Polite peas? Now it’s all about veggies that behave themselves on the plot

Carrot Cascade

WELL-BEHAVED veggies – whatever next! Will we grow sociable savoys or polite peas? Or maybe even respectful radishes or courteous courgettes?
Whatever the unlikely scenario, seed and plant experts Dobies are introducing vegetables which – they predict – will have perfect manners on both plot and plate.

The Devon-based firm go on to say: “You wouldn’t invite troublemakers around for a dinner party so why invite them into the veg patch!”

What, then, are Dobies cooking up here? Well, as well as providing a humorous touch to press releases, rather than issuing conventional straight-laced ones, there’s an important message in what they have to say . . . and I get it – I think.

What they are stressing is that this new contingent is top-quality, weather and disease-resistant, robust growers, thoroughly reliable and, top of the credentials, supremos on the tastebuds.

Cauli Zaragoza

All of which, presumably, add up to impeccable manners on the plot or in the garden.

On the latest Dobies menu:

Cauliflower Zaragoza F1 – tight white curds, large outer leaves for added protection, clubroot resistant, stands well (£3.49, sow Feb-July).

Sweetcorn Illusion F1 – tender, super-sweet, good in UK climate (£2.99, March-May).

Kale Oldenboer, another F1 – compact, uniform plants, very cold-tolerant (£2.99, March-May).

Carrot Cascade – an improved Chantenay with added F1 vigour, super-sweet (£2.99, early Feb-July).

Pea Sugar Lace – crunchy, juicy and sweet, perfect for kids’ lunch boxes, a much-improved sugar snap pea and so polite as they snap only when you bite (£2.99, March-June).

Brussels sprout Gladius – said to be a mild-mannered F1 with no bitterness (£3.99, Feb-April).

Brussels Gladius

No-nonsense veggies: From top – carrot Cascade, cauliflower Zaragoza, brussels sprout Gladius.

Organic cauliflower Skywalker – a cold-tolerant F1 hybrid which, insist Dobies, will keep rebel forces out of the veg patch, including Jedi warriors. The Dobies press office then add further spice to their prose by announcing: “Like Luke, this farm boy has risen from humble beginnings, so will it become one of the greatest cauliflowers the galaxy has ever known. We’ll have to wait and see (£3.49, March-April/Aug-Sept).

Phew! Steady on, Dobies. The die is cast. Now it’s up to you gardeners to reap the rewards.

Final word from me to the kids: Go help your mum and dad sow those seeds, watch ’em grow and savour every mouthful.

http://www.dobies.co.uk / 0344 9670303

Tulips: The flower that will set your garden a-sizzling in springtime – helped by daffs!

Tulip ballerina close

GIVEN a choice, would you pick tulips over daffodils or the other way round for your springtime spectacle? Be honest – it’s an impossible quandary, a preposterous preference.

Fact is both sets of flowers need each other, just as roses need noses.

Lucky for us gardeners, then, that many daffs and tulips overlap in bloom, so it’s important to select the Single Early and Double Early sorts as well as those in the Greigii and Kaufmanniana groups, all of which will flaunt their colours in early to mid-spring, just as the daffodils are at their best.

This is when the multi-hues of tulips swaying alongside the bright yellows and creams of narcissi will produce a perfect picture.

Tulips – a genus of around 100 species and innumerable named varieties – have one big gain over daffodils – their array of colours.

But there are drawbacks . . . on unusually hot days in April and May, their petals will “blow” and drop off before twilight. And that’s that for another year.

So do make sure you select varieties that will carry on flying the flags until May almost meets June.

Whole volumes have been penned on tulips, not least about their bizarre history when, in 17th century Holland, speculative connoisseurs pushed up bulb prices to such ludicrous levels that many growers – both amateur and professional – were declared bankrupt.

During the three-year frenzied stampede – known as tulipmania –  single bulbs fetched the equivalent of several hundred pounds sterling at auction.

Tulips & wallflowers

Of all the many cups, bowls and goblets displayed by these flamboyant flowers, my personal favourites are the lily-flowered contingent –  Division 6 of 15 – where elegance is standard in late spring.

The blooms are always single and goblet-shaped and carrying distinctively reflexed petals in yellow, pink, red and white, some of them margined, “flamed” or flushed with a contrasting shade.

Here’s a well-known handful – the pure yellow West Point, the flame effect Ballerina, red with white margined Ballade, the brownish-red Queen of Sheba with orange margins and two that need no colour explanation, China Pink and White Triumphator.

Foliage across the tulip divide can be plain, sometimes marked bronze, red or purple or splashed or streaked for added appeal.

