Friday 31 August 2012

Autumn Anemones – Anemone x hybrida

  The autumn anemone is one of the great garden delights of late summer and autumn.  I originally knew this wonderful perennial as the Japanese anemone, later as Anemone japonica.  It was always known as a plant that thrived and spread in some gardens and refuses to establish in others – mainly because it was often sold as a bare root perennial, wrapped in peat and plastic.Today well-established container grown plants ensure its quick establishment on most reasonable soils, in sun or shade however, it does flower best if it gets a few hours of sun a day.  It grows best where the soil does not dry out completely.

The foliage of Japanese anemones makes excellent ground cover. E. A. Bowles wrote: “It has taken possession of rather more of my garden than I desired, but it is so lovely that I cannot bring myself to root any of it out”.  I’m rather glad that my mother never read that quote; she struggled to grow it but loved it so.  

Few flowers bloom for such a long season.  The simple pink autumn anemone, known as Anemone japonica of gardens can bloom for nearly three months.  The charming rounded blooms with their round shining petals are elegantly poised on slender upright stems high above the lovely dark green foliage.  The centrepiece of each bloom is a crown of golden stamens.

The white form Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ is one of the loveliest white flowers. The silken petals surround particularly fine golden stamens.  It is at its best against a dark green background such as the evergreen mound of Viburnum davidii in a semi-shaded corner.   On fertile soil it can grow to a metre or more in height but is often shorter in its first season.  The light height of this elegant perennial means that it fits easily into any garden.

The lovely deep pink Anemone x hybrida ‘Prinz Heinrich’ is also a delight. The semi double blooms have narrower waved, slightly incurved petals.  The slender flower stems grow to 60cm or so above particularly fine dark green foliage. It is lovely planted alongside the plum foliage of Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ or the autumn sapphire blooms of ceratostigma. ‘Prinz Heinrich’ is a particularly fine plant for a small garden or a narrow border. 

If autumn anemones look familiar to you in a different context all may become clear later in the year.  The simple bloom of the Japanese anemone is often mistakenly depicted as the Christmas rose alongside holly on Christmas cards. 

Saturday 25 August 2012

Buying Tulips ................pick of the crop

Those that know me realise that I’m a tulip addict.  We all have our guilty pleasures, and one of mine is the tulip.  I had decided to resist blogging about buying tulips until later in the season – but the sight of those shining mahogany bulbs arriving in the garden centres was too much. Why wait to tell you about them?  The first thing I should say is that it is too early to plant tulips. Please wait until late October or November to get them into the ground or into pots.  Plant too early and you risk frost damage and the disease tulip fire.

However it is not too early for buying tulips – They are available now and you know what they say: “the early birds get the best bulbs”, or something like that. I always go for the largest bulbs I can buy and those are the ones that Hillier sells loose.  Graded as 14+ or 14up, these are firm, plump and packed with flower power.

Tulips bloomed in Europe for the first time in the spring of 1594.  The bulbs came from Turkey where some grow wild; selections have been made and cultivated in Turkish gardens since earliest times.  ‘Tulipomania’ swept through Holland in the early 1600s and spread to Germany, France and Flanders.  Astronomical prices were paid for single bulbs as collectors sought to acquire rare and showy forms.  It took the intervention of the Dutch government to halt this speculation in tulip bulbs, but not before fortunes and livelihoods were lost in the process. Stories abound of Dutch merchants willing to exchange their canal – side house in Amsterdam for a single bulb.  Even as late as 1850 the bulb of a well- broken tulip (one with flamed or feathered flowers) would fetch as much as £150.

Fascinating stories: fortunately today tulips are considerably cheaper, and the risk of getting hooked on these fabulous flowers is considerably less.  Ten fabulous tulip bulbs cost less than a bunch of flowers and last considerably longer.

So when buying tulips what do I choose? I want a long lasting tulip that performs regardless of the weather.  I like simple single tulips in soft or dark colours. I love silky, sensual, elegant blooms. Tulip ‘Menton’ delivers all of these qualities and those that have grown it always come back the following year.  The blooms are soft salmon, becoming more intense as they mature. In some lights they have a hit of gold in the petals. They open late in the season on long, stout stems and are remarkably large, but beautifully formed.  This is a great variety for beds and borders.  On well drained soil ‘Menton’ will reappear year after year.  It is also superb in pots and as a cut flower. 

