Three-year deal blossoms at Rosemoor – that’s show biz!

RHS gardener Emma McNeill, pictured at RHS Garden Rosemoor, ahead of the Flower Show which starts tomorrow.

RHS Rosemoor fllower show 2017
ROSEMOOR, the Royal Horticultural Society’s iconic garden in North Devon, captured two silver medals in the Visit Devon Tourism Awards for 2017. Now it has gone one better and struck gold – for the next three years.

It has signed a local three-year sponsorship deal with Atkins Ferrie Wealth Management which will become the headline sponsor for the next three Garden Flower Shows in August – the only official RHS flower show in the South West.

But that’s not all. The arrangement also embraces support for four other major gardening attractions in 2019 at Rosemoor, starting with the Spring Flower Festival on 16 and 17 March, then the RHS National Rhododendron Show on 27 and 28 April, followed by the Rose Weekend on 21-23 June.

Finally, the Apple Festival in October wraps up the package.

All this follows on from the successful tie-up that saw the financial company supporting the 2018 Rosemoor Garden Flower Show.

Brokering the partnership, Steve Bowyer, head of site at Rosemoor, says: “I am truly delighted to have the support of AFWM and the three-year deal means that we can invest in the show to increase its size, bring in more exhibits, displays and demonstrations and generally ensure it continues to be a very popular event for all our visitors.”

Keen gardener John Waldie, managing director of AFWM, says: “We have sponsored the Cornwall Garden Society Spring Show for six years and, as we are quickly growing our presence in Devon, working with the RHS is a natural progression for us.

“Sponsoring the Rosemoor flower show in 2018 was a tremendous success and we are looking forward to coming back for the next three years, as well as sponsoring additional events at Rosemoor for 2019.”

He adds: “We have been amazed by the professionalism of the RHS staff at Rosemoor whose attention to detail and excellence is as great as the garden itself.”

The major flower show takes place from 16 to 18 August and is included is normal garden admission, with RHS members going in free.

⏩⏩➡» or call 01805 626810 for further details.

⏩⏩➡» Rosemoor won silver for the large visitor attraction of the year and for venue and business tourism. These add to the silver South West Tourism Excellence award in 2015 and 2016.

⏩⏩➡» Don’t forget Rosemoor Snowdrop Weekend coming up – Saturday and Sunday, 2 and 3 February.

steve & afwm john waldie

⏩⏩➡» Bloom bounty: From top – Horticultural student Emma McNeill with armfuls of dahlias; horticulturist Miriam Petry becomes a lavender lass in the Hot Garden; Steve Bowyer (left) and John Waldie shake hands to seal the deal. Pictures: Courtesy of RHS Rosemoor.


Rhubarb, rhubarb – and here’s a brand new red for the bed

RHUBARB – apparently – is not a fruit but a vegetable. This assertion is made in numerous gardening books, conflicting a US Customs Court ruling in Buffalo, New York State, back in 1947, that Rheum rhabarbarum was most definitely a fruit – so I’m happy with that.

I cannot quite see it as a veg, as rhubarb pies and preserves are always sweetened with sugar for a fruity feel.

So let’s compromise by saying it’s technically a veg but is legally considered a fruit. And who are we to argue with those in Trump-land?

Over here, D T Brown has been at the forefront of rhubarb breeding. They were the first to introduce Livingstone, the original autumn cropping variety several years ago and recently launched Poulton’s Pride which crops for up to ten months of the year.

Now DTB claims to offer one of the sweetest varieties customers can buy.

Poulton’s Red is a brand new challenger, the latest in day-neutral breeding and is their sweetest rhubarb yet. Remarkable in trials for its vigour and deep green leaves, the most eye-catching feature was the bright red, stringless stems – the strongest red the company has ever seen.

rhubarb poulton's red (dtb)

Rhubarb is close to DTB’s hearts and the firm’s exclusive Poulton’s Pride is proving very popular with customers. Named after D T Brown’s hometown of Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire, Poulton’s Pride is British-bred and was first discovered at a grower’s trial a couple of years ago.

