This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Adding Fragrance to Roses, Colouring Grapes and Rooftop Garden

Better smelling roses?

I am a bit scientific with the blog today, but I make no apologies, for I have just come across a couple of very interesting pieces of research that have the potential to change many of our garden plants and I wanted to share them with you. The first concerns how our roses smell, or should I say, in many cases lack fragrance. Harry Klee, a professor with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, says a recent breakthrough discovery in tomatoes could lead to better-smelling roses. Genetically improved flowers could be on the market in just a few years. Prof. Klee and his colleagues have identified a gene in tomatoes that contributes to the fruit’s flavour. That same gene is responsible for helping create desirable fragrances in roses and other flowers, and is thought to be involved in attracting insects that pollinate flowers.

Although the research began with tomatoes and may eventually be used to improve their flavour. University of Florida researchers first want to enhance the scent of roses, because many cultivars sold by florists have little or no fragrance. It took researchers several years to pin down the gene responsible for making the compound, 2-phenylethanol, commonly known as rose oil. "We’re excited about doing it, and feel very optimistic that this is the missing link," said Prof. Klee. "Flower breeders have put so much emphasis on creating varieties of eye-popping blooms that scent just got lost along the way. It takes energy to make a bigger rose, and that has to come from somewhere - probably from scent," he said. The research team has just published its findings this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The University of Florida is exploring the commercial potential for the technology, which was developed with assistance from two researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

Grape colour is important

When I choose a bunch of table grapes or a bottle of wine, I am sure that I am influenced, if only subconsciously, by the colour. Now Agricultural Research Service scientists in the United States have made an important genetic discovery that, in addition to unlocking secrets about why grapes are different colours, may allow for more efficient breeding of colour-specific grapes for both commercial growers and home gardeners. Colour is perhaps the most important of grape characteristics, a critical component of table, juice and wine grapes that is also believed to be linked to antioxidant content. Plant geneticist Christopher Owens of Agricultural Research Service's new Grape Genetics Research Unit in Geneva, New York, and collaborators at the National Institute of Agricultural Research, Montpellier, France, have found that much of the colour variation in modern grape cultivars can be traced to variations in a gene recently found to be a cause of the lack of colour in white grapes.

Chris Owens

The variations in this gene, which is called VvmybA1, are caused, in part, by movement of Gret1, a genetic mutation within it. Gret1 is a type of element that is also known as a type of "jumping gene" because it's a piece of DNA that moves around within a genome. Scientists found that Gret1 's movements slightly alter the surrounding DNA. These alterations create additional variations in VvmybA1, which in turn influence the grape's fruit colour. This finding may one day lead to breeding for colour-specific grapes as well as for grapes that can enhance the stability of wines and juice, according to Owens. It may also spur better understanding of relationships between fruit colour and health-imparting compounds, as well as the effects of environment and management practices on grape colour and quality.

Join HousePlantMessenger

Well after all the excitement of that science in horticulture, let me bring you back down to earth. Amongst the most popular groups of plants are those that we grow in our homes or greenhouses and refer to as house plants or pot plants. Although these have always had a mention in discussions within the main Gardenmessenger community, gardeners who have a strong interest in this rich array of plants have never had a community of their own. Well they do now, as yesterday the HousePlantMessenger group was established. Already, in less than the twenty-four hours since it was announced on the GardenMessenger board, 60 members have joined and are busy in fruitful discussion. If you would like to join click here.

Chelsea Show Gardens Preview

During each of the days running up to the Chelsea Flower Show I am previewing a show garden. Although these are often regarded as garden theatre and not as sustainable under normal gardening conditions, they are often full of interesting and innovative ideas which can be taken, at least in part, and used in our gardens at home.

Up On The Roof

This garden represents an urban roof. The garden designer, Jennifer Hirsch, has followed the progress of green roofs for some time and says that Up On The Roof is a minimalist exploration of the relationship between humans and nature, and the role of plants in bridging the gap and repairing the damage inflicted on the environment through building. The garden is raised off the ground to recreate the limited soil conditions of an urban roof. Their are solar panel screens on two of its boundaries. Polished Purbeck paving stones form a haphazard path carved through a carpet of mounding groundcover, their footprints representing the chaotic expansion of the built environment. Imposing hedges of yew, lit with fibre-optic fireflies of light, and clipped balls of box, Hebe and Coleonema embody the garden of managed landscape cultivated by man across the centuries. The wilder, untamed forms of Cannomois and Echium rising above the clipped balls correspond to the natural landscape: the random placement of mounding plants interspersed with spiring plants is intended to reflect the chaos of natural pattern. The New Zealand groundcover Scleranthus makes an undulating carpet around the paving and beneath the other planting, ensuring the maximum absorption of rainwater occurs. The garden designer believes that establishing plant material on rooftops provides a plethora of ecological and economic benefits including storm water management, energy conservation, and mitigation of the urban heat island effect.


Rhynchospora latifolia
This unusual plant will be seen at the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time next week. Introduced by Knoll Gardens, Wimborne, Dorset, UK, it has conspicuously long leafy bracts amongst bright green grassy foliage. Although used as a marginal aquatic it is being shown used as a patio pot plant, standing in a small tray of water.


RHS London Show
12th-13th September
Royal Horticultural Halls,
Greycoat Street,
London SW1,
click here.

Happy Gardening



Today’s Sponsor

Grapes: USDA
Chelsea Garden and Rhynchospora: Royal Horticultural Society

If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthy SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here

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