end up looking like colourful dinner plates on a hot day, and it’s not always an attractive look. When ‘Lavender Love’ first opened, I thought this wasn’t a bit insipid in comparison, but the flowers got bigger and the stems longer, and then they started to fade in interesting ways. In the end I loved the ageing flowers, and they lasted very well.

On the more riotous side of the colour range, firstly I grew ‘Rasta Parrot’, below. I took a series of photos showing how the tepals (a cross between a sepal, which is the green, leaf-like structure than normally covers a flower and a petal) develop colour. It’s such a highly coloured flower it shows the change well. Parrot tulips are always flamboyant, and I liked the streaky red and orange of this one. The flowers flopped a bit though, because they were so large and heavy.

I also grew ‘Peptalk’, which was registered in 2015. This peony-flowered double is mixed in colour and to some extent mixed in size as well. When it first opened the colours were still quite heavily tinged with the green of the tepals and I thought they were a bit dull, but these really grew on me in more ways than one. They were scented, which is a huge plus for any flower, but the colours continued to get richer and more interesting as the flowers opened fully, and in the end they gave a sumptuous display that lasted for the best part of three weeks, which is very good considering how warm and sunny it was this spring.

The last tulip to open took me back to the more simple shapes of the early ones and again it was the colour of ‘Kansas Proud’, registered in 2019, that really made this flower beautiful. I loved the deep, rich wine-red and the white base, and I thought the long, dusky green stems went very well with the flower colour.

These are just a few of the many new varieties introduced every year, and while arguably none of them really break new ground (except perhaps the crown ones that I grew a couple of years ago), they show something of the range that’s available. They also reflect the way these old favourites are being kept up to date with a colour range that keeps up with trends and appeals to modern gardeners. It would be hard to imagine a type of garden that wouldn’t be enhanced by at least one of these new varieties.

More Hellebores – The Hellebore Gold Collection

Madame Lemonier, Pink Frost, Camelot, Carlotta, Ice N’ Roses,

I’ve known and admired the Rodney Davey Marbled Group hellebores (bellow) for a number of years now, but the Hellebore Gold Collection, bred in Germany, is a more recent arrival. All of these hellebores are significant in that until relatively recently it was almost impossible to buy named hybrids. Most of the plants sold were seedlings of natural crosses rather than the result of breeding, and you needed to buy them in flower to see what they would look like. Vegetative propagation couldn’t produce enough plants of a particular variety for sale. Developments in both breeding techniques but more importantly micro propagation allowed for sufficient numbers of plants of a particular cultivar to be produced, and now we have a wealth of choice.

The HGC varieties have some similarities to the Rodney Davey varieties in that they’re robust plants that produce a lot of flowers. In the Gold Collection, though, the flowers are mostly outward facing so you can see the beautiful centres. A nodding hellebore head can be very charming, especially the ones where the sepals are veined, but you do miss seeing what the flower really looks like. Some of the HGC varieties, such as Madame Lemonier have huge blooms and long, branching stems that hold them well above the leaves. They are not shy and retiring, they are shown off and look like they’re enjoying it. The colours are strong, too, and there are some unusual combinations.

In another similarity to the Rodney Davey varieties, the HGC plants can start flowering in autumn and carry on through winter and into early spring, so you get months of colour. There are very few plants that can produce this sort of impact at that time of the year, and there can be very few gardeners who wouldn’t want to grow one or two of these fantastic hellebores.


It’s hard to imagine a winter garden without hellebores now, though their popularity has really only taken off in the last decade or so. Their brightly coloured flowers not only brighten up the short, dark days but are popular with bees, especially those bumble bees that forage in mild weather.

The plants in the pictures below are all new or relatively new varieties from the Rodney Davey Marbled Group.

As you can see in the first picture, the leaves have very distinctive marbelling. The first of the series, ‘Ann’s Red’ (third from left in top row and bottom right) broke new ground with its great mass of dark red flowers and foliage markings. This is one of the longest flowering hellebores I’ve ever come across. It can easily start flowering in late autumn and carry on into the following spring. The stems branch and produce new flowers constantly, so don’t be tempted to cut them off after the first few flowers start to go over. Sometimes you even get flowers in summer.

It apparently took Rodney Davey 12 years to breed ‘Anna’s Red’, but this first variety seemed to open the floodgates because soon afterwards we got ‘Pippa’s Purple’. More recently around half a dozen new cultivars in the series have been introduced, including ‘Sally’s Shell’, in the first two pictures here, ‘Moondance’, top right, ‘Molly’s White’, bottom left and ‘Dorothy’s Dawn’, bottom centre.

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia)

Top left: Callafornia Red, Top right: Super Mac, Bottom left: Festival, Bottom right: Red Alert

Calla lilies, or Zantedeschia, are very brightly coloured (unless they’re white, of course) and have an elegant, modern look which is perfect if you fancy a change from the ubiquitous petunias and geraniums in your summer containers. The ones pictured here are some recent introductions on display at the Ball Colegrave summer showcase in summer 2019. Ball Colegrave supply to growers who supply to garden centres and online plant sellers, so you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be seeing their plants for sale somewhere!

With zantedeschia you usually have the option of buying large plants in flower from around late April to June (you’ll sometimes see them even earlier sold as house plants – don’t put these outside until it’s warmed up). That has advantages as you’ll be able to see the exact colour (if you buy in a garden centre rather than online) and should be able to plant them straight into your containers if the risk of frost has passed. They can be a bit pricey as plants, though, and it’s much cheaper to buy the rhizomes which are not difficult to grow, it just takes a bit more planning and somewhere frost-free you can grow them on.

