Who needs Wimbledon when you’ve got this tempting trio?

Malwina (Sut)

WIMBLEDON is cancelled, courtesy of Covid, so it’s a case of game, set and despatched. As a result, no tempting strawberries at prices that rival a couple of juicy steaks or a few jars of best ale.

Well, not having stepped inside the hallowed chamber that is SW19, I can’t comment on the quality of those super-strawbs. What I can reveal is that Devon plant and seed firm Suttons have come up with a mouthwatering offer that should make you drool with delight in the summer of 2021.

The offer: Any two varieties for £18 in a two dozen mix-and-match or same-name format. Or pay  £12.99 for a single helping of a dozen plants if you don’t have sufficient space for 24.

The varieties: Malwina – Unusual because of its distinctive bright red flesh, much richer in colour that traditional strawberries. The conical fruit are large, juicy and flavour-packed, plus it’s disease tolerant and will reliably dish up a heavy crop, starting in mid-June and continuing through to mid-July, so it is listed as late season.

Honeyoye – Consistently bears heavy yields of big, beautiful, crimson fruit, disease resistant and a little earlier than Malwina.

Honeyoye (Sut)

Sonata – A mid-season contender, fruiting with bumper crops of sizeable berries complete with sweet taste and firm flesh.

All plants are supplied as bare-rooted runners, certified under the Plant Health Propagating Scheme and all will be hand-graded and selected before packing.

Suttons tell me that, at despatch time, plants will be partially dormant and some may have very little foliage.

Once planted, however, they are ready to grow away vigorously in spring.

Plant 18in apart, with 2ft between each row in a sunny spot which has been enriched with plenty of manure or compost.

www.suttons.co.uk / 0344 3262200

Sonata (Sut)

Scrumptious in summer: Suttons trio of strawberries, from top – Malwina, Honeyoye and Sonata. Pictures courtesy of Suttons.

Belated tribute to Sam McGredy, our most prolific man of roses

Sam McGredy cat

STRANGE, isn’t it, how you expect some people to go on for ever, like famous film stars, popular singers, top sporting types . . . and even flower virtuosos.

Sadly, we’ve lost a few “fame names” just recently, if only to prove that we’re all merely mortal – no exceptions there!

On a personal note, I’ve only discovered this week that an eminent name in the world of roses is no longer with us.

Irishman Sam McGredy, arguably Britain’s greatest rose breeder and international “Rose King,” died last August aged 87 in his adopted country of New Zealand.

Were there, I wonder, any words of tribute in English newspapers or an announcement on TV? If so, they passed me by.

It was only a casual and chance glimpse at Wikipedia that I found out – and there’s a poignant touch to this as I had innocently clicked off an email to him in October, two months after he had passed peacefully away, leaving behind a rich legacy of wonderful roses.

Sam McGredy

Further checking revealed his obituary had figured only in Irish and New Zealand newspapers, which is why I hadn’t picked it up.

I met Sam only once. That was in 1972 when I was reporting for the Coventry Evening Telegraph and the year this amiable and extrovert Ulsterman was guest of honour at  a ceremony at the city’s iconic new and war-bombed cathedrals with pre-released samples of his new, luminous apricot floribunda rose that bore the cathedral’s name.

It was also the year that Sam decided to escape The Troubles that were ravaging Northern Ireland and settle on the other side of the world in Auckland, New Zealand, where he continued his busy breeding projects in a much more obliging and peaceful climate than he had experienced back in Portadown, Armagh.

Over the years I’ve grown many of McGredy-bred varieties, from the golden Peer Gynt to the red and gold Piccadilly – and a few that were created before Sam was even born.

He was the fourth generation of McGredys, his great-grandfather, Sam McGredy I (1828-1903), having opened his nursery in 1880. His son, another Sam, nicknamed the Irish wizard, lived from 1861 to 1926 and proved to be prolific hybridiser and gold medal winner.

His son, yes, another Sam, pursued an ambitious programme of business expansion, producing a million plants a year across 40 acres and turned the McGredy name into a global phenomenon.

But then calamity. Sam suffered a  sudden heart attack and died in 1934, aged just 38.

Samuel Darragh McGredy – Sam the 4th – was a mere two-year-old toddler, so a board of trustees, headed by his uncle, was set up to run the company until Sam became of age.

He took over the hot seat in the early 1950s and was faced with a nursery still run down from the war and himself not knowing much about roses.