A few stems were bought back to cook and taste and DTB was astonished at how deliciously sweet the rosy red-flushed stems were, complete with a totally unique taste with traces of almond, pineapple and banana coming to the fore followed by just a hint of characteristic sharpness.

D T Brown’s general manager Tim Jeffries says: “I was tremendously excited to see such deep red stems in the trials because with rhubarb, generally, the redder the stem the sweeter the taste and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

“The flavour of Poulton’s Red is the sweetest I’ve ever tasted . . . and we’ve tasted quite a few!”

Not only does Poulton’s Pride have a fabulous flavour, it will keep on cropping and cropping because it doesn’t go dormant in summer like other rhubarb varieties. This dormancy has been bred out so gardeners can enjoy harvesting from as early as February – if forced – and continue through to November. And that’s ten months of the year.

Supplied as strong young plants in 9cm pots, unlike normal rhubarbs you’ll even get a small crop this year in late summer to early autumn. Three plants are sufficient to give you a good crop over such a long period.

They are available to buy right now. A 9cm potted plant costs £7.95, but customers can go for three plants for £15.90, saving £7.95. Plants will be delivered from mid-May.

⏩⏩➡» To order plants or request a copy of the Fruit & Vegetables Grower’s Seed & Plant Catalogue 2019, call 0845 3710532 or go to

⏩⏩➡» Never eat or cook the leaves of rhubarb as they are filled with oxalic acid and, as such, are highly toxic.

poulton's pride rhubarb

⏩⏩➡» Supreme sticks: Top – a basket of Poulton’s Red; above – sticks of its close relative, Poulton’s Pride.



Pearl of the Pyrenees: It’s a plant that’s not quite what it seems

STRANGE, isn’t it, how some of the loveliest plants are seldom seen in your average garden simply because they don’t get sufficient air-play?

On these pages recently, I’ve mentioned Chilean gem francoa and the sumptuous alyogyne as being undeservedly ignored. Now comes another delight in the shape of a hardy geranium that’s not really one at all.

That’s because it’s an erodium, a close cousin of the better-known geranium but, in my book, just as desirable, if not more so.

Yet the erodium fan club doesn’t do much drum banging!

Geraniums have a lengthy list of named varieties behind them. Erodiums, though, are relative small fry, with scarcely any hybrids at all, despite there being between 60 and 90 species.

What I love about hardy erodiums is their gorgeous feathery leaves, which most geraniums lack, and their ability to bloom year on year and for weeks on end.

Now here’s a little secret – confession? – which I’ll share. On our way home from a short holiday in the Wye Valley two years ago, we stopped off at Chepstow for a stroll around the town.

After admiring a glorious municipal display of erodiums, I took the liberty of thumbing off one seed pod and quickly despatching it into my pocket.

Seed was sown under glass soon after, two germinated and, by summer 2018, the two plants were in flower, one set of foliage slightly darker than its neighbour.

I’m describing just two species here – Erodiums manescavii and pelargoniflorum – beauties, respectively, from the Pyrenees and Turkey.

Manescavii bears deep lilac-pink flowers with deeper markings over a cascading clump of intricate, ferny foliage, while pelargoniflorum delivers exotic-looking white blooms with purple veins above fragrant, crinkly leaves and with an even longer spell in bloom, often from winter’s end to midsummer.

Seed pods resemble a stork’s bill – hence the genus’s popular name – and, when ripe, seed springs off at speed and can land some distance away.

With erodium being so closely related to geranium, it begs this poser: Is it possible to cross one with the other to produce a . . . gerodium?

Whatever the answer, I shall keep eyes open for them growing wild when I visit the Pyrenees on holiday in May.

⏩⏩➡» You can buy seeds of both erodium species mentioned here from Plant World Seeds of Newton Abbot, Devon ( 01803 872939).

⏩⏩➡» Erodium advice: Plant in any well-drained soil and in a sunny spot. Propagate by division, root cuttings or basal shoots in autumn or sow seeds in spring.

erodium manescavii

erodium manescavii foliage

erodium seedlings

⏩⏩➡» Purple passion: Top – the geranium-like blooms of Erodium manescavii; centre – the distinctive feathery foliage; above – a tray of young erodiums set to flower this summer.

