Zinnias

Sow Zinnias for a summer sizzle

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Zinnia are sure-footed performers, guaranteed to deliver long-lasting, high-season colour, especially in hot, dry weather. They’re easy to grow from seed sown now until the end of April under glass or on a sunny windowsill to flower from mid-summer, or sown outdoors in warm soil up from mid-May for late-season blooms.

Zinnia is a group of vibrantly coloured annual plants in the daisy family Asteraceae from southern South America, Mexico and central South America, from small foot-tall bushy plants, to taller more statuesque species up to 3ft or more tall. Bred in both single and double forms they come in a range of astonishing colours except blue, often bi or multi-coloured. Flowers can be single or double forms, with single flowers providing an important source of nectar for butterflies.

Zinnias are ideal for summer bedding in borders, subtropical planting schemes and patio pots. Taller varieties also make excellent cut flowers. Removing spent flowers of larger varieties will encourage more to form. They need a sunny, sheltered position, in any moist, but well-drained soil, but don’t need lashings of fertiliser, performing readily in soils of average or even poor fertility. Being tender, harden off plants before planting out from mid-May after the risk of frost has passed when they will quickly grow away to give their all till summer ends.

New varieties to try

Let crocosmia set your borders ablaze

RHS Award-winning varieties that are bursting with summer colour

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The vibrant pops of colour crocosmia brings to the summer scene makes them one of the most useful perennials to grow, at home in a country-style border or vibrant subtropical plantings with bananas, cannas and dahlias. By using varieties flowering at slightly different times you can plant a succession for blooms from July through to September.

Crocosmia are bulbous perennials growing from small brown corms, which generate chains of new corms and sometimes also short rhizomes to create clumps of upright, often decoratively pleated sword-like foliage, anywhere between 60cm- 1.2m (24-48in) tall.

It’s the arching sprays of tubular flared flowers we adore which are held on tough, wiry stems, among or above the foliage, which makes them effective, eye-catching gap fillers between other perennials or shrubs. Flowers come in shades of vibrant red, clear yellow, rich orange to salmon tones, with all shades and bicolours in between.

Varieties such as ‘Dusky Maiden’ also have dark, bronzy foliage adding to their appeal. 

Originating in damp South African grasslands these bulbous perennials love moist, but well-drained soil and full sun. They establish more effectively from pot-grown specimens than dry bulbs bought in bags, but are easy rejuvenated and propagated by lifting and dividing established clumps every three to four years just before they shoot in spring.

New varieties to try

Summer lovelies

Sow these summer lovelies now!

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There is nothing more exciting than the anticipation in sowing seeds of half-hardy annuals and perennials that will result in a show of colour and drama in the summer garden. Seeds of such varieties need to be sown from now into April to ensure you have big enough plantlets to bed out in May, so they make sizeable plants before bursting into bloom from June onwards.

There’s so many types to choose from, they’re easy to get going so if you have a little greenhouse space or a sunny windowsill growing from seed is cheaper than purchasing plugs, and you’ll also have the choice of more varieties, particularly if you have a colour scheme in mind.

Most summer bedding plants love sun, but need moist, well-drained soil with plenty of feeding to keep plants growing strongly. Removing spent blooms or flower heads will also encourage more flowers to form. If you need height try tobacco plants, such as newly launched ‘Starlight Dancer’ with loose heads of dangly flowers, while salvia ‘Lighthouse Purple’ would look good associated with petunia Limoncello along border edges or in containers. The shifting colours of French marigold ‘Fireball’ are a feature in themselves and guaranteed to spark comment from admirers.

Begonias

Let begonias bring a fiesta to summer

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The promise of spectacular blooms from vibrant-toned begonias should be enough to spur any gardener into action and now’s the time to start, especially if raising varieties from tubers.

Many others are easily raised from plug plants usually mailed out from mid- spring from on-line retailers, but you need to order favourite varieties now before they sell out. Begonias are generally trouble free and once established will thrive in sun or semi-shade with a succession of blossoms from June to September and sometimes beyond.

Start tuberous varieties in a seed tray using equal parts general purpose compost and sharp sand for drainage, planting each with the depression containing the growth point uppermost, covering with 6mm (1/4in) of compost and 50mm (2in) apart. Maintain a temperature of 10-18C (55-65F), keeping the compost moist, but not wet. Once tubers produce a ball of fine roots transfer to pots 50mm (2in) larger than the root ball and grow on maintaining a temperature of 13-18C (55-65F). Pot up plug plants when they arrive into 21/3-3in pots, transferring to large containers as they develop. Harden off all plants before planting them outside after danger of frost is over. Keep plants moist and feed with a high potash liquid feed and pick off spent blossoms to encourage more flowers to form.

How to grow your begonias

Blight-resistant tomatoes

These toms will beat dreaded blight!

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Nothing beats a home-grown, sun-ripened tomato, so to pick those luscious red fruit as early start sowing seed under glass now to April.

While there’s a wealth of tomato varieties available there are far fewer resistant to blight disease, the scourge of gardeners trying to grow tomatoes outdoors. Recent years has seen a few F1 resistant varieties introduced, with two new ones launched this year, ‘Summerlast’, a dwarf patio variety, and ‘Crimson Blush’, a beefsteak variety. You can grow these varieties indoors too, although glasshouses offer protection from blight spores landing on foliage.   

While early blight in June can be problematic, late blight in July and August quickly shrivels leaves and damages fruit. Spread by wind currents, blight spores can be carried on hands and equipment, so hygiene is key and growing resistant varieties boosts success.

Sow seeds either in modules, 2 per unit or in a 7cm (21/2in) pot in a general-purpose compost. Sow expensive varieties singly. Cover seeds, water in and germinate at a temperature of 21C (70F) lowering to a growing temperature of 18C (65F).

Prick out seedlings individually into (7.5cm) 3in pots, transferring into a 13.5cm (5in) pot as they develop. Transfer to growing bags or 30cm (12in) pots if growing indoors, or harden off before planting outdoors in late May.

Here’s some varieties to try! Click the images to find out more…

Alpine Clematis

Alpine clematis will add early zing

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No other climber offers such an enchanting display of delicate spring blooms in the face of unpredictable weather as the alpine clematis.

The thin stems and delicate fresh green foliage of Clematis alpina bely its hardy, durable temperament that enables it to perform to perfection whether braving flurries of snow, gusts of wind in sun or semi-shade.

Compact in habit, rarely getting over 2.5m (8ft) tall, it’s ideal for growing on fences, against walls, even those north or east facing, draped over evergreen shrubs or tree stumps or growing in pots and containers. The single or double unscented flowers are long lasting, and when spent turn into a silvery mop of feathery seeds which last into autumn, often after the deciduous foliage has fallen.

Unlike most others these clematis don’t need pruning, save thinning or shortening unwanted shots after they have flowered. Grow them in most moist, well-drained soils, to which garden compost or organic matter has been added. When growing in pots use a loam-based compost, such as John Innes No 2, feeding with a balanced slow-release fertiliser during spring and summer. They will need support such as an obelisk or tepee of twigs or branches. Planted now they will flower in the first year, but once established they are long lived giving pleasure at a critical time for many years to come.