Native foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) grow freely around our garden and we love them. In general we are very happy to just allow them to grow and flower where they seed themselves and if they are in the wrong place they are easily moved or removed.
However, there are also some named varieties which add a real wow factor to a herbaceous border. Two of our favourites are ‘Elsey Kelsey’ (pictured above) and ‘Apricot Delight’.
Foxgloves are biennials and we would normally sow these around the time of the summer solstice and grow them on for planting out around the autumn equinox. The plants will then grow on and establish in the flower beds over winter to flower the following May and June. We find them very trouble free and not generally attacked by pests or diseases.
Elsey Kelsey (also known as Pam’s Choice) has huge long spikes of flower which reach 7-8 feet in our garden. The white flowers have densely speckled maroon throats and are loved by the bees who are constant visitors.
Last year we planted Elsey Kelsey in front of a climbing pale yellow rose (Rose ‘The Pilgrim‘) which created a stunning combination.
Also in the same bed we used a combination of the Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’, the pale yellow Sisyrinchium striatum and a deep blue/purple lupin (probably ‘The Governor’) to extend the colour palette towards the front of the border.
A second named variety of foxglove worth mentioning is ‘Apricot Delight’ (also known as ‘Sutton’s Apricot’). This is not quite as tall as Elsey Kelsey but has really dense spikes of pale apricot flowers. It still works well when combined with climbing roses (here shown with Rose ‘Constance Spry‘). In my view the pale pink and apricot sit beautifully together and are complemented by the brick red lupin ‘My Castle’.
The Latin name for the genus Digitalis comes from the Latin digitus meaning ‘a finger’. Each individual flower on the spike resembles the finger of a glove. According to Seedaholic (where there is a wealth of fascinating titbits on a wide range of flowers) the English name of Foxglove does not come from foxes but from the phrase ‘folk’s gloves’ meaning belonging to the fairy folk. Another common name is fairy thimbles (British flowers names can be so enchanting!).
It is worth noting that the whole foxglove plant is extremely poisonous and it is worth wearing gloves when handling plants or seeds.
I always try to sow my biennials before the summer soltice (20th June) so that the plants are big enough to plant out by the autumn equinox (22 September) and can establish well before the winter. We have not had rain for many, many, many weeks but today was a wet one and ideal for spending time in a cozy greenhouse sowing next year’s flowers.
Just as the garden is coming into full swing it does seem a little strange to be starting things off for next year but that is how we will enjoy the same fabulous show again in 2021.
Here are the things I have been sowing today and my Six-on-Saturday for this week.
One: Foxglove ‘Pam’s Choice’
I love to have foxgloves popping up around the garden and Pam’s Choice is a particular favourite with its white flowers and purple throat. It is similar to Elsey Kelsey which I also like. This year it has looked striking growing with the purple hesperis.
Two: Hesperis (Sweet Rocket)
We grow both the purple and white forms of Sweet Rocket. They are just coming to an end now and are making way for planting out summer annuals. The white form is lovely for brightening up a shadey corner or setting off a dark hedge. As an added bonus it seems to attract many early butterflies.
For me Hesperis looks best when planted in a decent group of plants rather than singly. This year we have grown it to great effect with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Tulip ‘City of Vancouver’. It does however need a bit of staking.
Three: Erysimum (Wallflowers)
Over the years Wallflowers have been used extensively in municipal parks and gardens as part of brightly coloured carpet bedding schemes. They have perhaps become a little ‘out of fashion’. We try to use ours in a much more informal way within our early spring borders. They give a range of rich colours which are unusual in the early spring and sit very well with tulips and other spring bulbs.
Today I have been sowing ‘Blood Red’ and ‘Fire King’ (which look great together amongst pale blue forget-me-nots) as well as ‘Vulcan’ and ‘Ruby Gem’. In addition I have sown ‘Ivory White’ which you can just see in the picture above with the Alliums. It wasn’t particularly successful this year but its creamy yellow flowers showed great promise and I think I will try and get more going for this bed next year.
Four: Foxglove ‘Apricot’
This tall Apricot foxglove creates a very different effect from the ‘normal’ pink and white forms. I put it with the Sweet Williams this year and they create a lovely contrast.
Five: Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William)
We started to grow the variety ‘Auricula Eyed Mixed’ when we were cutting flowers as event florists. It is tall with nice robust stems and seems to be generally free from rust problems if you don’t overcrowd the plants.
The plants produce masses of seeds each year which I collect and keep for sowing in June. I try to create new plants each year but many of the plants seem to be perennial. If you cut them back hard after flowering they produce new fresh growth and keep flowering into the autumn. They seem to stay green most of the winter in our garden and a bit of a tidy up and a feed in the spring produces another crop of flowers the following year. Here they are growing amongst Nigella to great effect.
This is not a biennial but I came across the seeds we collected last year from these dark pink astrantia plants. What is wonderful about collecting your own seed is that you get so very much more than you receive when you buy seeds from commercial companies. You do seem to get less and less seeds in a packet these days.
