Christmas rose

A winter winner for lovely flowers and foliage at this time of year

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The Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, is one of those iconic plants of winter that always lifts the spirits, while marvelling at how something so beautiful and elegant can withstand the rigours of seasonal weather.

An evergreen perennial with leathery, multi-fingered leaves, the Christmas rose is found growing wild in Switzerland’s mountains, southern Germany and Austria through to northern Italy. Here, the flower colour is more variable, with purple and pink forms also known.

Preferring moist, semi-shaded conditions and alkaline soils, the Christmas rose loathes dry shade and will struggle beneath trees in dry, rooty soil.

With the advent of bringing a wider diversity of winter flowers for gardeners, it has been crossed with other species to create hybrids that are often intermediate in character and flower earlier than they would do normally, but bring pinkish, or yellowish tones and the stronger habit of the other parent species. H. nigercors is a cross with H. argutifolius (formerly H. corsicus) and H. ballardiae a marriage between H. niger and H. lividus.

Hellebore hybridists such as Hugh Nunn and his daughter Penny Dawson (www.twelvenunns.co.uk; tel: 01778590455) have created the Harvington double form, also known as ‘Harvington Petticoat’.

In recent years, Josef Heuger from Germany, has introduced the Helleborus Gold Collection, or HGC for short, with much improved flowers, earlier flowering and stronger habits. Besides being planted in borders, they can also be grown in pots.

Reblooming iris

Plant these star performers for autumnal oomph!

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Iris that produce a second flush of autumnal flowers may sound like something far-fetched, but there are some varieties, particularly of bearded iris, that possess this very welcome trait.

Although no different in structure or stature to normal varieties, in autumn they produce stems from new growths that burst dramatically into bloom – just as much else in the garden is starting to wane. For maximum effect, mix them with other late-flowering plants, such as chrysanthemums, salvias or dahlias, or cut them for stunning indoor table displays.

Rebloomers, or remontant iris as they are technically known, don’t always flower reliably every year, since their ability to do this is governed by the particular variety, the weather and how healthy they are.

The new growth does not need normal winter chilling to flower, but is stimulated to do so in the cooler temperatures and moist days of autumn, and this year seems to have been good for most remontant bloomers.

With all the extra effort required, they’ll need feeding after flowering, both in spring and autumn, to build up their energy to bloom again. Use a high-potash fertiliser and work it into the soil around the exposed rhizomes.

The rhizomes should be lifted, divided and young rhizomes replanted every three to four years in July, but it may take a few months for them to re-establish and rebloom again.

Viburnum

Use these shrubs for their welcome winter flowers, fruit and foliage

V. tinus 'Lisarose'

V. tinus 'Lisarose'

Viburnums are one of the workhorse shrubs of the garden and while most flower from late spring into early summer, there are some that really make an impact in winter. Besides flowers, viburnums also contribute with colourful and long-lasting fruit and decorative foliage, with evergreen species such as Viburnum tinus making an important visual contribution in winter, while also making a useful hedge.

Although mostly white, or pale pink, the individual small flowers of viburnum are massed into clusters or globular heads with many, particularly those that are winter flowering, also possessing a sweet or musky scent. After the flowers many produce attractive berries in shades of red, yellow and black to metallic blue. Starting in autumn, some like the guelder rose, V. opulus, continue to shine into winter.

Viburnums are adaptable when it comes to the soil they are placed in, as long as they’re not waterlogged or excessively dry. They will tolerate sun through to full shade, although their flowering performance will be hampered if conditions are continually gloomy.

V. opulus and V. tinus are prone to attacks by the creamy, black-spotted larvae and adults of viburnum beetle, which can skeletonise foliage. Use organic insecticides containing pyrethrins and fatty acids when grubs are seen in spring, but stop spraying when plants are flowering to protect pollinators.

Winter camellias

These plants will provide cheer throughout autumn and winter

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Camellias are among the most aristocratic evergreen shrubs, with lustrous leaves and bold, wax-textured flowers in an astonishing range of shapes and forms. While most flower from January through to spring, there are species, hybrids and varieties that lighten shortening days with blossoms through autumn into Christmas.

