Buddleja

Bee-friendly butterfly bushes are now more varied than ever

The butterfly bush, or buddleja, straddles the divide between hero and villain.  On the virtuous side it's one of the most pollinator-friendly plants we can place in our gardens, attracting bees and butterflies galore when in full flower, and providing us with a heavenly honey-scented, visual feast.  On the downside, B. davidii is so adaptable that it'll grow virtually anywhere, whether it's wanted or not!  The tiny, windborne seeds lodge in soil, moist cracks in brickwork or guttering on buildings and cracks in paving with the tenacity of a superhuman comic book hero.  Thankfully, breeders have now started to produce sterile-flowered varieties, particularly in the compact Buzz series, but also in other hybrids such as B. alternifolia 'Unique' and B. 'Morning Mist'.                                                                                                                                     There are 140 species of buddleja, mostly deciduous to evergreen shrubs from Asia, Africa and the Americas.  The vast majority, including B. davidii from central China, were discovered and introduced from the late 19th century.  Some are tender and need the shelter or a warm wall or conservatory treatment, others will flower during the winter months.                                             Buddlejas are generally easy to cultivate, love a sunny position and grow in most well-drained soils.  Hard prune in late spring to control height and produce larger flower spikes.  Deadheading will encourage more blooms to form, improve appearance and, in fertile species and forms, prevent the formation of seeds.

The butterfly bush, or buddleja, straddles the divide between hero and villain.  On the virtuous side it's one of the most pollinator-friendly plants we can place in our gardens, attracting bees and butterflies galore when in full flower, and providing us with a heavenly honey-scented, visual feast.  On the downside, B. davidii is so adaptable that it'll grow virtually anywhere, whether it's wanted or not!  The tiny, windborne seeds lodge in soil, moist cracks in brickwork or guttering on buildings and cracks in paving with the tenacity of a superhuman comic book hero.  Thankfully, breeders have now started to produce sterile-flowered varieties, particularly in the compact Buzz series, but also in other hybrids such as B. alternifolia 'Unique' and B. 'Morning Mist'.                                                                                                                                     There are 140 species of buddleja, mostly deciduous to evergreen shrubs from Asia, Africa and the Americas.  The vast majority, including B. davidii from central China, were discovered and introduced from the late 19th century.  Some are tender and need the shelter or a warm wall or conservatory treatment, others will flower during the winter months.                                             Buddlejas are generally easy to cultivate, love a sunny position and grow in most well-drained soils.  Hard prune in late spring to control height and produce larger flower spikes.  Deadheading will encourage more blooms to form, improve appearance and, in fertile species and forms, prevent the formation of seeds.

Scabiosa

These pincushion-flowered perennials are a pollinator magnet

Some garden flowers have a timeless aura and the scabious, or pincushion flowers, are a case in point. The disc-like heads, clustered with long-lasting flowers, ooze period charm as delightful as any old-fashioned rose, with which they make ideal partners along with other cottage and country garden plantings.  Scabious come from Europe, Africa and Asia and are a mix of annuals and perennials, with some, such as the Mediterranean Scabiosa atropurpurea, being biennial or a short-lived perennial. The name scabious comes from the plant's use as a folk medicine to treat scabies, cause by burrowing mites.  The flowers of most varieties are shades of blue, lilac, pale yellow and creamy-white, but get maroon and darker tones from S. atropurpurea. Like daisies, the flowers are made up of two different types of petal, with smaller inner and larger outer. The female stigmas often stick out of the individual flowers, giving rise to the name pinchushion flower. Producing copious amounts of nectar, their easily accessible blooms make them attractive to pollinators. The flowers are long-lasting and make excellent cut blooms in formal or informal arrangements. After the petals have fallen, the calyx of many species remain - creating a whiskery bobble - and these are also good for arrangements.  Scabiosa like well-drained, but not constantly dry soil, in full sun, thriving particularly well in chalky soils. 

Some garden flowers have a timeless aura and the scabious, or pincushion flowers, are a case in point. The disc-like heads, clustered with long-lasting flowers, ooze period charm as delightful as any old-fashioned rose, with which they make ideal partners along with other cottage and country garden plantings. 

Scabious come from Europe, Africa and Asia and are a mix of annuals and perennials, with some, such as the Mediterranean Scabiosa atropurpurea, being biennial or a short-lived perennial. The name scabious comes from the plant's use as a folk medicine to treat scabies, cause by burrowing mites. 

The flowers of most varieties are shades of blue, lilac, pale yellow and creamy-white, but get maroon and darker tones from S. atropurpurea. Like daisies, the flowers are made up of two different types of petal, with smaller inner and larger outer. The female stigmas often stick out of the individual flowers, giving rise to the name pinchushion flower. Producing copious amounts of nectar, their easily accessible blooms make them attractive to pollinators. The flowers are long-lasting and make excellent cut blooms in formal or informal arrangements. After the petals have fallen, the calyx of many species remain - creating a whiskery bobble - and these are also good for arrangements. 

Scabiosa like well-drained, but not constantly dry soil, in full sun, thriving particularly well in chalky soils. 

Phlox paniculata

These summer perennials are unsurpassed for colour and scent

The border phlox, P. paniculata, is one of the most anticipated blooms of high summer. The large heads, made up of rounded blossoms, come in a range of understated tones, from whites, pale blues and lilacs, through to hypnotic varieties with coloured eyes, to self-tones with screaming magenta or purple.  But that's just half the story as it's the intoxicating sweet scent that also helps make them so alluring. Butterflies and moths think so too, and are often seen drinking in all that's on offer from the long-tubed, flat-faced flowers.  Phlox panculata comes from the woodlands of central and eastern USA and eastern Canada. This herbaceous, 1.2m (4ft) perennial inhabits woodland edges, stream sides and damp meadows, where it produces white or lavender flowers. It prefers damp soil and will perform in semi-shade in a wide variety of conditions, but it's susceptible to powdery mildew.  It was one of the first plants found when America was colonised and soon found its way into gardens, where breeders got to work widening the range of colours and making them stockier, more compact and disease resistant.  Today, border phlox is easy to grow and rewarding, often flowering into autumn if deadheaded. It can be propagated by softwood cuttings in spring, root cuttings or division when dormant, which also helps to rejuvenate the plant. 

The border phlox, P. paniculata, is one of the most anticipated blooms of high summer. The large heads, made up of rounded blossoms, come in a range of understated tones, from whites, pale blues and lilacs, through to hypnotic varieties with coloured eyes, to self-tones with screaming magenta or purple. 

But that's just half the story as it's the intoxicating sweet scent that also helps make them so alluring. Butterflies and moths think so too, and are often seen drinking in all that's on offer from the long-tubed, flat-faced flowers. 

Phlox panculata comes from the woodlands of central and eastern USA and eastern Canada. This herbaceous, 1.2m (4ft) perennial inhabits woodland edges, stream sides and damp meadows, where it produces white or lavender flowers. It prefers damp soil and will perform in semi-shade in a wide variety of conditions, but it's susceptible to powdery mildew. 

It was one of the first plants found when America was colonised and soon found its way into gardens, where breeders got to work widening the range of colours and making them stockier, more compact and disease resistant. 

Today, border phlox is easy to grow and rewarding, often flowering into autumn if deadheaded. It can be propagated by softwood cuttings in spring, root cuttings or division when dormant, which also helps to rejuvenate the plant. 

Agastache

These sun-loving, aromatic perennials come in a range of tones

Summer hyssop or Korean mints are the current darlings of the garden, producing spires of tubular flowers in predominantly blue and lilac, but also increasingly in pastel shades of apricot, red, pink, and yellow. They range from being herbaceous perennials to those with a woody rootstock, producing a sheaf of fresh shoots each year.  In garden terms agastache, meaning 'many spikes', spans around 10 species with slightly different habits, some upright, others more tufted and slender-shooted. Like many members of the mint family, they've aromatic foliage, spanning peppermint through to aniseed. There are two main groups which accounts for the differences in habit and flower colour. All are very attractive to pollinators, especially bees and butterflies.  Although none are bone hardy, those from North America and Asia, such as A. foeniculum and A. rugosa are more robust and upright, with spires of flowers in shades of blue and white and should survive most winters. The smaller, shrubbier, more colourful types, such as A. aurantiaca and A. cana, come from Southern USA into Mexico and range from being tender to semi-hardy.  Agastache are easily grown in well-drained soil in a sunny, but not too dry position or in pots. Hardiness is improved by not letting them get waterlogged in winter. Tender species and varieties may survive mild winters, but can be protected as rooted cutting in the greenhouse or raised from seed or plug plants each year.  

Summer hyssop or Korean mints are the current darlings of the garden, producing spires of tubular flowers in predominantly blue and lilac, but also increasingly in pastel shades of apricot, red, pink, and yellow. They range from being herbaceous perennials to those with a woody rootstock, producing a sheaf of fresh shoots each year. 

In garden terms agastache, meaning 'many spikes', spans around 10 species with slightly different habits, some upright, others more tufted and slender-shooted. Like many members of the mint family, they've aromatic foliage, spanning peppermint through to aniseed. There are two main groups which accounts for the differences in habit and flower colour. All are very attractive to pollinators, especially bees and butterflies. 

Although none are bone hardy, those from North America and Asia, such as A. foeniculum and A. rugosa are more robust and upright, with spires of flowers in shades of blue and white and should survive most winters. The smaller, shrubbier, more colourful types, such as A. aurantiaca and A. cana, come from Southern USA into Mexico and range from being tender to semi-hardy. 

Agastache are easily grown in well-drained soil in a sunny, but not too dry position or in pots. Hardiness is improved by not letting them get waterlogged in winter. Tender species and varieties may survive mild winters, but can be protected as rooted cutting in the greenhouse or raised from seed or plug plants each year.  

Shasta Daisies

Gardeners can always depend on these cottage garden favourites

Shasta daisies may seem like an Edwardian period-piece, but recent years has seen this stout perennial come back into favour once again, with a slew of new forms among the array of classic varieties.  The original hybrid was introduced by visionary American plant breeder and horticulturalist Luther Burbank in 1901. He crossed four species from different parts of the world to create Leucanthemum superbum, the cheery white-petalled, yellow-centered daisy we know and love, naming it after snow-covered Mount Shasta in California.  Vigoroug, long-flowered and adaptable in a wide range of soils, the stout 90cm (1m) tall, herbaceous perennial soon caught on and found its way into gardens in the UK and Europe, where developments have continued, such as making it more compact and disease resistant, particularly to mildew.  Shorter forms need less or no staking  unlike the older taller forms, which in full flower are apt to flop over surrounding plants when flattened by rain. Flower forms are astonishingly variable, spanning the timeless elegance of the more natural looking single flowered forms, those with tousled petals or the fully double varieties, which look like floral pom-poms. Yellow or creamy tints have also been introduced, the colour often fading as blossoms mature. Many varieties make excellent cut flowers, although the musky scent may not be to everyone's taste.  Shasta daisies are easy to grow and are ideal for most positions in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Smaller varieties can also be grown in pots. Single-flowered forms are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. 

Shasta daisies may seem like an Edwardian period-piece, but recent years has seen this stout perennial come back into favour once again, with a slew of new forms among the array of classic varieties. 

The original hybrid was introduced by visionary American plant breeder and horticulturalist Luther Burbank in 1901. He crossed four species from different parts of the world to create Leucanthemum superbum, the cheery white-petalled, yellow-centered daisy we know and love, naming it after snow-covered Mount Shasta in California. 

Vigoroug, long-flowered and adaptable in a wide range of soils, the stout 90cm (1m) tall, herbaceous perennial soon caught on and found its way into gardens in the UK and Europe, where developments have continued, such as making it more compact and disease resistant, particularly to mildew. 

Shorter forms need less or no staking  unlike the older taller forms, which in full flower are apt to flop over surrounding plants when flattened by rain.

Flower forms are astonishingly variable, spanning the timeless elegance of the more natural looking single flowered forms, those with tousled petals or the fully double varieties, which look like floral pom-poms. Yellow or creamy tints have also been introduced, the colour often fading as blossoms mature. Many varieties make excellent cut flowers, although the musky scent may not be to everyone's taste. 

Shasta daisies are easy to grow and are ideal for most positions in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Smaller varieties can also be grown in pots. Single-flowered forms are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. 

Herbaceous clematis

These creeping plants will give a new dimension to your borders

It might seem a contradiction to have a clematis that doesn't twine. In fact, there are quite a few that don't, but that doesn't make them any less effective garden plants. Many are exceptionally beautiful, offering effects and traits that other clambering types don't, including, in the case of C. recta 'Purpurea', foliage effect.  The group spans species from different countries and habitats as well as hybrids, making them a really diverse group, from the stout, woody clump of late-summer flowering C. heracleifolia, through slender, floppy-stemmed C. texensis, with flask shaped flowers, to the upright, herbaceous stems of C.recta, with a blizzard of small white flowers in high summer.  Stems vary in height from 60cm (24 in) to 1.5 (5ft), depending on the type. Tall herbaceous ones will benefit from some twiggy supports. Those producing flexible stems are useful for training over small shrubs such as hebes, through stout-stemmed, herbaceous perennials, or up a teepee of canes, twigs or in pots. All can have their growth cut back in autumn or late winter to produce new flowering stems the following year. All appreciate moist, but well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade and a mulch of garden compost to retain moisture and help build up vigour of the plant. 

It might seem a contradiction to have a clematis that doesn't twine. In fact, there are quite a few that don't, but that doesn't make them any less effective garden plants. Many are exceptionally beautiful, offering effects and traits that other clambering types don't, including, in the case of C. recta 'Purpurea', foliage effect. 

The group spans species from different countries and habitats as well as hybrids, making them a really diverse group, from the stout, woody clump of late-summer flowering C. heracleifolia, through slender, floppy-stemmed C. texensis, with flask shaped flowers, to the upright, herbaceous stems of C.recta, with a blizzard of small white flowers in high summer. 

Stems vary in height from 60cm (24 in) to 1.5 (5ft), depending on the type. Tall herbaceous ones will benefit from some twiggy supports. Those producing flexible stems are useful for training over small shrubs such as hebes, through stout-stemmed, herbaceous perennials, or up a teepee of canes, twigs or in pots.

All can have their growth cut back in autumn or late winter to produce new flowering stems the following year. All appreciate moist, but well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade and a mulch of garden compost to retain moisture and help build up vigour of the plant. 

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.