These stunners would grace any garden

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
1:06 PM

Alan Gray welcomes some superb new plants developed by specialist nurseries.

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New plants are always the cause of much excitement among gardeners nowhere more so than at the Chelsea Flower Show. In fact, there is a stand where various growers and plant breeders put forward their latest plant offerings to be judged as the overall ‘Plant of the Year’. As these plants differ so much in their habits, colour, structure and form, the end result has to be taken with a pinch of salt, for I think that all are worthy of their place and human nature being what it is, what I consider good, you may not – and rightly so.

Starting with our own county, it has long been known that Thorncroft Clematis are experts in their field. This family-run business has been a favourite with local people for many years but now they are regular winners at the Chelsea Flower Show. They received their sixth gold medal at this year’s show despite this having been a very difficult growing season; they had to lower the height of their stand because their plants had not grown as tall as they usually do. However, you would never have known and their display was fabulous. They were also introducing a stunning new variety of clematis from Japan called ‘Shikoo’ (we used a picture last week) .

I have just planted ‘Shikoo’ in the new Jubilee Walled Garden here but, I was keen to know more about it so I went to ask Jon Gooch, co-owner of Thorncroft Clematis. My plants came from them by post and they were beautifully packed, in fact, when I opened their box I was wowed by the most delightful, double blue blooms that were in pristine condition!

So, I knew that this was a good plant with beautiful double blue flowers but, that was all. Jon informed me that its main blooming season was from May to July but that it blooms again later in the year in September. Most varieties of clematis that bear double flowers at their initial blooming will have flowers that are single in form in any subsequent flowering - but not Shikoo, this one always produces double flowers. Another interesting fact is that these are borne on comparatively long stems and are excellent for picking, lasting well in water.

For many years I have used clematis as cut flowers with excellent results but I seldom see them used thus anywhere else. Why not try it and see how you get on? Alas, ‘Shikoo’ did not win Show Plant of the Year but this is an extremely attractive plant that should prove an excellent addition to our gardens and it is locally grown by an award-winning nursery of which we should all be proud.

Another Norfolk nursery is that of our most famous rosarian, Peter Beales, who in this Diamond Jubilee year has launched the Queen’s Jubilee Rose which was also entered here for ‘Plant of the Year’. This is a repeat flowering variety that has rather lovely double, goblet-shaped, fragrant blooms that are a soft, creamy-white, their centres flushed peach. They have about them an old-fashioned appearance that is quite charming. The foliage is a dark, lustrous green and healthy too, growing to a height of around 90 cms (3 feet). This is sure to become a very popular garden plant. Peter Beales claimed their 19th Gold medal at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show.

From just over the border in Suffolk came a very interesting addition to the Plant of the Year shortlist, as Thompson and Morgan have successfully carried out what was thought to be an impossible hybridisation between the Canary Island shrubby foxglove, Isoplexis Canariensis with an herbaceous variety.

The resultant plant is truly exceptional, called Digitalis ‘Illumination’; it has extraordinary flowers borne along the stem like a conventional foxglove. These are cream and shocking pink giving the plant an incredibly exotic air and as the plant is sterile it doesn’t set seed, so consequently it has an incredibly long season blooming from June to October.

It grows to a height of around 90 cms (3 feet) with a spread of 45 cms (18 inches) and to boot this is a hardy plant. This was the overall winner of the ‘Plant of the Year’, and I can quite understand why. I was lucky enough to see this plant at its launch at last year’s T&M press day and subsequently I was able to buy some small plant plugs of it, the gentleman in question was not surprised when I told him that I already had it. These we have grown on until they are now large, chunky plants that I hope will thrill everyone who visits the garden here. Other plants that were entered for this category included some interesting petunias that are said to be hardy to -5C. Petunia X atkinsiana will I’m sure become very popular and could possible lead to us having hardier petunias that we do not have to replace annually. At the moment, the main advantage of these is that they could be planted out in the garden sooner than other varieties giving us an earlier and possibly longer display.

As many visitors to our garden will know, we are potty about succulents, so I was very pleased to see two ‘new’ Aeoniums that are available from Trewidden Nursery. Both of them are quite compact growing plants, Aeonium ‘Cornish Tribute’ has green leaves that turn to a very fetching shade of red as they mature making a colourful feature and Aeonium ‘Logan Rock’ is rather like aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ in that it has rosettes of very dark brown leaves each with a green centre but, with finer leaves. Both plants can be planted outside for the summer and are available from the nursery by mail order.

Lastly, Whetman Pinks are experts in their field and have been doing some serious breeding of late which has involved bringing back the scent to many new varieties of pinks. This has been sadly lacking in recent years but, now we can enjoy their heady perfume once more just as we used to as children – and now thanks to their efforts scent comes together with a longer flowering period. White-flowered Dianthus ‘Memories’ which was entered for the ‘Plant of the Year’ is widely available and you can get many more like it direct from Whetman’s.

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