5 essential … plants for a splash of colour!

I’ve noticed over the years that so many of my clients prefer planting schemes with cool colours – white, green, purple, blue, and maybe a dash of pink or dark red.  And classy restraint is all well and good but there’s nothing like a big splash of bold and beautiful colour to bring a garden to life and lift the spirits.  Here’s a small selection of perennials in vivid hues of reds and oranges for spring and summer.

Early in the year nothing provides a splash of colour in the garden to greater effect than a bold planting of tulips.  The goblet shaped flowers of Tulipa ‘Abu Hassan’ have velvety petals of a rich deep mahogany-crimson edged with gold.  Gloriously vibrant planted en masse, especially amongst lime green Euphorbias, it also matches perfectly with the new red foliage of Photinia ‘Red Robin’.

Abu Hassan flowers from mid-April to May on sturdy stems that make it an excellent cut flower.  Like all tulips, it needs well drained soil and prefers a sunny to lightly shaded sight. Height: 45cm. Tulips make very good container plants, especially when several varieties are planted in layers to provide a succession of colour over several months.

Garden tips: Plant outdoors from October to December after the cold weather has set in to reduce the risk of viral and fungal diseases.  Plant 20cm deep and 8cm apart.  Leave all the leaves to die right down after flowering to allow the bulbs to store more food and be at their best the following year.

Geums bring the next wave of bright colour to the borders and produce wonderful combinations of form and colour as planting companions for late season tulips.

 

The frilly, fiery orange flowers of Geum chiloense ‘Prinses Juliana’ begin to appear in late April, several weeks earlier than most geums, and are at full throttle in time to provide the perfect foil for the sombre, stately Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’.   I have noticed that Orange Geums have been a firm favourite in gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show in recent years – and I have to say I find them a welcome antidote to all those very subdued green, white and purple schemes which seem to dominate every year!

Bright orange Geums add vibrancy to this subtle planting scheme at Chelsea

The flowers are supported on strong, wiry stems above neat mounds of deeply puckered mid-green leaves and continue to emerge in succession throughout June and July.  These hardy perennials have a height and spread of 60cm x 45cm and are best positioned front of border in full sun to partial shade. They are easy to grow on any fertile, well-drained, moist soil.

Probably the biggest and boldest splash of red in the border is made by Papaver ‘Beauty of Livermere’, and it’s a real favourite of mine.

This exuberant oriental poppy has sturdy stems that reach 4 to 5 feet in height and its flowers are huge and sumptuous, the dazzling scarlet petals splashed with black at the base and arranged around dark, velvety stamen.  A large part of the pleasure in growing these wonderful flowers comes from anticipating their arrival, spotting the large round buds starting to split and watching as the crumpled petals begin to unfurl.  Each flower lasts only briefly (especially in windy weather!), but an established clump will produce numerous flowers from late May to the end of June. The basal leaves are downy green and much divided, emerging early in the year to form large clumps.  Oriental poppies die back once flowering is over so they are best planted amongst companions that will fill the gap they leave, such as grasses or dahlias.  All poppies like an open, sunny site with moist, well-drained soil.

Garden tips: After flowering, cut the untidy looking clumps back to ground level.  A new flush of foliage will emerge and may be accompanied by more flowers later in the season.

As the poppies fade, the day lilies, or Hemerocallis, start to bloom, bringing warmth and colour to fill the mid-summer lull in flowering.  One of the best varieties is Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ which produces masses of lily-like dark red flowers with yellow throats and midribs that contrast beautifully with its fresh, bright green leaves. It’s an absolute stunner!

Each flower lasts only for one day (Hemerocallis comes from the Greek term meaning ‘beautiful for a day’), but there are several buds on each stem and Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ reliably produces many new stems throughout July.  The flowers contrast well with other hot coloured flowers such as Crocosmias or Rudbeckia fulgida and the clumps of strongly arching leaves help to anchor taller perennials such as Echinops ritro and Verbena bonariensis.

The young strappy leaves of Hemerocallis emerge early in the year, bringing a zing of lime green to light up the ground between spring flowering bulbs and then quickly forming large clumps which help disguise the fading bulb foliage.  They are semi-evergreen in milder areas.

