Ab Fab: A butter-yellow rose that will melt your hearts

HERE I go again, singing the praises of a rose called Absolutely Fabulous.

If ever a variety was well-named, this one is it. Bred in America by US King of the Roses Tom Carruth – his heart was set on a career in flowers at just ten years old – it went on to win the coveted 2010 Rose of the Year – ROTY – award and has since become one of the UK’s favourites, rivalling that of Peace and Iceberg.

“Ab Fab” is actually a floribunda, like Iceberg, and though every brochure states it is a small-to-medium grower, mine regularly grows robustly and, this summer, has sent up at least one shoot that’s 3ft long.

In a distinctive coat of butter-yellow and shiny, mid-green foliage, my “Ab Fab” is a bush that likes to be noticed. As it is in the front garden, I doubt if it’s complaining!

In the health stakes, Absolutely Fabulous is right up there, flourishing and blemish-free. There’s a decent fragrance, apparently of liquorice, according to some supplies, though my own nostrils don’t actually detect this specifically. Definitely worth a second sniff, though!

I’ll repeat what I wrote a few days ago – that Absolutely Fabulous is arguably the finest floribunda rose ever raised, in an arena of many thousands. I also predict it will be gracing our gardens for at least another generation.

I’m sure Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Dawn French & Co would agree with that verdict.

Tour the garden centres now for one that’s still growing in its pot. If you don’t mind waiting for the bare root season this autumn, most retailers will stock this variety. C & K Jones at www.jonestherose.co.uk or Bill LeGrice at http://www.rosebuddies.com are just two outlets where you’ll find “Ab Fab” listed.

Rose AbFab G

¶ The finest floribunda? Rose Absolutely Fabulous looking pretty fabulous in my garden.

It’s enough to give you the pip, but before you blow one read on . . .

NOW here’s a story that surely deserves to have a juicy, ripe raspberry blown straight at it. Or does it?

Years ago, long before I knew my late father-in-law, he related the tale of a factory over at Great Yarmouth that manufactured tiny wooden pips to mix with raspberry jam before bottling.

Well, could anyone believe that? Certainly his children – my wife and brother-in-law, that is – laughed out loud and possibly blew their dad a noisy raspberry when his back was turned.

As for me, I found it hard to give the account any credence, though I’ve always wondered why certain makes of raspberry jam contain rather prominent pips. After all, raspberries do have pips, albeit not like those of the strawberry which are, of course, on the outside of the flesh and somewhat conspicuous.

Fast-forward 60 or so years and we land in 2017, that dubious anecdote long forgotten. We are recently home from a holiday in North Wales, where we shared a dinner table with John, a multi-award-winning retired Metropolitan police sergeant, and his wife who just happen to live not far from Great Yarmouth.

The story of the alleged raspberry pip factory resurfaced amid titters and chuckles from my wife and me.

“Perfectly true,” he announced without a moment’s hesitation for a wisecrack or two. “I believe there used to be two factories making pips and there may even be one that still does.”

Well, you could have knocked us down with an apple core, for the disbelief across our faces must have been instantly evident.

Furthermore, added our copper friend, cheaper varieties of raspberry jam had swede added to the mix to bulk it out. I’ve since learned that this may still be the case today.

Although there’s nothing online to point the way to the pip-making enterprise, fact is that the policeman would have no reason to kid us – he’s not that sort of chap anyway and, incidentally, is a wizard at making marmalade – so the end of the raspberry-blowing season is now at last with us.

Bloggers – if you know the whereabouts of this factory or can shed more light on what we thought was a mere fruity fable, do let me know.

Meanwhile, have you heard the one about the rosette-winning rhubarb tree at Chelsea?

Raspberry comic pic




Horticulture blooms on the heatwave – better than we do!

PHEW! We won’t forget this week in a hurry. Life’s pretty tough out there for us gardeners as the mercury soars, almost to new heights.

Yes, I’m having a bit of a grumble, but it’s what the British do best when the sun almost sizzles our bones.  Wind the clock back two or three weeks and we were all having a grump about the weather horrors that included gales, torrential rain, thunder and lightning.

Living or working in the cities must be hell right now! And those who jetted off to the Med, Mustique or Mexico must be wondering if a “staycation” would have been preferable to a “stay-away.”

