Salvia nemorosa

Aromatic perennials will reward you with colourful spikes of flowers. 

The Balkan clary or woodland sage, Salvia nemorosa is a plant that has really realised its full potential in recent years. A slew of longer-flowering hybrids of compact habit and elegant form have become the signature plant of garden designers, catapulting them to public attention.  Being in the sage family, Lamiceae, the clump of grey to sea-green foliage is strongly aromatic. In summer, spires of blue, blue-purple or white flowers appear from darker calyces (sepals). The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies, so ideal if you want to attract pollinating insects.  The Balkan clary grows throughout central Europe into Western Asia, growing in well-drained soil in open, sparse grassland and other open spaces. Variable in the wild and easily crossed with other related species, it's no wonder that new, improved forms are constantly being introduced.  They need moist, but well-drained soil in sun. Overall, they're easily grown and perform reliably, flowering over the summer months. They can be cut back in autumn or the seed heads left on for decorative effect. They can be nibbled by slugs and snails, which will need controlling before new spring growth is damaged. 

The Balkan clary or woodland sage, Salvia nemorosa is a plant that has really realised its full potential in recent years. A slew of longer-flowering hybrids of compact habit and elegant form have become the signature plant of garden designers, catapulting them to public attention. 

Being in the sage family, Lamiceae, the clump of grey to sea-green foliage is strongly aromatic. In summer, spires of blue, blue-purple or white flowers appear from darker calyces (sepals). The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies, so ideal if you want to attract pollinating insects. 

The Balkan clary grows throughout central Europe into Western Asia, growing in well-drained soil in open, sparse grassland and other open spaces. Variable in the wild and easily crossed with other related species, it's no wonder that new, improved forms are constantly being introduced. 

They need moist, but well-drained soil in sun. Overall, they're easily grown and perform reliably, flowering over the summer months. They can be cut back in autumn or the seed heads left on for decorative effect. They can be nibbled by slugs and snails, which will need controlling before new spring growth is damaged. 

Gaillardia

These colourful members of the daisy family will shine all summer!

Blanket flower or gaillardia is gradually gaining popularity in Britain, having been somewhat upstaged by fellow summer-flowering perennial, helenium. Like helenium, gaillardia is in the daisy family Asteraceae, producing bright, cheery flowers in shades of yellow, red and orange, often in bold, contrasting bands of colour, and individually larger than that of helenium, with a bold central disc. Others in the 20 or so gaillardia species are less commonly grown, but have flowers in shades of purple, brown and white and are found throughout North America and through into South America. Most are perennial, while some are annual or short-lived perennials, with double-flowered G. pulchella ‘Sundance’ in yellow and red shades most commonly encountered.  Most varieties are from G. grandiflora, a hybrid between G. pulchella and perennial G. aristata. Recent breeding has created varieties more reliably perennial and improved the onset of flowering to June, continuing through to late summer, especially if regularly deadheaded. Most attain 30-60cm (1-2ft) in stature, the perennial types being clothed in grey-green leaves. The flowers attract bees and butterflies and are also good for cutting. They like well-drained soil in full sun, becoming floppy in overly-rich, continually damp soils. Such conditions are likely to cause rotting in winter. They also don’t perform well in heavy, clay soils.

Blanket flower or gaillardia is gradually gaining popularity in Britain, having been somewhat upstaged by fellow summer-flowering perennial, helenium.


Like helenium, gaillardia is in the daisy family Asteraceae, producing bright, cheery flowers in shades of yellow, red and orange, often in bold, contrasting bands of colour, and individually larger than that of helenium, with a bold central disc.


Others in the 20 or so gaillardia species are less commonly grown, but have flowers in shades of purple, brown and white and are found throughout North America and through into South America. Most are perennial, while some are annual or short-lived perennials, with double-flowered G. pulchella ‘Sundance’ in yellow and red shades most commonly encountered. 

Most varieties are from G. grandiflora, a hybrid between G. pulchella and perennial G. aristata. Recent breeding has created varieties more reliably perennial and improved the onset of flowering to June, continuing through to late summer, especially if regularly deadheaded. Most attain 30-60cm (1-2ft) in stature, the perennial types being clothed in grey-green leaves. The flowers attract bees and butterflies and are also good for cutting.


They like well-drained soil in full sun, becoming floppy in overly-rich, continually damp soils. Such conditions are likely to cause rotting in winter. They also don’t perform well in heavy, clay soils.

Iris sibirica

The delightful, fleur-de-lis flowers look fabulous in summer borders

The Siberian iris, Iris Sibirica, has to be one of the most accommodating perennials we can grow. From late May, through June, and sometimes beyond in some varieties, typical fleur-de-lis flowers sit on slender stalks, dancing above a sheaf of narrow foliage 90cm-1.2m (3-4 ft) tall.  Flowers of the wild species are mid-blue, but the base of the petals are jazzily marked and blotched in golden tones marked with dark blue or dark lines. They make good cut flowers, especially when paired with early roses. Sited in damp meadows or waterside, it really luxuriates and reaches its full potential. It'll also tolerate wet soil, as long as its rootstock isn't permanently submerged in water, and will also naturalise in damp grassland. Iris Sibirica can be grown in ordinary border soil, as long as it's not too acid or chalky, where it does best in semi-shade rather than full sun. A range of new varieties have appeared in recent years, with colour breaks in pink and yellow, with bi-coloured and picoteed lower petals. Easy to grow, once established it forms a slowly-expanding clump of slender rhizomes. All you need to do is cut down the dead foliage in late winter. Old clumps can be resized or rejuvanated by lifting and dividing the clump every three to four years, but will take time to settle down again and flower to their full potential. 

The Siberian iris, Iris Sibirica, has to be one of the most accommodating perennials we can grow. From late May, through June, and sometimes beyond in some varieties, typical fleur-de-lis flowers sit on slender stalks, dancing above a sheaf of narrow foliage 90cm-1.2m (3-4 ft) tall. 

Flowers of the wild species are mid-blue, but the base of the petals are jazzily marked and blotched in golden tones marked with dark blue or dark lines. They make good cut flowers, especially when paired with early roses. Sited in damp meadows or waterside, it really luxuriates and reaches its full potential. It'll also tolerate wet soil, as long as its rootstock isn't permanently submerged in water, and will also naturalise in damp grassland. Iris Sibirica can be grown in ordinary border soil, as long as it's not too acid or chalky, where it does best in semi-shade rather than full sun.

A range of new varieties have appeared in recent years, with colour breaks in pink and yellow, with bi-coloured and picoteed lower petals. Easy to grow, once established it forms a slowly-expanding clump of slender rhizomes. All you need to do is cut down the dead foliage in late winter. Old clumps can be resized or rejuvanated by lifting and dividing the clump every three to four years, but will take time to settle down again and flower to their full potential. 

Helianthemum

Plant some in a border for colourful flowers until the end of summer. 

Rock roses are a cheery presence, producing mats of bright, jangling colour along sunny border edges and rockeries in many late spring gardens around the country. The wild species Helianthemum nummularium is a British native found on sunny, chalk grassland and upland limestone landscapes in England, but also on more acidic soils in Scotland. It’s a lowgrowing mat or hummockforming shrublet clothed in tiny, narrow, oval leaves. In late spring and early summer it becomes covered in a sheet of small, clear yellow, five-petalled flowers which are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators. There are a great many hybrids in a wide range of bright and subtle tones, often attractively set against silvery or grey foliage. The ‘Ben’ series often seen was created by John Nicoll, an amateur plant breeder and jute merchant from Monifieth, east Scotland. By the time he died in 1926 he’d produced 17 varieties, each named after a Scottish mountain. A handful of these varieties, including ‘Ben Hope’ and ‘Ben Fhada’, still remain very popular, while others are rarely grown today. Rock roses love full sun, growing in any well-drained, even poor, soil. After flowering, trim spent shoots back to encourage new growth and cut back the mats if they’re too expansive. Avoid growing them with slower-growing alpines as they’ll soon swamp them. Trimming also keeps rock roses rejuvenated and removes seed pods, preventing self-sown seedlings from invading gaps between paving slabs.

Rock roses are a cheery presence, producing mats of bright, jangling colour along sunny border edges and rockeries in many late spring gardens around the country. The wild species Helianthemum nummularium is a British native found on sunny, chalk grassland and upland limestone landscapes in England, but also on more acidic soils in Scotland. It’s a lowgrowing mat or hummockforming shrublet clothed in tiny, narrow, oval leaves. In late spring and early summer it becomes covered in a sheet of small, clear yellow, five-petalled flowers which are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators.

There are a great many hybrids in a wide range of bright and subtle tones, often attractively set against silvery or grey foliage. The ‘Ben’ series often seen was created by John Nicoll, an amateur plant breeder and jute merchant from Monifieth, east Scotland. By the time he died in 1926 he’d produced 17 varieties, each named after a Scottish mountain. A handful of these varieties, including ‘Ben Hope’ and ‘Ben Fhada’, still remain very popular, while others are rarely grown today.

Rock roses love full sun, growing in any well-drained, even poor, soil. After flowering, trim spent shoots back to encourage new growth and cut back the mats if they’re too expansive. Avoid growing them with slower-growing alpines as they’ll soon swamp them. Trimming also keeps rock roses rejuvenated and removes seed pods, preventing self-sown seedlings from invading gaps between paving slabs.

