The buzzword: Bees become sparkies as they charm flowers into releasing scent

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BEES are clever critters, there’s no doubting that. Did you know that these winger wonders can create an electrical charge to entice plants and flowers to release their fragrance?
There’s a buzz of excitement around Boffinland after experts proved for the first time that some blooms use the presence of pollinators as a prompt to give up more of their scent.
This in turn boosts the plants’ chances of getting repeat visits.
According to lead author Dr Clara Montgomery, flowers have only a limited supply of these fragrances, so it made sense for them to release them when their pollinators are close by.
“Essentially it is only worth advertising when you know you have an audience,” she says.

“These scents are also used by insects that want to eat or lay eggs on the plant, so increasing their chances of only attracting pollinators is vital.”

The research was undertaken by scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Cardiff and Rothamsted Research.

Bee on dahlia

Heaven scent? Top – a bumblebee drops in on a sunflower; above – landing on a dahlia. But will both these scentless flowers deliver the sweetness?

Although the electrical charge on a bumblebee is incredibly small at 120 pico Coulombs, the team discovered that a charge of 600 pC – or about equivalent to five bee visits – was sufficient to induce a species of violet petunia – Petunia integrifolia – to release more scent . . . and markedly so.

Scientists were able to measure the charge carried by each bee, as well as the amount of the main attractive chemical – benzaldehyde – released by flowers in response to their visits.

CHELSEA OR GARDENING AT HOME: IT’S NO CONTEST!

AFTER tuning in to TV’s first foray at Chelsea Flower Show I was left with this thought: Thank heaven for my own garden.
Weird, wonderful and gimmicky designs were around every corner, bold blocks of colour, every plant grown to perfection, every petal precisely manicured, every presenter immaculately turned out and all commentary overflowing with adjectives of praise. Truly, a dash of horticultural heaven!
Then I looked out of the window and saw one or two ragged roses, the lawn gathering falling leaves, the patio needing sweeping and a few plants looking sorry for themselves as they bid farewell for another year or, in the case of annuals, for ever.
But this is real, down-to-earth gardening, not the fantasy or manufactured sort that is so Chelsea.
Even after more than half a century of writing about plants and gardens, I would never wish to return to the crowded avenues of SW3 – OK, not quite so thronging this year courtesy of covid, but still pretty packed – when I can instead get stuck in to some seasonal chores in my own tranquil oasis.

A heart-shaped hattrick as firm claims a third Chelsea victory

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CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW Plant of the Year 2021 – call it the horticultural equal of the World Cup or an Ashes Test decider.
And seed and plant firm Suttons have cracked it . . . for the third time, no less.
Judges at Chelsea’s first-ever September show were wooed by Cercis canadensis Eternal Flame, a tree or shrub offering the vibrancy of ever-changing autumn shades from bud break to leaf fall.

For seven months of the year this hard-working native of North America will dazzle as an eye-opening focal point from spring right through to autumn.

Eternal Flame has been introduced for 2021 through collaboration with Hilliers and through partner exhibitor Stonebarn Landscapes.

Devon-based Suttons are understandably thrilled that all five of their 2021 nominated plants were shortlisted to be professionally scrutinised by RHS judges – with the cercis stealing the show.

The newcomer variety  – subject of a scientific breakthrough in leaf colour for the genus – changes hues at its own pace as it matures from maroon-red to burnt orange to yellow, a classic example of shifting autumn shades.

Hearts of gold: Suttons triumphant cercis Eternal Flame – top, planted out in a pot, and, above, two shots of the stunning foliage in close-up.  Pictures courtesy of Suttons.

Earlier in the year it delivers a splash of early spring interest with hanging pink blooms  on bare stems.

Compact arching stems and singularly delightful heart-shaped foliage add shape and structure as well as spectacle. You can either grow it in a patio container or positioned in the garden as a small tree, underplanted with shade-loving choices.