Many of these are C. sasanqua, from China and Japan, while others come from the fragrant Chinese tea oil C. oleifera or the hybrids C. hiemalis and C. vernalis.

While many are hardy, others, such as varieties of C. oleifera, may need more winter warmth and shelter, particularly in colder gardens. They’re all easily grown in pots of ericaceous compost, which can be brought into a glasshouse or conservatory over the coldest months or, if durable, left outside on the patio all year. Pot cultivation not only provides winter protection, it also helps restrict size and spread, further reduced via light pruning.

Camellias need acid to neutral, moist, but well-drained soil. If they become chlorotic, or yellow-leaved, or are in thin, chalky soils of PH7 and above, growing in pots is best. While they’ll withstand winter sun they need to be kept out of strong sunlight in summer. They also need to be kept moist, particularly in summer when flower buds are being set. Use rainwater wherever possible and feed with ericaceous liquid feed in spring. If plants start to outgrow their space lightly trim back errant shoots immediately after they finish flowering.

Late-flowering tulips

This month is your last chance to plant an exotic spring display

'Menton' tulips

'Menton' tulips

Tulips are among the most iconic spring blossoms, with colours and shapes that far out-dazzle many other seasonal bulbs. They also have a long season from early April through into May but, of the 15 different forms of tulips, the late varieties are particularly useful in providing a crucial floral bridge of colour as warming weather accelerates the garden towards summer.

It’s also a season that can be difficult, as it’s often windy and wet, but late varieties generally have larger blossoms and stout stems that enable them to resist inclement weather. There are also many early-flowering perennials and shrubs to combine their exotic presence with. Their longer stems mean they can be planted among emerging perennials, such as lupins, to over-top them, or among roses that are bursting into leaf.

Although there’s a particular class of tulip called Single Late, which is derived from the oval Darwin and cottage garden types, there are also late-flowering varieties of other classes, such as fringed, lily-flowered and parrot, which collectively compose late forms, so it’s down to you to select the types you need from plant catalogues. Plant bulbs 2-3 times deeper than their height and twice their width apart in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. These types of tulip bulbs are usually discarded after flowering, as they don’t persist year to year, but you can lift the bulbs after the foliage has died back, dry them off and replant the following autumn.

Japanese maple

These oriental favourites are just oozing with autumnal appeal

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Appreciated in Britain for around 200 years, the deciduous Japanese maple Acer palmatum, in its best forms really comes into its own with spectacular autumn tints and colourful winter shoots. Relatively slow growing, shade tolerant with more than 1,000 varieties, this shrub or small tree can be grown in pots or in borders no matter what size of garden you have. The thin, elegant leaves have an incredible range of shape and form, from highly dissected to bold, simple outlines, further expanded through a range of tints and variegations that restrict vigour, further helping keep these decorative varieties small and compact. Equally fascinating, growth habits can be light and airy, dome-shaped, tiered to stiff and architectural.

Native to damp, shady forests of Japan, China and Korea, the tree is highly variable, and has been selected by Japanese gardeners for hundreds of years. It’s an important component of Japanese gardens, often shaped and clipped as an accent tree around a house. Shallow-rooted and easily trained, it became an important subject for traditional bonsai and other creative miniaturising techniques. Japanese maples were first introduced into the UK in 1820, when the country first opened to Western trade and quickly entranced gardeners in Europe, which they still do today. They prefer moist, organic, woodland soil in semi-shade, the foliage is easily crisped if allowed to dry out in full sun. In pots its best to use a general-purpose compost, with added John Innes, rather than heavy, loam-based types. Site pots in a shady spot and keep them regularly watered.

Pumpkins

They’re not just for Hallowe’en and come in all shapes and sizes!

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Pumpkins probably provide the most unusual late splashes of colour in the vegetable garden. Amid the decaying foliage can be found an astonishing array of outlandish fruits that sit on the soil like an elephant’s discarded gem stones. Besides enthralling adults, they’re also a delight for children and an effective way to get them growing plants, if only for the thrill of creating their own Hallowe’en lanterns. Many make good eating too, although we’re still getting to grips with cooking pumpkins in the UK.

