Every garden needs its share of divas to provide drama and excitement. This year, bring in a few A-listers, plants with attitude that add showbiz sparkle to play-safe patios and borders.
Angelicas are short-lived perennials, but that shouldn’t put you off growing these statuesque, stand-alone six-footers because they readily self-seed. Buy an Angelica gigas plant this spring and you will have a fabulous sculpture at the back of your border come summer. Tall, strong stems tinted dusky beetroot shoot from bold foliage and produce domed, fragrant flowerheads of the same sultry shade that are adored by bees and butterflies. Keep angelica well-watered to keep her happy.
Cleome is the half-hardy annual to raise from seed or buy as plug plants this spring, if you fancy a striking, spider-like flower that, in raspberry-coloured Violet Queen, positively sizzles. These strong, sturdy plants form generous 3ft-high clumps in the border and will keep on blooming from midsummer right through to the frosts.
Showstopping annual Cerinthe major Purpurascens thrives in any well-drained soil and spreads widely — no bad thing, with its extraordinary blackberry-tinted hanging flowers and handsome, silvery green foliage. Although no taller than two feet, this easy-growing flower has great presence.
Bury a bulb of Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy now in a pot of compost, and wait for the show to begin. My bulbs, now in their third year, are already pushing up small shoots which will, over the next few months, develop into large, strappy, burgundy leaves. From this base soar the flower spikes, studded with masses of starry, milky-pink blooms, sometimes stretching up to two or even three feet. The seedheads that follow on are just as spectacular.
If your flower colour for patio pots runs to blue, Anagallis monellii sings the blues like no other. Its growth is a little ungainly, and those flowers on the trailing stems are not a doddle to deadhead but oh, that luscious shade of true, rich royal. Even if your deadheading skills leave much to be desired, the plants keep pumping out flower stems right through summer and beyond.
THE LOWDOWN ON LILIES
Among the most flamboyant of summer flowers, lilies couldn’t be easier to grow. Buy plump bulbs this month and plant in the ground or containers. Just keep a watchful eye for the lacquer-red lily beetle which appears early in the year, and scrunch it underfoot, or it will chomp right through the flower buds.
Classic perfumed beauties include rose-flecked white Muscadet, butter-yellow Golden Splendour and trumpet-flowered Pink Perfection, but you could also join the stampede for Kushi Maya, a divine new five-foot fragrant hybrid of the Himalayan lily nepalense. The wide blooms are tinted palest pistachio, with throats of velvety plum to chocolate, and are up to 10in across — lilies don’t come any more sensational.
Martagon lilies are tall, classy beauties that are indispensable to London gardens because their chosen spotlight is, three cheers, in the shade. Once settled, they will naturalise, and trust me, you can never have too many martagons.
With spotted flowers of turkscap shape held elegantly down the stems, the plant has the look of an oriental pagoda. The original Lilium martagon has deep, dark pink flowers, and album is pure white, but new soft pink Chameleon and tangerine-tinted Orange Marmalade are two exotic hybrids that could, contrarily, make the dullest part of your garden the most exciting.