Vigorous performers: A trio of plants that provide vibrant colour and ground cover

Peter Dowdall looks at a trio of plants which provide fantastic colour and ground cover

Vigorous performers: A trio of plants that provide vibrant colour and ground cover

Peter Dowdall looks at a trio of plants which provide fantastic colour and ground cover.

I enjoyed a walk around Fitzgerald Park in Cork city recently as I have on several occasions during this summer and there are a few beds near the bandstand in particular which are showing great colour at the moment.

This late summer and autumn floral display is being provided by three plants in particular, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Persicaria ‘Darjeeling Red’ and Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’.

Rudbeckia or Black Eyed Susan as it is known is a vigorous perennial which freely produces masses of yellow, daisy-like flowers with a dark brown, nearly black centre, hence the ‘black eyed’ part of the common name. Not sure where the Susan bit comes from.

Rudbeckias are a wild-flower native to North America and R. ‘Goldsturm’ is a cultivated form which produces flowers on top of sturdy stems, reaching up to 60cm in height.

Do keep removing dead flowers to promote more new flowers, however when flowering has ceased and temperatures have dropped, don’t be in too much of a rush to remove all the growth to ground level as I quite like the seed heads in the winter.

They bring a certain something to the garden, particularly on a frosty morning. Butterflies love this plant and indeed, on the clump in Fitzgeralds Park, I counted over 12 of them in the few minutes that I stopped to admire.

Don’t let the fact that its parents are a bit ‘wild’, put you off this beauty, though it can be quite a vigorous performer in the garden itself.

A clump can easily increase in size to cover a few metres in a relatively short few years. It will respond well to division, ideally in early spring, providing you with masses of new plants and a smaller, rejuvenated clump in the original space.

The Persicaria is another which is only too happy to make itself at home and colonise a large area once it is happy in its position. This plant used to be quite commonly referred to as Knotweed before the dreaded Japanese Knotweed, Fallopia japonica became an invasive pest in this part of the world and now, few would dare to refer to it by that name.

Fear not, it is no relation. It is a vigorous ground cover plant but nowhere close to the ‘invasive’ tag. In fact, it is ideal for a difficult slope or bank, if you are looking for a plant to cover such an area.

The flowers of P ‘Darjeeling Red’ which begin to emerge when many of the summer favourites are beginning to tire, start off as pink buds, opening up into white flowers which turn a beautiful, rich red colour as they go over.

It’s semi-evergreen which means that some years you will have foliage cover throughout the winter months and in a particularly cold winter, you will most likely have none. The leaves do turn a fabulous red colour from late September onwards which is another truly beautiful feature of this ground cover plant.

Some years the plant can be still in full flower when the leaves change colour and the display is really quite something. Bees love it and as we need to be providing food for them and other pollinators during each of the months of the year, this is another important addition.

The Perovskia or Russian Sage always looks great during August through to October, creating the effect of a haze of lavender-blue up to 1m in height.

I often use it in planting schemes but I had never thought to use it the way they have in Fitzgerald Park. A large clump of it has established nicely next to a similarly large clump of the Chinese Blood Grass or Imperata ‘Red Baron’.

The combination is striking, the Imperata having taken on its seasonal hue of blood red, combines beautifully with the mass of blue above and beside it. This ornamental grass is herbaceous so it will be gone for the winter but before it retires to its slumber beneath the soil the leaves which are a nondescript, mid green colour throughout the summer reaching about 20-30cm in height, turn a magnificent deep, blood red colour.

I would never have thought of using these two plants together in a combination and the thought of dark red and blue may sound like it doesn’t work, but it does. It’s often said that in nature or in the garden, colours don’t clash and this proves it. The effect is wonderful.

Both will be gone soon for another year, as will the flowers of the Rudbeckia and Persicaria so, take my advice the next time you are in Cork City and give yourself an extra bit of time to wander through and enjoy some wonderful green space in one of the most attractive parts of the city.

LAST PLANT FAIR AT FOTA

The Irish Specialist Nursery Association will hold the last of its Plant Fairs in Fota House and Gardens, Cork, on Sunday, September 15. The show runs from 11am to 4pm and there will be lots of late flowering plants to brighten up your border.

Also, some of the IHNSA members who sell garden paraphernalia will also be in attendance. This is the last chance before the specialist nurseries close up shop for the winter and, as autumn is the best time for planting, allowing the newfound treasures time to settle in and establish before the new growing season next spring, why not treat yourself to that something a little bit special.

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