Mail order flowers

imageMail order flowers: get ready for some colourful arrivals
Using mail order is a great way to add variety to your floral collection with minimal fuss – provided you know what to look for.

It’s always tempting to try something new – a new holiday destination, the new beaujolais. And in recent years the number of new plants appearing at mail-order nurseries seems to have become a flood; it can be hard to distinguish between what is just a “me too” version of an old favourite and what is both new and actually worth growing.

This is usually the time of year when we order annuals and other plants for containers and summer colour, and there are plenty of newcomers to choose from this year. But there are also some exceptional shrubs and perennials to look out for.


It’s a heady time for buddleias. New varieties developed on both sides of the Atlantic are taking this popular shrub and transforming it in unexpected ways. From America, ‘Miss Ruby’ (from Gardening Express) swept all before it in the recent RHS trial, winning plaudits from the assessment panel and topping the visitors poll. Developed by Dr Denis Werner in North Carolina, it’s one of the closest to a true red we’ve seen, and although the flower spikes are short it never produces inferior self-sown seedlings – in fact it doesn’t produce any – and at about 6ft/1.8m it’s shorter than many.

Another new red is ‘Buzz Red’ (Van Meuwen) from Charles Valin in Suffolk, which is even more compact at 4ft/1.2m, but with the familiar long tapering flower spikes. This, and its sister ‘Buzz Sky Blue’ (Thompson & Morgan), are the latest in an exciting series with more colours to come.

Two other new shrubs also caught my attention, both variegated evergreens with colourful flowers. Pieris ‘Ralto’ Rose (Gardening Express) has broad, cream-edged foliage and, in spring, white lily-of-the-valley flowers stained in magenta pink.

Mariani (‘Rogbret’) (Gardening Express) is a dramatic new development of the old favourite Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ with the same intoxicating fragrant purplish flowers, but with much wider and more dramatically colourful variegation on dependably evergreen foliage.


New perennials, in particular, are being developed at a great rate all over the world. From Charles Valin, again, comes an exciting new foxglove hybrid, ‘Illumination’ (Thompson & Morgan). This was created by crossing our native foxglove and a honey-coloured Canary Islands species once called Isoplexis canariensis; it’s recently been reclassified as a foxglove. The result is flowers that are purple on the outside and orange and white in the throat, much-loved by bees.

The Halo Series of bicoloured hollyhocks (Thompson & Morgan) come from the same hand. These are the first bicolours and it took nearly 15 years to bring this dramatic new style to our old cottage garden favourite; there are now eight colours.

Also bred in Britain are five new scabious, the Dessert Series (Hayloft Plants), developed by Essex plant breeder John Burrows. They come in some deliciously fruity shades, they’re compact but well branched, and they’re very popular with bees and butterflies. Unlike some other scabious, these are also free of debilitating viral diseases. I especially like the rich purple ‘Plum Pudding’ and the pink ‘Rhubarb Crumble’.

Ireland is also now proving a prolific source of new perennials. Pulmonaria ‘Blake’s Silver’ (Cotswold Garden Flowers) comes from June and Jimmi Blake’s garden in Co Wicklow and is appealing because the flowers are pink — without a hint of blue — and set against foliage which is completely silver.

From Joe Kennedy in Co Antrim come new dark-leaved primroses. ‘Innisfree’ (Cotswold Garden Flowers) has luscious, glossy bronze foliage and deep red flowers sparked with white flecks at the edges. ‘Drumcliffe’ (Cotswold Garden Flowers) has the same dark leaves but peachy flowers.

And I especially like the new gold-leaved evergreen sedge from Pat Fitzgerald in Co Kilkenny. It’s called ‘Everillo’ (Cotswold Garden Flowers), it’s derived from the old variegated favourite ‘Evergold’, its slender lime green leaves turn golden yellow with age. Ideal in containers or borders, in sun or partial shade.

From across the Atlantic a continuing series of new perennials is coming from Dan Heims in Oregon. His development of heucheras and echinaceas is especially prolific and now a new British supplier has opened Simply Perennials, which specialises in his varieties. They currently list around 50 Dan Heims introductions and are adding more all the time.

In particular, I was taken with the vivid yellow Echinacea ‘Daydream’, Hosta ‘Raspberry Sundae’ with red leaf stems and white-splashed leaves, and the creeping or trailing Heucherella ‘Redstone Falls’.

Annuals and containers

Now for containers and seasonal summer colour, development takes place around the world from Norfolk, Cambridge and Cornwall here in Britain to Israel, California, Japan and Australia.

From Tasmania has come a series of sweet peas in unusual colours and colour combinations developed by Keith Hammet. One of his latest is the sweetly scented ‘Almost Black’ (English Sweet Peas), in deepest dark purple black with a hint of blue. Another of his recent introductions, ‘Blue Shift’ (English Sweet Peas), has flowers which mature from dark purple to deep blue.

For baskets in particular, a new Triphylla fuchsia from Belgium looks gorgeous. Many of us grow the very upright ‘Thalia’, with long slender flowers in vivid orange. ‘Pour Menneke’ (Simply Fuchsias) is more lax in its habit, has flowers that are 50 per cent longer and is an appealingly softer shade. From closer to home David Kerley in Cambridge, who developed the much-loved Tumbelina double petunias, has perfected a deep blue double after many years’ work. ‘Belinda’ (Mr Fothergills) is a lovely deep shade and it’s also scented.

Finally, there’s been a lot of talk about the downy mildew disease that wiped out almost everyone’s busy lizzies (Impatiens) last year. Well, the good news is that while the most familiar types, based on Impatiens walleriana, all suffer, the New Guinea types are not attacked. So try the SunPatiens New Guinea Impatiens (Gardening Direct, Thompson & Morgan).

They’re ideal in containers, never get mildew and some are even variegated.

Planting by post

When your plants arrive

1. Unpack your plants as soon as they arrive. If they’re not in good condition take a picture and contact the supplier promptly.

2. Read over the instructions provided.

3. Stand shrubs, perennials and other hardy plants in a cool, light place to acclimatise.

4. Keep annuals and container plants indoors on a cool windowsill, or in a conservatory or greenhouse.

5. Water them if they need it.

6. Pot up plug plants quickly.

7. Do not plant hardy plants if the soil is frozen or unusually wet, they will keep until conditions improve.

8. Give a liquid feed the day before you intend to plant or pot on your plants.

9. Look for value

10. Check the delivery charges before ordering. Some mail-order nurseries levy a flat rate regardless of how many plants you order, some will not charge at all if you spend a certain amount.

11. It’s often better value to buy three or five plants of the same variety or a collection of different varieties than to buy one.

12. If you have the facilities to grow them on, buy small plugs or young plants and pot them on for planting later.

13. Be cautious about searching for bargains on specific varieties online. Comparison shopping sites often feature high in the results but may not actually list the plants you searched for.

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