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.


Clematis viticella

Colorful climbers that will lend height and vibrance to any plot.


Although not as large-flowered or individually flamboyant as earlier flowering clematis the smaller-blooming Viticella varieties are the real champions of summer climbers, reliably flowering from July into September and often beyond. The original species comes from Southern Europe and Western Asia. With demure nodding purple and white-centred flowers it was the first clematis introduced into British gardens in the 16th century. A swathe of hybridisation with other varieties has resulted in a wide range of flower forms from the typical wild bell-shapes, through hanging parasols, doubles or semi-doubles to open single flowers composed of four petals, or ‘tepals’. Colours vary from purples, blues, mauves, reds, pinks and whites, often bicoloured, or with a white centre or contrasting colour picotee.

While the individual blossoms may not have impact from a distance when massed together they create quite a show or backdrop, ideal or growing on fences, walls or draping over larger shrubs. Smaller-growing varieties can be grown in pots and containers, ideal for placing beside doors or siting on paving. They are adaptable, growing in sun or semi-shade in a wide range of soils, preferring moist, well-drained ones to dry. Like Clematis alpina they will also tolerate north-facing sites and being wind-tolerant are good for coastal sites. They are also

C. viticella varieties flower on growth made in the same season, so can be cut back to just above ground level in autumn or late winter as new growth starts to appear. This means that varieties can be easily partnered to bloom together, then mutually cropped to start the cycle again. 


These perennial bring a palette of pastel tones to the summer garden.


Yarrow, or achillea is one of the most colourful perennials we can grow in summer borders. Right now these upright herbaceous perennials with their flat-topped flower heads are able to infuse plantings with a wide array of vibrant and pastel tones. What our native white and pale pink hued species Achillea millefolium might lack in this department the array of vibrant garden forms certainly makes up for in diversity of colour. Deep reds and crimsons, pinks, lilacs, yellows are expanded by a range of more subtle tones, including reddy-brown, biscuit, salmon and peachy tones. What makes them even more attractive is the central boss of flowers (disc florets) are in a different tone, often yellowish to the outer petals (ray florets). Flowers in some varieties attractively fade as they age, creating heads of blossom in multiple tones, and some gardeners keep the spent stems over winter for decoration. Those used for border plantings predominantly grow to around 60cm (2ft) or more tall, clothed in feathery aromatic foliage, spanning deep green, through grey-green to bright silver in some yellow flowered forms, making a lovely contrast.

Achillea prefer moisture retentive, but well-drained soil until they establish, when they become more drought tolerant. Although they will tolerate most soils as long as not constantly wet or droughted they grow best on neutral to chalky ones, than acid. Soil should also be not too rich or over fertilised as this will encourage them to overgrow and flop, also shortening their lifespan, which is around four years. They prefer full sun to do well and keep growth tight. They also need good air-flow to prevent mildew from forming, and so are not good in crowded leafy plantings. Shoots develop from a loose clump of basal buds, which are best lifted and divided every 2-3 years to keep them vigorous. Plants should be cut down to ground level in late winter when new shoots appear.    


These gorgeous border perennials will bring summer zing to your garden.


For sheer flower power and a sensational palette of colour, penstemon have it all. These long-flowered shrubby perennials will enliven and add quality to any planting, whether it’s cottage or country in style. They’re also attractive to bees so include a few in plantings for pollinators.

There are different types of penstemon from desert or alpine evergreen shrublets to the larger border types, producing upright stems, clothed in deciduous to semi-evergreen leaves from a woody rootstock. From summer through to autumn the stems are clothed in unscented, tubular flowers, often widely flared at the mouth and in every shade, except yellow. Originating from Mexico and central America, mainly from species such as P. hartwegii, P. gentianoides and P. campanulatus those we use in gardens are complex hybrids of these and other species, which rarely grown today. Concerted breeding over the last few years has raised the bar on the range and calibre of varieties. The 50-strong Pensham series from the late Edward Wilson who lived in Pensham, near Pershore, Worcestershire and newly released ‘Purple Perfection’ from Peter Moore from Hampshire. Others, such as ‘Hidcote Pink’ are well-tried and trusted introductions of many years, which can still compete with today’s best.

