A titanic trio of strawberries to torment the taste buds for five months

Strawberry Toscana	
ABZ

SEDUCTIVE strawberries have few rivals when it comes to the aromatic joy of soft fruit . . . except perhaps for raspberries. But we won’t be entering the “which one is better debate” which may prove more controversial than Brexit!

What we will be chewing over are three new and nearly-new varieties introduced by those famous seed and plant people at Devon-based Suttons.

Award-winning Delizz is the newbie and joins Frisan and Toscana to form a special trio which make up the firm’s Day Neutral Collection.

You can buy six 9cm potted plants for just £14.99 or a complete collection of three of each variety for £22.

All are high-yielding strawberries, none of which are affected by the shortening daylight hours of late summer. So they will continue to produce en mass beyond the summer equinox, giving you a highly successful harvest to devour at your heart’s content!

Perfect in your fruit patch or in containers and hanging baskets for those with smaller gardens. And here’s a bonus point – the three contenders each have their own individual flower colour which will create a wave of pretty petals . . . in traditional white with Delizz, a delicate pale pink with Frisan and a striking dark pink which the bees will adore when it comes to Toscana.

All in all, this is a package that will bear an abundance of the most juicy, sweet-flavoured “gourmet” strawbs for up to a staggering five whole months.

Do bear mind that the more fruits you pick the more your plants will deliver, so your dessert dishes should be brimming with these ravishing reds for the whole summer and into autumn.

Day-neutral strawberries are insensitive to day length, therefore they continuously grow fruit as long as the weather is fair.

Remember too those delightful flowers in three different shades. Mix a few plants together and savour the blooms before you tuck into the irresistible berries.

www.suttons.co.uk/0844 326220

Strawberry Delizz	
ABZ

Strawberry Frisan	
ABZ

Luscious: From top – A handful of Toscana in front of those gorgeous deep pink blooms; a plateful of Delizz; a basket full of Frisan with its pale pink flowers.

 

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It pays to be mallow-minded when you grow this lavish beauty

Wendy mallow2

◙►» Pink perfection: The near-luminous lavatera Novella pictured up-close in a hanging basket a few years ago

IF SUMMER-LONG impact – I mean drop-dead gorgeous impact – is on your wish list, look no further than the mallows.

With their big, bold floral trumpets, these hardy annuals – proper name lavatera – are indisputably leaders of the band!

Pink in an assortment of shades and white are the mallow’s prime colours, though varieties such as Pink Beauty and the paler Silver Cup create an even more stunning effect with darker veinings.

Annual mallows tend to grow between 2ft 6in and 4ft high if conditions suit, but back in the mid-Noughties I snapped a few shots of Novella, an absolutely vibrant pink newcomer that appeared to be almost luminous in its livery.

Novella is the first dwarf pink lavatera (18in) and became a Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner. Furthermore, it was Suttons Seeds 2004 Plant of the Year.

What made Novella stand out from fellow mallows was its modest stature, its multi-branched habit and the sight of just one plant spreading itself proudly across a hanging basket in Bideford, Devon, sporting the most wonderful iridescent colour.

Lavatera is a genus of around 25 species and grows naturally from the Azores and Canaries, across western Europe, the Mediterranean to eastern Siberia, down to Australia and over to California and are often confused with their near-relative, malva. Both can be found as perennials or shrubs of varying sizes.

In terms of elegance, lavatera edges out in front as malva petals are usually less tightly formed – but malva does earn a bonus point thanks to blue and purple featuring in its colour scheme, notably the purple Brave Heart (36in) and the prostrate Primley Blue (8in).

You should find a decent selection of annual mallows at all good garden centres, so keep an eye peeled for Loveliness (3ft-4ft) in deep rose-pink, Mont Blanc in white (20in) and Ruby Regis in reddish-pink (24in).