Tulip ‘Menton’ is always a show stealer at Chelsea Flower Show.  Last year’s show saw a week of hot weather and ‘Menton’ was the only variety on Bloms’ exhibit that lasted the whole week.

Buying tulips now? Buy ‘Menton’, 14+ bulbs while they are still available. Visit now. What about my other guilty pleasures...................maybe next time.

Monday 20 August 2012

Alliums - bulbs that last

Alliums are such appealing flowers, delicate structures carried on straight stems above the other residents of the flower border.  These are enduring flowers, long term garden plants that reliably produce blooms that are exquisite in bud, flower and seed.  There are a number of popular varieties appearing in garden centres now as dry bulbs.  This is the way to buy them, its far better value than buying them growing in pots later on.
I garden on well-drained sandy soil, and my alliums multiply year on year.  They also seed and spread successfully and I encourage this as they drift through the borders.  It takes a few years for alliums from seed to flower, but the parent bulbs keep up the display in the meantime.
The essential allium in any garden is the lovely silver-lilac Allium christophii.  This has large sparkling flowerheads on stout stems, and it’s one of the longest lasting alliums I know.  Plant the bulbs a few centimetres apart in groups of three or so, or plant singly and randomly amidst herbaceous geraniums or silver foliage plants.  Never plant alliums where you can see the base of the plant, for example in pots or bare soil.  The foliage starts to die back as the flowers open and it looks awful. 
Allium christophii has a stunning seedhead when the flowers fade, and it last in good condition into autumn, before turning to parchment in the winter garden.  Often last year’s seedheads are blowing around the garden when the plants are producing more flowers the following summer.
The other large flowered alliums I rate highly are Allium ‘Globemaster and Allium ‘Gladiator’.

These are taller with large tightly packed flowerheads which are magnets for bees and pollinating insects.  These bulbs are more expensive, but again you are investing in long-term garden plants.  The blooms are long lasting, but the seedheads are not.  Enjoy them while they are the spectacles of the early summer border, rising high above perennials and grasses.
In most gardens alliums are left along by rabbits and deer, so they are a better bet than tulips which these creatures love! There are lots of other varieties to choose from, and lots of planting partners. One of my favourites is the lovely grass Stipa tenuissima. 
Alliums and Stipa tenuissima – now there’s a marriage made in heaven – maybe I’ll write about that next time.  This certainly isn’t my last word on alliums.  I want you all to know your onions by the time September is out!

Friday 17 August 2012

Muscari magic

The grape hyacinth is one of the most underrated spring bulbs in English gardens; just because it is easy to grow and successful, it is much maligned for its ability to seed and spread. Typical of us gardeners – if a plant grows well we curse it and complain! The Dutch have long appreciated its value: a long flowering season, fabulous sapphire shades, the ultimate mixer when trying to join lots of clashing colours together.  In fact the wonderful blue of Muscari armeniacum is extensively used in the Keukenhof and any other display gardens in Holland.  This widely grow grape hyacinth lends itself to mass planting, and use in pots and containers, you can even dig it up and use it for indoor decoration on the windowsill.
More and more varieties of muscari appear on the market every year.  These other grape hyacinths do not seed and spread like Muscari armeniacum, so they may be a better bet for those that want control over long term garden subjects.  The inky blue Muscari latifolium (broad leaves) was used to create a river beneath trees at the Keukenhof last spring.  Its deep blue, upright blooms were teamed up with the lovely yellow Tulipa sylvestris. 

Personally I love the grape hyacinth in containers.  I planted an old galvanised bath with around 150 bulbs of mixed shades of muscari last spring and it flowered exquisitely for over a month – that’s the magic of muscari.
 The Dutch use sprinklings of grape hyacinth in pots and containers, and they are masters at using them in small outdoor containers.  I loved the ones attached to lamp posts at the Keukenhof.