Border penstemons prefer moist, but well-drained soil in a sunny position, preferring it slightly damp to give their best. After stems have bloomed cut them out to encourage more to develop. Some varieties are hardier than others, but much depends on how well-drained the soil is and the severity of winter weather. In autumn leave spent stems and add a mulch to protect the rootstock. In late winter trim back stems to 10cm (4in) when new shoots start to appear. Take softwood cuttings from the base of the plant, or unflowered shoots in July and August.


These daisies are at the heart of an English summer garden.

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There are some summer daisies that have become classics of cottage and country-style gardens. Anthemis, or Dyers camomile is one of them, with the best species and varieties, such as ‘Susanna Mitchell’ and ‘E. C. Buxton’ almost prerequisite. Anthemis are a group of around 100 or more aromatic plants from the Mediterranean and into Africa, spanning clump-forming perennials, often short-lived, and tussock or mat-forming woody shrublets.  A handful of the clump-forming species have become favourite border plants, with one species A. tinctoria spawning more than 10 varieties, and an important parent in other hybrids. Their cheery, long-stalked, gold-centred flowers appear in June through to high summer over dissected, aromatic bright to grey-green foliage. Blossoms come in a range of orange and yellow tones, through pale primrose to white, the paler kinds possessing peerless poise and elegance. They also effortlessly combine with rich blues and stronger yellows.

All anthemis enjoy sun and well-drained soil and if they get this are easy to grow. They also need good air, becoming mildewed in dank, wet conditions. They also tend to flop in heavy rain or if they over-grow in too rich soil, so be ready with support. After flowering chop  down spent shoots to encourage fresh new growth. Being short-lived you will need to divide plants in spring or replace them every few years. Anthemis can be grown from seed sown in early spring. More perennial kinds can also be raised from shoots removed from the base of plants in summer. 


Fall in love with these elegant beauties with their airy sprays of blossom.


There are few plants that provide a seasonal haze of colour better than thalictrum. At their best their airy sprays or blobs of fluffy blossom on erect stems hang in the air like delicate pastel-coloured clouds. Generally known as meadow-rue, thalictrum are herbaceous perennials and a rather surprising member of the buttercup family Ranunculaceae.

While individual flowers are small, and either petal-less, or with petal-like sepals, it is the fluffy mass of male stamens that enchant us in tones of white, through cream to yellow, or from pale to deep purple-pink. Stems vary in length from 60-275cm (2-9ft) in the tallest varieties.

The attractive foliage is variously divided into rounded leaflets, often delicate in appearance in smaller species and varieties and varying in tone from bright green to glaucous blue.

All thalictrums are hardy as they mainly come from temperate parts of the world, including northern USA, Europe, including the UK into China and Japan. They prefer damp, but well-drained soils in dappled light or shaded situations, although blue-leaved forms such as T. flavum glaucum will tolerate drier soil and sun as long as they get moisture in spring when starting into growth. While the latter types are fairly quick to establish, others take more time to develop sufficient rootstock to create the airy displays we all crave, especially if the soil dries in summer. Ensuring the soil is rich in organic matter will certainly help. Once in flower thin-stemmed types may need staking to help hold them in position. They are quite at home in cottage garden plantings and associate well with airy-flowered ornamental grasses.


Early-summer kniphofia

These early-season pokers will bring drama and impact to your garden.


There’s now far more to red-hot pokers if your only experience to date has been over-used varieties such as ‘Atlanta’. Across the spectrum of the 200 or so species and hybrids, kniphofia flower from spring through to late autumn, with many blooming over weeks. The torch-like flower heads of tubular flowers in red, yellow, orange, apricot and cream tones, often bicoloured as they age, provide a distinctive character not possessed by other plants. If the smaller varieties are used convincingly in drifts, or rhythmically repeated rather than as single specimens they will always impart drama and impact, looking particularly good in relaxed schemes involving ornamental grasses, and summer perennials such as helenium and salvia. They are also good for growing in pots.

Kniphofias come from the periodically damp grasslands of Africa, particularly South Africa, producing rosettes of fleshy three-angled leaves of various thicknesses and lengths over a fleshy-rooted rootstock that gradually produces a cluster of shoots. Some species have narrow grassy deciduous leaves, while others are thicker and generally evergreen. While the leaves of some have visual appeal, others are apt to become untidy and best hidden from view by surrounding plants, so you can just enjoy the flowers.