The late celebrated plantsman Christopher Lloyd had a lot of time for tulips which dominated springtime at his renowned garden, Great Dixter, in Northiam, Sussex.  Like me, he particularly adored the lily-flowereds.

Let me say I would need acres of page space to give tulips a just write-up, though such extensive wordage may prove boring in a blog, so I’ll just state: Enjoy your tulips, plant the bulbs from now until November’s end, around 4in deep, lift them after flowering until autumn – not an essential task but favoured by some – and don’t disturb the dormant daffs as you dig ’em into bed, border, tub or trough!

And remember – tulips are a bulb boffin’s dream. Easy to plant and when it comes to The Show there’s nothing quite like them to set the garden on fire.

Tulips White T'ator & Ballade

Tantalising tulips from my garden: From top – the flame-coloured Ballerina; Ballade teams up with wallflowers; and Ballade again, this time with White Triumphator in pole position.

From beasts to beauties: Botany’s touch of magic underground & overground

Anemone corms

YOU HAVE to hand it to horticulture for the sort of “miracles” it can produce, rivalling the stunning shift from unlovely caterpillar to butterfly beauty.

Here’s a telling example, above – 20 ugly, misshapen morsels that resemble certain items best not alluded to on a family website.

Yet roll the clock on six months and the beasts will have transformed into true grace and refinement, the ugly sisters into prince-like charm. At least, that’s the plan chez moi.

These are the corms of Anemone de Caen Sylphide (below) which I ordered from Farmer Gracy, a firm who describe themselves as the English face of a famous Dutch bulb-growing family.

thumbnail_Anemone Sulphide Gracy

A similar metamorphosis, of course, takes place with dahlias – from unsightly tubers to the multi-faces and copious colours of these summer-long stunners.

But at least with dahlias there’s no puzzle over which way to pop them into their bloom spots.

Anemones, though! It’s enough to send your mind spinning in despair for fear of dropping them in upside down or sideways on. For starters, there is no obvious upside, no clues over where the growth point lies.

Take heart! Don’t let these knobbly nuggets drive you potty. As luck happens, it’s unnecessary to be alarmed over “correct” planting procedures as roots will surely form in autumn, followed by healthy sprouting and those brilliant blooms in spring.

So it’s a fact there’s no right or wrong way with anemones, provided you follow a few simply ground rules. And there are many of them in a glorious range of colours and shapes to keep the daffs and tulips company.

Soak the corms for two to four hours in water – not essential, this, though traditional gardeners prefer it – and plant about 3in deep and 3in-4in apart in sun or part-shade.

Farmer Gracy 2

As for Farmer Gracy, well, I have to say that any adjective of praise would be appropriate for this company. I’ve had two boxes of assorted bulbs delivered this autumn, each one expertly packed and labelled and everything inside in meticulous shape.

A peek at Farmer Gracy’s website reveals an enormous array of  bulbs and plants that span the globe, many of them seldom seen, and each one presented in supreme colour and clarity . . . as was our anemone friend.

Farmer Gracy’s HQ, incidentally, are situated just two minutes from Holland’s world-famous Keukenhof Gardens.

In springtime experts go bulb-hunting for new varieties each day at Keukenhof Park and, when the time comes to despatch orders, all bulbs are packed by hand to ensure quality is the key to success and satisfaction.

http://www.farmergracy.co.uk / 0330 8087304.

How to restore lawn order in these troubled times


▲ Super stripy: This is how a lawn – not mine, incidentally – should look when in peak condition.


HE LAWN is the most ubiquitous feature of the British garden. But the survival of the domestic lawn has never looked more threatened, not least because of the relentless spread of the artificial variety throughout suburbia.

The needs of our lawns – real ones –  have been conspicuously absent at the horticultural top-table . . . until now.

The newly-launched Lawn Association intends to address this as the UK’s first and only expert-led organisation dedicated equally to the needs of professionals, enthusiasts and even diffident gardeners.

Why is this needed? For a long time the underdog in the horticultural world, the domestic lawn is now a symbol of the fight to preserve essential parts of our biodiversity and living, green environment.

It’s in our own interests, as David-Hedges-Gower, the association’s chairman, explains:

“We need grass. And we need lawns,” he says. ” Health and science research now routinely cites the lawn as an essential garden component contributing to a healthy environment, biodiversity and lifestyle. So, after decades of some excoriation and a lifetime of poor lawn care practice, it’s now really important to help everybody – professional and enthusiasts, even reluctant gardeners – to enjoy and maintain healthy lawns.”