So, briefly, if you buy the rhizomes you can start them into growth as early as December if you want to grow them indoors, or in January – February if you want to grow them outside in the summer. The rhizomes have ‘eyes’, or raised, swollen nubs and these are on the top, so plant that side up. Plant very shallowly – the ‘eyes’ should be just visible at the surface of the compost. As always, use a good quality, free draining compost. It might be best not to add controlled-release fertilisers (though I usually recommend them) as it’s best not to over-feed callas and not to feed them when they’re in flower. Place them somewhere light and warm and keep them watered regularly so the compost doesn’t dry out, but don’t let the compost get soggy. Let them grow on until the risk of frost has passed, feeding with a high nitrogen feed at this stage, then harden them off gradually by leaving them outside during the day and bringing them in a night for a week or two, then plant them outside. Stop feeding when they start flowering as they don’t like too much fertilizer. Once flowering is over, a high potassium feed such as tomato food helps feed the rhizomes. Keep watering regularly and they should flower for a good couple of months.

If you want to keep them for another year, treat them a bit like dahlia tubers. You might be able to leave them outside in mild areas if they’re protected (if you can move the pot to a conservatory or greenhouse for example), but for better flowering you should dig them up, let them go dormant and store them in trays of compost so they don’t dry out, in a cool, frost-free, dark place until you want to start them into growth again.

Incidentally, the coloured part isn’t actually a flower it’s a modified leaf or bract that’s called a ‘spathe’, and the flowers are small structures that are situated on the fleshy finger-shaped growth in the middle which is called a ‘spadix’. So now you know!

Veronica longifolia ‘Charlotte’

First introduced around six years ago, this isn’t brand new but has so much to offer that I’m going to overlook that.

The elegant spires of veronica are perfect for breaking up the rhythm of all the more rounded flower shapes in the border. On ‘Charlotte’ the slender white spikes are plentiful, and are set off perfectly by cream edged green leaves.

In my garden and on my allotment it flowers from late June well into August, so comes in handy if you’ve got one of those ‘spring’ gardens that tend to peter out after the glories of April and May. Its tough, too, surviving hard frosts, drought and almost complete neglect – the allotment bed it grows in dried out and then became overrun with weeds and grass last year, but this veronica still came up and flowered again this year. Veronica can suffer from mildew, but I’ve never seen it on this variety, another big plus!

Last but not least, the flowers attract many bees and butterflies. Perfect.

Delphinium ‘Cinderella’

This delphinium is not just pretty, it is said to have sturdier stems than most delphiniums, be disease resistant and to flower twice – once in midsummer and again in autumn. At around 1m-1.5m tall its reasonably compact, especially compared to some delphiniums, and the layers of petals in the flowers are said to help the blooms last longer than single flowered delphiniums. Also the flower structure, which is bushier and less linear than the typical spike, or raceme, shape, is said to add to their strength.

I haven’t grown this variety, but it won the award for Best New Plant Introduction at the BBC Gardener’s World Live show this year. Having grown many other new plant introductions over 10 years of writing a new plant article for Which? Gardening magazine, I’m more than a little wary of extravagant claims. Repeat flowering for instance, is fairly typical with delphiniums, as smaller flower spikes grow from the stem once the main spike is over, and there are a number of varieties with semi-double and double blooms so this aspect isn’t unique. However, the stems looked sturdy on the plants I saw, it was very attractive and certainly caught my eye, so it would be worth a try if you long to grow delphiniums and find all the staking and mildew impossible to manage. No amount of breeding will keep slugs at bay though!

Delphinium ‘Cinderella’ will be sold by Suttons, but after its success at Gardener’s World Live they have currently sold out of plants and it won’t be available again until May 2020. It costs £10 for one 9cm plant, or £20 for three and while these prices may seem high, they are increasingly becoming the norm for new varieties.

Clematis ‘Diamond Anniversary’

A lovely new, spring-flowering clematis (alpina type) with large, rosey-pink double blooms. Flowers start to open in April and the main flowering season will last until May. There’ll be plenty of blooms over the whole plant during this first flush of flower, though there are often a few sporadic flowers throughout the summer as well. After the flowers are over, the fluffy seed heads can look very pretty for a while longer.

It grows to around 2-2.5m tall, and has dark stems that contrast nicely with the pink of the flowers. It might be possible to grow this in a pot, though, C. alpina cultivars tend to be quite big and bushy with a lot of stems when fully grown so are probably more manageable grown in the ground. It won’t need much pruning, just a bit of tidying up when flowering finishes.

With a good flowering season and such graceful blooms, this is well worth growing.

Available from Taylors Clematis (£12), Thorncroft Clematis (£12.50) and other online retailers.

New primrose

This is primula ‘Everlast’. It looks like the native primrose, Primula vulgaris, with the same simple yellow flowers that are so pretty in hedgerows, woodland, or gardens.

But this primrose doesn’t just flower in spring. It starts flowering in early autumn and carries on through most of winter, spring and even into early summer before it finally takes a break. For most of this time it has masses of bloom and each flower seems to last for ages, so the plants don’t need a lot of deadheading.

This photo was taken in February last year and the plant had already been in flower for several months.

Its as hardy as you’d expect a primrose to be, and it looks good in borders or pots.