So the intrepid Sam set about learning the tricks of the trade, studying the intricacies of hybridising, travelling to meet famous rose breeders in Europe and the US and ultimately producing a huge quantity of new and distinct varieties over the decades, as well as becoming a multi-award winner. He held the CBE for services to horticulture.

Some of his best-known creations in no particular order: Arthur Bell (1964), Piccadilly (1959), Elizabeth of Glamis (1964), Sexy Rexy (1984), Trumpeter (1977), Garvey (1961), Shannon (1965), Bantry Bay (1967), Kronenbourg (1965), Handel (1965), Orangeade (1959), Evelyn Fison (1962), Paddy McGredy (1962), Schoolgirl (1964) and Picasso (1971), the first of his new race of “hand-painted” roses.

Samuel Darragh McGredy CBE, 1932-2019.

Rose Kronenbourg (McG) (2)

McGredy magic: From top – my first-ever rose catalogue, from 1968, and still on my bookshelf; Sam in later life; roses Bantry Bay (left) and Shannon; the big bi-coloured Kronenbourg.

Rhodohypoxis is seriously catching but don’t bother to call the doc!

RhodohypoxisG1

LET’S GET one thing clear – my brush with rhodohypoxis has left me totally in the clear, free from x-rays and examinations, testing for a rare a pernicious virus, face masks or even a date with the doc.

In fact, I’m rather pleased to have caught this non-contagious condition.

And pop it into the garden border!

The problem is there’s no quick-and-easy popular name for this dinky charmer from South Africa and Swaziland. So we are stuck with a five-syllabled, 12-letter handle for something quite tiny.

I’ve not grown one for five or six years,  but yesterday received a lovely-looking specimen as a Father’s Day gift and, I’m pleased to add, the species is milloides in a striking shade of cerise pink.

Rhodohypoxis milloides (6in) is reasonably tolerant of excessive winter wet, thrives in damp conditions and bears narrow, lance-shaped, hairless leaves in a rich green.

It close and stockier relative, by contrast, Rhodohypoxis bauri (4in), has dull grey, hairy foliage, has produced several hybrids such as Tetra Red and Tetra Pink, but will fret in that winter wet.

What is especially fascinating about this “rhodo” is its inflorescence – six overlapping petals that are strictly tepals arranged in ranks of three which are fused at the base to form a tube and the outer petals are broader than the inner ones.

These hardy perennials, grown from corm-like rootstocks, are well suited to a rock garden, trough or alpine house and prefer soil that’s light on, or free from, lime, so have plenty of leaf mould on stand-by.

RhodohypoxisG2

A mouthful of charm: Above and top (up-close) my clump of rhodohypoxis in dazzling pink but unusual petals.

Now for a botanical teach-in: There’s a plant named hypoxis with star-shaped flowers that are chiefly yellow or white across its 150 species.

Enter the breeders who crossed hypoxis with its near-relative the rhodohypoxis to create a rhodoxis – rather like the labradoodle from the labrador and poodle – which resembles the five-syllabled mouthful with the bonus of a central cluster of gold anthers.

Conventional garden centres are unlikely to stock this pair, so ordering from an alpine specialist may be the only option.

I’ve never tried growing rhodohypoxis from seed and I suspect it would be a lengthy waiting game, as is often the case with perennial alpines when several weeks in the fridge is demanded to break dormancy.

So I suggest buying potted plants from the garden centre and doing it the easy way.

Unless, of course, you’re a lucky old dad like me!

 

The primula that likes to feel damp feet but not drowned!

Prim vialii BJs

PRIMULA VIALII is its name. It’s one of the most adored species of this vast family and guaranteed to provoke an “aah” from admirers.

Today, though, I performed a Snatch of the Day, a timely rescue act.

While shopping at a Devon discount store – name protected to spare blushes! – I spotted one of these Chinese jewels in a place where it certainly should not have been – under water in a pond alongside a collection of water plants.

The square pot was saturated and heavily waterlogged, yet the plant looked healthy enough and must have proved something of a survivor before taking up residence 2ft-3ft away from my small wildlife pond in a sunny-shady home.

Its label didn’t exactly help, describing the primula as in the compilation of “Waterplants normal mix.” But, in fairness, it also said it belonged in Zone 1 of 4 zones, meaning it should be positioned close to water, not totally submerged. Black mark for one of the assistants!

At the checkout, there was a gasp from one of the staff – supervising an orderly “Covid” exit – who exclaimed: “It’s lovely, just like a little orchid.”

Not a bad description of this 12in high hardy perennial, costing £2.99, that’s native to the mountains and pine forests of Yunnan and Sichuan in south-west China.

