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The Independent Culture
THE COVER-GIRL plants pictured on the front of seed catalogues always grab the attention of gardeners who buy by mail order. Each year these are the ones that seem to be everywhere. Here, then, are this year's newcomers to look out for.

One hotly tipped favourite is "Phlox of Sheep", a New World exclusive from Thompson & Morgan, which is a dwarf art-shades (murky pastels) version of the traditional phlox. Its name goes against it, but the flowers should smell good. More useful for gardeners in a hurry might be Malva "Brave Heart" (also from Thompson & Morgan). This is a tall, 4-5ft plant that should flower in its first summer. A chance seedling of "Brave Heart" was found in the garden of the late Sir David Scott, so it will have been selected by his wife - that great plantswoman, Valerie Finnis - which is as good a recommendation as any.

Chiltern Seeds offers a similar tall blue-purple mallow with bars, called "Zebrine". At £1.10 it comes cheaper than "Brave Heart", which is of such aristocratic provenance that it sells for £l.59.

Unwins is promoting a fast-flowering lavender, "Cambridge Lady", which would be hard to resist if you wanted a hedge this summer. Officially, lavender does not come true from seed, the flowers varying in depths of blue, but Unwins claims that a March sowing will produce flowers in July. If some of the 18in-high bushes prove disappointing, there would be time to take cuttings of the true blues in August for a perfect display in 1996. A lavender hedge of three dozen plants for £l.65 is a snip.

Last year, the green climbing pea, Lathyrus chloranthus, appeared in the gardens of friends who like to grow something different. For those who like to be one up, without being seen to try, green flowers are always a success. Linda Snell of The Archers probably grows only green flowers.

This year, Nicotiana langsdorfii "Green Trumpet" is also likely to be seen in gardens like Mrs Snell's. I love this lime-coloured, slender version of the tobacco plant, but it is a bit minimalist - if the garden was entirely filled with such restrained features, a craving for zinnias and dahlias would soon take hold. It remains to be seen if the Nicotiana langsdorfii offered so proudly by Unwins and Thompson & Morgan has the desirable turquoise eye and larger trumpets that were in circulation in the gardens of the cogno-scenti last summer.

Still on the pale and tasteful tack is an introduction from the Chiltern Seeds catalogue. A pale sulphur-yellow version of the ordinary poached egg plant, Limnanthes douglasii, is not illustrated but sounds very desirable. Chiltern also offers a scarlet Welsh poppy, Meconopsis cambrica "Frances Perry", which could be an antidote to so much restraint.

SUPPLIERS: Chiltern Seeds, Bortree Stile, Ulverston, Cumbria LA12 7PB (01229 581 137); Thompson & Morgan, Poplar Lane, Ipswich, Suffolk IP8 3BU (01473 689 757 for catalogue, 01473 690 869 for orders); Unwins Seeds (mail order department), Histon, Cambridge CB4 4LE (01223 236236).

Mary Keen