 

This shy and underrated star will bring spots before your eyes

Pulmonaria G

SOME PLANTS cry out to be noticed and adored like dahlias and roses. Others tend to shy away and prefer the quiet life in the shade such as erythroniums, primroses . . . and pulmonarias.

It’s pulmonarias – common name lungwort – I want to tell you about, for these dual-purpose “shrinking violets” deserve a spot in every garden.

I deliberately write “spot” as silvery-white spots, or dots, are one of the pulmonaria’s main attractions.

Long after the springtime funnel-shaped blooms have come and gone, the spots continue to glow right across the foliage, lighting up those sunless corners where this hardy perennial thrives.

Moreover, immediately after the flowers have finished, new summer leaves sprout – and that’s when you’ll get the brightest dots before your eyes.

Both the Latin name  pulmonaria and the popular title lungwort are derived from these spots because, generations ago, they were thought to make the leaves resemble a diseased lung.

Disease, though, is something pulmonarias seldom suffer from. All they seek is moist, humus-rich soil, either acid or alkaline, and full to partial shade.

Underground rhizomes spread steadily to form substantial clumps and, eventually, you’ll discover dots of tiny seedlings emerging close by, proving beyond doubt that multiplication is the name of the game where lungwort is concerned. So you’ll need to keep on top of this proliferation to stop a rapid spotty army spreading across the garden.

The blooms themselves range from deep to pale purple, red, pink, some striped white like Barfield Pink and pure white like Sissinghurst White or White Wings.

Admittedly, these mini-funnels aren’t anything that might prompt a jump for joy, yet they possess an endearing quality that seems to say “I’m over here, but there’s no need to make a song and dance of it.”

A book on my shelves simple entitled Pulmonarias is issued by the Hardy Plant Society. Sketches rather than colour photos, yet author Jennifer Hewitt leaves few stones unturned across its 52 pages when examining all this plant has to offer.

Not all pulmonarias, incidentally, have decorated foliage. Some leaves are plain green, as in species angustifolia, and mollis, both from Eastern Europe and both with blue-violet flowers, while rubra is a species native to the Balkans and western Russia and mostly with red-pink trumpets.

But it’s those spots and dots that bowl me over as displayed by Smoky Blue, a recent newcomer from Holland; the gloomy sounding Mourning Widow in dark purple; Brentor, introduced by the former Rowden Gardens, near Tavistock, Devon, and bearing vivid silver and magenta blooms; the coral red Beth’s Pink; and Opal which boasts stunningly marked spots and flowers that start pale pink and end pale blue.

So, as you see, these dinky delights, which only reach between 9in and 12in high, may all look alike from a distance, yet variations are numerous. Even that fabulous foliage can be shaped in many different ways!

•◘○◙►» webpages@hardy-plant.org.uk

•◘○◙►» Dotty delights: Top – the spotty foliage of one of my pulmonarias; above – the pretty blooms and foliage of two more plants.

 

It’s the buzzword: Fragrant flowers will bring in bees – and help to save them

cropped-pierisbee.jpg

BUMBLEBEES are under a grave threat of being wiped out – and that could spell disaster for mankind.

Of the 68 species across Britain and Europe, 16 are now threatened with extinction. Two British species have been lost in the past 100 years.

These bees play a crucial part as insect pollinators of crops and, not only do they assist in plant reproduction, they aid the production of important foods in our diet such as many fruits and vegetables.

Yet at the same time, bees are facing many perils – habitat loss, climate change, toxic pesticides and disease. Put all these together and it’s easy to see why bees and other pollinators face a future mired in unpredictability.

So it goes without saying that gardeners who love their plants should also love the bees – and choose species that are magnets to our industrious flying miracles. Buddleia, echinacea, lavender, monarda, rudbeckia, sedums, solidago, chives, sunflowers, roses, catmint, hardy geraniums, salvia, heliotrope, cosmos and even snowdrops and crocuses are all bee magnets – as are many other scented species.

It’s good to know that plant and seed firms like Johnsons are doing their bit towards helping preserve this most vital of insects in its various species.

