Lonicera periclymenum

Recent breeding has transformed this much-loved British native climber.


Walk along any woodland or hedgerow and you’ll spy our native honeysuckle or woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum clambering over twiggy obstructions to dangle its clusters of creamy-yellow sweetly-scented blooms in the summer sun.

Honeysuckle is one of the delights of the countryside experience, so it’s no wonder this deciduous to semi- evergreen twiner has long been grown in our gardens, where its distinctive two-lipped snap-dragon-like flowers entrance and delight.

In recent years its usefulness to wildlife has also been realised, seducing moths and long-tongued bees with sugary nectar, and birds with the juicy, red berries it produces in autumn. It’s quite variable over its European, Mediterranean and East European range so its unsurprising a number of natural variants have been introduced over the years, such as rhubarb pink-flushed Early Dutch honeysuckle ‘Belgica’, and deeper pink-flushed Late Dutch honeysuckle ‘Serotina’, pale yellow ’Graham Thomas’ and ‘Sweet Sue’.

Recent years has seen various attempts to improve honeysuckles garden worthiness in terms of compactness, so they can be used in smaller gardens, pots or even used as ground cover or informal dwarf hedges. These dwarf forms need less training, simply a light clip to keep them neat and under control after they have flowered, the time when most honeysuckles are ideally pruned.

Clambering honeysuckles prefer to have their roots in cooler, moisture-retentive soil, but their heads in sun or dappled shade. In drier conditions or if stressed, they tend to attract mildew diseases, which can cause them to drop leaves prematurely. These more recent forms are more disease resistant and more adaptable in terms of positioning, so there’s no reason not to give them a try!

Morning glory

These twining annuals always bring a splash of colour.


You will know summer has finally arrived then the vibrant blooms of the morning glory, or ipomoea trumpet their presence. These half hardy plants, a mix of twining annual and tender perennial climbers are usually grown for summer display, discarded after flowering. Rapid growing, they soon clothe a tepee of canes or obelisks, or grow over an arbour clothed in blooms from mid-summer through to autumn, with only pure yellow forming the rarest colour. Each flower lasts just a day, or in the case of the Moonflower, I. alba, just a night, but are quickly replaced with a succession of bloom right through to autumn.

The vines are clothed in heart-shaped, or lobed foliage, with Victorian hybrid I. sloteri having the most intricately shaped leaves, ideal for smaller spaces and providing something quite different. They do well in warm sunny summers, rather than those which are cold and wet, but can be grown indoors in a conservatory, with the more delicately bloomed varieties from Japan, such as I. nil ‘Chocolate’ doing better in such conditions, but keep a watch out for attacks by red spider mite.

Morning glories are easily grown from seed sown in spring, under glass sown at a temperature of 20C (68F). Pot seedlings on, train up short canes and gradually harden off before planting outdoors after late frost has passed in June. Seed coats can be hard so chip with a knife or file or soak seed in warm water overnight before sowing. They like moist, well-drained rich soil in full sun, and do better in a sheltered position, such as in a pot on a patio. Pinch out growth when they have reached their desired height and remove spent flowers as they form.

Perennial wallflowers

These long-flowering beauties delight in a range of colours.


Most gardeners are familiar with the bedding wall-flowers, Erysimum cheiri, used to underplant tulips and other spring bulbs. Their warm rustic tones in shades of red, orange and apricot, via purple and mauve, to yellow and cream help ignite many a seasonal display. While most varieties are used as biennials, discarded after flowering, other types of erysimum continue to perform for three or more years extending their value.

They also flower over a long season, variously from spring into summer, or summer through to first frosts, with robust variety ‘Bowles Mauve’ never seeming to draw breathe. The flower-heads of many also change colour as they age or fade, creating a striking two-tone effect. While some are sweetly scented, others are not, but all make excellent bee plants, providing a rich source of nectar. Trim off spent flowers after flowering to encourage fresh new growth.

Derived from a broader range of erysimum species than standard bedding types their growth habits range from spreading mats to hummocky shrubs. All have the tell-tale four-petalled flowers that belie their brassica or cabbage-family heritage.

