Perennial memories

Now is the time to enjoy a host of blooming perennials and there’s a great range to choose from, says Peter Dowdall.

June and July really are the months to enjoy the perennials in your garden at their best and let’s hope this run of fine weather, that we’ve been enjoying will continue so we can spend more time outdoors.

All the plants seem so much healthier in this sunshine — not rain-sodden with buds unopened and stems pushed to the ground by high winds. So much nicer to see them in full bloom and holding their heads up to the sun god.

Perennials, both herbaceous and evergreen, are easy to grow and give joy for years to come. There has been a definite swing in recent years towards the more traditional, cottage garden planting and this group of plants come into their own with this design style. They bring so much colour and form, and also wildlife — a full perennial border is alive with the buzzing of bees, butterflies, ladybirds and more.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ is one of the best in this regard, literally alive with butterflies during the summer evenings. Beautiful tall spikes of dark blue flowers are produced freely above green foliage which turns to brown as the season progresses. Try any of the Agastache varieties, you won’t be disappointed.

Veronicas too, with their candle-like flower spikes bring airiness and colour into the beds, pinks, whites and reds with the ‘Atomic Ray’ varieties and try also Veronica ‘Ulster Blue’ which is a dwarf form with beautiful green buds which open slowly into azure blue furry flower spikes, only 15cm (6ins) above the green foliage. A great plant for the edge of a bed or as under planting.

Delphiniums for me are the real aristocrats of the perennial borders. Tall, regal flower stems are produced freely up to 1.8m (6ft) tall. All shades of blue are represented from the palest of sky blues through to the deepest inky-blue, nearly black.

I remember trekking through garden centres with my mother, in pursuit of white Delphiniums and white Phlox, just one of those things that has stayed in the memory, (both of which were found. And whilst for me Delphiniums are blue, do try and source the white variety Delphinium ‘Galahad’. White always works in the garden, acting as the perfect foil to the darker colours. ‘Guinevere’ is another variety worth the search, tall spires of pale rosy pink flowers again combining perfectly with the blues and white.

The great thing about growing several colours in close proximity is that the seedlings (and they will germinate freely from seed collected from the spent flowers) will produce even more colour combinations.

Another that reminds me so much of growing up in the garden and a plant which freely produces seeds, are the Lupins. Here too, the colour combinations are numerous with everything from pinks, reds, yellows, blues, white and mixtures of all possible. The ‘Russell Hybrid’ Lupin was introduced by George Russell at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1938, unveiling a striking mix of Lupins in many colours, growing to about 150cm (about 4ft to 5ft). They can be short-lived, which I am putting down to the amount of rain we get in this part of the world. When planting, use some grit or fine gravel beneath the base of the plant to ensure the roots aren’t sitting in water. They also like a good rich soil so incorporate either Celtic Gold leaf mould or your own homemade compost. The ‘Gallery Lupins’ will produce a similar abundance of colours but stay much more dwarf. Their low height making them more suitable for a windy or exposed site.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’ or Black-Eyed Susan is one of the more dramatic summer flowering herbaceous perennials. Bright yellow petals are produced around a dark brown, nearly black conical centre. Again, provide good drainage and a rich soil in full sun. ‘Green Wizard’ is one of those flowers which brings subtle drama to the party with flower spikes taller than ‘Goldstrum’ rising to about 150cm (5ft). The black, dome-shaped centre is more pronounced and not surrounded by yellow petals but stiff green bracts, the flowers of ‘Green Wizard’ makes an excellent cut flower for fresh use or for drying. Rudbeckia ‘Berlin’ produces masses of shorter orange and yellow flowers and ‘Dublin’ produces spikes about 60cm in height with semi double flowers.

Echinacaea is known by many in tablet form to ward off the common cold but is another ‘must have’ for me for the late summer border. ‘Rubenstern’ produces darker pink flowers than the more commonly grown ‘Magnus’ and is worth getting your hands on for it too will liven up flower beds into early autumn and keep the bees and butterflies visiting.

There is a certain degree of maintenance involved with all these plants, they are not in the ‘low maintenance’ section butdon’t let that put you off for they will repay tenfold the work involved with a great show. None of it is rocket science and this is what makes gardening such an enjoyable pastime, there is no hardship in passing away the hours, staking and tending to the perennials.

As always, the best places to get inspiration and ideas for your own garden is from those people brave enough to open their own outdoor rooms to the public.

The West Cork Garden Trail is now in its 20th year and continues to promote gardens and gardening in the west of the county with open gardens.

The trail is open from June 14 – 29 with many of the participating gardens open throughout the year as normal, or by appointment.

Check out the brochure or individual websites for specific information.

This year from Enniskeane to Castletownbere there are 16 gardens open for you to explore, enjoy and from which to take inspiration.

From the ‘big house’ formal gardens through to the smallest of informal cottage gardens, many styles of garden design and planting are represented.

I can think of few places where I would rather be than enjoying the gardens of West Cork in the June sunshine.


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