Pumpkins have no specific botanical status and are just a type of winter squash, largely derived from Cucurbita pepo, although some of the larger types come from C. maxima. They originate from North America and are widely grown commercially for food as well as decoration, with some types being useful for both. It’s amazing that just one or two species can generate such an incredible range of fruit, of different sizes, shapes and textures from around the world. Pumpkins grow on vigorous spreading or clambering tender annual vines, which can make 1.8m (6ft) or more, taking up quite a bit of space, so are best grown on a bit of vacant land or on an allotment, rather than the treasured vegetable plot. Seeds are usually planted singly in pots under glass or on a windowsill in May, then grown on and hardened off for planting out in rich garden soil in June after the last frosts. Keep your plant watered and fed throughout the summer and help pollination by transferring pollen from bloom to bloom with a paintbrush. If you want to grow a giant just keep one or two fruit and cut back stems, removing other fruit once your chosen fruit starts swelling.

Miniature Cyclamen

These dainty species are far more hardy than their houseplant cousins

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Dainty, nodding flowers of wild cyclamen are a welcome sight in gardens, coming as they do from late summer and late winter into spring. Of the hardy species and forms, they’re one of those plants that once established you can almost forget. You’re only reminded of their presence when they awake from dormancy to enchant you with delicate flowers, patterned and shapely foliage and, in some species and forms, a delicious, sweet scent.

Cyclamen are low-growing, deciduous to semi-evergreen, tuberous plants found throughout the Mediterranean, to southern Europe, North Africa, east into Syria, Lebanon and Iran. They variously inhabit short grassland, rocky outcrops to open woodland glades, making many species usefully shade tolerant. Some, such as C. hederifolium and C. coum, are able to thrive among tree roots, a notoriously difficult situation for gardeners to deal with. With species flowering at different times of the year, particularly late summer into autumn and mid-winter into spring, you can have a succession of blooms from cerise, through to pale pink and white.

They’re highly variable from seed, and nurserymen have selected forms with interesting leaf patterns or flower colours. Pot-grown plants can be planted any time, while dry corms will be seasonally available. Corms don’t need burying, but planted so they’re level with or just proud of the soil. If growing in pots, use a mix of multi-purpose and John Innes, with additional sharp grit for drainage.

Hippeastrum

Plant bulbs in the coming weeks and you’ll have Christmas flowers

Hippeastrum 'Gervase'

Hippeastrum 'Gervase'

The huge, fleshy-rooted bulbs of hippeastrum are available in garden centres right now. These are one of the indoor pleasures of deep winter, producing trumpet flowers on stout stalks. Being almost guaranteed to flower, they make excellent gifts.

Hippeastrum, often erroneously known as amaryllis, come from South America. The first to be hybridised were H. reginae and H. vittatum by a Lancashire watchmaker in 1799, who gave plants to Liverpool’s Botanic Garden. More hybrids followed as more species were introduced. Breeding then moved to the Netherlands and the USA in the late 19th and 20th centuries, then to South Africa and latterly to Japan, India, Brazil and Australia.

The traditional, large-flowered types come in a range of colours, from vermillion-red, through shades of pink, orange and salmon tones to pure white, streaked or striped. Double-petalled forms have been bred with similar patterning. Other colours, such as pale yellow and lime have started to appear, largely through the use of species such as the butterfly hippeastrum H. papilio and narrow petalled H. cybister. Unfortunately very few hybrids are scented.

Plant bulbs six to eight weeks from the date you want them to flower, which means November if you want them in bloom for Christmas. Plant in a pot 5-7½cm (2-3in) wider than the bulb, leaving two thirds of the bulb exposed. Use a general-purpose compost or John Innes No 2, firm and water in. The bulb will produce a flower stem first, followed by strap-shaped leaves. After flowering, remove the spent stem. Keep the bulb moist and fed until late summer, then keep cool 15-18C (60-65F), allow the leaves to dry, then repot and start the cycle again.