The late Beth Chatto, in her peerless volume Beth Chatto’s Damp Garden, hails this primula as looking like a weird little red hot poker, apart from its slightly hairy, sometimes white-dusted, foliage.

Its stem is topped with a narrowly pyramidal head of bright scarlet buds which this month – much later than their springtime cousins – unfold into tiny mauve flowers which look quite exquisite.

Prim vialiiG

Saved from saturation: Top – the Primula safely rehomed close to – but not in – my pond; above – a fine-looking plant which I photographed in my garden a few years ago.

Be warned, though. Vialii are notoriously tricky to bring on year on year and, as Beth Chatto states: “Although supposed to be perennial, flowered plants often die unaccountably.”

She advises growers to collect seed to maintain young plants and, of course, to avoid disappointment . . . which I have known a handful of times!

As for the optimum conditions, vialii will grow in sun, but is happier in part-shade in moist, humus-rich soil, perhaps with a scattering of fine grit to ward off inevitable armies of slugs and snails which would otherwise find stems and leaves a juicy treat.

As for that discount store, here’s hoping they treat any new consignment of this perky primula in the correct manner – near a pond, not in it!

Two tales of roses throw up two classic cases of ancient and modern

Rose N Molton1

ROSES – flower of a thousand faces and tales. Roses – flower that evokes love and affection, be it in a bouquet or planted in the great outdoors. Roses – no other flower is more talked about, loved, sniffed, cut and – let’s be honest – criticised.

So in today’s blog I’ve got a couple of “then and now” tales to tell, beginning with today’s ramble through Exmoor by our naturalist friend Stewart Beer.

He came across a row of cottages at North Molton – a delightful village set high on a hill – and snapped away at the climbers and rambler clinging to the front walls – the very epitome of Picture Postcard Britain.

Luckily for Stewart, he enjoyed a totally dry outing unlike other parts of Devon – including my little patch – where the rains fell in gallon loads and when thunder and lightning boomed and flashed.

Rose N Molton3

In fact, Stewart rounded off his day out with two sightings of calling cuckoos and a lovely redstart . . . so the man did well!

And now for something completely different, though still rosy.  I was thumbing through one of my older rose books today – The Complete Rosarian by Norman Young – to look up a couple of varieties when four type-written sheets of paper dropped to the floor from being tucked into the cover.

There was a letter dated – wait for it – 6th December 1974 replying to an order I had placed for a few shrub roses listed on the other sheets as Lost & Found Roses. The roses were priced at 50p per bush.

The letter had been sent by L. Arthur Wyatt, of Teddington, Middlesex, who was a prominent member of the Royal National Rose Society – sadly no longer functioning – at that time. It was Arthur who penned the editor’s note in Wing Commander Norman Young’s book – and it’s a poignant fact that Norman died suddenly in 1967 – four years before the book was published – having left its typescript which he had completed some time previously.

Therefore Norman never lived to see his excellent work as a finished article.

But reading one of his chapters, it’s clear that he was something of a nomenclature rebel and denounced the current code as “so overscrupulous in attention to trivial and unnecessary details” – an opinion I share. And, like myself, he disliked the word “cultivar” – a cultivated variety – and dismissed it as “horrid”.

As to those ancient and rare varieties listed by Arthur Wyatt, I’m picking out just half a dozen:

Lady Hillingdon, from 1910,  a tea rose bearing long buds in deep apricot, fading paler, and semi-double.

Anna de Diesbach (yes, really!), a hybrid perpetual from 1858 in deep pink shading to carmine and a heavenly perfume.

Mlle Alice Marchand, from 1891, in bright pink and a seedling of the better-known Reine Victoria.

Mme Lombard, from 1878, with very large, double blooms in rich pink and fading lighter. Described as an important and influential tea rose.

Ma Ponctuée, from 1867, a perpetual moss rose in cherry red, flecked and striped white and thought to be the only striped rose of its kind.

Mme Jules Gravereaux, from 1900, a climbing tea with outer pedals creamy-buff and interior ones rosy-salmon and complete with a sweet scent.

Some of these are stocked by that famous nursery from Norfolk, Peter Beales Roses, in whose catalogue you’ll uncover more than 1,000 varieties. Click www.classicroses.co.uk

Rose N Molton2

Ravishing roses: Top, centre and above – the rambler (top) and climbers captured in the camera by naturalist Stewart Beer.

 

 

 

Sweetness and flavour is a tomato called Honeycomb – so give it a bite!