Attaining 10ft after 10 years, Eternal Flame can also be kept as a shorter, bushier, multi-stemmed shrub.

Tough, hardy and easy to care for, it will thrive in most soil types. Just give the plant a light prune to keep its shape.

Eternal Flame, growing in a three litre pot, costs £49.99.

✴ Suttons and their partner exhibitors won the Chelsea POTY award in 2017 with the dwarf mulberry Charlotte Russe and in 2019 with sedum Atlantis.

Plan your culinary route to four warriors of the veg patch

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WARRIOR by name, warrior by nature . . . so who’s in the battle lines? Alexander the Great? Spartacus? Genghis Khan?

No, we are talking about a parsnip.

Yes, you read that right and, furthermore, it has been hailed as The Hero of the Veg Patch.

This new F1 variety is being showcased by Devon seed and plant firm Suttons, whose sister company Dobies are highlighting two new carrots.

But back to the Warrior, so named because it shows strong resistance to root canker and produces strong, healthy foliage.

Their roots keep well in the ground allowing you to harvest them as required, preferably after leaving them sub-soil to get “kissed” by frost for a sweeter taste.

Now I’m first to concede that I once detested parsnips, the legacy, no doubt, of being ordered to eat them for lunch at boarding school.

These days I adore them, especially roasted in butter – Suttons say “the sweet taste of parsnips as part of a Sunday dinner can’t be beaten. That’s hard to dispute, though many teens would, with the possible exception of two of my grandchildren!

Warrior costs £2.99 for 350 seeds, best sown February to May and harvested September to February.

Alongside this debutante is a second, well, parsnip warrior called Gladiator, hailed as another champion standing up to canker.

A fellow F1, Gladiator grows long, tapering, wedge-shaped roots with smooth  white skin and earned an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Cost here is £2.79 for 350 seeds.

Apart from their tapering shape, carrots are quite different – a versatile root veg that doesn’t take up much space and can even be grown in containers or on raised beds.

Unlike parsnips, you can savour carrots raw as well as cooked, enjoy the crunch and, well, make the most of your ever-improving eyesight!

New carrot Ibiza from Dobies offers the quality and taste of a Nantes with the shape of an Imperator.

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Reliable roots: From top – A dish of roasted Warrior parsnips; left – Mercurio carrots; Gladiator parsnips; above – a fistful of Ibiza carrots.

Delightfully sweet and perfect for snacking, Ibiza has better colour and taste than Sugar Snax 94 and is an F1 hybrid.

Ibiza costs £2.99 for 400 seeds. Sow March to July and harvest June to October.

Another carrot to rave over is Mercurio, an early harvesting Nantes type with F1 vigour and upright habit. It has good bolting resistance, so stands in the soil longer and the roots don’t split, even when over-mature.

It produces roots 7in to 8in long, smooth-skinned and with excellent colour. Cost is £2.99 for 300 seeds.

http://www.dobies.co.uk / 0844 7364209; http://www.suttons.co.uk / 0344 3262200.

 

Go for exotica – well, almost – and hear what the neighbours have to say!

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WE ALL delight in our dahlias, relish our roses, swoon over the salvias and pamper our petunias, not to mention those stunning sweet peas and fabulous fuchsias.
But do we find room for the exotic-looking and the unusual?
You know the score – why not save a few spaces for perennial plants that will prompt a second glance, a double take, a “whatever is that?” from friends or passers-by?
Being British, most gardeners err on the side of the tried and trusted, perhaps fearing that exotics will let them down or die on them when the winter chills blow in.

Well, panic not! My list of uncommoners are all hardy or very nearly hardy and should comfortably survive any icy blasts in the south or west.

Further north it may pay to protect some of the plants’ growing quarters with suitable material, as you would for dahlias and similar non-hardies.

So, alphabetically, here’s my Awesome Eight, all of which have fared well for me in spring and summer:

DODECATHEON: This charming little North American alpine is popularly known as Shooting Star and its acutely swept-back petals in cerise-pink is the reason for this. The two best-known species are meadia and pulchellum (10in-12in) which are not easy to tell apart, with both disappearing below ground by mid-summer. They bloom in mid and late spring.