Cotoneaster

This garden stalwart is pleasing to the eye and great for wildlife

'Cornubia' a vigorous, semi-evergreen, large shrub or small tree

'Cornubia' a vigorous, semi-evergreen, large shrub or small tree

Although perhaps considered a little bit overused, cotoneaster remains an indispensable garden plant, particularly at this time of year when they produce their characteristic red fruits, either studding the stems or hanging in copious clusters among the leaves.

Their impact is long lasting, whether the species are evergreen or deciduous. There are few woody plants with such a range of shape and form from the stature of small trees, especially if the lower branches are removed, to low creeping mats or tight globes suitable for use in gravel or rock gardens, such as ‘Little Gem’. Some species, such as C. salicifolius, gently weep like a willow, others mould themselves against the surfaces along which they grow. Some have stiff branching forms that provide architectural interest. Shoots of particular varieties such as C. suecicus ‘Juliette’ are grafted on stout cotoneaster stems to produce tree-like, weeping or topiary forms.

Cotoneaster is a member of the rose family, although it’s difficult to appreciate this with small-flowered species. The white or pink and white flowers which appear in early summer produce copious amounts of nectar and are a magnet for pollinators, which soon transfer pollen from plant to plant. They’re useful food plants for various types of moth and the berries are also winter fare for many birds, such as blackbirds, thrushes and waxwings.

Cotoneaster is an easy plant growing in sun or semi-shade in any moist, well-drained soil as long as it doesn’t become constantly wet, especially in winter. It can also be cut back quite severely in spring if it outgrows its space and can easily be trained and shaped so it can meld into any garden style.

Diminutive daffodils

Create a springtime sensation with pots of pint-sized varieties

Not everyone has the space to devote to drifts of daffodils. But there are smaller species and varieties that are ideal for growing in pots or troughs to bring late winter and early spring cheer to gardens of any size. And by growing them in pots they can be moved to where they’ll have most impact. Varieties are derived from naturally small species, such as hoop petticoat daffodil Narcissus bulbocodium or N. triandrus, hybrids between smaller species or selections of taller types and freely available at the moment from many outlets. Plant over the next few weeks. As the bulbs are smaller you don’t need a deep container, so choose one that’s wider than high, ensuring pots have sufficient drainage holes. To get a sizeable display don’t use a pot less than 30cm (12in) in diameter and ideally use a loam-based compost that isn’t too nutrient rich, such as John Innes No 1 or No 2, or a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes. Planting and spacing guidance will accompany each variety, but if not plant bulbs so their tops are 2.5-5cm (1-2in) below the compost surface, and 5cm (2in) apart. Firm the compost and water in thoroughly and place where they are to flower or temporarily in a quiet part of the garden, moving them into position when they start to perform. Keep the compost moist from when growth starts until the flowers fade, when foliage should be allowed to wither away naturally.

Not everyone has the space to devote to drifts of daffodils. But there are smaller species and varieties that are ideal for growing in pots or troughs to bring late winter and early spring cheer to gardens of any size. And by growing them in pots they can be moved to where they’ll have most impact.

Varieties are derived from naturally small species, such as hoop petticoat daffodil Narcissus bulbocodium or N. triandrus, hybrids between smaller species or selections of taller types and freely available at the moment from many outlets.

Plant over the next few weeks. As the bulbs are smaller you don’t need a deep container, so choose one that’s wider than high, ensuring pots have sufficient drainage holes. To get a sizeable display don’t use a pot less than 30cm (12in) in diameter and ideally use a loam-based compost that isn’t too nutrient rich, such as John Innes No 1 or No 2, or a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes. Planting and spacing guidance will accompany each variety, but if not plant bulbs so their tops are 2.5-5cm (1-2in) below the compost surface, and 5cm (2in) apart.

Firm the compost and water in thoroughly and place where they are to flower or temporarily in a quiet part of the garden, moving them into position when they start to perform. Keep the compost moist from when growth starts until the flowers fade, when foliage should be allowed to wither away naturally.

