In a series of posts over the coming weeks I’m going to be looking at what the seed merchants and nurseries have in store for gardeners in 2016. Usually by late November I have put both gardens to bed and venture outside only to clear up after rough weather or check on frost damage: the winter months are spent catching up on the indoor chores that never seem quite pressing enough when the sun is shining. This year the gardening is dragging on much longer. I will be using these posts as an excuse to tear the new catalogues out of their plastic wrappers and get my creative juices flowing for next year.
I am starting the series with Chiltern Seeds, one of my favourite purveyors of quality seed. This family-run company has already teased us with a preview catalogue packed with new varieties and dreamy photographs taken by Sabina Rüber. Chiltern Seeds had been going for 40 years before resorting to a photographic catalogue, but in Sabina they have found an artist capable of doing justice to such delicate subjects as Thalictrum delavayi ‘Album’ (above) and Verbascum chaixii var. album (end of post). There’s nothing like a bit of misty focus to send a romantic plantsman like me weak at the knees. The preview publication, fronted by Antirrhinum majus ‘Orange Wonder’, is dominated by flowers organised into double page spreads of coordinating colour, with a handful of tempting vegetable varieties hiding at the back.
As a retailer I understand that good editing and personal recommendation is what the customer is looking for: online you’ll find helpful staff picks and updates on what is already selling fast.
So, what’s looking hot for 2016? The first plant to catch my eye was Clarkia amoena ‘Memoria’, charmingly known colloquially as ‘farewell to spring’, a Californian native with floaty, white flowers delicately blushed pink. The flowers, which appear in late spring, last well when cut. Antirrihinum majus ‘Lipstick Silver’ (below), a particularly elegant new snapdragon, would make a great companion plant.
Having tried and failed with Zaluzianskya ovata this summer I am determined not to let this genus of deliciously fragrant flowers defeat me. Instead of buying expensive plants I will try growing Z. capensis ‘Midnight Candy’ from seed. By day the flower buds are purple, but after dusk they open to reveal pure white blooms. Chiltern Seeds describe the perfume as like heliotrope or daphne, suggesting that ‘its really indescribable loveliness can be detected at many paces’. You can appreciate why I am prepared to give Zaluzianskya a second chance.
Next summer, along the narrow path leading to Polegate Cottage, I want to plant tall annuals that won’t flop about too much. Zinnia elegans ‘Super Yoga, Dark Red’ (above) was quick to catch my eye with its luxurious velvety blooms and upright habit.
I fancy growing it next to Z. elegans ‘Queen Red Lime’, which alone might be considered something of a novelty, but with its curious mix of red wine and Chartreuse petals I think it might combine rather splendidly. On the same page I couldn’t stop myself being transported back to my childhood by Chrysanthemum carinatum ‘Cockade’, the painted daisy, mainstay of the hardy annual seed mixes I grew when my love of gardening was in still in its infancy.
These days I have a vegetable garden to think about, and top of my list is finding a sweet, blight resistant, mini plum tomato. Chiltern seeds are offering an F1 hybrid called ‘Orange Fizz’ which has all the right credentials. My interest in the unusual was piqued by a wax bean called ‘Yin Yang’. The distinctive black and white colouring has also earned it the name Orca bean.
With over 4000 varieties to choose from I have only grazed the surface of what Chiltern Seeds have to offer for 2016. Their full catalogue will be published at Christmas and will include the seeds of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, grasses, exotics, herbs and vegetables. The Chiltern Seeds team clearly have an eye for the best varieties and know how to entice us to buy. Growing from seed is probably the most rewarding of all gardening pursuits. If at first we don’t succeed, well there’s always another season; we’ll have lost less than the cost of a supermarket sandwich and learned another of life’s incredible lessons.
All photographs Chiltern Seeds / Sabina Rüber
Enjoy more of Sabina Rüber’s beautiful work on her website