TAKE your eye off the garden in autumn or winter and it can be quite forgiving, as the growth rate slows and then stops for a while before everything starts again the following spring.
But take your eye off the garden now, even just to blink, and you’ll miss something. Summer is when everything is running at full tilt.
It’s like the magical energy beneath us, which we refer to as soil, just bubbles over each summer, resulting in exuberant growth above ground.
One of the plant groups that gives the most of all is the perennial. In full flower now, sustaining insect life and providing nectar and pollen freely to the bees they, for me, are what make a summer garden.
There are so many to choose from to give you flower colour from late March through to late October but here are four that I couldn’t be without for midsummer colour.
Dahlias bring me back to my childhood, and in recent years as their popularity has soared once more. The semi-doubl-flowered, scarlet red, ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ is still a favourite of mine and the single flowering varieties such as the slightly more burgundy toned ‘Bishop of Auckland’ and the apricot-yellow ‘Bishop of York’ are also worth growing.
There are many other single forms such as the ‘Happy’ range, ‘Happy Kisses’, ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Happy Days’ will all bring masses of colour during the summer and autumn months but on lower growing plants.
What is particularly important with the single forms is that they are loved by the bees as the nectar and pollen is freely available to them which isn’t the case in many of the more traditional forms such as the pompom types and the cactus-flowering forms.
Hard to think of a quintessential cottage garden without picturing some of these traditional favourites growing within. They haven’t always been the gardener’s favourite, plants going through popularity fads like every other aspect if life.
George Russell who unveiled his Russell Hybrid strain of lupins at Chelsea Flower Show all the way back in 1937 was largely responsible for their popularity during the mid-20th century.
Lupins don’t come true to type from seed and thus the only way to bulk up on specific specimens is by division in spring and basal cuttings. Eventually nearly every specimen succumbs to some type of disease.
The West Country Nursery in England is currently the standard bearer in lupin development and quality. They have a vast range of cultivars, each giving fantastic floral displays.
Its plants are grown by several Irish nurseries and thus you wont have any problem finding them in your local garden centre.
When choosing a lupin for your own garden, under no circumstances bring home one that has any signs of disease or weakness as you will not revive it. I would encourage you to only use West Country hybrids as, in my experience they prove to be the absolute best.
Nearly every colour you can imagine is represented in the genus and of the West Country hybrids, I simply adore ‘Manhattan Lights’, ‘Blossom’ and ‘Persian Slipper’.
Such a huge plant genus it seems strange to zone in on just one but for me Salvia ‘Carradonna’ with its erect, slender stems of navy blue is a show-stopper. It’s one of those plants that seems to work in nearly any combination.
A clump of it growing on its own works well, but combine it with colours of a similar palette such as Lavandula or Nepeta and it gives depth and resonance to the planting. Alternatively, contrast it with the bright yellow of Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’ and the effect is striking enough to stop you in your tracks. Loved by the bees and hoverflies, it’s one of those plants that simply gives more and more each year.
Penstemons can be, a bit like the lupins, relatively short-lived. Though described as perennial, I do find that they tend to lose vigour after several years and in the end simply die off. The good news is that they take quite easily from cuttings.
Flowering as they do, when summer begins to slow down they are a valuable plant for extending the period of colour when others are coming to an end.
P ‘Sour Grapes’ is a beautiful, grey/blue form and the first one that I ever grew. It’s the variety that made me fall in love with the genus and definitely one to get, though I have found it becoming harder to source. Whether you persevere to find it or make do with whats available you won’t be disappointed as all of them give great colour.