How much colour can you cope with in your summer perennial beds? Do you want dependable blocks of primary colours, something a bit more subtle, or total bling (yes you’ve guessed – Caroline).
This week we’re running through some of the plants that give each of us that colour-fix in July with a few tips on how to get the best out of them. As usual there are some differences of opinion along the way…
- 1. Me first, and in the south, there are such OODLES of gorgeous things starting to bloom, that it’s quite hard to whittle down one’s choices to three or four. My first vote goes to catmint (Nepeta). What an honest, easy, obliging plant this is! I’m sure my sisters will remember the waving aromatic clouds of catmint that seeded themselves around our Mum’s rockery when we were children – always in flower and always buzzing with bees and butterflies.
If you want later, slightly shorter flowers, you can cut down the stems by half in late May or early June (or just cut down a few of them for a REALLY long period of flowering). They are simplicity itself to propagate by division or cuttings. There are lots of varieties about, though I don’t think there is much to beat the old ‘Six Hills Giant’. I’m excited to have bought a new one though – Nepeta ‘Neptune’ – on a recent visit to the fabulous Hardy’s Plant Nursery, which has flowers of a rich deep blue. Looks promising!
2. Next, my July garden would not be the same without daylilies (Hemerocallis). Like catmint, they have no complicated requirements – just reasonable soil in reasonable sun and moisture is their modest ask – and they can stand their own ground in a crowded border – an essential virtue round here, I can tell you. These blingy party-girls have a range of shades to suit almost any colour-scheme, too.
3. If I’m allowed only one more choice, I think it’s got to be Anthemis. These sweet little daisies fit themselves so prettily into the gaps in a sunny border or container. They are another candidate for the ‘Chelsea Chop’ if you don’t want them to get too leggy.
Yes yes, Elaine, all jolly hockey sticks, and I’m sure they’re all great plants, but let’s look at some more refined choices for gardeners who, like me, are a little more discerning.
4. For example, I am going to choose the breathtakingly beautiful evening primrose, (Oenothera stricta ‘Sulphurea’) first. It has an ephemeral flowering at dawn and dusk which is both fragile-looking and luminous. The delicate fragrant blooms open at evening, and are still there to greet me in the morning, deflating gently by midday into crumpled orange crepe paper. It’s a daily little drama, represented below and in our feature picture this week
5. Or cast your eyes downwards for a shot of rich purple from creeping thyme. They’ll need a baking spot where they can spread themselves and you can add to your collection year on year with pinks and whites á la Jekka Macvicar.
6. For a middle storey plant I love bluestar (Amsonia orientalis) with its slate blue starry flowers, slug proof and easy to grow, it spreads gently to fill a space and in good years the foliage goes buttery yellow in the autumn. Very classy.
7. My final choice is the delightfully understated (words never uttered my either of my sisters) perennial foxglove, Digitalis parviflora. Compact spires of chocolate coloured flowers against silver edged glossy leaves. Once the main spike has finished flowering you can trim it off and shorter side spikes will appear to carry on the flowering,
Er, one problem with my sisters’ choices – they were dull. Catmint? Very comforting but about as colourful as a wet weekend in Wales. Don’t worry, I think you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement for the first time now that you’ve got to my bit..
8. Argyranthemum – OMG, shopping for these is like going through Dulux colour swatches. If you remember to dead-head them they just go on and on and on. They do get a bit leggy after the first year but cuttings are, I’m told, as easy as falling off a log (gulp!).
I admit I may have over-blinged this year with ‘pink halo’. It IS a bit Kim Kardashian x Love Island and it won’t come as a surprise to my snooty sisters that it’s now half price (Sarah Raven), but trust me – argyanthemums are the business for long-lasting summer colour.
9. Alstromeria ‘Indian Summer’ – I don’t have enough hyperboles to describe these. Chocolately coloured foliage reaches a good height (2-3 feet) before giving way to exotic orange and red blooms in early summer and they simply don’t stop until late autumn (or until you’ve utterly refused to BBQ one more damned sausage – whichever happens last.)
10. Echinacea – Now I thought they were a little tricky to grow but when I spotted this belter a couple of years ago I had to have it – guess what? Easy. (NB keep the slugs off them when they pop through each year. To be fair, Elaine’s tip in our newsletter this weekend worked a treat for me). The range of colours has exploded in recent years and with names like ‘Sunseeker’s Rainbow’ and ‘Delicious Candy’ I think we can have them to ourselves – I can’t see old my dear old ‘hinge and bracket’ sisters getting down with these new kids on the block!
OK so those are our top 10 – what would be in yours?
PS: Wasn’t I a simply adorable baby?
NB Louises plant of the moment has several different shades of colour in each pretty flower. Click on the box below to find out what it is.
More NB: If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.