Crocus

These colourful beauties will fill your garden with the joys of spring

Vibrant splashes of colour are a spirit-lifting treat in the depths of winter, and nothing delivers it quite so early and potently as crocus.  While snowdrops beguile with their nodding blossoms, crocus ramp up the ante with an astonishing jewel box of colour that’s just as impressive from a distance as it is up close.  Some varieties are also scented, delectable in the air if planted in clumps or, if you have space, drifts. Now’s the time to order and plant corms in readiness for the display, which starts in February.  Most crocus prefer full sun, in moist, well-drained soil that doesn’t become waterlogged in winter.  Alongside the edges of pathways, gravel driveways and borders is ideal.  Take care not to plant them where they become continually shaded or overgrown by other perennial plants, or they’ll gradually fade away.  They’ll grow through low-carpeting plants and alpines and also look good in rock gardens.  They also make excellent displays in shallow pans or troughs.  Plant corms about 5cm (2in) apart and 5-10cm (2-4in) deep, avoiding aligning them with geometrical precision to give a more natural effect.  You can mix varieties to produce combinations of colour, or a succession of blooms as the early varieties give way to later-flowering types.  After they’ve flowered allow the linear, white-banded leave to wither away naturally, finally disappearing by May.  Once established some species will happily self-seed to make your displays even more effective over the years.

Vibrant splashes of colour are a spirit-lifting treat in the depths of winter, and nothing delivers it quite so early and potently as crocus.  While snowdrops beguile with their nodding blossoms, crocus ramp up the ante with an astonishing jewel box of colour that’s just as impressive from a distance as it is up close.  Some varieties are also scented, delectable in the air if planted in clumps or, if you have space, drifts.

Now’s the time to order and plant corms in readiness for the display, which starts in February.  Most crocus prefer full sun, in moist, well-drained soil that doesn’t become waterlogged in winter.  Alongside the edges of pathways, gravel driveways and borders is ideal.  Take care not to plant them where they become continually shaded or overgrown by other perennial plants, or they’ll gradually fade away.  They’ll grow through low-carpeting plants and alpines and also look good in rock gardens.  They also make excellent displays in shallow pans or troughs.  Plant corms about 5cm (2in) apart and 5-10cm (2-4in) deep, avoiding aligning them with geometrical precision to give a more natural effect.  You can mix varieties to produce combinations of colour, or a succession of blooms as the early varieties give way to later-flowering types.  After they’ve flowered allow the linear, white-banded leave to wither away naturally, finally disappearing by May.  Once established some species will happily self-seed to make your displays even more effective over the years.

Border dahlias

It’s time to let these gorgeous late blooms do the talking

Dahlias are the late summer sirens of the garden.  Brassy and self-confident, smoulderingly exotic or subtly demure, they enchant with their kaleidoscope of colours and range of intriguing forms.  Let those who like the showing blooms focus on creating perfection, while you display them in borders in all their glory, growing types that are just a little bit out of the ordinary. When growing them in borders plan ahead, leaving sufficient space among existing perennials and shrubs so they don’t swamp them and can be easily lifted at the end of the year.  There are smaller varieties that are more suited to the edges of borders or pots.  They also look good combined with late annuals such as cosmos and zinnias.  Most are easy to please, being vigorous growers they need little fertiliser, just moisture and sun.  Taller forms will need staking, particularly if the blossoms are large and easily waterlogged.  When blooms are spent, trim them off to encourage more to come and prolong the dazzling display. After ordering tubers by later winter, or obtaining rooted cuttings, start them off in pots in spring and plant them out after the last frost.  In autumn, depending on where you live, remove top growth after it has been frosted, then lift the tubers and store for winter, ready to start the cycle again next year or try another variety or two.

Dahlias are the late summer sirens of the garden.  Brassy and self-confident, smoulderingly exotic or subtly demure, they enchant with their kaleidoscope of colours and range of intriguing forms.  Let those who like the showing blooms focus on creating perfection, while you display them in borders in all their glory, growing types that are just a little bit out of the ordinary.