They perform best in well-drained, poor soil preferably on the chalky side, in full sun, and in an airy position. Wet soil will cause them to rot, and while a rich diet of fertiliser might hasten growth, it shortens their life. As cabbage relatives they prone to club-root, which is less prevalent on limed or naturally chalky soil. They are ideal for growing in stony soils, along with other Mediterranean plants, and being salt-tolerant, are also ideal for coastal situations. They also perform well in pots of compost, with extra grit or perlite added for drainage.

Propagate specific varieties from cuttings of young shoots taken in late spring to early summer. Left untrimmed varieties such as Bowles Mauve will self-sow, yielding a constant supply of fresh, new stock.


There’s far more to this group of plants than the familiar annuals.


2019 has been nominated ‘Year of the Nasturtium’ to promote much-loved annual Tropaeolum majus. While these easy-to-grow South American plants have sensational, jazzily coloured flowers there is much more to tropaeolum. They are incredibly diverse, with annual climbers as well as a range of tuberous perennials, equally exotically flowered, that more adventurous gardeners might want to try.

The annual species composed of T. majus and Canary creeper T. peregrinum will grow almost anywhere in full sun and are easily raised from seed, either planted directly or grown in pots under glass and planted out after the danger of frost is passed. Nasturtiums are great at quickly clothing bare soil - they will even cover ground around bamboo stems to great effect. The flowers are edible too and make mildly peppery additions to salads. They are, unfortunately, prone to infestations of blackfly, which will need to be controlled with fatty acid solutions or pinching out of the shoot tips, where most of the pests congregate. Left alone, they will soon make your prized display look very dishevelled.   

The deciduous tuberous species are quite different, preferring their tubers to be in moist, but well-drained soil, but with their slender shoots able to clamber over supports into the light, where they variously flower from early to late summer. The flame creeper T. speciosum prefers cool, damp air to do well, and is a feature of many Scottish gardens in September and October. T. polyphyllum flowers in June and looks good when allowed to grow over a scree in a rock garden. T. tuberosum needs a warm spot, where its long-spurred flowers appear from August. Try enchanting T. tricolour in a deep pot of gritty loam-based in a cold greenhouse, where its multicoloured flowers will attract gasps of admiration before it dies down and becomes dormant in summer, before starting again in autumn.


Use dwarf and clump-forming varieties to create impact in your garden.


Bamboos can profoundly change the character of a garden such is their deep association in the art and culture of China and Japan, where many garden types come from, but they are widespread across most of the tropics and subtropics.

In recent years they’ve become very popular, particularly those with colourful or shapely canes, known as culms, where they impart a serene elegance to beds and borders. Naturally growing on the edge of forests or in forest clearings they are deal for semi-shaded positions and look good in large pots in paved courtyards. They’ve also developed a reputation for being invasive and while some do have expansive tendencies problems usually arise when they are squished into inappropriately tight spaces, or planted too close to loose paving or boundary fences.

Others, such as those presented here are clump-forming (known as sympodial types), and although spreading they do so relatively slowly, rather than throwing out distant rhizomes (known as monopodial types). The root and shoot systems of garden bamboos usually stay in the top 30cm (12 in) of soil, so placing an impenetrable barrier, such as a paving slab on edge or using a flexible bamboo barrier (visit www.deeproot.com) will help keep them contained.

The clump formers are also better suited to growing in large pots or half barrels, ideally in a general purpose and John Innes blended mix, with additional grit or Perlite added for drainage. The best forms of bamboo are expensive as they can only be propagated by division of the rootstock and are slow to establish.

In the open bamboos like moist, well-drained soils, ideally with plenty of organic matter and dappled shade. Avoid sites which are continually hot and dry. Once planted keep them watered, especially in dry periods as they will suffer if droughted.

Clematis cirrhosa balearica

This evergreen species comes into its own in the winter garden.


The evergreen parsley or fern-leaved clematis, Clematis cirrhosa balearica is one of the saviours of the winter garden, flowering as it does between December through to March, a time when every flower is to be cherished. The species comes from the mountains and valleys of Southern Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, including the Balearic Islands after which it is named.

The plant is clothed in small, glossy, dark green lobed leaves on twining stalks which enable it to scramble and secure itself to supports. The foliage often becomes bronze tinted in winter. From December through to March clusters of small bell-shaped creamy-green flowers are produced, each variably spotted in maroon. They are also said to have a delicate citrus scent. After the flowers have faded feathery seed heads are produced in spring.

Most varieties are derived as distinct colour forms found in the wild, while one, Advent Bells, is a recent hybrid crossed with a related species from China. It will need training to a support and tying in, especially in the early years, so it covers the surface evenly, and doesn’t become congested. They can also be draped over a gazebo or arbour or used to clothe old an old tree-stump.They don’t need any pruning, except for trimming and keeping them in shape.

Fern-leaved clematis prefer a sheltered, sunny site, preferably south or west facing. They will grow in most moist, well-drained soils, but won’t stand being waterlogged in winter. They are also effective grown in large pots or tubs, but will need adequate support and training, so they don’t turn into an unruly tangle.

Shrub roses

Now’s the time to plant them bare-root, and it’s cheaper too!


Everyone loves roses, but these days few can afford the luxury of a dedicated rose garden, or even a bed full of gawky hybrid teas and floribundas. With space at a premium, roses are now integrated among other plantings, particularly perennials, and must be repeat flowering and with effective disease resistance, which is why modern shrub-types have become the go-to roses of choice.

They are made of a number of different types, notably rugosas, hybrid musks, both Modern and English roses and ground-cover types, collectively possessing a tough, shrubby constitution, well-clothed in foliage. Their variety of habits also lends them versatility, with some making climbers, if pruned and shaped accordingly, others happy in pots, while others are effective and covering the ground.

The English roses, bred in the last 30 years by David Austin are justifiably popular, with old-fashioned floral styling and good to excellent fragrance on a four-foot shrub. Others come earlier breeders such as Edwardian rosarian Joseph Pemberton, who bred Felicia, or Ann Bentall, who introduced ‘Buff Beauty’ and ‘Ballerina’, while there are also simply striking selections from wild species, such as Rosa rugosa. All are easy to grow and our selection below gives an indication of the range available, all of which can be planted bare root from now until May.

On receiving your plant, untangle the root system and prune off any roots that are broken, and trim back over long roots to 20-30cm (8-12in). Pop the bush in a bucket of clean, cold water for at least couple of hours. You can also use a mycorrhizal root dip to aid establishment or mix similar preparations into the planting soil, additionally adding a slow release fertiliser. Plant with the graft point just buried blow soil level, firm in soil and water in. Prune shoots so they are uncrossed and evenly spaced.


They light up the garden and now’s an ideal time to plant them.


There’s something rather brilliant about using foxgloves in the garden. With a minimum of expertise and effort when planted in drifts their collective spires transform the most mundane of plantings, turning it into some rather spectacular and out of the ordinary.

Our British native species Digitalis purpurea is such an adaptable plant, producing its stately spires of tubular pink or white, dark spotted blooms in the poorest of soil, as long as it retains some moisture in either sun or shade.

Breeders have also got to work creating a range of other tones, such as peach or apricot to pure white, with various spotting patterns and flower arrangements. Other species with different flower colours, such as yellow or bronze tones have also become an established part of the floral repertoire. The plants form clumping rosettes of leaves, each forming a single flower spike, usually blooming in succession, rather than all at the same time. The flowers are especially attractive to bees, so are excellent pollinator plants.

The bronze forms with slender spires and narrow or white-felted leaves do best in sunnier positions, among border perennials, while the leafier kinds, particularly D. purpurea are better in shade among ferns, primroses and other woodland plants. If you want them to self-seed allow the seed pods to open, otherwise cut them down, or thin out the spikes after the flowers are over to reduce the amount of seed spilt. With shorter-lived types try to establish rosettes of different ages, to help maintain a succession of bloom.

Digitalis are generally biennial, sometimes annual, especially if they are sown early in the year, or perennial, sometimes short-lived lasting around 3-4 years. They are easy to raise from seed, and many species will self-sow then happy, but can also be bought as young plants.


These award-winning varieties will bring springtime zing to your garden.


Tulips are one of the iconic blooms of the spring garden. It’s now the right time to plant them, but as there are 15 different categories of tulips, spanning thousands of varieties it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer range of types, shapes and colours available. Thankfully the RHS has given its coveted Award of Garden Merit (AGM) to a number of them so you can be assured they will not only look good, but will perform to their best. They’re ideal for use in bedding schemes, in vacant ground between shrubs and roses and among emerging perennials. Select types that are tall enough for the purpose, rather than being hidden or swamped by other plants. All taller varieties make excellent cut flowers.

Tulips need an open position, sheltered from strong wind, which will damage the display. Almost all tulips prefer fertile, and moist, but well-drained soil in full sun. They prefer neutral to slightly chalky soil, rather than acid, but overall won’t tolerate wet conditions. They are also excellent in pots, but add grit or Perlite to the potting compost for drainage.

Tulips are easy to grow and look for top size bulbs for added vigour and reliability, avoiding any with traces of blue mould on them. Remove the papery skin before planting if this is present. Simply dig a hole 2-3 times the height of the bulb and the same distance apart. Position all the bulbs first to gauge the overall effect before planting.

Most bedding tulips are best re-planted in autumn after being lifted and dried over summer, but some such as those derived from T. kaufmanniana, T. fosteriana and T. griegii are more reliable and will flower again in successive years without lifting. To lift remove the spent flower heads and allow the foliage to die back, usually around two months after flowering. Lift the bulbs, keep the best, remove soil, clean and place on a tray to dry or store in hessian bags in a well-ventilated place, at a temperature of around 18C (64F). Replant the bulbs again in mid to late autumn, replenishing with additional new bulbs as required.


Look out for the smaller varieties of this valuable autumn tree.


Berries are such a visual treat in autumn, with many ornamental trees and shrubs laden with colourful fruit. While gardeners are spoilt for choice, if you’re looking for a specimen tree to make a statement then the smaller, more compact rowan or sorbus species and varieties are really worth considering. Their long-lasting displays of berries, which hang on the tree for weeks, if not months, are unsurpassed, nestled among a backdrop of scarlet, orange and yellow-tinted foliage.

Berries vary in tone from red, yellow, orange, apricot to pink and white, many of the latter often possessing a deeper pink eye. Their elegant foliage is composed of rounded leaflets spaced like the rungs of a ladder, while the flattened heads of white flowers in spring is attractive to both gardeners and insects alike. Once fully grown, they also cast a light shadow meaning that you can plant beneath with smaller shrubs, perennials and bulbs.  

Rowans come from the cooler, more mountainous parts of the northern hemisphere, from the USA and Europe, via the Himalaya and into China and Japan. They are tolerant of most soils, doing best on moist, well-drained loams. They are also very hardy, preferring full sun and thriving in more exposed, windy conditions than many other tree species, but won’t thrive in constantly wet soils.

While most are readily available grown in containers which can be planted at any time, you can also purchase them bare root, planting these from November to early March.

Rowans are susceptible to the disease fire-blight, which causes new growth to look scorched and die back. It attacks many trees and shrubs in the rose family, such as pyracantha. Unfortunately, there is no cure, so if you already have other woody plants already infected by fireblight, it’s best to err on the side of caution and choose something else instead.


Now is the best time to plant these stars of spring and early summer.


Alliums, or ornamental onions have come a long way since the deservedly popular variety ‘Purple Sensation’ became the darling of garden designers and gardeners.

Recent breeding has brought a swathe of new varieties large and small, which now take their place alongside firm favourites which have stood the test of time. The result is a rich and astonishing diversity of bloom that brings a little floral pizzazz to early summer borders and beyond. Most also perform equally well in potted displays, ideal if you don’t have space for the larger types.

Ornamental onions will grow in most well-drained soils as long as they are not constantly wet or droughted when in active growth in spring. Planting them now enables them to produce roots and become established before flowering. They prefer full sun, successively dwindling away in gloomier conditions, or if swamped by expanding perennials. Plant bulbs as deep as they are high, especially important with the larger flowered types to ensure they are well anchored. Choose an open patch among perennials to enable the leaves to emerge and expand.

Species vary with respect to how long the foliage persists, some withering away before the flowers mature, others such as A. karataviense lasting much longer, adding the display. Alternatively, smaller varieties can be started in pots, planted out in late winter. You will need to control slugs and snails as they soon tatter the leaves, and also annoyingly strip flower stems so the blooms fail or collapse.

The bulbs of many larger varieties also split after flowering, so the display in the second year is often smaller until they build up strength again, or you continue to replant fresh stock.

Narcissus for pots

Durable varieties that will make even your smallest spaces shine

Narcissus 1.jpg

We all like our spirits lifted when feeling low, and a few pots of dainty daffodils in full blossom are guaranteed to do just that. Planted now until well into October they perform with a minimum of fuss or effort. Positioned besides a doorway or on a patio or windowsill they are unsurpassed, bringing a smile at the dawn of another gardening year.

Not all narcissus are ideal for growing in pots, many are either too tall and leafy or the large blooms out of scale. For smaller pots about 6-12in in diameter choose those which are shorter and more compact, with flowers in proportion to their size.

Plant in pots of John Innes No 2 or blends of peat-free and loam-based composts, with additional grit or perlite added for drainage. There is also new bulb compost from Dalefoot made from composted sheep’s wool, which contains enough nutrients to keep bulbs happy for a couple of years.  

Plant the bulbs upright about 10cm (4in) deep, and about the same distance apart and water in. Place in a cool position, keeping compost moist, but not waterlogged. Cover the pots with mesh to prevent mice ravaging bulbs. Once shoot tips have appeared move pots into a brighter position. This may be more difficult in window boxes, so just plant the bulbs where they are to flower.

In mixed winter plantings grow the bulbs in a 10cm (4in) pot, and leave a space by submerging a pot of the same size in the display pot, substituting the blossoming pot when growth is well advanced.

By growing a succession of varieties flowering at different times you can keep replacing pots when the latest variety fades. Keep bulbs growing providing a monthly feed until the foliage fades in June, when they can either be retained in the pots for the next season, with compost refreshed or planted out in the garden.

Saxifraga fortunei

These shade-lovers form a jewel box of sparkly late flowers and foliage.


While asters and other blowsy blossoms, such as dahlias and chrysanthemums dominate the early days of autumn other, less well-known perennials can also help enliven the garden by flowering in September, October and sometimes beyond.

Saxifraga fortunei is an herbaceous perennial from Asia up to 40cm (15in) high producing clusters of rosettes clothed in rounded fleshy leaves, variously lobed and scalloped and often attractively patterned, textured and variously tinted.

If that wasn’t enough, airy flower heads, with narrow-petalled flowers of cruciform shape in white and shades of red and pink produce a miniature cloud or froth of long-lasting bloom.

They’re valuable plants too, as they prefer growing in sheltered, shady areas, in damp, but not waterlogged soil, with some of the more vigorous varieties tolerating drier conditions once established, making them ideal for north or east facing locations and beneath the canopies of trees, but they won’t thrive in poor, root-infested conditions.

They prefer soils containing plenty of organic matter, which also helps hold moisture if your soil is free draining. Avoid frost pockets, where early frosts can damage the flower display. They also do well in pots of multi-purpose compost, where less vigorous varieties can be allowed to develop. Do take precautions against vine weevil grubs which will undermine the plants, like they do with heuchera.

You won’t find them in every garden centre, but once you start growing them you’ll soon be searching out others to start your own distinctive collection.


These flamboyant bulbs herald the approach of autumn.


Colchicums are the harbingers of change in the gardening calendar, erupting into life from late summer with clusters of vibrant pink or white blooms. The fact they flower from bare earth at this time without a leaf in sight has given rise to their common name of autumn crocus or naked ladies. But they are not related to crocus at all, in fact in different families. Our native autumn crocus C. autumnale, the only species native to Britain, has long been cultivated in British gardens. The other 150 species come from the Mediterranean, Asia, India and even South Africa, from which around 30 are more easily grown, with about 10 reliable varieties proving really popular.

Colchicims produce corms, rather than bulbs, much larger than those of crocus. They can be planted right up to the point buds appear as they will flower irrespective of whether they are in the ground or not, as many will have experienced after placing a corm on a windowsill as a child. All parts of the plant are poisonous, so handle them with care and wash your hands after handling the corms.

After their spectacular flowers have faded colchicums produce a rosette of surprisingly large glossy spear-shaped leaves in spring, lasting until early summer before dying down for the summer, before flowering again in early autumn. So take care where you place them as while they might look great in autumn, they might create a problem after leaves appear. Colchicum will grow in most moist, well-drained soil, but especially those which are chalky. They thrive in sun or dappled shade and are ideal for naturalising in short rough grassland around trees and shrubs. They also create seasonal impact in pots of loam-based compost. Plant the dry corms in summer when available, with the nose planted around 7.5cm (3in) deep and 15cm (6in) apart. If planted in grassland avoid mowing the area until June, when the foliage starts to fade. Slugs and snail can damage the blooms, so take precautions.


Useful shrubs with bright berries and foliage as well as flowers.


Once the darling of 1970s low-maintenance gardens the appeal of shrubby hypericum or St John’s Wort has perhaps been unjustly eclipsed in an era where perennial is king. But things are starting to change and it’s all due to developments in one species, H. inodorum, a three-foot high and wide bushy, deciduous shrubby perennial. The plant is a naturally occurring semi-evergreen hybrid between H. androsaemum and H. hircinum inhabiting open areas from Spain, Southern France through to Italy. While the small yellow starry flowers are produced into late summer, it’s the clusters of long-lasting oval fruits that have been boosted to prolong the season of interest as a cut flower crop. From previously being just red, they now come in a range of tones from white, cream, yellow, green, salmon, pink and red shades. The plants have also been selected to be resistant to the rust disease that blights many other hypericum species and varieties, another reason why hypericum has fallen out of favour.

There are a number of different types on sale, namely the Magical, Miracle and Mystical series, but with more slated to appear in the next year or so. All are easy to grow, and will do well in most moist, well-drained soils in sun or semi-shade. They don’t need staking but to keep them compact simply cut them down in late winter when new shoots start to appearing from the base. They associate will with other shrubs and low perennials in mixed borders, patio pots as well as being grown specifically for cut flowers.

Late plums

Delicious varieties to keep you in succulent fruit into autumn.


Nothing beats picking a juicy, ripe, sun-warmed plum straight from the tree. The rich flavour and melt-in-the-mouth flesh is an experience to be treasured. The range of plum varieties sold in supermarkets is limited as they’re easily damaged, with a very short shelf life. So to get the total plum experience you need to grow your own. While the main plum season runs from late July and peaks in August, the varieties profiled below are mostly self-fertile, so don’t need a pollinating partner, and fruit into September and October. Prune, damson and greengage varieties are god pollinating partners. In plums there are dessert varieties suitable for eating fresh, and culinary varieties for cooking, while most of those identified below can be used for both purposes.

It’s important to select the right kind of rootstock for your plum variety and to suit your location and purpose, as they will determine how much growth they make each year, how large the trees ultimately grow and, to a degree, influence fruit production and quality. If you want a dwarf tree around 2.5m-3m (8-10ft) tall, ideal for a bush or fan, select a Pixy root stock, but thin out fruit to avoid trees over producing smaller fruit. Krymsk1/VVA-1 rootstock has the same characteristics as Pixie. Being slower growing trees on these stocks will need staking for support until they establish. The most popular and widely-used stock is St Julian A which is ideal for most purposes, either free-standing trees to 3-3.5m (10-12ft) or fans. Brompton stock is the most vigorous, producing trees over 4.5m (15ft). Trees on rootstocks will take 3-5 years for the trees to start fruiting. Roots stocks will sucker and you will need to pull out sucker shoots at the base as they appear.

Plums generally need an open, sunny site, or if being trained as a fan or pyramid on a south or west-facing wall. Avoid exposed sites and frost pockets. A moist, well-drained neutral or slightly acidic fertile soil is ideal. Trees can be planted container grown or bare root from November.

Prune from late spring and summer, (April to August) rather than winter, when dormant to avoid infection.


These stalwart perennials will provide flowers to summer's end.


Salvias are a diverse group of herbaceous and shrubby perennials, with various species and varieties flowering from summer through to the first frost. Those species flowering later in the season are perhaps the most diverse group of all, with everything from foot high shrublets to towering eight-foot giant perennials. Many come from the warmer drier climes of southern USA, Mexico and South America, rendering them a little vulnerable in the winter-hardiness stakes, but they are so endearing and of such value in terms of delivering late colour they are always worth the risk.

The shrubbier kinds are largely derived from S. greggii, S. microphylla and the hybrid between them S. jamensis. They are of rounded habit, producing thin shoots, with neat aromatic leaves and a succession of small large-lipped flowers in shades of blue, red, white, pink and purple. Many of the taller forms are derived from the anise-scented or hummingbird sage S. guaranitica from South America. It’s a leafy, upright, highly aromatic perennial producing 1.5m (5ft) stems topped with slender spikes of blue or purple flowers with black calyces. Being weak jointed it may need additional support, but once happy will produce stout clumps. Warmer winters is encouraging more of the later and more tender types to be tried in cultivation. One of the prime movers is William Dyson who also runs Great Comp Garden, near Sevenoaks, Kent. His website profiles and illustrates a wide range of varieties and is well worth looking at, and although there is no mail order, the nursery and garden also demands a visit (www.dysonsalvias.com).

While the larger forms are best grown in a warm, sheltered border, those achieving around 3ft or less are ideal for pots. Use John Innes No 2, with additional grit or Perlite added for drainage, particularly if you plan to keep the plants for more than a season. Plants grown commercially tend to be grown in peat or peat-free composts, encouraging fast growth, but risking becoming soggy in winter.

Salvias prefer full sun, and moist, but well-drained soil, particularly if they are to survive the winter. Well-drained sandy or chalky soil is ideal, while heavier, clay soil needs grit to improve drainage. Avoid rich soil or overdosing with fertiliser as this may cause lush, brittle growth prone to winter rot. It’s best to treat them on the mean side!

Salvias are best propagated from cuttings. The taller types take softwood or basal cuttings of new growth in spring, while the shrubbier kinds take soft wood or semi-ripe cuttings in summer or autumn.



These hardy succulents look as good in bud as they do in brilliant bloom.


Most people know them as sedum, while botanical name-changers decreed the upright larger leaved varieties should be hylotelephium, but whatever you prefer to call them these deciduous hardy perennials are some of the most durable and impressive late summer performers. They will endure hot, dry conditions and poor soils, producing steadily expanding mounds of shapely rounded slightly toothed succulent foliage that has architectural appeal. By mid-summer clusters of buds appear which slowly expand further adding to the drama until finally opening into flat heads of small, starry flowers in shades of red, pink to rustic tones, and of course white, which provides a welcome cool tone among late summer colour. Now laden with nectar the flowerheads are magnets for bees and butterflies who frantically drink in all that’s placed on offer. Spent heads offer further use as decorative features in the autumn and winter garden.

There are two main species which have created the main roster of varieties, namely H. spectabile from China and Korea and the more widespread orpine, H. telephium from Asia, which has a number of distinct wild forms. These species were crossed to produce the well-known hybrid ‘Autumn Joy’ or ‘Herbstfreude’, but others in the 30 or so species that make up the group were involved in creating the spate of hybrids.

Hylotelephium prefer moist, well-drained soil, that’s not too rich in full sun, but once established will endure dry conditions. Over-rich conditions will cause taller varieties to flop when in blossom. Their distinctive appearance makes the ideal for use in borders and gravel gardens in both traditional and modern styles, blending well with silvery foliage and other coloured low-growing and groundcover plants. They also look good in pots, especially those with strongly coloured or variegated foliage and it doesn’t matter if you pots inadvertently dry out on occasion either.


The Nile lily is a real joy that looks super-stylish in the summer garden.


Agapanthus are currently riding a tidal wave of horticultural popularity and rightly so as they are one of the star performers of summer borders and containers. Agapanthus hail from South Africa, and grown in UK gardens since A. praecox was introduced in 1687. The last 20 years there has seen an incredible array of new varieties, particularly from British breeder Dick Fulcher, among others.

Agapanthus are fleshy-rooted clump-forming perennials. From a gardener’s perspective agapanthus are divided into two groups, deciduous types, which lose their leaves in winter and which are the hardiest and the semi-evergreen to evergreen types, which retain leaves, and are more tender, and best given a protective mulch in winter, especially in cold gardens. Habits vary immensely from short miniatures with fine leaves, just 12-18in high, to 7ft giants, with strap-like foliage. The main flowering period is July and August, but later, often larger varieties can flower into September and October. Flowers, which appear in loose umbels, vary in colour from near black, a current focus of breeding, through purple, grey-blue, Royal blue to white. Some are bicoloured or have a median blue line down each petal. Some recent introductions also sport pink tinges to petals, and we can expect to see more of this trait. Flowers are usually flared trumpets or pendant tubes as in the distinctive A. inapertus pendulus.

Agapanthus make great container plants, but to flower reliably they need growing in isolation, rather than in mixed plantings. They also need to settle and form sizeable clumps, eventually allowed to become pot-bound. Newly potted plants usually produce foliage at the expense of flowers. The same goes for plants in borders. They need space, light and air to develop, rather than being over-topped or shaded by other perennials, when they will remain leafy, with few blooms. They will grow in most moist, well-drained soils, requiring sun or light shade, again flowering reduced the shadier it is. They like a dressing of compost working into the soil and a spring dressing of a balanced high-potash fertiliser.

Agapanthus can be grown from seed, but varieties won’t be true to type. Division of the clump is the best method, lifting in spring or early summer or early autumn after flowering, separating the clump into rooted sections with 2-3 growth points.


Peruvian lilies will keep you supplied with exotic blooms throughout summer.


Alstroemeria brings a touch of the exotic to the summer garden. In years gone by the choice of suitable varieties was very limited to the invasive, but boldly coloured  Alstroemeria aurea, to the subtle pastel jazziness of the Ligtu hybrids, which often were annoyingly cut back by late frosts, or the green and red flowered species A. psittacina, aptly known as the parrot lily, which is still worth growing, as it is quite distinct from other types.

Alstroemeria are herbaceous perennials from South America producing fleshy, fragile roots and slender fleshy white tubers, which enables them to endure periodic drought once established. The past couple of decades has seen an astonishing spate of new introductions in almost every colour and colour combination conceivable, except pure blue. The throat is often streaked or striped with lines or dots. Flowering often starts in June and, with modern forms maintained to first frost. Many varieties are a bi-product of the cut-flower industry, particularly the taller types, which others were specifically bred for more general garden use and for growing in containers. The Princess series from the Netherlands, Planet series from France and the Parigo range from the UK have all added to the rich variety of more compact forms now available.

Alstroemeria are best established from pot-grown plants, than dry tubers, which take much longer to establish and can fail. They prefer moist, well-drained soil in sun or light shade. Plant them 10-15cm (4-6in) deep, and mulch them over winter to protect them from frost. In mild winters they should be fine, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution. When in growth apply a general fertiliser and/or liquid feed with a high potash fertiliser when flower buds are showing. Grow more compact varieties in pots of john Innes No3 or multi-purpose with added John Innes, with grit or perlite added for drainage.