ECHIUM: Fun plants to have at the back of the border and common in the Canaries and the Isles of Scilly. Echium pininana is the one to try – a biennial that may take two years to show its funnel-shaped blue flowers and then it will die on you. Easy to raise from seed, so simply start all over again. It can top 12ft if conditions suit it, above rough, silvery-hairy leaves.

ERYTHRONIUM: The shy Dog’s Tooth Violet, a shade-loving, head-nodding bulb of great beauty in springtime. Plenty of species and hybrids in the books, though the pair you are most likely to find are dens-canis (6in) with white or pink flowers and marbled foliage and Pagoda (12in) that bears sulphur-yellow blooms with brown central rings above mottled leaves. Try to search out Erythronium revolutum, the American Trout Lily (12in) in lilac-pink and yellow anthers. Stunning!

EUCOMIS: Another bulb, this one from South Africa (10in-30in) and with tropical overtones though, surprisingly, it will see through your average UK winter intact. Often known as Pineapple Lily and related to the hyacinth, it blooms in late summer, each stem studded with numerous stars in shades of green, white and purple-red. The one I grow is Eucomis bicolor Aloha Nani Pink.

HEDYCHIUM: The Ginger Lilies grow vigorously in my Devon garden, not least Hedychium gardnerianum (up to 6ft) that bursts forth in early autumn with its butterfly-like, fragrant lemon-yellow flowers and bright red stamens. I bought mine as a bulb from the Scillies in 2007; in the Azores they are regarded as thugs and I have seen their remorseless spread across those bewitching islands. My favourite species is densiflorum (3ft-5ft), a more slender alternative with vivid orange tubular flowers.

SCILLA PERUVIANA: A bulbous perennial (10in-12in) and often described as virtually evergreen, though mine vanishes underground by summer’s end, only to send up clusters of young leaves for the following year’s show. It’s a native of Iberia, Italy and North Africa and certainly looks exotic as it delivers conical heads of up to 100 deep purple-blue, starry flowers or, in the case of Alba, pure white in May and June.

TULBAGHIA: Deserves greater attention, this semi-evergreen gem (2ft) from southern Africa which grows from rhizomes. A couple of dozen species, most of which are similar to look at and most with a lengthy spell in flower from early summer to autumn. They are related to allium – squeeze the stems and you’ll see what I mean unless you hate garlic – and bear dainty pale or deeper purple mini-trumpets. The famous North Devon garden, Marwood Hill, holds the National Collection.

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WATSONIA: A sizeable family of 60 species related to the iris and grown from corms. They hail from southern Africa and Madagascar and bear slender, almost horizontal tubes in red, orange, pink or white on ultra-slim stems around 3ft high. My moan about watsonia is that the flowers soon fade, but this summer I had to eat my words as, during a cooler spell in early August, they stayed in perfect shape for a couple of weeks.

If you fail to find these special plants at the garden centre, simply check them out online for nurseries which stock them.

Pictured from top: Dodecatheon pulchellum, Echium pininatum (left) and Eucomis Aloha Nani Pink, Hedychium densiflorum (left) and Scilla peruviana; Erythronium dens-canis; below – a cluster of Tulbaghia violacea (left) and the South African watsonia.

Beans means a new black runner . . . thanks to a bishop’s move?

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BEANS – runner, broad, french, kidney, mung, butter, borlotti and, er, baked. Don’t we just love ’em, no matter what shape, size or hue?
And why not! They are a valued source of protein in nations across the world, they are delicious and they’re cheap to buy.
Seed and plant experts Suttons have got down to the bean business as part of their new veg varieties for 2022.
From delicate, extra fine french beans to big, bold broad beans, Suttons of Torbay bring us unusual beans in new colours and unique varieties for veg patch and dinner plate.