Although kniphophia are easy to grow, with few pest and disease problems, many take time to establish, even the smaller ones and build up the energy to flower consistently, particularly the case if you purchase small plug plants rather than larger pot-grown specimens. In terms of likes and dislikes they hate hot, droughted positions or constantly damp soils, preferring moist, but well-drained conditions in sun or light shade. Remove spent flower stems once displays are over and tidy away decaying leaves in early spring before new growth starts to neaten their appearance, when they can also be lifted and divided.


Blanket flowers reward with bright daisies throughout summer


The blanket flower or gaillardia is one of those perennials that loves to please. Once established this valuable garden assets will produce a succession of cheerful daisies in warm yellow, apricot or zingy red tones from early summer into autumn. These fast growing, easy to please eye-catching plants variously come from prairie regions of northern USA and southern Canada. They like moist, but well drained conditions in full sun, but will endure drier conditions once established. They are generally short-lived, perhaps for two to three years in the case of G. aristata or annuals, such as G. pulchella. A hybrid between the two G. grandiflora, which is a short-lived perennial, forms the basis of the 25 or so varieties found in gardens. You can encourage the more perennial varieties to survive the winter by removing spent flower-heads in late summer. Also avoiding wet or over-rich soil, or shaded positions will also help. Taller forms are prone to flop when in flower, so growing them in more Spartan conditions will also help. They are useful for filling gaps or planting in clumps with other summer perennials such as monarda, helenium or anthemis.

Gaillardia is easily grown from seed, even the perennial types quickly forming plants that are highly likely to flower the same year if sown early enough, or the following year if sown later. They can also be bought as plugs or established plants, when they can be planted at any time.  


The versatile and useful perennials no gardener should be without!


Some plants just get on with the job of decorating the garden without fuss, supressing weeds, while blossoming their hearts out. Geraniums are part of this versatile and essential clan that few gardeners could be without. These herbaceous or semi-evergreen perennials are often early into growth and the more spreading kinds will soon help cover the ground, suppressing annual weeds. Closely planted clump-formers such as G. pratense will also do the same job. Growth habits vary enormously, with some low and carpet like, others spread and weave through surrounding plants, while others produce stout clumps or mounds. The attractive leaves are also variable, dissected and blotched with maroon markings to varying degrees, with many also aromatic.

Geraniums are adaptable and can be cut back after they have flowered or become too large, soon rejuvenating themselves with fresh growth, and in some varieties a new flush of flowers. Most single-flowered varieties will generate self-sown seedlings, while double flowered forms like ‘Laura’ don’t. This is a further reason to trim back the plants after the initial flush of flowers is over. Geraniums will grow in most moist, well-drained soils in sun or semi-shade, while some will endure full or even dry shade. Most don’t do well in hot, dry situations or in soils that are constantly wet.

Single-flowered geraniums are easy to grow from seed, especially if fresh. You can use self-sown seedlings, but due to cross-pollination they probably won’t be true to type especially if varieties are intermixed. In this case lift and divide the clumps into plantlets as they die down in autumn or in late winter before growth starts.

Oriental poppies

Their blooms bring standout beauty to a sunny summer border.


Nothing quite compares to the blowsy beauty of the oriental poppy. These relatively quick-growing perennials with just-look-at-me flowers are the quintessential early summer big statement performer for a sunny border.

The stout stems and highly dissected leaves are clothed in bristly white hairs, growing from 18in to 4ft in height. The buds open like a coiled parachute, the crinkled petals opening out into large flat saucers in shades of red, pink, salmon to dark plum and white. The base of the petals may be blotched in another colour or black and in a few the petal rim is picoted, or jagged and/or ruffled to dramatic effect. They look good with early roses and silvery foliage and ideal if starting a new garden and you want something to make a statement.

After they have finished, cut the stems down to enable the rootstock to build up energy for next year’s display and dry the young seed pods for use in flower arrangements. Plants then go dormant over summer, the tuft of leaves reappearing again in late summer and autumn. Coming from the hot, dry Caucasus, Turkey and northern Iran gives a clue as to why they do this. So you will need perennials such as grasses and rudbeckia that perform later in the year to help fill the gap.

Oriental poppies can live for a number of years, ideally in full sun and well-drained soil. They hate constant wet, particularly in winter and if the soil is too rich or over-fertile they tend to overgrow and collapse when the top-heavy flowers open. Humidity also encourages mildew.  It’s best to treat them a little on the mean side and once established leave them alone. That said if the weather turns wet provide support to help keep them upright.

Although easily grown from seed, named varieties need to be propagated vegetatively from division or root cuttings in late summer and early autumn to keep them true to form.


Ornamental onions are a delight in the garden in high summer


You know summer is on the horizon when dramatic displays of ornamental onions or alliums approach their peak, stretching their glorious globes and bold bobbles above leafy perennials still preparing for glory. But after the main early June show why not develop the cavalcade of blossom by using other allium species and varieties that will propel your displays into high summer. While the time for planting dry bulbs is in autumn do look out for potted plants in nurseries, garden centres and horticultural shows that you can slip into plantings to try them out. Alliums are so useful, as their long-lasting flower heads are supported on strong stems that enable them to poke above or mingle with other perennials, which can be used to mask or disguise their foliage which has no visual quality or which withers before they flower. For serious impact they need to be planted in groups of at least five or seven, or more with smaller, slighter forms. Although the look good in close proximity with perennials they still need plenty of light and air so they continue to grow healthily for years to come and are not crowded out by neighbours. They can also be grown in pots and also make good cut flowers and are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators. Plant dry bulbs in October around 3-4in deep in a sunny position in moist, but well-drained soil. Although attractive in seed many alliums will seed around, so remove flower heads when spent if you don’t want this to happen.


Try these woodland perennials with enchanting spring blossoms.


Early flowering woodland plants are the mainstay of the spring garden, providing splashes of colour before more robust sun-loving perennials catapult the garden into summer. Among the daintiest members of these vernal bloomers are corydalis, commonly known as fumitories or fumeworts, which surprisingly belong to the poppy family.

They come from Northern Europe, through the Himalayas and into China. Among the 300 or more-strong clan are a number of valuable low-growing and spreading perennials which provide masses slender bird-shaped blossoms over many months in white, red, pink, purple, yellow and most strikingly in electric blue. They’re useful as the various species and varieties flower in succession from March through to June, with some providing blossom for weeks.  

Their foliage is deeply lobed and dissected, blue-green to dusky purple and bright yellow in some selected forms, providing a vivid contrast to the flowers. Corydalis flexuosa from China has spawned a number of forms, but is apt to go dormant in summer, starting into growth again in autumn. C. elata and its various hybrids with C. solida are more reliably evergreen, and will also continue flowering for longer.

They spread via slender creeping stems which produce tiny bulbils at the joints, such as C. flexuosa or in the case of C. solidafrom a fleshy tuber. Many are easily propagated from fresh seed, and may self-sow if happy, so small plants can be lifted and moved elsewhere or grown on. Carefully divide tubers when dormant or in summer after flowering.

Corydalis prefer damp, but not constantly wet soil with plenty of organic matter in semi-shade or full shade, so are ideal for those overcast part of gardens or areas beneath overhanging shrubs. As you might guess, slugs and snails can be a problem, so take necessary precautions as the plants start to grow in spring.  

Scented bearded iris

Varieties whose blooms aren't just good-looking, but perfumed too.


The moment when iris burst into bloom must be one of the most anticipated moments of the gardening calendar. These much-loved perennials are adorned with blooms which span the most varied array of colours and tones of the floral world. No wonder it’s called the rainbow flower, with exotically coloured upper and lower petals and filamentous beard.

But what is more surprising is that some of these varieties also possess a scent, which in particular varieties can be as strong as orange blossom, or spicy, musky or light and floral. In others scent can be more delicate and evasive, but nevertheless welcome on a still day or evening, or used as a cut flower.

Some taller bearded varieties flower early in the season from mid-May, while others perform later in the month into June. By clever use of varieties you can have plants in flower over a number of weeks. If you choose those which are remontant, or flower again in later summer, you can have the best of all worlds.

Iris are best used is a sunny spot at the front of a border, or where they have space and air, rather than being swamped or overshadowed by surrounding plants. They like to grow in moist, well-drained soil, particularly when starting into growth in spring. Although preferring soil that is neutral to slightly acidic, they are adaptable as long as the soil is not constantly damp.

The rhizomes should be planted horizontally so their tops can bask in the sun, which ripens them and encourages them to flower. Covered with surrounding perennials or grown in too shady a spot will make them flower less reliably, eventually wasting away. When the clumps get a little too congested or outgrow their space lift the plants after flowering in late June. Remove the flowering stalks and cut back foliage by 60 per cent. Just keep the youngest rhizomes with a fan of leaves attached and replant in soil refreshed with a little organic matter and water in. 