Day lilies are easy to grow in any soil, but flowering is prolonged if the soil is kept moist over summer.  They thrive in full sun to part shade.  Red flowered varieties like ‘Stafford’ fade in intense sunlight, so are best planted in partial shade or where they receive protection from midday sun.

Garden tips: Hemerocallis flowers start to look unsightly as soon as they fade so regular dead heading is needed to keep the plants looking their best and slugs and snails can be a problem.

Fiery by name and by nature, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is one of the earliest blooming Crocosmias, starting in mid to late July, and is still setting the garden alight right through August and September.   The airy arching stems of flaming red flowers branch out from clumps of large, pleated leaves which are an architectural feature in their own right.

It is an imposing presence, reaching 1.2 metres in height and makes maximum impact planted in bold swathes in a sunny or partially shaded site alongside other hot themed perennials such as Heleniums, deep red Dahlias and bright gold Achilleas.  For truly show-stopping vibrancy, try combining it with the dark foliage of Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaf’ and the lime green bracts of Euphorbia schillingii or palustris.  Like all Crocosmias, ‘Lucifer’ will perform best in fertile, moist, humus rich soil in a sunny, sheltered spot (Crocosmias are natives of southern Africa where they grow in damp open areas among grasses and perennial plants in full light). They may need protecting over winter with a layer of bark chip, bracken or straw in colder areas.

Garden tips: The secret to keeping Crocosmias flowering well is to rejuvenate clumps by regular division during the dormant season (avoiding frosty conditions).  In congested clumps, the rhizomes become starved of nutrients, producing fewer leaves and very few flowers.  And remember to stake large clumps before they get too tall or they will flop – especially after rain.

 

Photo credits:  Janet Bligh, Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in December

Life’s getting a bit easier now that winter is here.  Not too much hard graft to do and it’s more about clearing up and planning for next year.

Kitchen Garden

grape vine
Prune ornamental and edible grape vines, and prune soft and tree fruits including currants, gooseberries, apples and pears (don’t be tempted to prune plum or cherry trees now – leave them until summer).  Save pruned stems from apple and pear trees to use for plant supports for perennials during the spring and summer.

If you have bare-rooted fruit trees and bushes to plant, get them in as soon as possible. If the ground is frozen over or too wet, heel them in (plant temporarily) until conditions improve.

Harvesting leeks

Harvest celery, beetroot, turnips, sprouts, kale, parsnips, leeks and carrots.  Earth up tall Brussels sprout stems to support them against winter winds.

Force rhubarb to produce a tender early crop – insulate the crown with straw and then cover with a forcing pot or upturned dustbin.

Make sure that you store fruit and vegetables in a cool, airy, frost free place: check regularly and discard any that show signs of rot.

Order plants of early crops such as seed potatoes, summer bulbs, onions sets, cabbages, cauliflowers and lettuces from specialists for early spring delivery.  It is worth ordering early as suppliers will run out of the most popular lines.

Cutting garden
For fragrant flowers indoors, pick stems of Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet), Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle), Sarcococca (Christmas Box) and Viburnum.  Collect winter foliage, colourful stems and berries for Christmas decorations.

Rose hips

Roses grown for cutting and their hips should be planted now as the bare-root season is in full swing.

Pinch out the tips of autumn sown sweet pea seedlings once they have two pairs of leaves.

If you planted scented Narcissi and Hyacinth bulbs in pots last month, bring them in from the greenhouse now so that they flower in time for Christmas.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh

Choosing spring bulbs for your cutting garden

If you’re a keen gardener you’ll no doubt appreciate that there’s rarely a time when you can kick back and forget about your garden.  Even as summer draws to a close and it feels like there’s a chance to relax, it’s already time to be preparing next year’s garden.  Spring bulbs need to be planted from September onwards (although Tulip planting should wait until mid October or November), and that means it’s now time to decide what you want to plant and to get your bulb orders under way.

If you have a dedicated cutting garden or just want to add to your mixed borders, then there are a number of really good spring bulbs which will ensure you have a constant supply of cut flowers throughout the season.

Tulips are the mainstay of the spring cutting garden – and for good reason.  They offer an enormous variety of colour, and provide cut flowers in April and May.  Tulips are divided into ‘groups’ which flower at different times, and which come with different flower shapes and sizes.  Generally, the best groups for cutting are Triumph, Viridiflora (multi-coloured), Lily flowering, Parrot flowering and Double Early Tulips.

