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.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Slipper Flowers and Rugosa Roses

Calceolaria ‘Bubble Gum Mixed’

A recent visit to a public garden with a large conservatory display, reminded my how little we home gardeners currently appreciate those pot plants that can be raised from seed annually. I am thinking of the tender primulas, cinerarias and the slipper flowers or calceolarias. None of these are difficult to grow and all make a great show, yet most of us tend to lean towards more reliable and perennial plants like cyclamen and gloxinias for startling indoor colour, a kind of reliance and comfort with something that we feel will always be there, rather than the great explosion of colour and then almost immediate demise that is offered by the annually raised kinds.

Local authority parks and gardens departments tend to take a different view. Grow colour as a crop, enjoy it, and start again. There is a lot of merit to that way of thinking, for as soon as the show is over, so is labour input. No more looking after an unproductive plant, pest and disease harbouring plant debris is discarded and the pots emptied and scrubbed clean. No hang-over from the previous "crop", a completely fresh start. I like that idea.

Cineraria ‘Spring Glory’

Of the most common annually raised pot plants, my preference is for calceolarias. Some of the primulas like Primula obconica, give me a skin rash, and cinerarias are very prone to whitefly and greenfly. Not that calceolarias are in any way immune to these pests, it is just that I get on with calceolarias better. When grown in a small greenhouse I find that cinerarias so often want to push up leaves through what should be a neat, tight heads of starry blossoms. I know that this results partly from the quality of the strain of seed, modern hybrids like ‘Spring Glory being far superior to many of the older cultivars. However, it is also connected with the rapidly fluctuating temperatures that are inevitable in a small greenhouse. On the other hand calceolarias seem to cope better with fluctuating temperatures, providing that you can give the plants a little shade.

Calceolarias are technically short-lived perennials, which are best treated as annuals. Certainly the modern hybrids only produce a single top quality show. If they are kept for a second season the display is not usually very satisfactory. That is not to say that fresh plants should never be reproduced from short stem cuttings. If you select some of the best coloured specimens and propagate them this way, they will certainly produce a startling show. It is certainly a one way of maintaining continuity with a few plants if you can be absolutely certain of keeping them free from greenfly. Aphids transmit viruses, and virus diseases stunt calceolarias and buckle their leaves, which is really why I like to start afresh from seed each time and try to keep the plants clean.

Calceolarias are easily raised from seed sown indoors during the spring or early summer and kept at a temperature of around 15°C(59ºF). After pricking out and potting on, they should be grown cool until in bud, when they can be taken into the warmth of the living room. Being for the most part short-lived plants, they can be grown successfully in any multipurpose potting compost. By the time the first flower buds appear this will be starting to deteriorate and so regular feeding with a liquid houseplant feed should be introduced. Calceolarias enjoy plenty of light, but care should be taken when standing them in a window that it is not in direct sunlight as the foliage may scorch. To protect the plants from greenfly use a systemic insecticide, or alternatively insecticidal plant pins pushed into the compost next to each plant.

Rosa rugosa

I love species roses of all kinds, but it is the Rugosa Roses that are my favourites for their easy-going nature. They are very robust free-flowering characters with attractive, mostly single blossoms, tough bright green foliage, and tomato-shaped hips. They are amongst the most resilient of roses and are excellent in areas of atmospheric pollution. Rugosa Roses are often grown as informal hedges. They are also resistant to wind and put up with coastal exposure. 'Blanc Double de Coubert' is a wonderful single white-flowered cultivar, which produces a few red hips, while 'Frau Dagmar Hastrup' is laden with colourful fruits in autumn and bright pink flowers throughout the summer. One of the best value Rugosa Roses is 'Roseraie de I'Hay' A wonderful cultivar with large, double, crimson-purple blossoms. However, for an informal living barrier, few can surpass 'Scabrosa' with its immense single violet-crimson flowers, massive hips and dense spiny growth.

All enjoy a richly organic soil. They generally grow better on medium loam to heavy clay soils, but are quite happy on light land if plenty of well-rotted compost or animal manure is incorporated before planting. Regular mulching is also beneficial not only to retain moisture, but also to help maintain a high level of organic matter. Planting can take place at any time when the bushes are container grown, but only during the dormant winter period when bare-rooted and lifted directly from the nursery. When planting container grown roses during the growing season, ensure that they are kept well watered. All benefit from a regular application of rose fertilizer in the spring and should be sprayed regularly from bud-break to leaf-fall with a combined systemic insecticide and fungicide to control aphids and attacks from mildew and blackspot disease. Pruning consists of the removal of old dead or dying stems during early spring.


New Hosta ‘Bedazzled’
This new Hosta bred by Don Dean is a neat and tight growing cultivar for a limited space. Rarely growing more than 18cm tall and 55cm across it produces rounded blue-green leaves edged with golden yellow. It is a hybrid between ‘Little Wonder’ and ‘Love Pat’, which has been released in the United States by North Carolina based Plant Delights Nursery Inc. Details: click here.


Malvern Spring Gardening Show 2006
11th-14th May
Three Counties Agricultural Society,
The Showground,
WE13 6NW,
Tel: +44 (0)1684 584900
Fax: +44 (0)1684 584910
Details: click here.

Garden,Landscape and Outdoor Living
14th -16th May
Dubai International Exhibition Centre,
United Arab Emirates.
EPOC Messe Frankfurt
PO Box 26761
Contact: click here .

Happy Gardening



Today’s Sponsor

Photos: Calceolaria and Cineraria: Suttons Seeds
Hosta: Plant Delights Inc.

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