Californian lilacs bring vibrant colour to gardens at this time of year.


If you see a blast of blue in gardens at this time it’s almost certainly a Californian Lilac. Unrelated to the traditional lilac or Syringa, the value of Californian lilac or ceanothus is becoming more widely appreciated. Right now no other shrub offers such a rich and exotic splash of colour, powerfully contrasting with the razzle-dazzle of late tulips and early perennials. As the name suggests these evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous plants come from the dry, sunny hills, coastal ranges and forest clearings of California, but also into the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and British Columbia.

Of the 50-plus species around 10 are grown in gardens, which along with various hybrids between them has spawned 50 or so varieties. The larger number of evergreen and semi-evergreen forms with glossy, dark green foliage blossom in spring and early summer, the handful of paler green leaved deciduous species in summer. Although predominantly in shades of blue, a few varieties produce white or even pink blooms. While individual flowers are tiny, they are massed into dense bobble-headed clusters or more open sprays and are attractive to bees and other pollinators. Variegated forms have also arisen with creamy yellow to white variegation.

Plants vary in height and habit, the largest achieving between 3m (10ft) or more high and wide, while some are smaller, others spreading, making them useful for cascading over larger retaining walls. Plants will maintain a tighter growth habit if regularly clipped after flowering. Plants cut back hard should recover when producing new shoots, with deciduous varieties than evergreen and younger, rather than older proving more amenable.

Ceanothus prefer well-drained soil, and are particularly useful for chalky soil and need full sun. They make good wall shrubs, especially for a south-facing position, where the evergreen species flowering now will be more protected from cold, winter winds. The deciduous species are generally hardier.  


Their period charm will bring cottage-style beauty to borders.


Beloved by gardeners for centuries, hollyhocks add a stately and romantic note to cottage-style plantings, always creating a spectacle in borders or in narrow spaces alongside a wall or house. They are tall, fast-growing biennials or short-lived perennials, particularly if grown in poor soil.

Members of the mallow family, hollyhocks, or Alcea, come from Asia and Europe, producing spires of flowers from a single or cluster of stems, often topping eight feet or more, with vigorous species and hybrids.

The common pink or red-flowered hollyhock, Alcea rosea, found its way from China around 1575, soon spreading around Europe, as did the Siberian pale-yellow fig-leaved, or Antwerp hollyhock, A. ficifolia. Over time the various species have been variously hybridised to produce a range of colourful varieties. The most distinctive are Chater’s forms, developed by Victorian nurseryman William Chater in the 1860s and 70s, with double petals in a range of vibrant and pastel tones, including an enchanting white.   

Hollyhocks are easily raised from seed and if sown early in January or February with a little warmth, they will flower in the first year. Failing that, sow them in spring and grow on in pots, planting out in summer. Young plants are also currently available for planting out now. Hollyhocks thrive in full sun and in most soils, as long as not wet. Although their questing tap root enables them to exploit moisture at depth, it makes them difficult to transplant once established. In windy sites provide additional support, particularly when in flower.

One of the big drawbacks of hollyhocks is rust disease, which first appeared in the 1870s and progressively weakens the plant and disfigures its appearance with bright rusty-orange pustules. It tends to appear in the second year, steadily worsening year by year, which is why hollyhocks are usually grown as biennials or even annuals and historically fell out of favour.  

Thankfully, species such as A. ficifolia and A. rugosa and recent hybrids, such as Thompson and Morgan’s Halo Series and Spotlight Series from German breeder Jelitto show some resistance and are the ones to grow.


Try these enchanting spring perennials for a shady spot.

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If you’re looking for an elegant and effective way to clothe shady ground with decorative foliage then look no further than epimediums. These plants really come into their own at this time of year as wiry stems support new mottled foliage that unfurls in various shades of red, bronze and lime green. As leaves emerge enchanting sprays of four-horned flowers on strand-like stems appear, in almost every shade, except blue, quivering in the breeze like shoals of tiny tropical sea creatures. Related to berberis, a close inspection of the flowers reveals a more complex structure, the various parts sometimes in different tones giving a bicoloured effect. Known as barrenwort or bishops mitre, most epimediums come from China and Asia, while a few, such as E. perralderianum come from Mediterranean regions, and are more able to withstand drier conditions. While some species are deciduous, others are semi-evergreen or evergreen perennials slowly expanding by fine underground rhizomes to form dense weed-proof clumps. While young foliage is often vibrantly patterned in shades of red or bronze as it matures it usually turns green, but in some species the tonal hints or red margin remain. By winters end if plants are looking a little unkempt, simply shear off the foliage just before the new foliage and flowers emerge.