If you are looking for elegance, I would recommend trying creams and whites (such as ‘Spring Green and ‘White Triumphator’) and the beautiful dark purple of ‘Queen of Night’.   And Lily flowered Tulips are a particularly lovely shape.

Tulip ‘Jan Reus’

For intense reds and oranges, go for ‘Jan Reus’, ‘Havran’ or ‘Abu Hassan’.  In the purple and pink range, try ‘Recreado’ or ‘Shirley’.  One thing to bear in mind when planting Tulips – they need good drainage, so if you garden on heavy soil, do add grit below the bulbs.

 

Daffs (or ‘Narcissi’ to be technical) are also invaluable as cut flowers as they provide blooms right through from February to May.  They range in height from about 20cm up to 45cm, and colour-wise from pure white through to golden yellow.  If you are adding them to a mixed border, or aiming to naturalize them in grass, then make sure you plant them in groups and think carefully about planting different varieties which will extend the season of interest in your garden.  There’s little point in planting dwarf Narcissi where they won’t be seen, or buying bulbs especially for scent unless you are cutting the flowers for the house or positioning them where you can appreciate their fragrance.

If you are looking for scent, go for a variety such as the lovely white ‘Thalia’ which flowers in March and April.  If you prefer smaller varieties, then ‘Tete a Tete’ and ‘February Gold’ are perfect.  One of my favourites (as I’m not too keen on the big yellow varieties) is the ‘Pheasant Eye’ Narcissus. It flowers quite late and is a lovely understated plant which will brighten up any border in May.

‘Pheasant Eye’ Narcissi

Hyacinths are invaluable to bring scent in to the house.  I’m personally keener on the multiflora varieties of Hyacinth which have (to my eye) a more natural look than the varieties which are more generally available. I think that’s down to the fact that their flower heads are less dense – though still highly scented.  Hyacinthus mulitflora ‘Anastasia’ is a particularly attractive blue variety.

Fritillaria Imperialis

For a bit of drama, try growing Fritillaria imperialis (the Crown Imperial).  With yellow or red flowers in April, growing to a height of about 3 foot, they look fantastic in a tall vase.  In the garden they are also very attractive to bees.

The great thing about planting spring flowering bulbs such as the ones I’ve mentioned is that it needn’t cost the earth, and can be done on any scale – even if it’s just in a few pots.  The key is to experiment and see what works for you.  And if you’re interested in creating a cutting garden for yourself, then please get in touch.

Photo credits: Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in September

My seasonal tips if you’re growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting

CUTTING GARDEN
Keep deadheading annuals and late-flowering Dahlias & Salvias to prolong flowering (and don’t forget to support them as the plants get bigger and top-heavy).

Direct sow hardy annuals (such as Nigella, cornflowers and Calendula officinalis) in to the ground now for early flowers next summer.

Teasels by Firgrove Photographic

Dry seedheads of Eryngium and Teasels to use in flower arrangements.

Tulips by Firgrove Photographic

Order your spring bulbs now if you haven’t done it already – if you leave it too late you may find it hard to get exactly what you want.   If you’re looking for ideas on what to plant, take a look at my blog on choosing bulbs for the cutting garden.

Move tender plants under cover as the night time temperatures drop.

KITCHEN GARDEN
Keep on top of your harvesting to beat damp weather which can damage produce.

Pick sweetcorn as soon as it’s ripe, and if frost is forecast, harvest tender veg. such as courgette, peppers and tomatoes.

Plant out any new strawberry plants now.

Let squash and pumpkins ripen in the sun.

Sow fast-growing oriental greens such as Mizuna and Pak-choi.

Cover leafy vegetable crops with bird-proof netting.

Before slug damage spoils them, dig up any remaining potatoes and store in a cool, frost-free place.

onions

Take up the last of this year’s onion crop and leave them to dry before storing.  You can now sow onion sets to mature next summer.

There’s still time to sow green manures which will release nutrients back in to the soil when they are dug in over spring.

PESTS AND DISEASES
Clean your greenhouse & coldframes to help prevent pests over wintering.

Start to clear up plant debris in borders to keep fungal diseases at bay over winter.

To avoid Vine weevils damaging your plants apply nematodes this month and next, to treat freshly hatched grubs (I get mine from www.ladybirdplantcare.co.uk).

 

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic