Cytisus

Make space for these colourful cheerleaders of late spring

Brooms are one of those shrubs with an air of yesteryear, perhaps even slightly unfashionable. But there’s no doubting their flower-power when in bloom, which in the best varieties is astonishing. Bees and other pollinators love them.  Most cytisus are shrubs from Europe and the Mediterranean, through to western Asia. They all have thin, whip-like evergreen stems and small leaves. They vary from mat-like shrublets through to rounded or upright shrubs as tall as 1.8m (6ft), usually found growing on poor, dry soil in heathland, short grassland or stony terrain in full sun. In the wild, flowers are predominantly shades of yellow, but other colours do exist, such as pink-purple Cytisus purpureus.  Hybrids also come in a range of vibrant or pastel red, pink or rustic shades, sometimes bi or multi-coloured. They tend to flower once over a few short weeks, so some gardeners judge them a luxury in the garden – but what a show! Grow cytisus in well-drained soil in full sun, avoiding damp or heavy clay soils. Give them shelter as they hate exposure     and strong winter winds. No need to heavily fertilise the soil –they’ll do that themselves. They just need an occasional clip after flowering or thinning to keep them in shape.  Most don’t take kindly to being hard pruned, especially when they get mature.  It’s best to replant with new, rather than transplant existing shrubs. 

Brooms are one of those shrubs with an air of yesteryear, perhaps even slightly unfashionable. But there’s no doubting their flower-power when in bloom, which in the best varieties is astonishing. Bees and other pollinators love them. 

Most cytisus are shrubs from Europe and the Mediterranean, through to western Asia. They all have thin, whip-like evergreen stems and small leaves. They vary from mat-like shrublets through to rounded or upright shrubs as tall as 1.8m (6ft), usually found growing on poor, dry soil in heathland, short grassland or stony terrain in full sun. In the wild, flowers are predominantly shades of yellow, but other colours do exist, such as pink-purple Cytisus purpureus

Hybrids also come in a range of vibrant or pastel red, pink or rustic shades, sometimes bi or multi-coloured. They tend to flower once over a few short weeks, so some gardeners judge them a luxury in the garden – but what a show!

Grow cytisus in well-drained soil in full sun, avoiding damp or heavy clay soils. Give them shelter as they hate exposure     and strong winter winds. No need to heavily fertilise the soil –they’ll do that themselves. They just need an occasional clip after flowering or thinning to keep them in shape. 

Most don’t take kindly to being hard pruned, especially when they get mature.  It’s best to replant with new, rather than transplant existing shrubs. 

Daffodils

These springtime favourites are a popular choice for beds and containers 

Daffodils are planted in autumn and spend the next few months cementing their roots before bursting into colour in spring. 

Keep them happy 

  • Daffodils thrive where many plants might struggle to grow.
  • They'll do well even in the inhopsitable soil at the base of a wall
  • Good drainage and plenty of sun are their main needs
  • They are hardy to -5C (23F), but they don't enjoy wet winters 
  • When they're happy they will multiply rapidly 

Lavender

With it's much-loved scent, this classic plant thrives in UK gardens

Nothing conjures up a warm summer garden better than the delicate scent of lavender. Most commonly grown are the hardier lavenders.

Often known as English, French and Dutch lavenders they'll flower in succession to make a long-lasting display. 

Choose carefully and you can have lavenders blooming or weeks on end. 

First to bloom are French Lavenders. Some, such as Fathead, live up to their name with very rounded flowers, but whatever they variet each had intricatey patterned heads, topped with distinctive tufted ears.

Next to bloom are the English lavenders Ducth Group will flower intermiddedly until autumn.

Keep them happy

  • Lavenders need sun and thrive in alkaline soils with excellent drainage 
  • If you want to grow them on heavy soil before planting, French lavender will cope with slightly acidic soils
  • Once established, lavenders are drought resistant, but potted lavenders and young plants need watering well
  • Prune lavenders to stop them getting leggy, but trimming to just above the old woody growth in late summer after flowering. Prune Dutch lavenders in spring

Poppies

Sow these beautiful varieties of the field poppy for some quick colour 

The field poppy is forever associated with the feilds of Flanders, where it sprang into life in the disturbed soil, creating vistas of blood red flowers.

Although there are about 19 species of poppy in the wild, the only annual poppy with which it could be confused is the smaller-flowered, long headed poppy, another British native.

The field poppy and its varieties are easy to grow, hardy annuals to place in borders where their short lived flowers are produced for several months.

They can be sown in patches in mixed borders for some quick colour or sown with other annuals such as phacelia, larkspur and English marigold to create a wildflower meadow.

Being a hardy annual, seeds can be sown in September or in Spring, from March to May.

Where soil is heavy, seeds can be raised in cell trays and planted out 20-30cm (8-12in) apart. 

Poppies prefer a sunny spot and a not overly rich soil. When sowing direct in the garden, thin out the seedlings to 20cm (8in) apart as soon as they're large enough to handle.

If they're not deadheaded regularly, most poppies will self-seed, so you will have them in the garden for years to come. 

Dahlias

The dahlia can be teased with breeding into the most extraordinary forms. There are the the decorative and cactus dahlias with spiky double flowers, the near perfect spheres of the ball and pompom dahlias and the collerettes with their elaborate ruffs of petals. Then there are the dahlias that simply can't be classified.

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Muscari

Planting muscari is easy, as it will grow anywhere

Apart from their startling blue colouration, muscari, or grape hyacinths, are often viewed as unremarkable spring-flowering bulbs, best used for underplanting more flamboyant tulips. But there’s more to muscari than meets the eye, with some fabulous colour variants and extraordinary flower structures.

From the 42 known species, only 27 are in general cultivation, with M. armeniacum, M. botryoides, M. comosum and M. latifolium among the most well established. 