A wizard from Oz that bears truly sensational saucers

EVERY so often a plant comes along that prompts an overwhelming “Wow”!

Not an aquilegia, not an astilbe, not even an azalea, but this “A-list” stunner pictured here  – alyogyne.

It’s a semi-exotic shrub that’s an A-lister purely in the alphabetical sense rather than the celebrity sense as it’s a virtual unknown in the UK.

Alyogyne is native to sandy soils around western and southern Australia and bears the most intense purple-blue hibiscus-like blooms, spanning an eye-popping 3in to 4in when conditions suit it best. The flowers’ lives are fleeting indeed, lasting two or three days at the most, rather like the better-known evening primrose.

Full name – Alyogyne huegelii, though its popular moniker of Blue Hibiscus is doubtless easier to handle.

It’s not, though, a true hibiscus and is actually more closely related to mallow.

I first saw eye-to-eye with one in autumn 2014 at the National Trust’s Arlington Court, near Barnstaple, where it was showing off its glories in the garden’s famous Victorian conservatory.

The following year I spotted a small, pot-grown plant at Hill House Nursery in the pretty South Devon village of Landscove, near Totnes.

So I bought it, planted it in a sunny bed and enjoyed one summer of a few – but not too many – of those sensational saucers.

What happened to it the following summer I cannot be sure except to say I never saw it again. So although alyogyne looks incredibly tender and tropical, they are, surprisingly, classed as moderately frost-tolerant – a positive note for southern gardens, less so for the Midlands and the North.

In my case it must have caught a cold that was to prove fatal, so I shall scold myself for not  protecting it with fleece or straw.

By checking online, I noted varieties Melissa Anne with petals veering towards lilac-pink, Magic Moments in pale lilac and the deeper Aussie Purple.


Position: Plant in full sun, perhaps against a south-facing wall, in ordinary soil with sharp sand added, if only to remind it that it’s back in Oz.

Height: 4ft to 6ft in three to five years.

Challenge: Grow from seed or propagate from cuttings taken in summer, but Lady Luck will have to show her face. Well, I’ve tried both and failed!

Availability: Check online where you ill find several suppliers or give Raymond Hubbard a call at Hill House Nursery on 01803 762273.


⏩⏩➡»Alluring: One of the few alyogyne blooms to put in an appearance in my garden before the shrub perished.

Take your pick: Swoon over snowdrops or crocuses – or double up and see both

SNOWDROPS or crocuses – which one of these winter-to-spring jewels will sparkle more brightly for you?

Or, even better, you can pick the pair and visit both gardens, soon to open for the National Garden Scheme’s nursing and caring charities.

Each garden is set in beautifully tranquil spots in rural North Devon – snowdrops at Higher Cherubeer, two miles east of Dolton, crocuses at East Worlington, two miles west of Witheridge.

And those important diary dates: Snowdrops – Friday 8 February, Friday 15 February and Saturday 23 February from 2pm-5pm.

Crocuses – Sunday 3 March and Sunday 10 March from 1.30pm-5pm. Admission to both spectacles is £4, with no charge for children.

Jo Hynes, who lives at Higher Cherubeer with husband Tom, confesses to being a snowdrop devotee, popularly known as a galanthophile after the flower’s botanical name.

She has amassed more than 400 varieties since she was given a handful of name bulbs back in the mid-1980s and continues to be fascinated by the subtle pattern variations – usually in green, occasionally in yellow or gold – that have turned the genus into a cult following in recent years.

There’s much more to see at 1½-acre Cherubeer, not least woodland paths lined with snowdrops, hellebores and winter and spring-flowering shrubs. Keep an eye open for some of Jo’s National Collection of hardy cyclamen that display their dainty heads for almost 12 months of the year.

Enjoy refreshments, too, and a chance to buy plants, including snowdrops, of course.

But a horticultural weather warning from Jo that many of her snowdrops are opening early, so turning up on the 8th may prove advantageous again waiting another fortnight.