Amid all this meteorological mayhem the flowers defiantly bloom on, if only to prove that the power of nature is mighty resolute.

The soil is parched and it’s a waste of time dragging the hose or watering can around until temperatures drop considerably. For within half an hour or so, you’re back to staring at desert conditions.

If essential tasks need attention and – like me – you’re thinning a bit on top – do wear a hat and do slap on the sun cream. Drink plenty of liquid and seek out a shady spot if you can. Indeed, against all my own convictions, I’ll even suggest taking a short break in front of the telly!

As for bright sparks in the garden, I’ve got a few to crow about. The Californian poppies in their blazing coats of orange are screaming “look at us.”  So are the sweet peas which I sowed last October and which are now in the second half of their flamboyant season.

The osteospermums, aka African daisies, have grown into a stunning mound of lilac, having started life as one tiny cutting which a former neighbour gave me three or four years ago.

Among the roses, the one that stands supreme is Absolutely Fabulous, the 2010 Rose of the Year that well and truly lives up to its name in butter yellow double blooms, a sweet scent and with nine out of ten for health. I’m tempted to say this is the finest floribunda rose ever . . . with perhaps apologies to Iceberg!

Petunias are blooming their hearts out and so is salvia Hot Lips which started flowering in all-red instead of red and white. Then, as growth progressed, the next lot of blooms were indeed bi-coloured, as stated on the label.

This shrubby perennial will flower for another fortnight or so before starting to look drab. That’s when I spring into action with the shears, cut it hard back, scatter some fish, blood and bone around the roots, water well and sit back to watch a second raft of colour emerge in time for the August bank holiday.

As I’ve said, ain’t nature wonderful!

¶ Summer stunners: From top – Californian poppies, sweet peas, osteospermums, petunias, rose Absolutely Fabulous, salvia Hot Lips.

Hardy geraniums: Can anyone dislike these fabulous flowers?

IT’S BEEN said that hardy geraniums are not just one of the best plants to have in your garden – but THE best.

A bold statement maybe. Yet for reliability, dependability and sheer bloomability it’s hard to pick out anther floral family and state with resolve: “You’re even better.”

Just home from a week’s touring around North Wales,  I spotted swathes of these terrific plants – also known as cranesbills – strutting their stuff in municipal beds and borders, notably in the elegant tourist resort of Llandudno.

Clearly they were relishing life in beautiful Cymru. And they are oh so British!

What makes geraniums – don’t get them confused with tender geraniums, or more correctly pelargoniums – stand out from other favourites is their determination to deliver a cascade of colour all summer and into the autumn.

Give them a sun-drenched home and they’ll do just that. If flowers to start to dry up after that maiden flush, trim back the mound of foliage with shears, add a handful of feed and water well. New growth will start almost immediately.

Colours? Plenty. Pink, purple and burgundy as well as pretty whites, there’s gold, black or white stamens and petals can be decorated with splashed of contrasting hues and eye-catching veining.

When blooms eventually fade, there’s bags of foliage that offers ample green ground cover which should be welcome at the dull end of the year.

You’ll find a number of better-known varieties at local garden centres and, probably, reasonably priced. For something that’s distinctive and a little different, however, you’ll need to dig out a specialist nursery.

Gary Carroll runs Cranesbill Nursery at Bloxwich, near Walsall, and lists 120 varieties in his catalogue and even more at http://www.cranesbillnursery.com

Acknowledging that hardy geraniums are “one of the most diverse genera of herbaceous perennials,” Gary states that it’s possible to find a variety to suit most parts of the garden from the vast range available.

He adds: “They complement most other plants beautifully and, chosen wisely, can provide a continuation of colour in the garden from spring through to early winter.”

Do I need to say more?

A handful of contrasting varieties: Beth Chatto in delicate pink and good in damp shade; Mrs Kendall Clark in pearly blue and veined white; Rise & Shine in violet-blue with white eye; Splendens in vivid pink with black eye;  Buxton’s Blue, arguably the best-known geranium of all; Springtime in deep maroon and bright cream and purple mottled leaves; Blue Sunrise in mid-blue over trailing golden foliage; and St Ola in pure white with pink stamens.

www.cranesbillnursery.com or phone 01684 770733.