This season, Johnsons have handed over a cheque for just over £2,981 to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust from sales of its mixed bumblebee friendly flower seeds. A total of 25p from each packet sold goes directly to the charity, whose mission is to raise the number and distribution of bees.

Tessa Brooks, the trust’s fundraising officer, said her organisation was delighted to be receiving continued support from Johnsons and their customers.

She says: “We are passionate about saving bumblebees and the generous donations we receive from Johnsons Seeds directly supports the work we are doing to help achieve this.”

She adds: “Populations of bumblebees have decreased rapidly over the past century, with two species becoming extinct in the UK. Our hope is that by encouraging people to grow bee-friendly flowers in their own gardens we can go some way to reverse this decline.”

The varieties in the pack are a carefully selected and well-balanced combination of more than 25 annuals and perennials. These not only attract bees but many other pollinating insects, as well as provide colour in the garden right through the summer months.

Johnsons Helen Clayton says: “It is great that more people are taking such an interest in bumblebees and gardening increasingly with them in mind.”

◘○◙►» For further info on the BBCT log on to http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org

◘○◙►» Johnsons seeds are available from garden centres, supermarkets and leading DIY stores and at www.johnsons-seeds.com

Johnsons Seeds bee cheque

◘○◙►» Top – a bumblebee alights on the creamy flowers of a pieris in my garden in search of nectar; above – Bee-utiful cheque as Tessa Brooks from the BBCT is happy to receive more than £2,981 from Johnsons Helen Clayton.

Roses grow early on you – and here are two mid-April trailblazers

Rose April Wendy B2

ROSES are budding up nicely as the mercury rises to please us all. But – crikey! -we are still in mid-April so what are these two blooms doing showing themselves well ahead of schedule?

No kidding, the photos (above and below) weren’t taken last July but today in a front garden at breezy Westward Ho! in North Devon.

I can’t be sure of the varieties and I won’t attempt an identification as there are many roses that look similar, but I can say that one is an attractive lemon-yellow climber while the other is growing in a pot with a pansy as companion and is best described as a very full-bloomed red and yellow bi-colour.

Whether this pair are the first to show their faces outside in the UK this year is unlikely, but I ‘d wager they are among the trail-blazers ahead of the anticipated colour cascade in the weeks and months ahead.

Incidentally, as a grower of around 75 rose bushes, I heartily recommend an anti-blackspot treatment called Sulphur Rose. If you spray each plant thoroughly about now and repeat in a couple of months time your roses will stay healthy – and be nourished at the same time.

Clean air regions, such as here in the West Country, are notoriously bad for The Spot which can decimate bushes almost overnight. Some varieties – especially orange shades – are particularly prone, so it may be worth your while checking out Sulphur Rose online.

It’s distributed by Greenacres Direct and a packet of the powder costs around a tenner on eBay. Well worth digging into the bank balance to keep your rose plants in the pink!

Rose April Wendy B1

 

 

Crack on! Easter at Rosemoor with a rhyming rabbit and oodles of fun

Daff spring trail Rosemoor

EASTER is about to crack open its seasonal spell over us and Rosemoor – naturally – wants to be among the action.

The RHS garden at Torrington has teamed up with leading publisher Macmillan Children’s Books for an exciting programme of family fun during the holidays – until 22 April – based on The Rhyming Rabbit.

The attractions have already begun, but there is still bags of time to join in and lose yourself in what’s going on at this famous horticultural haven.

The Rhyming Rabbit is a clever adventure from the picture book partnership of author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Lydia Monks, creators of What the Ladybird Heard and Sugarlump & the Unicorn. With brilliant rhyming verse and bright and distinctive illustrations, this story is a delight to read aloud.

Families can enjoy the Rhyming Rabbit Hop About Trail which will take them around the garden, meeting with The Rhyming Rabbit’s animal friends along the way. Youngsters can also take part in craft activities such as the chance to make their very own rabbit headband.