Bean connoisseurs will know for certain they are easy to grow, tantalise the tastebuds, as well as being versatile, served up hot or cold, great for freezing and just the ticket for chutneys.

And now . . . a knight in shining armour, as Suttons hail it . . . an exclusive black runner called -well, it had to be – Black Knight which is thought to be the only commercially available variety in that colour.

Juicy and almost stringless when young after pretty scarlet flowers, this contender produces lots of 8in-12in pods which graduate from green to dark purple and to almost black as they age.

The beans, Suttons admit, may look “a little more gnarly” than most, but insist they are tender and juicy even when the beans themselves begin to show through the pods. To keep the colour, they advise, lightly steam.

Black Knight was reputedly grown by the Bishop of Shrewsbury, Edmund Knight, and to have been passed to some of the local congregation in the late 1800s.

True or an old wives’ tale? The answer remains unknown and where it truly originated from has been lost to time, yet it is a quirky yarn that’s worth believing! Twenty seeds will cost £3.99.

Newly promoted, too, for 2022 is broad bean Statissa, claimed to be the first of its type that has been particularly developed for eating in the pod, just like a mangetout pea.

Mature beans, of course, can be harvested in traditional manner later in the season. Price – £2.99 for 35 seeds.

Enduringly popular, sales of broad beans rocketed by 32% year on year in 2021.

That’s not surprising, say Suttons, as web searches relating to “planting broad bean seeds” increased threefold – prompted, no doubt, by the UK taking solace in its gardens during the pandemic.

Beans on toast for tea, anyone?

http://www.suttons.co.uk / 0344 3262200 for further details or to request a new catalogue.

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Beans bonanza: Top and centre – history on a plate in the shape of deeply shaded runner Black Knight; above – broad bean Statissa all ready for the dinner plate or the freezer.

A scarlet star from Tinseltown but you’ll need to practise its name!

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THE HARDEST part is knowing how to pronounce this plant’s name – zauschneria.
So give it a go and don’t get tongue-tied!
I prefer sticking to its easier-to-recite handle – Californian fuchsia.
Both fuchsia and zauschneria are, unsurprisingly, distantly related, though while fuchsias appear all over the place the latter is a virtual unknown in the UK.

Zauschneria californica hails from – you’ve guessed – the Hollywood state in the US and consists of just four species of mostly deciduous perennial sub-shrubs.

Mine has been resident in my garden for well over a decade and, in late summer, sends up stems in haphazard fashion across a generous spread.

It’s the vivid orange-scarlet tubular flowers, up to 1½in long and with attractive extending stamens, that are the plant’s wow factor, growing no more than 12in high and, horizontally, extending to around 20in, accompanied by slightly downy, grey-green leaves.

Most of my solitary plant disappears over winter and spring and it always surprises me how it dutifully peeps through the next year to deliver another fanfare of colour. Surprised because there’s a distinct fragility about its outward appearance but a characteristic which is clearly without foundation.

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History aficionados may be interested to learn that the plant was named after Johann Baptist Zauschner (1737-1799), a professor from Prague, but about whom little more is known.

What I do know is that zauschneria seems happy in my slightly acidic soil and that care must be taken not to snap its extremely brittle stems.

I can’t be sure if garden centres would stock this rarity. Although mine is the straight species, there’s a white version called Album, a pink known as Solidarity Pink which is less vigorous, and Dublin, perhaps the star of the show with tubes of flame-red vibrancy.

Not the easiest plant to photograph! I blame it on the way it grows, not leaving the camera with any real focal point, so I’ve included three shots here, including one taken in bright sunshine (bottom) and two in early evening.

If you do try your luck to raise your own, you can sow seeds or take basal cuttings in spring . . .  and do remember this Californian gem soaks up lashings of sunshine, just as it would in and around its native Tinseltown. 

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So many golden glories about this shrub – it’s well worth cashing in!

