Having colour in our gardens right through the year is the toughest challenge, but it is what we all want. "It's the subject requested 90 per cent of the time for my lectures and is what I'm always striving to achieve in my own London garden," says landscape designer Nick Bailey, who is also head gardener and creator of three innovative gardens at the Chelsea Physic Garden, where he uses every opportunity to layer seasonal colour through the botanical planting.
In his new book, 365 Days of Colour in your Garden, Bailey shows us how, with successional planting, we can enjoy flowers and foliage in a myriad of shades, right through the year.
Most enticing of all, he details the great-value plants that, through his own past trial and error, he has found bloom for months on end.
Some he even awards with the ultimate accolade of "potentially yearround flowering", provided, of course, that their basic needs are met. Surprisingly, within this elitist group is a rose, Rosa odorata Crimson Bengal. If you doubt its endless flower power, check it out at the Chelsea Physic Garden, where even in winter you will see a flurry of the dainty red and pink flowers. Euphorbia ceratocarpa, with its succession of bright, sulphur-green bracts and blooms from mid-spring to early winter, is a must-have to contrast with purple alliums and salvias. The other candidates are perennial wallflower Erysimum Bowles's Mauve, as well as cousins Apricot Twist and Summer Bunch, lilacflowered Nemesia denticulata Confetti — which Bailey says he planted three years ago in a client's Pimlico garden and, with occasional tidy-ups, shows no sign of burnout — and the ever-popular zonal pelargonium.
For those of us with sheltered London gardens, the pelargonium, says Bailey, is virtually unkillable. "Drought or a two-week watering break cause it little bother, and it can take a hack if it's getting out of hand. Red-flowered forms are often the strongest and longest-lived."
Among the plants that qualify for Bailey's desirable up-to-eight-months-flowering category is Salvia nemorosa Ostfriesland, which has intensely violet-blue flower spires that keep on coming for five months or more on well-behaved, compact plants. This, says Bailey, is an essential for drama in the middle of the borders.
Classic deciduous shrub weigela has a new variety on the block that Bailey assures lives up to its name of All Summer Red, throwing out velvety-red funnel flowers from early summer right through to mid-autumn. It's compact enough to suit a container, and looks great in a dark slate pot. Every famous English garden has its share of Mexican daisy Erigeron karvinskianus growing in nooks and crannies, and every London garden should have it, too. Flowering from late spring to late autumn, this dainty pink and white daisy just needs a foothold to self-seed, adding a touch of wildness to formal parts of the garden.
Voted plant of the century by the RHS, Geranium Rozanne is also voted longest-flowering geranium by everybody who has grown it. Bailey compares the blue-bloomed perennial to a squat cumulus cloud, and says it will tumble over a wall to great effect. Geums are renowned for their long-flowering period, but Geum Totally Tangerine, claims Bailey, surpasses them all, and is a tireless flower factory, churning out blooms for up to seven months with minimal care and attention.
He describes vibrant rose Rosa Pink Flower Carpet as a great groundcover and weed suppressor. "It may not have the grace of older roses, but eight months of flower and excellent disease resistance make up for that." I've ordered mine already.
Book offer: 365 Days of Colour in your Garden (Kyle Books) costs £25, but Homes & Property readers can buy the book for the special price of £20 including free p&p by calling 01903 828503 and quoting code KB 365/HP, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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