As for stakeholders, the future of the British lawn sits jointly with three of them – lawn and other horticultural professionals, gardeners, and the influential media. And the Lawn Association is the only authoritative organisation to develop integrated support for all three.

How do you choose a lawn care provider? How do you learn the best modern lawn care practice? How do you know which are the best sustainable and organic ways of looking after your lawn? Where do you find reliable information for your audience?

These and more are the questions the Lawn Association will address through its educational programmes, product development and accurate information.

Free membership is available to all gardeners. This will help to maintain and grow enthusiasm for simple but good lawn care, and, by knowing how to assess products and services, they can more confidently play their part in preserving and improving our country’s lawns.

For starters, there is the handful of essential checks most of us know so well: Deal with wormcasts, get rid of moss, wage war on weeds, mow regularly, repair bare patches, keep edges neatly trimmed, take a day or two off to admire your efforts.

“Lawn professionals, landscapers and garden designers – ecologists, biologists, and environmentalists – keen (and not so keen) gardeners – even the lawn care manufacturing industry – we ALL want the same thing!” adds David.

“We want to reverse the decline of the British garden lawn and to enjoy happier, healthier outdoor spaces. We all have a stake in it – and with the Lawn Association’s help, we can make a real difference!”

The Lawn Association is the new name of the British Lawn Association which was formed by David Hedges-Gower in 2015.

For everything you need to know check out http://www.lawnassociation.org.uk

Your chance to be judge and jury – for a parsnip on trial

Parsnip Sabre F1 DTB

PARSNIPS were always my bête noire at primary school. As a boarder from the age of seven, it meant lunches were served around a big oak table – headmaster at one end, his wife at the other, so no nonsense there.
And parsnips were rarely off the menu . . . nasty, tough, boiled things which we were ordered to eat. No arguments, no excuses, no whingeing, for refusal to chew up could result in a caning!

So for years Pastinaca sativa were a total turn-off for me. Until, that is, in later years – and indeed now – I realised just how yummy they are, roasted, of course, and definitely not dropped into boiling water.

These days there are many varieties in catalogues or on shop shelves. Names like Tender & True, Gladiator, Countess, Hollow Crown and Javelin will be familiar to parsnip fans, all of these roots packed with healthy quantities of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and potassium and with flavour enhanced and sweeter if exposed to frosts.

Continuing their annual tradition of supplying customers with a free seed variety for trial at home, Suffolk mail order Grown Your Own specialists D T Brown have this year selected parsnip Sabre, pictured above.

It’s a high-quality, British-bred F1 hybrid with long and extremely white, smooth-skinned roots. These attractive roots have a super flavour and show good resistance to canker.

The fresh, white skin has an exceptional finish, making this triallist well-suited for the showbench.

DTB general manager Tim Jeffries says: “We’ve had an overwhelming response from previous trial varieties and we are really excited about this year’s.

“Sabre has been bred by the same breeders as our best-selling Gladiator and Javelin, so we certainly have high hopes.”


The aim of the trial is to allow growers located across the UK with differing soil types and growing conditions to test the same variety and give feedback on yield, appearance, overall performance and, crucially, flavour.

In recent years, Rachel, DTB’s seed buyer, has found some excellent varieties for trialling – and 2021 has shown to be no different.

Sabre is now available online and customers will receive their free trial pack of 100 seeds, plus free seed labels, with all seed orders they place.

To request a copy of the new Fruit & Vegetable Grower’s Seed and Plant Catalogue 2020, write to D.T. Brown Seeds, Bury Road, Newmarket, CB8 7PQ, call 0845 3710532 or go online at http://www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk

Mike’s Cornish love affair with these unique dahlias just keeps growing


OO-ER, here I go again singing the praises of collerette dahlias, only a few days after my last manuscript.

But before you sigh in frustration – as if you would! – let me hastily add that you are gazing at pictures taken by one of Britain’s foremost growers of these delightful plants.

Mike Bryant, who describes himself as “just an old gardener of 76 who plays with collerette dahlias,” reckons these flowers give him the reason to get out of bed in the morning.

He is not a commercial grower, though he’s pleased when dahlia devotes – many of whom he’s met at Cornwall Dahlia Society shows – get in touch and have seeds sent to them or pick up rooted cuttings in the spring.

Mike says: “They all ask what plants cost and my answer is that I do not charge. If they wish to make a donation towards the cost of growing the plants I thank them.”

Sound like good old-fashioned generosity and courtesy!

An industrial chemist by training, Mike ended up as head of science at a local secondary school.

He lives at Stithians, near Truro, a village perched atop a granite outcrop, so wet and wind are frequent irritants to his time out on his patch.