Geranium Tcshelda (Lland)Geranium Lly Lovell G

¶ Gorgeous geraniums: Top – Mrs Kendall Clark pictured in Llandudno with visiting bumblebee; above – a fisheye view of, possibly, Lily Lovell.

105 years on, this refined beauty carries on blooming

I COULDN’T help noticing a piece in the Daily Mail yesterday featuring the joy of roses – this year’s in particular and said by the writer to be “the best bloomin’ year for roses ever”.

Well, I’ve no intention of challenging her on that score, though I will state categorically that blooms do seem to be bigger and more beautiful than for many a year.

On this very theme, here’s another from my garden collection – a classic and elegantly shaped hybrid tea called Ophelia.

This one’s a real golden oldie, having made its public bow way back in 1912 thanks to breeders William Paul & Son.

Delicate-looking and refined and blessed with a delicious perfume, Ophelia’s other claim to fame is that it is an ancestor of Peace, perhaps the world’s most illustrious rose, but no one knows how Ophelia was created, though the likelihood is that it was a stray seedling and sensed by the Pauls to be something different from the rest.

It’s testimony to its credentials that this variety is still in circulation more than a century after its debut year, though only one nursery – Peter Beales, of Norfolk, www.classicroses.co.uk – gives it a catalogue listing.

But you never know. A local garden centre may stock the odd one or two, so it’s well worth an ask.

Meantime, relish your roses while the first flushes continue to flaunt those heavenly petals. When they fade, give each bush a light pruning, feed with fish, blood and bone or farmyard manure and await the late summer spectacle.

Roses? They’ll always grow on you!

Rose Ophelia1

¶ Classic beauty: Ophelia, a variety that’s over a century old.

Cast off with a Jacob’s Rod and grow something distinctly different

YOU’RE never too old to discover something new in that great adventure called horticulture. Asphodeline falls neatly into this bracket.

I was being escorted around my friend Terry’s garden between Bristol and Bath when he pointed to a rather majestic clump of yellow flowers and asked me if I could identify.

Nope, I replied, thinking they looked the colour of verbascum – aka mullein – but with perfect star-shaped blooms and long, curved stamens that didn’t match anything I could think of.

Idly thumbing through the RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Plants a few days later, my eyes focused on a picture of a pale yellow plant and I duly exclaimed: “Eureka. That’s the one.”

Popular names include Jacob’s Rod, King’s Spear or Yellow Asphodel, presumably depending which part of the UK you come from.

Both principal species – Asphodeline liburnica and lutea – look extremely alike, though liburnica tends to reach little more than 3ft while lutea shoots up to 4ft and beyond and has the added attraction of fragrant stars. But liburnica counters in the appearance stakes as all flowers are striped green at the back of the petals and are followed by striking black seed heads.

Both species produce grass-like, blue-green leaves.

These hardy perennials are natives of central and eastern Mediterranean and Turkey to the Caucasus where they can be found growing in open woodland and on rocky, dry slopes.

They can be cultivated from seed or from fleshy rhizomes and prefer life in moderately fertile, sandy loam which doesn’t get too soggy.

They are certainly architectural subjects and will look stunning alongside tall, ornamental grasses or simply to add a new dimension to a planting scheme.

Lutea, incidentally, was introduced into the University of Oxford Botanic Garden in 1648, even though it demonstrated no known medicinal uses that are typical of a physic garden. John Parkinson, one of the curators, interviewed locals in the Med region and was told that asphodeline had “no propertie appropriate unto it but knavery,” but with no explanation of the particular knavery of which the plant was guilty.

Garden centres are unlikely to stock this fine beast but I’ve traced two nurseries that stock seed. Chiltern Seeds (http://www.chilternseeds.co.uk) list it at £2.30 a packet while Plant World Seeds (www.plant-world-seeds.com) can supply liburnica at £2.65. It’s best to sow seeds in gritty compost and place the tray outside as greenhouse heat can actually inhibit germination.

After potting on, semi-mature plants can then be moved to the open garden for reaching their majestic maturity – without the need to overdo the feeding.

So there we have it – and now I’ve learned one or two facts about a handsome plant that had escaped my attention. My order for a packet of seeds won’t take too long.

■ Saffron stars: Top – Asphodeline liburnica; above – Asphodeline lutea.