When growing them in borders plan ahead, leaving sufficient space among existing perennials and shrubs so they don’t swamp them and can be easily lifted at the end of the year.  There are smaller varieties that are more suited to the edges of borders or pots.  They also look good combined with late annuals such as cosmos and zinnias.  Most are easy to please, being vigorous growers they need little fertiliser, just moisture and sun.  Taller forms will need staking, particularly if the blossoms are large and easily waterlogged.  When blooms are spent, trim them off to encourage more to come and prolong the dazzling display.

After ordering tubers by later winter, or obtaining rooted cuttings, start them off in pots in spring and plant them out after the last frost.  In autumn, depending on where you live, remove top growth after it has been frosted, then lift the tubers and store for winter, ready to start the cycle again next year or try another variety or two.

Autumn gentians

Bring bold and bright blues to your plot with these late flowerers

One of the glories of September are the blooms of late-flowering gentians.  Their colours are astounding, wowing in varying tones of iridescent kingfisher blue to deep, brooding cobalt, which in some varieties is additionally lined or splashed in white.  There are few pure white forms that have either been obtained from the wild, or specifically selected or developed by enthusiasts, along with a few pink forms, but these miss the true brilliance of what autumn gentians are all about. The most well-known species is Gentiana sino-ornata, which was found by plant hunter George Forrest in Yunnan, China in 1904, and again in 1910.  The plant produces a mat of creeping stems which become covered in bright blue 7.5cm (3in) long trumpets in sun or very light shade.  These autumn-flowering gentians need acid soil, preferring some moisture, but not constantly wet conditions.  If your soil’s chalky, but you want to try these plants, don’t despair as they can also be grown in pans or troughs of ericaceous compost, but don’t forget to keep them watered, ideally with rain, rather than tap water, especially in hot or dry weather.  Their breathtaking flowers are worth all the effort. There’s only one oddity, the willow-leaf gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea from the high pastures of Europe, producing clumps of arching stems, studded with tubular flowers.  It’s not fussy about soil, preferring it to be rich, moist and semi-shaded.  It’s a great addition to the border, making a feature when many other perennials are past their best.

One of the glories of September are the blooms of late-flowering gentians.  Their colours are astounding, wowing in varying tones of iridescent kingfisher blue to deep, brooding cobalt, which in some varieties is additionally lined or splashed in white.  There are few pure white forms that have either been obtained from the wild, or specifically selected or developed by enthusiasts, along with a few pink forms, but these miss the true brilliance of what autumn gentians are all about.

The most well-known species is Gentiana sino-ornata, which was found by plant hunter George Forrest in Yunnan, China in 1904, and again in 1910.  The plant produces a mat of creeping stems which become covered in bright blue 7.5cm (3in) long trumpets in sun or very light shade.  These autumn-flowering gentians need acid soil, preferring some moisture, but not constantly wet conditions.  If your soil’s chalky, but you want to try these plants, don’t despair as they can also be grown in pans or troughs of ericaceous compost, but don’t forget to keep them watered, ideally with rain, rather than tap water, especially in hot or dry weather.  Their breathtaking flowers are worth all the effort.

There’s only one oddity, the willow-leaf gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea from the high pastures of Europe, producing clumps of arching stems, studded with tubular flowers.  It’s not fussy about soil, preferring it to be rich, moist and semi-shaded.  It’s a great addition to the border, making a feature when many other perennials are past their best.

Japanese anemones

These elegant plants will fill your garden with gorgeous late colour

Nothing eases the bright lights of summer into the softer days of autumn like the Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis.  Both it and its kin start flowering in August, producing flurries of durable, pink or white blossoms right through to the last gasp of many late-summer daises.  Pink flowered A. hupehensis comes from China, but has been grown and escaped from gardens in Japan for long it also appears native there, too.  The hybrid, A. hybrida first appeared in the RHS garden at Chiswick in 1848 and has spawned many new varieties.  The species is characterised by five petals, but there are semi-double varieties with more, often giving a ruffled appearance.  They’re at home in most soils, but prefer those which are neutral and moist, but well drained.  They don’t like dry soil, full sun, or constantly wet conditions in winter. They take time to establish, but when happy clumps can expand into neighbouring perennials and shrubs.  They also hate disturbance so don’t cram them into small borders.  After flowering cut back after the first frost or leave stems in winter and cut back in spring.  To propagate, either take root cuttings in autumn or lift a small, youthful portion of the clump while dormant and transfer it to its new home.