Over at East Worlington, visitors will feast their eyes on thousands of purple crocuses – among many other seasonal blooms – that have naturalised and spread over nearly a century across the two-acre garden and into the neighbouring churchyard. Eyes can also be trained on gorgeous views of the valley and Little Dart river that are framed in near-panorama dimensions.

crocuses e worlington

Owners Campie and Barnabas Hurst-Bannister lost a day a year ago because of the freak March snow but hopes are high for an uninterrupted show this time.

And to combat the possible effects of cold, thirst and hunger, cream teas will be served next door in the parish hall, where the final stages of refurbishment will benefit from profits.

⏩⏩➡» Jo Hynes will be chatting to gardener Toby Buckland on Radio Devon between 11am and 12 noon tomorrow (Sunday), talking about her love of snowdrops and life as a gardening guru.

⏩⏩➡» How to get there: Higher Cherubeer – From Torrington on the A3124 between Beaford and Winkleigh turn right at the Stafford Moor sign and take the first right. The garden is about 500 yards on left. East Worlington House – From Witheridge square, turn right towards the village, after 1½ miles turn right at the T-junction in Drayford, over the bridge, then left to Worlington. After a third of a mile turn left at another T-junction and see garden 200 yards on left.


jo hynes & snowdrops1

crocuses & mossy bark

⏩⏩➡» Winter wonders: From top: Galanthus Elwesei Green Tip and John Gray;  crocuses in close-up at East Worlington; Jo Hynes with clusters of snowdrops in her woodland; crocuses and daffodils welcome garden-goers.


Need a pin-up? Try Madelaine and Lucy – they’re super snowdrops

THINK of giant-sized pin-up posters and who springs to mind? Madonna? Tom Jones? George Clooney? Mariah Carey?
Well, who needs any of these celebs gazing across the bedroom when you can swoon long and hard at Galanthus?

Glorious Galanthus, in fact.

That’s the name of an A2 poster despatched by Somerset-based Avon Bulbs to all customers who adore snowdrops – those delights that have real celebrity status, of course.

It’s a double-sided placard filled with numerous pictures of our favourite mid-winter charmer that again features strongly in Avon’s 2019 catalogue.

On one side, a formal array of snowdrop portraits – all carefully labelled – showing the many subtle pattern variations; on the other a more varied and expansive display of snowdrop clusters.

What a great idea! That’s a gorgeous 16½in by 23in, so give yourself ample wall space.

Given a choice, I’d much prefer ogling at Madelaine – that’s a variety costing £30 a bulb – over Madonna and most definitely admiring George Elwes – £15 a shot – over George Clooney!

Posters are £5 each to include postage.

As for Avon’s snowdrops, here’s a true galaxy of galanthus, reigning supreme over all its bulb rivals, with the first 24 of 58 pages devoted entirely to them.

avon bulbs 2019

Avon owner Chris Ireland-Jones hails them as the crown jewels of the winter garden, with interest growing steadily year-on-year.

But growing them on the nursery is very labour-intensive which is reflected in the eye-streaming price of some varieties – £120 each, for example, for Kryptomite and Long John Silver, £75 for Lucy, £100 for the green-washed Matt Bishop, £85 for the gold-marked Midas and £80 for the green, claw-like Mr Stinker.

They’re not all wallet-bruising, of course. You’ll pay around £6 or £7 for bulbs dug out of the ground and despatched in the green for immediate planting.

Elsewhere, the catalogue is brimming with photos of bulbs, corms, tubers and herbaceous perennials that will set your spring and summer ambitions aglow.

The agapanthus, astrantia, dahlias, lilies and eucomis selections are particularly outstanding.

⏩⏩➡» 242177.

⏩⏩➡» During a busy February, Avon will be exhibiting at the RHS’s Rosemoor Garden at Torrington, Devon, which is staging a Snowdrop Weekend on 2 and 3 February (from 10am). On the Sunday only, they will join a wealth of nurseries showing off their own galanthus, while visitors can join guided walks to see impressive drifts of snowdrops in the gardens.