Tomato Honeycomb (Burpee)

BLESSED with a name like Honeycomb, tomato lovers can expect a taste that tantalises the tongue in the way a rose called Scent from Heaven should arouse the nostrils.

And so both do!

For this culinary gem, we have to thank the Burpee Europe team who know a thing and a lot more about producing yummy fruit and veg, as well as beautiful blooms.

This month the team asked gardening colleagues to sample a selection of Burpee-bred tomatoes.

Bouncing to the top of the tom test was Honeycomb.

It has been described as an exquisitely-flavoured, golden-orange tomato with cherry-sized fruits that are elegantly arranged along long trusses.

With a high Brix level and a super aroma, Honeycomb boasts a sweetness with a lasting hint of honey in the aftertaste.

“No wonder everyone loves,” trumpets Burpee.

Now I’m not normally into including recipes on a gardening blog, but rules are there to be bent, so here goes, courtesy of chef Valerie Hamelin, with a dish rejoicing in the title Pan-Fried Potato Gnocchi, Sautéed Honeycomb Tomatoes & Spinach.

SERVES TWO

1 packet gnocchi
200 gr Honeycomb tomatoes
1 red onion – peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
80 gr butter
3 garlic cloves
1 packet spinach
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp dried sage
Salt & cracked pepper
Parmesan cheese

METHOD

  • In a frying pan, add the oil and sweat off the onion and garlic for 2 minutes. Add the herbs, chilli flakes.
  • Add the butter, once it starts to get golden brown add the spinach and wilt them.
  • Add the hybrid tomatoes and mix it all gently. Season to taste.
  • Bring a pan to the boil, once boiling add your gnocchi and cook for 2 minutes or until the gnocchi have risen to the top.
  • Drain them in a colander and gently mix through the tomato and spinach sauce.

 

TO SERVE

Serve this simple but tasty dish, full of flavours in a bowl. Enjoy with a glass of Pinot Grigio.

TIP

This flavoursome vegetarian dish is easy to make but you can choose to add chicken or bacon lardons.

Tomato dish (Burpee)

Tantalising tomatoes: Top – A trussful, bowlful and spills of cherry tom Honeycomb; above – The finished dish that’s full of flavour.

Gardening’s no fun when the soil is like concrete: Time for the clouds to deliver!

Ab Fab G

DAY after day after day . . . one wonders if the clouds have forgotten how to produce the wet stuff that’s so crucial towards keeping our gardens alive and blooming.

In our fairly remote corner of North Devon we’ve had sufficient rain in a month to fill a couple of specimen bottles and no more.

The plants are screaming out because they are so thirsty, so I go around with the hosepipe nightly and deliver the goods, though it’s never quite the same as the real stuff, sent from above.

And, of course, rain is a welcome and essential freebie, unlike the water from the tap which is in the habit of upping those quarterly bills quicker than you can say “Hot or cold”?

If there’s one consolation, it’s that the roses are looking in remarkably rude health, better, in fact, than at any time in the many years I’ve been growing them. Not a sign of black spot or rust, a few buds dotted with aphids but that’s all.

The gorgeous corn-gold floribunda Absolutely Fabulous – Rose of the Year 2010 – typifies this healthy trend, so I’ve popped a picture on this page.

My lilies don’t seem to bothered about the drought, though I’ve had to squish a few lily beetles to prevent the leaves being munched away overnight. But, overall, the Asiatics are coping well and now I look forward to a few heavenly-scented tree lilies to unfold their big, bold petals in the next few days.

Asiatic lily

I hope all the veggie gardeners aren’t finding life too much of a strain, either at home or on the allotment. Many veg aren’t phased by long, dry spells and will  happily sit it out until the heavens open.

But popping in young plants, whether cauliflowers, cabbages, phlox or phacelias, is no fun as the ground is solid and, unless their thirsts aren’t quenched daily, they will probably perish or become stunted. Our lawns are becoming bleached through lack of moisture, reminding those of us over a certain age of long, hot, rainless days in 1976 when we ended up having to draw water from standpipes at the top of the road.

There is, however, a promise of rain on the horizon. I hope the weather experts’ predictions are accurate and true because, as it stands right now, I’m convinced the Sahara is wetter than our parched patch!

thumbnail_Rose Nostalgia

Floral battlers in the drought: Top – rose Absolutely Fabulous; centre – Asiatic lily; above – rose Nostalgia in a lovely mix of white and pink.

 

The good news and the bad: NGS blooms again but it’s gloom for the RHS

Th Beacon N'land

OH, how ironic is that! Two simultaneous emails landed in my inbox with major horticultural happenings in mind – one full of cheer, the other anything but.