Unlike the majority of dahlia types, collerettes don’t hold water. Petals will flex and allow the wind to pass through with little damage, unless the gales roar and put them at risk of toppling or snapping.

It was back in 2007 that Mike had a lengthy chat with a collerette grower of distinction – Ivor Kitchener – at the Cornwall society’s open show.

Ivor had won many trophies at national shows and it was he who turned Mike’s passing interest into a full-blown distraction.

Eventually the pair pursued a seedling hybridisation study, with the results published in a 66-page booklet.

Since then Mike has produce many hundreds of seedlings from different parents, just to see what colour combinations emerge.

Some of his gorgeous charges are illustrated here, each flower displaying a unique ring of inner florets – the “collar” – surrounded by an outer ring of conventional petals.

Yet curiously, this form of dahlia has never proved a “chart topper” with amateur growers who seem to prefer the popular cactus, decorative, pompon or ball types in various shapes and statures.

So I make no apology for giving them another plug, in the hope – maybe – that collerettes will catch on among Britain’s thousands of dahlia disciples.

Mike adds: “Monty Don said on his gardening programme that collerette seeds will only produce a few collerettes when grown. This may be true when growing with a mixture of other types of dahlia but not in my case. Over the last ten years I only grow collerettes and most of the seeds come up as collerettes.”

I don’t think we will quibble at Mike’s conclusions!

Email Mike at docmwrb@yahoo.co.uk for any collerette info.


Above: Some of Mike’s collerettes bringing sunshine to his Cornish garden and (below) two humorous touches from Mike’s home which are clearly not of his pet plants! Elsewhere, a selection of his fabulous collerettes.

Nothing beats the garden to blow away the curse of Covid

Cosmos oct 1, 2020

Autumnal allure: A cluster of cosmos still delivering as October breezes in.

THANK HEAVENS for the garden. Thank heavens that we have an oasis in which to retire to release us from the awfulness and depressing sights going on outside.

To be able to wander past beds and borders, ponds and rockeries is the perfect antidote to a world that’s not as we used to know it.

It’s where the population move around, zombie-like, in their face masks – muzzles? – where we have to follow strict signage and arrows in all the stores and on pavements, as though we are following classroom orders from a schoolteacher, and where we are trying to decode the conflicting and mesmerising messages delivered by scientists and politicians.

As one daily newspaper screamed on today’s front page: “It’s Mr Boom v Mr Doom.” And we all know who the Mr Doom is to which the paper was referring! The Mr Boom is a hopeful top banker.

How compliant and obedient we all are! Robbed of our basic freedoms, we are now living in a highly controlled environment. Yes, Covid is with us and probably will be for months, possibly years, but so is flu, pneumonia and many other potentially fatal diseases which, we are told, actually claim more victims than this newbie virus.

Yes, take care; yes, be responsible; yes, think of those more vulnerable than yourself; and yes, we should live with Covid, not fight against it as that may never be the answer.

Rant over, so back to the garden where it has been a wonderful year for so many annuals, perennials, shrubs, apples, pears, strawberries and other soft fruit and – most important – a great “Covid-buster”.

Even now, as a new month dawns amid the shortening and cooling days, it is still an uplifting experience to pick up the secateurs to tidy up the roses, the hoe to slice through a few lingering and defiant weeds, the edging shears to clean up the lawn, the spade to dig out an oldie or dig in a brand new buy, or simply to stroll up and down or around for a few moments . . . and think how lucky you are.

Talking of digging out, I’ve had in one of my beds a magnificent cotoneaster which I discovered years ago as a tiny, limp seedling lying on the soil and seemingly doomed.

So I picked it up, popped it into a small pot, cossetted it and cajoled it back to life and, eventually, planted it next to a wooden fence. For years it grew majestically upright, delivered blossom and berries and maybe – in whatever way they can – thanked me for saving its life.

Then, just last week, all the leaves suddenly turned brown, many were dropping off  way before time and I noticed the stems were drying up, the green turning to brown. Sadly, I had no choice but saw it down and start afresh.

This I did thanks to half a dozen of its offspring that had taken root in the chippings around our summerhouse. I picked the most upright and popped it into place, a few inches from where its parent had delivered a stellar show for more than a decade.

This baby should see us out!

Cotoneaster baby

Baby takes over: The tiny cotoneaster settles down in its new home close to the stump of its parent.

Clero-what? It’s a real Chinese puzzle for late summer impact

Clerodendrum bungei

PLANTS that need no introduction can be found everywhere – roses, foxgloves, dahlias and the like.