If you grow grape hyacinths, Muscari armeniacum in the open ground and you want to prevent the seeding and spreading just chop off the seedheads while they are green, straight after flowering.  It’s when you allow those black seeds to develop that they spread.
Grape hyacinths are great value bulbs; buy lots this autumn and sprinkle your garden with fragrant sapphire blooms next spring.  When they flower, do not forget to pick a few for the house.  They are wonderfully fragrant and long lasting as cut flowers more muscari magic.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Fifty Shades of Green

Looking at my pictures, following my recent visit to RHS Wisley, I am so impressed by the garden's green areas.  Admittedly this summer's rain has made the grass grow, and the foliage of shrubs and trees is particularly lush, but green is something English Gardens do well.

Two of the small lawns, near the entrance to the garden, were particularly impressive.  I know I talk a lot about creative mowing, especially on my lawns course at,  but you don't often see it done quite so well. Radiating stripes from one corner transform a square of grass (immaculate I admit) into a contemporary sunburst.

Outside the new conservatory Tom Stuart Smith's planting of beech, sarcocooca and hakenochloa was looking midsummer verdant.  I really wish I was as brave about this bold planting of simple subjects it looks fantastic in any season.  Fifty shades  of green now, then emerald and parchment in winter.

The broad grass pathway through the double herbaceous borders really does emphasise the importance of green space in showing the planting off to maximum effect.  This balance between space and planting is all important in the design of a garden.  Yes this is a lot of grass, but these are big, wide borders and this garden has a lot of visitors.  In most gardens the borders are too narrow and the lawn is too big - and rarely is it fifty shades of green! Maybe now's the time to sort it #yourgardenneedsyou!

Sunday 12 August 2012

Wisley Gardens - Hydrangeas, herbaceous and herbs

I visited Wisley for a couple of hours the other afternoon to take some pictures of Hydrangea paniculata.  I remember them beig particularly spectacular on Battlestone Hill - that wooded part of the garden near the Trial Ground that was so famous for its Rhododendrons and spring colour.  The best from a trial of Hydrangea paniculata was planted out here a couple of years ago and I wasn't disappointed. 

Seeing them in flower in containers in the garden centre gives little idea of their potential when planted in semi-shade in fertile soil.  Even shrubs such as Hydrangea Vanilla Fraise and Limelight, which I had considered rather spindly little characters prove here that they can develop into fabulous, flamboyant plants that light up the garden when so many other shrubs are sinking into autumn slumber.

Of course the other feature of Wisley Gardens at this time of the year are the herbaceous perennials.  The double herbaceous borders really are quite magnificent.  For me, throughout the gardens Heleniums steal the show.  I love these prairie flowers for their velvety, button-eyed blooms in rich autumn, sunset shades.  They remind me of exotic moths, sometimes tapestry.  On a warm sunny evening their coloulrs really are extravagant and luxurious.

The small gardens are generally looking a bit tired after a few warm days and a drier spell of weather - remarkably good I suppose considering the summer we've had.  I was taken with this bed of sage and lavender surrounding a birdbath.  These woody herbs are great plants for this type of situation. Salvia officinalis 'Icterina' is a plant I forget about; I use the purple one all the time, but this is such an uplifting colour.  It is eyecatching but does not jar as many yellow oliage plants tend to do.  I love it with blue - bet its good with Perovskia - maybe I'll talk about that great autumn plant next time............

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Summer Pruning – Flowering Shrubs

If there’s one thing you should remember about pruning flowering shrubs, it is prune straight after flowering.  So those early summer flowering shrubs are pruned in midsummer.  This year, if you are anything like me you are running late.  Partially because of wet weekends, but also because some philadelphus, deutzia and weigela seemed to have flowered quite late, and over a long period.  That’s my excuse anyway!
Summer pruning of these shrubs is quite an easy task.  You just cut out some of the stems that have flowered, right back to where you see strong, vigorous new shoots arising low down on the stems. You do not have to do it every year, if you miss a year it’s not the end of the world.  If you miss a few then you may have to have a good sort out to get a plant back into shape. 
That’s what I did this year with one or two overgrown philadelphus.  The sooner you prune after flowering the better because those new shoots are not too advanced.  The later you leave it the more likely you are to damage the new shoots when you cut out the old.
Summer pruning is also carried out now on silver foliage subjects, especially santolina.  whether you like the hard yellow flowers of Santolina chamaecyparissus or not, now is the time to cut them back; back to wherever you can see new shoots appearing on the stems.  If you cut back into bare, older wood they may not regrow.  Trimmed in this way now they should produce a new flush of silver foliage which will stay looking good through autumn and into winter.  Leave those flowerheads on and the shrubs seem to fall apart and end up in a soggy heap. 
Essential kit – a good pair of sharp secateurs - I use Felcos. A good pair of loppers – I use Bahco. Patience and some Vitax Q4 professional to reward your shrubs when you have finished with them!