Among events in February Avon will be attending are a snowdrop sale at the Garden House at Buckland Monachorum, Devon, on 2 Feb (from 11am), Shaftesbury Showdrop Study Day, Dorset, on 9 Feb, Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival on 16 Feb and events in Germany and Denmark on 16, 17, 23 and 24 February.

avonbulbs snowdrop

⏩⏩➡» Top – Avon Bulbs 2019 catalogue; above – one of the snowdrop pages showing some of the collectors’ varieties of this cult flower.

The mystic of black: So does this little gem win the gold medal?

DARK and mystical, black is the one colour that can claim to be the holy grail of horticulture.

Yes, there’s “black” which, invariably, turns out to be a deep, deep purple or red and there’s a true black . . . but as the pigments that flowers employ to tinge their petals don’t produce black the result is “black-looking” or “near black” rather than a dead-pan ebony.

So it’s a case of so near, so far as the breeders battle on to become the first to proclaim: “Eureka, an honest, pure, kosher, jet, bone fide black.”

Seed and plant suppliers Johnsons come petal-close with an exclusive viola named Back to Black.

Without wishing to get carried away by the colourful publicity, I must say this little 4in hardy gem looks closer to the real thing than any other I’ve clapped eyes on – photographically only.

“Mini-flowered and on small, neat plants, the petals are truly jet-black and beautifully contrasted with a bright yellow eye. Flowering over an extremely long season, they are perfect for all baskets, patio containers and dramatic bedding displays,” say Johnsons.

Black to Black costs £2.35 for 100 seeds.

Supporting Fleuroselect’s Year of the Nasturtium, Johnsons have also added nasturtium Red Troika (£2.35 for 25 seeds) to the dark colour range. A deep red variety with semi-trailing, variegated foliage, this one is spot-on for mixed containers and summer borders.

Other Johnsons highlights include lightly fragrant brachycome Blue Star (£1.85/200 seeds). A half-hardy annual selected for its pretty star-shaped blooms, they are an invaluable addition to a sunny border or mixed container.

Cornflower Classic Magic (£2.35/200 seeds) is a highly unusual, harmonious blend of colours which make an ideal filler for a border or as a cut flower. For a summer-long show, silene Blue Angel (£1.85/1,000 seeds) provides eye-catching, electric blue flowers.

RHS AGM winner carrot Malbec (£3.05/350 seeds) heads up the new varieties added to Johnsons’ vegetable range. With vibrant red roots and exceptional flavour, it’s one of the best red carrots around – and particularly moreish when roasted.

Two F1 additions complete the edible line-up – celery Hadrian (£2.35/200 seeds) is UK-bred and chosen for flavour. With green-green stems, it also shows good disease resistance. Tomato Super Mama (£2.35/10 seeds) is a full-flavoured plum x beef tom cross with a rich taste, fleshy, high-yielding and perfect for pasta, soups and salsa.

⏩⏩➡» The new Johnsons range is available now from selected garden centres. Log on at

⏩⏩➡» Black beauty: Above – viola Back to Black with its stunning yellow eye; above right – Cornflower Classic Magic; below – Carrot Malbec.

Black Magic – without witches and broomsticks

THERE have been many close calls for a true black over the years – Alcea rosea Black Beauty, Iris Superstition, Primula auricula Gizabroon, sweet william Sooty, a few hellebore hybrids, Nemophila Pennie Black and Tulip Queen of Night to name a brief list of contenders.

Plenty of near-black foliage too – Pittosporum tenuifolium Tom Thumb, Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing, Geranium pratense Purple Haze and Sempervivum Dark Beauty are among the front runners in the ultra-dark stakes.

All these plants are illustrated in a delightful book entitled Black Magic & Purple Passion, whose author Karen Platt kindly sent me a signed copy in December 2000, the year it was published.

Karen runs Black Plants Nursery, near Sheffield – online sales only – which specialises in black and dark-flowered and foliage plants.

Author of several horticultural books, Karen founded the International Black Plant Society in 2002 and has since popularised this esoteric shade in flowers and foliage.

The 128-page publication is still available online and inside you’ll uncover details of hundreds of plants in dark, inky hues in a true A-Z chronicle – from abelia to zelkova, in fact.

karen platt black plants