CONTINUING the theme of uncommon plants, if seed sowing is your thing you need to feast your eyes on the Chiltern bible.
It has always been a favourite of mine, not least because of the vast number of species and varieties it packs into its pages – 220 to thumb through this year – but because it gives plants' heights in English feet and inches rather than in alien measurements called metric.
Now relocated back to its Chiltern homeland after more than 30 years in Cumbria, the company is one of the most highly respected seed centres across the UK.
Pictures of three exquisite flowers winged their way from Oxfordshire to my laptop – and here they are in all their beauty.
All three are hardy and can be planted now for a flying start next year.
Centaurea americana Aloha Blanca: Want a plant to impress the neighbours or your dinner guests at your next party? Try this one as they won't, in all probability, have seen it before. Robust and tall growing, it bears superbly beautiful fluffy, ivory-white flowers 6in across. A lot of flower, a lot of whiskery petals and, as a little bonus, they make excellent dried flowers. Reaches 4ft-5ft.
Papaver somniferum Lauren's Grape: Available only recently, this variety of poppy has crisp, velvety, deep plum-purple petals and attractive grey-blue foliage. A useful tip for cut blooms is to pick when the first sign of colour is showing through the flower bud, then dip the first one and a half inches of stem into boiling water for 30 seconds. The cut flower should then last for several days.
Fritillaria acmopetala: Native to rocky mountain slopes in Cyprus, Turkey and Lebanon, this is a rare, yet tolerant, plant suitable for a hot and sunny border or rock garden. It has stunning bronzy-green and purple nodding bell-shaped flowers.
All seeds can be bought online from chilternseeds.co.uk or by calling 01491 824675.