Sunday 5 August 2012

Pruning rambler roses

The wet weather this summer has certainly resulted in vigorous growth in the garden.  If you are anything like me it has also delayed a number of regular gardening tasks.  Weekends seem to be taken up keeping up with the grass cutting and dodging the showers, rather than keeping up with the pruning.  However there are a few must do tasks that I’ve been tackling.
The first of these is summer pruning of rambler roses.  The first shot at these is best undertaken after flowering.  I’ve only just got round to doing battle with ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’. This is a big vigorous rambler that I tend to leave alone for a year or two; then give it a good sort out. 
The ideal is to prune after flowering, removing some of the long shoots that have flowered and leaving those nice new vigorous shoots that started to develop around flowering time.  I always start from the edges and from underneath, by cutting out any dead and those slender thorny shoots that bite you when you least expect it. 
The main thing is to cut our enough to start with, to enable you to tie in some of the younger stems into the support, in my case a single rafter pergola. This gets some of the stems out of the way to enable you to get at others.  In a lot of cases it means cutting out a branch and then playing tug of war to pull it out of the mass of tangled branches.  In reality you are bound to break lots of those new shoots in the process. Don’t worry, more will appear.
Rambler roses tend to grow as they would in the wild, with strong vigorous stems that they throw up into trees; the thorns acting as grappling hooks.  New shoots often appear from the base. ‘American Pillar’ is particularly prone to throwing new vigorous shoots from the base of the plant. Don’t remove them thinking they’re suckers – They are next year’s flowers.

My essential kit for pruning rambler roses: Strong, thornproof gauntlet gloves – I use Gold Leaf, a good pair of loppers – I use Bahco, Flexitie and quality secateurs – I use Felco. Oh yes patience and a sense of humour – I have lost both!
Next time – Summer pruning shrubs – look out for it!

Saturday 4 August 2012

Flowerbulbs for naturalising

Even though you might not have been away for your summer holidays yet – I haven’t – flowerbulbs are already arriving in the garden centres.  After the challenging weather we’ve had in the UK this year they are a welcome sight.  Gardeners are always ready to plan and plant ahead of a new season!
When it comes to choosing flowerbulbs for naturalising, many reach for bulk bags of mixed daffodils and narcissi.  These work well if you plant a lot of them in big drifts. In smaller numbers the effect can be very “spotty”, as different varieties bloom at different times. In any case they are hardly naturalisti, and if you want to create that meadow effect then native bulb flowers or others of similar character are the ones to go for.
The British native wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus subsp. lobularis is a delight once you get it established.  It has a tiny bulb for a narcissus, more like that of a snowdrop. So buy it in as soon as it arrives in the garden centre and plant immediately before the bulbs dry out and shrivel.  Plant in groups of 10-15 bulbs spacing the bulbs a couple of inches apart at a depth of three times the depth of the bulb.  It grows best in thin grass under the dappled shade of trees, in well drained conditions.  After flowering, don’t remove the flowers; allow the seed heads to develop and ripen.  In early summer they change to parchment, split and release black seeds. The plant will spread and multiply more by seed than by the bulbs multiplying.
Fritillaria meleagris is also a British native that once colonised water meadows.  With the disappearance of wet meadows from our landscape this exquisite flower is seen less frequently in the wild. However it is grown widely in gardens, both in the open ground and in pots. It can be naturalised in grass where soil is moist, and never dries out completely.  Because it prefers cool conditions it is often more successful in slightly shaded areas under large shrubs and trees. The bulbs are small and waxy, and like the narcissus should be planted as soon as possible, buy them as soon as they arrive in store.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta, our native bluebell is one of the great delights of the English spring.  Its deep sapphire blue colour makes it particularly visible under the shade of trees, and it blooms before the grass grows tall enough to obscure its delicate lines.  Patient gardeners will find that they can build up large colonies of bluebells from relatively few bulbs by encouraging them to seed.  Plant the bulbs individually with a dibber, 15cm apart and once the seed heads ripen in summer, brush through the fading stems to scatter the seeds across the whole area.  Where bulbs are naturalised in grass under trees mow in autumn and remove the clippings, and mow again on a high setting in late autumn or winter to remove fallen leaves and top the grass.  This will ensure that the blooms appear amongst fresh green grass blades the following spring.  Bulbs sold in our garden centres are from cultivated sources and are certified not wild collected. 
And snowdrops – well let’s talk about those another time!