Nothing eases the bright lights of summer into the softer days of autumn like the Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis.  Both it and its kin start flowering in August, producing flurries of durable, pink or white blossoms right through to the last gasp of many late-summer daises.  Pink flowered A. hupehensis comes from China, but has been grown and escaped from gardens in Japan for long it also appears native there, too.  The hybrid, A. hybrida first appeared in the RHS garden at Chiswick in 1848 and has spawned many new varieties.  The species is characterised by five petals, but there are semi-double varieties with more, often giving a ruffled appearance.  They’re at home in most soils, but prefer those which are neutral and moist, but well drained.  They don’t like dry soil, full sun, or constantly wet conditions in winter.

They take time to establish, but when happy clumps can expand into neighbouring perennials and shrubs.  They also hate disturbance so don’t cram them into small borders.  After flowering cut back after the first frost or leave stems in winter and cut back in spring.  To propagate, either take root cuttings in autumn or lift a small, youthful portion of the clump while dormant and transfer it to its new home.

Salvias

Brighten up your borders with their abundant spires of vivid colour

Late summer is an exciting time, when lots of exotic blossoms come into their own in a riot of colour.  At the forefront are late-flowering salvias, both species and hybrids derived from varieties in warmer parts of the world such as the southern states of the USA, Mexico and South America. Their appearance is highly variable, a motely band spanning herbaceous perennials, small, thin-twigged shrublets to taller perennials with a woody rootstock.  Most have strongly aromatic foliage, often beautifully shaped or textured.  Whether large or small, the wide-lipped, hooded flowers are unmistakeable. This group come in a wide range of jazzy to demure colours, from screaming reds, vibrant blues and dramatic purples, to dreamy pinks, creamy yellows and serene whites – and just about everything in between.  Taller ones look good threaded through dahlias and late-season daises, such as rudbeckias, while shrubbier kinds are good in pots or at the front of borders. All need full sun and like some moisture, but they need good drainage, particularly in winter.  Cut back the perennial kinds after the first frost and give the shrubbier ones a trim in late spring.  Their hardiness is relative to where you live and the prevailing winter, so be prepared to experiment.  A light mulch also helps protect roots from frost.  A few softwood cuttings overwintered under glass act as an insurance policy. If you want to attract pollinators, varieties with short flower tubes are best for bees and butterflies so their tongues can reach the nectar inside.

Late summer is an exciting time, when lots of exotic blossoms come into their own in a riot of colour.  At the forefront are late-flowering salvias, both species and hybrids derived from varieties in warmer parts of the world such as the southern states of the USA, Mexico and South America.

Their appearance is highly variable, a motely band spanning herbaceous perennials, small, thin-twigged shrublets to taller perennials with a woody rootstock.  Most have strongly aromatic foliage, often beautifully shaped or textured.  Whether large or small, the wide-lipped, hooded flowers are unmistakeable.

This group come in a wide range of jazzy to demure colours, from screaming reds, vibrant blues and dramatic purples, to dreamy pinks, creamy yellows and serene whites – and just about everything in between.  Taller ones look good threaded through dahlias and late-season daises, such as rudbeckias, while shrubbier kinds are good in pots or at the front of borders.

All need full sun and like some moisture, but they need good drainage, particularly in winter.  Cut back the perennial kinds after the first frost and give the shrubbier ones a trim in late spring.  Their hardiness is relative to where you live and the prevailing winter, so be prepared to experiment.  A light mulch also helps protect roots from frost.  A few softwood cuttings overwintered under glass act as an insurance policy.

If you want to attract pollinators, varieties with short flower tubes are best for bees and butterflies so their tongues can reach the nectar inside.

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.