First the good news – National Gardens Scheme gardens across England have begun reopening as the virus starts to relax its grip.

But there’s no 2020 joy for the Royal Horticultural Society who say they are “saddened to announce that, due to the continued uncertainty about events amid the ongoing Covid-19 situation, it regretfully must cancel the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival.

The RHS had already postponed the show from taking place in July to early September in the hope that the spectacle – the biggest flower show in the world – might survive a later date.

More RHS casualties include September shows at Rosemoor in Devon and Hyde Hall in Essex, leaving the society with blank show diaries for the whole of this virus-blighted year.

As for the NGS, who raise huge sums for nursing beneficiaries, in order to comply with social distancing and other Government guidelines, all gardens will open in a system of pre-purchased tickets for a timed slot at the visitor’s garden of choice.

Tickets must be purchased via the NGS website.

Millbrook Lodge, Worcs

Numbers of visitors per timed slot will vary from garden to garden, depending on size. These and all other relevant details can be found at a garden’s entry on the website.

Gardens won’t be offering teas or other refreshments, though at some destinations where there is sufficient space people will be allowed to bring their own picnics.

All buildings will be closed and access to toilets will only be provided in an emergency and so long as it doesn’t involve access to a house.

NGS chief executive George Plumptre says: “Right now our gardens are blossoming into their midsummer glories and so it is wonderful that our garden owners can share them with visitors.”

So for England’s greenfingered gurus, it’s a step towards normality again, though things clearly won’t be back to normal for a while. And whether these stringent restrictions and booking requirements appeal to the public remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, NGS gardens in Wales remain closed, though England officials are in talks there with the office of the First Minister.

ngs.org.uk

 

The Old Rectory Pulham Dorset

Gardens from top to toe: Top – The Beacon at Stocksfield, west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sunday, 7th June (£5); centre – Millbrook Lodge at Alfrick, near Worcester, Saturday, 6th June (£5); above – The Old Rectory at Pulham, near Dorchester, 7th June (£6).

The stinker of a hen killer that lurks in our hedgerows has a dark history

thumbnail_Henbane1 S Beer

JUST a glance at henbane tells you it’s not a plant to keep poppies or petunias company in the garden border.

Even my favourite wild flower book breaks the formal mode and dubs it “evil-looking, evil-smelling and with “lurid pale yellow flowers.”

Furthermore, if you sniff it and fill your lungs, chances are you’ll sway around with dizziness.

In the proverbial pot of poison, henbane is in much the same category as datura, stramonium, commonly known as thorn apple, devil’s snare or jimsonweed, or belladonna, the deadly nightshade, all of which are highly toxic and hallucinogenic.

For these photos I am indebted to intrepid local naturalist Stewart Beer. He was on one of his regular wildlife travels when he came across an extensive, tall and dense stand of henbane growing at a field boundary with sand dunes at the riverside village of Instow, North Devon.

thumbnail_Henbane3 S Beer

Henbane – Hyoscyamus niger – certainly boasts a colourful and dark history that’s attached to witches’ magic brews, as well as association with other poisonous plants.

Translated literally, henbane means Hen Killer, its name derived from the Anglo-Saxon “hen” and “bana” – murderer -because when fowls eat its seeds they become paralysed and die.

Small quantities of all parts of the plants can induce intoxication and symptoms from dizziness to delirium, and in 1910 the infamous Dr Crippen poisoned his wife Cora with a henbane extract just before flying to the US with his mistress.

Yet these extracts are also, paradoxically, used beneficially in herbal medicine for ailments of the bones, rheumatism, toothache, asthma, stomach pain, coughs and sedatives.

Botanically, henbane is a perennial or biennial of around 11 species, all with similar properties. Its stems are covered with long, glandular hairs, its flowers brownish yellow with purple centres and veins, and it exudes a foul odour of rotting flesh.

Not recommended for a bouquet for your loved one!

The plant produces fruit capsules within the swollen sepals after blooming, its leaves are deeply toothed and it thrives on waste or sandy ground, especially in coastal areas.

As well as “common” henbane, the other species most likely to be found is white henbane – Hyoscyamus albus – which is a smaller version with paler flowers that tend to look less menacing. But the poison warning is just as crucial.

So to replicate the cautions we are all faced with at present: “Keep your distance and don’t touch”.

thumbnail_Henbane4 S Beer

Danger lurking: From top – a henbane flower up-close; the swollen sepals ahead of the fruits; part of henbane en masse at Instow.

Photos by Stewart Beer