Why we're still lavishing time and money on our gardens 

Our love for the outdoors continues to bloom, with late summer and autumn stars such as hydrangeas catching the eye
Why we're still lavishing time and money on our gardens 
Hydrangeas are one of the real star performers in the garden over the next few months. Picture: iStock

TAKE a trip to any garden centre in Ireland now and you will be met with tables full of fresh plants all either giving of their best or soon to burst forth into bloom. It has been a strange season thus far for garden centres like every industry. They have had to deal with the pressures and financial strains of lockdown and then create the correct environment and procedures for the “new normal”. However, unlike many other businesses garden centres must all have had a bumper season in terms of business since the lockdown, for everyone is at home and can’t go on foreign holidays.

So the time and money is being spent on the garden instead and without question, the over-riding positive to come out of this extremely difficult period has been our deepening appreciation for the garden and the natural world all around us and their importance.

The problem now that you will find in garden centres is stock. Nurseries throughout Ireland and across Europe that supply garden centres are quite simply selling out of plants. Many lines are just gone and won’t be available until next year as no nurseryman or woman could possibly have been prepared for the phenomenal demand that 2020 brought.

However, I recently enjoyed a walk around the plant area in Hanley's Garden Centre in Cork and you wouldn’t know there was any such shortage, such was the array of colour on offer and here’s a few late summer and autumn stars to keep an eye out for in garden centres over the next few weeks.

Hydrangeas, the real showstopper in Irish gardens during July and August, come in many shapes and sizes, including flower styles and types. Hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride’ won the coveted RHS Plant of the Year title at the Chelsea Flower Show 2018 and it is really only now that it is becoming widely available and what a stunner she is. Growing to an eventual height of 120cm with a similar spread ‘Runaway Bride’ forms a lovely dome-shaped shrub but what makes her that bit special is that she flowers for a longer period of time, starting earlier in the summer and also the way that she flowers. Most of us will be familiar with the typical hydrangea, which produces flowers at the end of each stem, ‘Runaway Bride’ is different in that she flowers on her lateral buds also, meaning that an individual stem can contain up to 6 large, lace-cap flowers of the purest white fading to pink as the season progresses. This is most likely the most free-flowering Hydrangea that you will find.

 Verbenas are technically a perennial and many of them such as V. bonariensis and V. rigida will come back year on year but then there are many which, though technically tender perennials, we grow as annuals. These are in flower now and some of the most vivid and striking flower colours are to be found in this genus. I fancied a particularly dark purple form on my travels which I thought would look just great beneath the hydrangea, if only my garden had that tiny bit more space!!

Nemesias too are another tender perennial which we treat as one-year plants or annuals. Masses of different colour blooms are produced on low plants and these will keep flowering well into the autumn if planted now. Like the hydrangea and verbena these will do equally well if planted in pots or the open ground, just be sure to keep them well watered and dead-head regularly.

Salvias, rudbeckias and of course crocosmias are true perennial performers in our gardens and what I love about these plants is that they require so little effort for so much colour. If only everything behaved like these guys!

Salvia is a particularly large genus, containing over one thousand species varying in degrees of vigour and hardiness. I love the rich blue S. ‘Caradonna’ and also the beautifully scented red and white, S. ‘Hot Lips’. The Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is vigorous and bear that in mind when planting as it will need space to spread. That’s not to say that it is a thug or in any way invasive for it is not but it will push any more frail neighbours out of it’s way of planted too close. Allow about one metre diameter for this one, also known as black-eyed susan.

Crocosmia x crocosmiflora, known to all as Montbretia which has colonized the hedgerows of the length and breadth of Ireland is best left just there, in the hedgerows. It’s a beauty in the wild but will take over any garden in which it is planted. Opt for one of the more well-behaved cultivars such as the vibrant red C. ‘Lucifer’ or the attractive yellow form C. ‘Norwich Canary’.

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