The bright dimension of garden colours

For bedding plant displays, when it comes to colour there is no right and wrong, writes Peter Dowdall

The longest day has passed and we are now counting down the days to autumn.

Well... not really but what it does mean is that we are in high, high summer and after the sensational run of weather that we have had, our thoughts move once more to outdoor living and to grabbing the best out of the garden.

It’s the time of year that herbaceous and evergreen perennials come into their own and in particular, if they got the Chelsea chop earlier, lupins, delphiniums and other summer favourites will have strengthened substantially. They will now be great, strong plants offering plenty of bloom from the savage cuts of May.

Bedding plants are nowadays often frowned upon and looked down on by we gardeners. We’re much too sophisticated a bunch to dirty our hands with such frivolity. They seem far too much like hard work, having to plant and replant with the seasons. They are labour intensive in that they need to be planted each summer and winter — but don’t underestimate their value in the garden. What they offer in terms of colour, scent and sheer summer fun, can’t be provided by any other group of plants.

The term bedding plant traditionally refers to annual plants which complete their life cycle from seed to flower in one season, but in more recent years the group has been extended into the new phrase, ‘patio plants’. This encompasses any and all plants which can be used to create stunning summer displays and not just annuals.

The luxuriant, flouncy effect that you will see in West Cork and Kerry, (and indeed driving through any town in Ireland), adorning pub fronts, restaurants and shops is created normally with the traditional favourites of trailing petunias, geraniums, fuchsias, lobelia and begonias.

These will give you masses of colour throughout the season and in terms of choice and colour range this is increasing all the time. When it comes to colour there is no right and wrong.

Each year my displays differ and it depends on my mood when I plant them, as some summer hanging baskets will match the window boxes and patio pots and even down to matching the colour of the curtains inside and then other years it’s a complete mix and match with every colour on the spectrum represented.

If you’re looking to use something a bit different for your displays, then look out for plants like Zinnia and even Kalanchoe, which we normally grow as a houseplant in these parts.

The Zahara range of Zinnias create a wonderful display in yellow, orange and red growing to about 35cm in height and they do require full sun and will even be slightly forgiving in times of drought.

So, if you are bold enough to think about leaving your garden for a week or two to go on holidays during the summer, the Zinnias may well still be alive upon your return — even if your horticulturally-challenged children forget to water them for you.

The Zahara flowers are larger too than the other forms and less likely to suffer from Alternaria blight which has put paid to many Zinnias that I have grown in the past.

We tend to think of Kalanchoes only as a plant for indoors, however, whilst it won’t tolerate our Irish winters, it has no problem living alfresco during the summer months.

Fleshy, waxy green leaves grow beneath sprays of flowers which are available in nearly every colour.

Heucheras, grown for their foliage as perennials for beds and pots and are one of my favourite generas, but some of its on thousand or more cultivars can be difficult to overwinter, so why not simply grow them as part of the bedding scheme.

They do produce coral bell type flowers themselves, normally in either white or a similar colour to their leaves, but the foil that their foliage will offer to the riot of flowers around them is great at softening the overall effect.

Other plants which provide foliage interest include the trailing Nepeta. Not to be confused with the plant which we grow as Catmint, the variegated trailing form does produce a nice minty aroma and small mauve-coloured flowers, but again, it’s the soft grey/green foliage which drapes down like trailing ivy which is the most attractive feature of this plant.

The golden leaves of trailing Lysimachia is another fantastic foliage plant for summer displays and along with the Nepeta should have little problem surviving outdoors from year to year.

Also known as Creeping Jenny, the golden strands of foliage will give stunning effect in a basket or planter on high, but be careful not to plant in open ground as Jenny will creep beyond where she is wanted.



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