There are plants that baffle us by both appearance and name – Glycyrrhiza glabra, aka liquorice, or Orychophragmus violaceus are just two from a huge random choice that challenges our tongues’ dexterity.

And in category 3 – plants that immediately strike a chord but leave admirers scratching heads as they grapple for a handle.

Clerodendrum is typical of this team of teasers. To give it its full title – Clerodendrum bungei, as the best-known of a monster family of around 400 species.

It’s a deciduous beauty from China, a not-quite-fully-hardy suckering shrub bearing gorgeous rounded flower heads and with two-toned, deep pinky-purple buds opening to paler pink stars.

These showy fragrant “globes” break out in late summer and autumn, up to 6ft-8ft high and perform a useful act as fellow flowers are starting to feel end-of-season fatigue.

Its leaves are quite large, to 8in long, toothed and often tinted purple when young, so an added attraction here.

As a timely caution, it’s worth noting that the roots of this plant are lively and run wide and deep. Suckers will pop up far and near so it’s important to restrain its enthusiasm for expansion by siting it in an area contained by a wall or by paving. Alternatively, simply snip off the suckers in spring.

I picked up a potted clerodendrum the other day from Homeleigh Garden Centre at Stratton, near Bude in Cornwall, and noticed that the identity label – provided by the supplier, not the garden centre – read Clerodendron. Not correct! It most definitely beats a “drum” at the end!

The plant is happiest in full sun, though is tolerant of light shade. You can even treat it like a herbaceous perennial, administering a ground-level chop in autumn and awaiting fresh stems in spring.

Prof Alexander von Bunge (1803-90)

For those curious at its species name, bungei, I can reveal it is named in honour of Professor Alexaner von Bunge (1803-1890), a Russian botanist and explorer who embarked on scientific expeditions into the wastes of Siberia. On one epic voyage he travelled to Beijing via Siberia, on the way conducting extensive research of Mongolian flora.

He even had a crater on Mars named after him, so maybe we can say, mirthfully, his contribution to mankind is out of this world.

Top – The pretty stars of Clerodendrum bungei, pictured just past its best in my garden; above – Professor Alexander von Bunge, after whom this species is named.

Cosmos: A stellar showgirl that sends autumn into orbit


YOU simply cannot offer a mere single sniff to the Chocolate Plant. Its aroma is so distinctly “choccy” that it seems to captivate and lure your nostrils – and you are compelled to take a second lungful . . . and possibly several more.

This fragrant favourite is Cosmos atrosanguineus – apologies for that six-syllabled monster – a near-hardy perennial from Mexico in deep, deep red.

But it’s their close annual relatives, pictured here from my garden, that are stars of the show right now, still plentiful in bud and brave warriors against autumnal wind and rain.

Across the colour spectrum, Cosmos bipinnatus is undeniably impressive, bearing near-flat blooms in pink, red, orange, white, terracotta, salmon-bronze and, in recent years, soft yellow. A galaxy of colour, in fact, all them with a sparkly central golden eye.

There are numerous named hybrids, not least the well-known Candy Stripe, in white with dark crimson picotee margins, and Sea Shells in carmine-red, pink or white an with florets curiously quilled or rolled into tubes.


A real kaleidoscope of cosmos is featured in the catalogue of seed distributors Plants of Distinction, among them their Flower of the Year, Xsenia (20in-25in) which captivated the firm’s owners Sarah Missing and David Tostevin in its livery of terracotta-orange with rose edges.

Xanthos (2ft) is said to be unique in its coat of pale yellow – the first-ever bipannatus cosmos in this shade – Antiquity (2ft) is a versatile challenger as it changes colour from burgundy to salmon-bronze, Rubinato (2ft) is in dark red and looks especially grand on the patio, Apollo White, Apollo Pink and Apollo Carmine (20in) speak for themselves, Collerette White produces double and semi-double blooms, Fizzy Rose Picotee (2ft-3ft) is a novelty in rose-pink and white, and Cosmic Orange (12in) a compact gold medal winner in a knock-out shade that’s almost luminous.

All these bipinnatus cosmos are annuals and should be pulled up when the buds run out, but do keep dead-heading to prolong the display. Saving your own seed is possible, but wait until spring to sow, always keeping the seed cool – the fridge is perfect in the meantime – and stored in a standard envelope, not in plastic bags.


Being perennial, the chocolate cosmos can be increased by basal root cuttings in early spring, helped by bottom heat if possible.

So do enjoy your cosmos, some of the brightest beacons on the late summer and autumn stage and generally free of troubles.

Indeed, the cosmos could fire your imagination into the outer stratosphere!

www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk / 01449 721720.