Auriculas

Auriculas are among the most treasured of our spring flowers. These tufted, evergreen primulas originally come from the mountains of Europe, where they grow among limestone rocks. The wild species have small, rounded or scalloped leaves, sometimes covered in a creamy meal and heads of circular, five-petalled flowers, often with a white eye.  Hundreds of hybrids have been created by crossing it with closely-related species P. hirsuta. The auricula as we know it was brought into cultivation at the end of the 18th century, grown by ordinary folk as botanical treasures. Auricula shows became popular and formal societies were formed.  Auriculas are generally split into border, alpine, show, double and striped varieties. The border and alpine forms are robust enough for use in the general garden, where they'll grow in moist, but well-drained soil in semi-shade. They hate hot sun and dry soil and will scorch or even die, if becoming seriously droughted. The show varieties are best grown in pots in a cold greenhouse to protect the meal or farina on their leaves and especially the flowers, which is soon washed off by the rain.  When growing them in pots, clay or plastic, use a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes and add more grit or Perlite to further improve drainage. They need to be kept damp, but not wet over winter, gradually increasing the amount of water as they flush with new growth and the flower buds appear. Under glass they're prone to greenfly and also attacks by vine weevil grubs. For more information contact the National Auricula and Primula Society; tel 01530 810522, www.auriculaandprimula.org.uk

Auriculas are among the most treasured of our spring flowers. These tufted, evergreen primulas originally come from the mountains of Europe, where they grow among limestone rocks. The wild species have small, rounded or scalloped leaves, sometimes covered in a creamy meal and heads of circular, five-petalled flowers, often with a white eye. 

Hundreds of hybrids have been created by crossing it with closely-related species P. hirsuta. The auricula as we know it was brought into cultivation at the end of the 18th century, grown by ordinary folk as botanical treasures. Auricula shows became popular and formal societies were formed. 

Auriculas are generally split into border, alpine, show, double and striped varieties. The border and alpine forms are robust enough for use in the general garden, where they'll grow in moist, but well-drained soil in semi-shade. They hate hot sun and dry soil and will scorch or even die, if becoming seriously droughted. The show varieties are best grown in pots in a cold greenhouse to protect the meal or farina on their leaves and especially the flowers, which is soon washed off by the rain. 

When growing them in pots, clay or plastic, use a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes and add more grit or Perlite to further improve drainage. They need to be kept damp, but not wet over winter, gradually increasing the amount of water as they flush with new growth and the flower buds appear. Under glass they're prone to greenfly and also attacks by vine weevil grubs.

For more information contact the National Auricula and Primula Society; tel 01530 810522, www.auriculaandprimula.org.uk

Ornamental crab apples

Of all the spring-flowering trees, crab apple is perhaps the most underappreciated, yet compared to ornamental cherries, which grab the spotlight with their blizzards of blossom, crab apples are more elegant, with a greater range of form and size. Through careful selection and hybridisation, many are ideal as specimen trees for smaller plots or larger patio tubs, such as dwarf varieties ‘Tina’ or ‘Adirondack’. Crab apple is a generic term for a range of species and hybrids in the apple genus Malus, largely based on fruit size and the fact they’re used for ornament, rather than edible fruit. Fruits that are generally 5cm (2in) in diameter or less are classed as crabs. Most are sour, although some like ‘Harry Baker’ have larger fruit which can be used in cookery or, in the case of ‘John Downie’, can be eaten raw. However, it’s in spring when crab apples give their all, with branches wreathed in blossom. Crab apples put up with most soils as long as it’s not too consistently wet or dry, although they’ll tolerate periods of drought once established. Many varieties are also resistant to apple diseases, but you may still need to treat persistent infections. Most don’t need pruning, unless being thinned out or cut back to improve shape. This is best done when flowers have finished in spring. Remove shoots that appear from below ground or the graft point to stop them taking over.

Of all the spring-flowering trees, crab apple is perhaps the most underappreciated, yet compared to ornamental cherries, which grab the spotlight with their blizzards of blossom, crab apples are more elegant, with a greater range of form and size.
Through careful selection and hybridisation, many are ideal as specimen trees for smaller plots
or larger patio tubs, such as dwarf varieties ‘Tina’ or ‘Adirondack’. Crab apple is a generic term for a range of species and hybrids in the apple genus Malus, largely based on fruit size and the fact they’re used for ornament, rather than edible fruit. Fruits that are generally 5cm (2in) in diameter or less are classed as crabs. Most are sour, although some like ‘Harry Baker’ have
larger fruit which can be used in cookery or, in the case of ‘John Downie’, can be eaten raw.
However, it’s in spring when crab apples give their all, with branches wreathed in blossom. Crab apples put up with most soils as long as it’s not too consistently wet or dry, although they’ll tolerate periods of drought once established. Many varieties are also resistant to apple diseases, but you may still need to treat persistent infections. Most don’t need pruning, unless being thinned out or cut back to improve shape. This is best done when flowers have finished in spring. Remove shoots that appear from below ground or the graft point to stop them taking over.