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YES, I’d heard of edgeworthia, but no, I was unsure of its habits and looks – and so many winning ways – until I opened the book and digested the details.
I’m glad I did! For what a super shrub it is. It slots safely into the prized category of shrubs that have pretty well everything going for them.
For starters, its flower colour is the most glorious sunshine-gold, in rings of up to 40 tiny tubes that emerge from tightly-clustered silky white buds.

These blooms, erupting on bare branches, will light up the garden – preferably in semi-shade – as early as January and will hold their presence until early April.

Enter the fragrance . . . a truly heady, spicy, clove-like lungful that will have you returning to the bed or shrubbery in chilly February for yet another sniff.

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Then there’s the foliage – almost tropical-looking in a lush, oblong, dark blue-green that resembles the leaves of rhododendrons and which unfold after the blooms are over.

So what else do we know about this little-grown beauty that’s also known as the Paper Plant? It was named in honour of Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812-1881), a keen amateur Irish botanist who worked for the Bengal Civil Service and who collected many new plants in India.

Yet it is in China and the Himalayas where edgeworthia flourish in the wild, usually at the edge of shady woodlands and where they often dip their feet in nearby streams.

PAPER CURRENCY

A quirky fact is that the shrub’s bark is used to make high-quality paper currency – hence its popular handle – for the nation’s yen, as well as for other paper products in China. I’ve also heard that Himalayan Buddhist monks made paper from the bark for writing their holy texts.

Although it is deciduous, the edgeworthia’s first cousin is daphne which is evergreen but which cannot match its relative for sheer flower power and potency.

If there is an Achilles heel, it’s that edgeworthia isn’t 100% hardy, though it will survive temperatures down to -5degC. So choose a sheltered home for it and one that doesn’t get waterlogged in winter nor parched in summer as, like clematis, it is happier where its roots are cool.

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Alluring: From top – Golden edgeworthia blossom spread across the branches; a mature shrub in all its splendour; up-close with the blooms which you can almost smell!

The basic species, Edgeworthia chrysantha, is improved by the hybrid Grandiflora with larger blooms and an altogether more vigorous and chunky plant, ultimately reaching around 5ft high.

There’s also a variant called Rubra with vivid orange-red flowers and a similar form named Red Dragon. Yet I have to say it is the glowing golden version I find most appealing – and I duly ordered one from Hayloft Plants.

A click on the shrub’s name, however, will reveal several suppliers . . . and a huge variation in cost, depending on plant size when delivered. Check your local garden centre – you could be lucky!

Enjoy your edgeworthia for it’s a shrub that deserves to soar up the popularity polls – and don’t forget to fill those nostrils!

The Snapper that leaves Jimmy, 92, happier to tackle his beloved roses

CHELSEA PENSIONERS – those with greenfingers, that is – will find their favourite pastime that bit easier to tackle thanks to the generosity of a national firm of cutting tool experts.
Darlac have donated a host of gardening tools worth more than £1,300 to the Royal Hospital at Chelsea to encourage the veterans to get outdoors and enjoy time with the flowers and veg during the summer months.

The hospital is home to nearly 300 men and women who are veterans of the British Army and has had allotments and garden spaces for use by the pensioners since its establishment by Charles II in 1692.

Among the variety of tools sent to the group was the Darlac Snapper, honed to perfection for accessing those tricky spots that are just out of reach while working from the safety of the ground rather than having to climb a ladder.

This versatile tool has proved perfect for wheelchair users who might not otherwise be able to carry out too many jobs in the garden because their reach is restricted.

Jimmy & Darlac tool

Jimmy, a 92-year-old resident and garden aficionado, pictured, loves tending his roses. But he has difficulty reaching higher branches of climbing roses, chiefly because he is mostly confined to his wheelchair.

Jimmy, though, has found much joy and satisfaction in using the Snapper for pruning and trimming since it has offered him greater independence, as well as enabling him to continue to indulge in his No 1 passion.