Being woodland plants epimediums enjoy moist, but well-drained soil, but some, such as E. rubrum and E. versicolor will endure drier conditions once fully established. They appreciate a mulch to help keep roots cool and the foliage in good condition. Clumps can be moved or lifted and divided in autumn.

Compact magnolias

These varieties will perform wherever space is a challenge.

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Nothing celebrates the unveiling of spring quite like a magnolia. The goblet-shaped or starry blossoms of these majestic trees and shrubs are a sight to behold and cherished by many, but the ever-popular Magnolia soulangeana is ultimately a large, spreading shrub or tree, often swamping smaller gardens.

For such spaces, varieties that are smaller in stature or slower-growing are especially welcome and thankfully there’s a range of types to choose from, not only spanning the normal purple, pink and white colour range, but also the coveted yellow-flowered forms. Familiar shrubby species such as M. stellata with its star-like blossoms spawned a number of lovely forms such as pink flowered ‘Jane Platt’. M. stellata was crossed with goblet-flowered M. liliflora and its dark pink flowered form ‘Nigra’ at the US National Arboretum in the mid-1950’s to create a range of eight hybrids known as the ‘Little Girl’ series, including compact variety ‘Susan’. Later flowering, they often escape the ravages of late frosts. Yellow-flowered varieties have been formed by crossing a shrubby form of the late-flowering American cucumber tree M. acuminata with the scented white-flowered Chinese species M. denudata to produce varieties such as ‘Lois’ among others.

Being woodland plants, magnolias do best in acid to neutral soil (pH 6.5), preferably rich in organic matter, but which is not waterlogged or prone to drying out in summer.  They love sun, but do best in dappled light, especially when plants are young. They also hate exposure to cold winds, especially as they break bud and the flowers unfurl. Late frost can also damage the flowers so find the most sheltered spot you have.

When planting them, ensure the fleshy roots are level with the soil surface and not buried, watering them in, irrigating further if the weather turns dry. Once planted they don’t like being moved. Varieties such as ‘Leonard Messel’ will tolerate chalky soil, as long as it does not dry out, or the depth of soil is too thin, but the leaves may become yellowed if it is not to its liking.

Compact climbing roses

These repeat-flowering performers are ideal for small gardens

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We’re all easily seduced by the romantic notion of entering our home beneath a sweetly-scented climbing or rambling rose arcing gracefully over the doorway. The reality is that with space often at a premium not all of us are able to achieve the dream. But there are plenty of rose varieties that will transform a patio wall or fence, or an arbour or gazebo, without risk of rampant growth swamping or weighing down the structure.

If there is no soil in which to grow them they can be easily accommodated in larger pots and containers and attached to trellis on walls or the structure of an arbour. Many have been specifically bred to be smaller, with breeders such as Shropshire-based Chris Warner producing ‘Lady Penelope’, ‘Little Rambler’, ‘Open Arms’ and ‘Summertime’ in the last 30 years, among many other notable varieties. Although having a smaller habit, characteristics such as health, vigour and repeat flowering have not been compromised. Many also possess good fragrance, although some are stronger than others, so it pays to choose when in flower if this is a critical factor for you.

Roses can be established either as bare-root plants when dormant from November to mid-March, but at other times need to be established as pot grown plants. The nurseries identified below are able to supply either. Roses need moist, well-drained soil to establish, with a position in sun to semi-shade, while some such as ‘White Star’ are able to tolerate shady conditions, such as found on a north wall. When growing in pots use John Innes No3, with additional grit or Perlite added for drainage rather than multipurpose compost. Final containers should not be smaller than 38cm (15in) in diameter otherwise they will not be able to achieve their ultimate size and spread.

Prune and train the plants in late winter, butting out unruly shoots and removing thin, wispy growth. Feed with chicken manure pellets when plants start into growth and liquid feed with a high potash fertiliser when flower buds are produced.