Thursday 2 August 2012

Cornish Cliff Flowers - spectacular

It's not only some of our garden flowers that have enjoyed this year's heavy rainfall.  For the past couple of days I have talked about how those hydrangeas relished the wet weather.
I was in Cornwall last week staying in Mawgan Porth at The Scarlet - the fabulous eco hotel on the cliff tops between Bedruthan Steps and Watergate Bay.  The weather was glorious - our few days of British summer, and we walked for miles along the cliff tops, that is when we were not relexing in the luxury of The Scarlet.  The Cornish cliff flowers were truly spectacular - the best I have ever seen them.

Quilts of ulex, daboecia, potentilla and calluna tumbled over the edge of the cliffs high above the sea.  This is natural ground cover planting at its best.  I would love to be able to replicate this in a garden situation.  What I don't understand is why garden owners, domestic and commercial do not use this planting combination in coastal areas.  Instead they struggle on with santolina, brachyglottis, olearia and much duller shrubs which do not deliver half the display of these natives.
Bright splashes of gold in the cultivated fields proved to be corn marigolds.  I have never seen them in such profusion.  One field which had been ploughed and left fallow was just a carpet of shining golden daisies.  Its interesting how such as brash colour can look so arrestingly wonderful in the natural landscape but be so difficult to live with in the garden.

In sheltered hollows and shadier spots along the cliff the honeysuckle was fabulous, its scent carried on the salty air,  I never think of recommending this plant for seaside gardens but it clearly does well in salt laden air which keeps it free from mildew. 

The variety of cornish cliff flowers was amazing with more to come.  The cheery little "bacon and Egg" vetches were just opening. Sea squills will follow in a few weeks.  I met a family from Cologne on the cliffs above Bedruthan steps.  They were in awe of the landscape. They declared it to be the finest and most spectacular coastline in Europe. I modestly corrected them: this has to be the most beautiful bit of coastline in the world, not least of all because of those wonderful Cornish cliff flowers.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Hydrangeas for Shade

I am always being asked for shrub recommendations for shade and I nearly always come up with basic evergreen subjects such as Viburnum tinus, Viburnum davidii, Sarcococca confusa, Euonymus fortunei et al. I hardly ever think of hydrangeas for shade; I really don't know why as I have an excellent boder of them completely overshadowed by 'Paul's Himalayan Musk' and a large red malus just outside my conservatory.  Funny how we often forget about things that are right on our doorstep. 
Anyway the ideal growing conditions for most hydrangeas are a position with some morning sun and afternoon stage. They do not like bone dry soil conditions, so plenty of organic matter and supplementary watering in the ground is drained by trees is the order of the day.
White hydrangeas stay white in shade, rather than blushing pink.  Blue hydrandgeas (see yesterday's post on hydrangea colours) are particularly visible in low light and deliver real magic in a shady spot.
I have a fabulous Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Wave' which is one of the stars of the garden.  This has slender growth and elegantly pointed leaves flushed with plum purple.  The delicate lacecap flowers are gential blue on our slightly acid soil and last for many weeks.
Hydrangea quercifolia, the oak-leaf hydrangea can be a bit disappointingly bony. When it grows well the foliage is impressive and turns russett later in the year when if gets sufficient light. The variety 'Snow Queen' (below)is magnificent in flower and is worth the effort of giving it a little support to enjoy it at its best.

At this time of the year the varieties of Hydrangea paniculata are coming into their own.  These have flowerheads that resemble lilac on upright stems, if the have been pruned hard late the previous winter.  I like the frothy 'Kyushu' (below) with its lacey flower clusters.   If you want to see just how effective these hydraneas are in shade pay a visit to RHS Wisley, Surrey - they are the stars of Battlestone Hill.