Alan McLaren, head of corporate and business development at the hospital, says: “Jimmy often has to get help from others when he’s out in the gardens, which can be quite frustrating for him, so it was great to see him enjoying being able to garden on his own and escape to his own world for a little while.”

He adds: “The provision of these tools means a great deal to the pensioners of the Royal Hospital and to the carers that see them every day as it gives them their own freedom. And the accessible design of the tools means they can become immersed in their gardening for just that bit longer.”

Find out more about the Darlac Snapper at http://www.darlac.com

What floats your culinary boat? It’s got to be the titanic tomato

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GREENHOUSES are glowing red around the UK right now. Maybe I should say a mixture of red and sunshine yellow or one or two arcane shades like deep purple or near-black.
Yes, it’s the season of Love Apples, aka tomatoes or, in boffin’s lingo, Solanum lycopersicum. And it’s all about the R and E-words – Ripening and Enjoyment.
The word tomato follows the quirkiness of British English pronunciation – we say “pot-ayto” but not “tom-ayto”, while American English doesn’t trouble us with such a bizarre inconsistency.

And not forgetting the other controversial debate – is the tom a fruit or a veg? We all know – don’t we? – that it is both, being the fruit of the tomato plant but always classified as a vegetable, whether on the showbench or in the supermarket.

Historically, tomatoes have enjoyed a colourful past. They have been used as projectiles, accused of being vile and tantalisingly connected with a scattering of heroes, con artists and the Mafia. When introduced into Europe in the early 1500s, rumours were rife they could turn you into a werewolf and when people got wind of the tomato being classified in the same family, solanum, alongside the poisonous deadly nightshade, they were viewed with great suspicion.

No wonder the story of the tasty tom is a tale worth telling and there is no man better placed to share its secrets than tomato legend William Alexander.

Similarly, there are no better experts to display and discuss this fable in the fruitiest of forms at the Chelsea Flower Show in September than Burpee Europe and Pennard Plants.

The exhibit from Burpee and Pennard will be based around Alexander’s upcoming book Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World. It will explain why and how the humble love apple – so named after the French calling the tomato la pomme d’amour for their belief that the exotic tom had aphrodisiac powers – became the most popular veg on earth, having entered our diets in every guise, from sandwiches and salads to spaghetti, pizza and, of course, ketchup.

Alexander explains: “To an American like myself, being represented at the Chelsea Flower Show is like playing on Center – sorry, Centre – Court at Wimbledon. And to have Burpee – who gave us one of the Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World in the game-changing Big Boy – use my book as the theme of their show is a huge honour.”

“Ten Tomatoes”, adds the author, spans 500 years of toms, from conquistadors to carbon-neutral greenhouses – and what finer way to grasp the impact and scope of the world’s favourite vegetable than to see all ten displayed together.

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As for ripe toms on the eye, they are indeed many and varied in shape, stature and shade.

There are famous and adored varieties such as the cherries Gardeners’ Delight and Sungold, the veterans Moneymaker, Alicante and Ailsa Craig, the plums Roma and San Marzano, the striped Tigerella, the vivid gold Yellow Perfection and outdoor favourites including the beefsteak Marmande and window box cherry Tumbling Tom Red or Yellow.

There are also many newer and not-so-well-known names like Green Zebra, the cherry Gold Nugget, the ribbed beefsteak Bountiful, the plum Super Sauce and the brown-red cherry Sunchocola.

Potential pests and ailments can strike and cause anguish – foot rot, blossom end rot, greenback, leaf mould, whitefly and eelworm to list a few – but as a gardening nation we continue our love affair with Love Apples, simply because they are full of flavour, versatile and an indispensable addition to summertime salads . . . redskins and others which render foreign offerings from the supermarket a complete turnoff.

Tomato 'San Marzano'; Heirloom variety

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Toms to get your teeth into: From top – William Alexander’s new book, Big Boy ( left) and Heinz, Cocktail Crush, San Marzano and (above) Cherry Baby.