Other workshops will help families explore how animals live in the wild and in their garden, how plants help to sustain them and what they can do to support wildlife of all kinds.

Amanda Cole, RHS marketing head, says: “The Rhyming Rabbit is a delightful tale of exploring the world around us and making new friends in unlikely places and we are thrilled to be bringing the story to life in our gardens this Easter.

“Just like the characters in the book, our visitors will discover all kinds of creatures and plants as they journey around the gardens.”

3 kids on Rosemoor trail

Other activities taking place this Easter include the Golden Carrot hunt when families can solve the clues leading to the location of the carrot on a map for a chance to win books and RHS prizes.

Tomorrow, 16 April, the Really Wild Learning Show with Kim Insull returns to Rosemoor with his collection of minibeasts and creatures to get up-close with, some of which are laying eggs!

This is a ticketed event, plus normal garden admission, and there is limited capacity of 30 children per how prices at £2.50 per child, aged three and over, and tickets should be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.

And when you are done with the entertainment, you’ve got acres and acres of flowers, shrubs, trees and all things horticultural to admire – if only to bring spring and summer that bit closer!

◘○◙►» For more information and to book tickets, go to rhs.org.uk/rosemoor or phone 01805 626810.

Image-resized-for-Kentico_1

Rhyming Rabbit

◘○◙►» Easter eggs-citement: From top – These two happy little girls are enjoying exploring the garden on the Daffodil Trail; they are joined by this young lad as they take a breather; Kim Insull in triplicate as he shows off some of the wild beasties taking their Rosemoor bow; the Julia Donaldson-Lydia Monks partnership’s The Rhyming Rabbit.

 

 

A new petunia that will set your nostrils a-twitching all evening

Petunia Evening Scentsation (Dob)

◘○◙►» Beautiful bouquet: The brand new fragrant petunia Evening Scentsation from Dobies looking terrific in this hanging basket.

CLASSIC Marmite cases are petunias. You either adore ’em or run a mile from those often brash trumpets.

But as I wrote here last year, I’ve grown to dislike them considerably less than a few years ago, especially when I grew the extraordinary Night Sky in blue with white splashes and streaks. Many modern varieties are so unlike the dreary specimens of the 1970s and 1980s that you’d even wonder if they are plants from the same genus.

Well, here’s news of another petunia sensation from Devon-based Dobies – and that’s because it is not just fragrant but sweetly so, with the scent of a hyacinth and with notes – as those wine folk would say – of rose and honey.

And, appropriately, its name is Evening Scentsation, which especially lives up to its title in the cool of the twilight. The team at Dobies trumpet that it’s “the most fragrant petunia we have ever smelt.”

It’s an F1 hybrid, a medium-sized, extremely free-flowering multiflora petunia with a low, spreading habit. The flowers change from a stunning blue through shades of indigo as they age.

Evening Scentsation will sit perfectly in your summer garden displays. It will produce a mass of rich, indigo blue flowers that soften in shade as we pass through the summer months.

I am told this variety spends its day soaking up the full sun’s rays while infusing the air with its sweet hyacinth-like aroma. By evening its scent intensifies, creating a relaxing ambience within the garden so you can unwind and enjoy the last of the day’s sun with a chilled glass.

Well, that’s not a bad life, either for the petunia or its grower!

Dobies also recommend Evening Scentsation to gardeners as a potted plant, to sit at the front or back door to deliver a treat to the senses as you enter hall or kitchen.

Each plant will grow to around 5in, with a spread of roughly 8in. Site them in full sun if possible, use them in containers, hanging baskets, beds and borders and, if conditions suit them right down to the ground, blooms should be produced from June to September.

Evening Scentsation are available to purchase as the following combinations:
6 Super Plugs £7.99, 12 Super Plugs £11.99, saving £3.99.

◘○◙►» Available to purchase at www.dobies.co.uk or call 0844 326 2200.