Breeders are now bringing in new colour breaks and selecting distinctive shades from existing varieties to swell the choice for gardeners.

Others species have interesting characteristics such as M. latifolium, which changes shade as the first flowers age to reveal two tones of blue. 

Muscari grow naturally around the Mediterranean basin, into North Africa and through into central and south-western Asia, usually in well-drained soil, with winter moisture and a hot, dry summer a clue to how they’re best grown.

Planted in autumn with other spring bulbs they’re easy to grow, performing best in full sun to light shade, in most well-drained soils, except thin chalk ones and those too rich in nutrients.

Once happy, they’ll soon clump up, with some such as M.b armeniacum able to naturalise in gravel gardens, borders and short grassland. They’re also great in pots.

The astonishing sterile flower heads of the tassel flower M. comosum ‘Plumosum’ can be damaged by blustery, cold winds, so avoid planting them in an exposed position.

Epimedium

There are many plants whose flowers create impact en masse, but fewer whose individual blooms demand closer inspection, such as epimediums

Epimedium flowers possess fascinating detail, four petals sat within petals, the tips often elongated into arching, narrow points.

Colours vary too, from the tone of caramelised, spun sugar, through golden yellows to rich, translucent reds.

This group of herbaceous or semi-evergreen, woodland perennials mainly come from China, but also elsewhere in Asia and parts of the Mediterranean.

They live in damp woodlands, slowly colonising the ground through an intricate web of needle-like rhizomes.

Members of the berberis family, Berberidaceae, they really come into their own in spring, when the flush of fresh, new, shield shaped foliage is often intricately patterned or rimmed in earthy-red tones, eventually fading in most species by early summer to form weed-proof clumps of leaves. Some also flush with colour in late summer and autumn.

Airy sprays of flowers on long, thin stems appear among the emerging leaves – they look great with other woodland flowers such as primroses and anemones.

Growing epimediums

  • Epimedium need shade or semi-shade and moisture at the start.
  • Working compost into the planting holes, especially among tree or shrub roots, with an occasional watering, will really help.
  • Once established, they’ll look after themselves, some even tolerating dry shade, such as E. warleyense, E. versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ and E. rubrum.
  • By the new year, the foliage can look tatty, so trim with shears before new leaves and flowers appear.

Winter evergreens

Winter Evergreens are trusty plants that will make your garden look wonderful in winter

Although their presence is often overshadowed by the floral treats of summer, evergreens are important players in the appearance of the garden, providing welcome structure and a focal point for the more challenging times of year, particularly mid winter. 

While hollies are seasonal favourites, there are other evergreen shrubs that can really add interest with the shape and colour of their foliage.

One of the most remarkable is the Chusan palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, which can withstand strong winds, frost and snow. 

Once established, it will continue to make steady growth until it becomes an eye catching feature. 

Site it carefully and give it enough space. Fatsia japonica is another big leaved, hardy shrub that’s ideal for creating a sub tropical effect and a useful partner for the Chusan palm, producing the biggest leaves in a sheltered position in semi-shade.

Many shrubs that revel in acid conditions are evergreen, particularly those in the heather family, Ericaceae, such as erica, calluna, rhododendron and leucothoe, which all make excellent partners for dwarf conifers and pines.

Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’ is particularly effective as its foliage turns beetroot-red in winter and is a good companion plant for pots and containers in association with winter pansies and foliage plants, such as heuchera. 

Many evergreens, such as elaeagnus and aucuba, can be trained and clipped as hedges, useful for dry soils or shade.

In milder and coastal areas, try griselinia from New Zealand, which tolerates salt-laden winds and can be grown as a freestanding shrub, or used as a hedge.

Winter-flowering clematis

While summer-flowering clematis are more popular, there’s a distinct charm and beauty to the winter varieties

With careful selection, you can have clematis in bloom every month of the year. Winter clematis have small flowers that make them welcome in the coldest days of the year.

A few also have slight fragrance. Varieties of C. cirrhosa often look best when grown on a pergola, where you can walk under the plants and see the flowers to perfection.

Unlike most summer-flowering varieties, the winter bloomers prefer a sunny spot, a sheltered position and well-drained soil. 

Most will thrive on a sunny south or west facing wall where they’re protected from extreme frosts, and where any winter warmth canbe reflected to enhance their fragrance. 

Most grow well in alkaline soils but if the soil is clay, mix in some grit before planting. 

C. cirrhosa grows well in pots if planted in loam-based compost such as John Innes No 3. Prune immediately after flowering, in March or April, to keep plants compact.

Sedums

With starry blooms Sedums attract bees and butterfies

There are more than 600 species of sedum and, although some are frost tender, those from the northern hemisphere include some really useful garden plants. Most are succulent with fleshy leaves and stems, and although the starry flowers are small, they are often produced in such profusion they cover the leaves completely.

Many make useful ground cover or rockery plants and are often used to plant green roofs, but perhaps the most popular are the large herbaceous kinds. 

The grey leaves of the larger types, often tinged with purple, are attractive all summer.

Their heads of starry blooms, mostly in shades of pink, attract butterflies and bees and are perfect in front of late asters and chrysanths.

All sedums prefer well-drained soil and will survive drought, though the bigger kinds tolerate moisture and will grow in average conditions.

They all prefer sunny sites and may get straggly and not flower so well in shade.

The low-growing varieties are best grown on rock gardens, or in gravel, but may be troublesome because each leaf can grow into a new plant.

This isn’t the case with the larger kinds, which should be divided every three or four years.

Pinch out the growing tips of the large varieties in May to increase bushiness and help prevent stems flopping later in summer.

To find out the best Sedums for bright autumn colour, pick up your copy of Garden News in shops today, or subscribe to get the latest issue!