The astrantia seeds from last year all look really good so rather than let them go to waste I will have a go at getting them to germinate. Many perennials like to have a period of chilling so that they think they have had a winter and are now emerging into the warmer springtime. To mimic this I have put the tray of sown seeds into the fridge for 4 weeks in a plastic bag and will then bring them out into the warmth to let them germinate. I will report back on how I get on.
Campanulas are without doubt one of the most charming of cottage garden plants. The taller species typically grown in gardens provide heads of loose open bell-like flowers in blue, white, purple and sometimes pink. Some however have a low creeping habit and are very at home around the edge of a patio or tumbling over stones in a rockery.
There are over 500 species in the genera Campanula¹ and so it is going to be difficult to do the genus justice. I will concentrate here on those that we grow in the gardens at Waverley or have used as cut flowers over the years (C. medium, C. persicifolia, C. latifolia, C. glomerata, C. pyramidalis and C. portenschlagiana).
Campanulas mainly come from the temperate and sub-tropical regions of the northern hemisphere. Many are native to Europe originating in the Mediterranean and eastwards to the Caucasus mountains. Understanding where these plants come from and the conditions they enjoy in the wild, is critical to providing them with the conditions in which they will thrive in your own garden.
Some species of Campanula are annuals, whilst others are biennials or perennials. Although species like C. medium may be perennial in some areas we tend to grow them as biennials so that we get fresh vigorous flowering plants each year.
Sowing from seed is very straight forward. The seeds are very small and typically we would sow thinly onto the surface of moist compost in the spring and then cover the tray with cling film until the seeds germinate. I usually remove the cling film as soon as the green shoots emerge to avoid any danger of damping off. Try to avoid watering from the top as the seeds will easily be washed into the corner of your tray.
Once the seedlings have their first true leaves they can be pricked out into larger trays or modules and grown on. They seem to transplant very successfully. As we grow species like C. medium as biennials we prick them out into large modules where they stay until mid-September. At this point the established plants are very easy to set out in groups around the garden where they over winter and flower in early summer.
The hardy perennial species eg. C. persicifolia are perhaps easier to propagate by division every few years. I simply dig up a clump, separate out the new rosettes and pot them up into individual 9cm pots filled with a mix of perlite and multi-purpose compost.
All of our Campanulas do well throughout the garden when planted in full sun or partial shade. As tall plants C. medium look very effective peeking out behind our low formal Lonicera nitida hedges and in front of the more informal woodland edge of the garden boundary . Many writers recommend that they prefer a moist but well drained soil.
Pest and diseases
I have to say that we find all our Campanulas to be pretty resilient to pest and diseases. It is reported that they are susceptible to slugs and snails but we have very little problem (perhaps they are attracted away by other more tasty morsels!).
It is also reported that they are prone to powdery mildew and rust diseases but again we have had little problem with these diseases on our plants. In order to see the flowers at their best we do space the plants well apart and this may well allow plenty of air to circulate between them thus keeping these diseases at bay.
Armitage and Laushman² report that Campanulas do not seem to need a period of cold treatment to start producing rosette leaves but do need a period of cold to initiate flowering. C. persicifolia, for example, requires 12 weeks at or below 4°C to initiate flowering. Treating sown plants as biennials seems to sit well with these findings. Our spring sown plants of C. medium do not seem to flower in the year that they are sow. However, planted out in mid-September and allowed to over winter in the cold flower beds they produce robust, upright, tall plants that flower over a long period.
Armitage and Laushman also indicate that C. persicifolia is day neutral which means it flowers under both short or long days once the cold treatment requirements have been satisfied. For other Campanula species long days are required for flowering after vernalisation. (see: How plants use day length to decide when to flower (Photoperiodism) for more background on this).
It would appear that the new Champion series of Campanula medium does not require cold treatment which means they can be grown more effectively in greenhouse conditions. This helps enormously if you are growing purely to produce cut flowers and want a longer season of production.
Cutting and conditioning
It is certainly our experience that the tall varieties of Campanula all make excellent cut flowers. The inflorescence opens from the bottom providing a long period of interest in the vase and in the garden.
Typically you would cut when the bottom one or two flowers have coloured and are open. We use a standard conditioning approach of cutting the flowers directly into cool, clean water containing ‘flower food’ to keep the water fresh and minimise bacterial development.
The stems often produce sap when cut so it is wise to keep them in a separate bucket from other flowers, rinsing the cut stems every 20 minutes or so until the sap stops flowing.
C. medium, C. persicifolia, C. latifolia and C. pyramidalis all offer a light, airy and open effect which is ideal for natural, country style arrangements and bouquets. C. glomerata is perhaps more structural, upright and dense in form but its strong purple shade works well with bold colours like oranges and scarlets.
Whereas many of the Campanulas we grow are upright and need some support to produce quality blooms we have seen beautiful trailing forms on our travels in Croatia and Montenegro this year growing in very dry, well drained, rocky conditions on walls and buildings. It is often very difficult to get good trailing colour for use in flower arrangements and this growing approach is well worth considering.
Campanula medium (Canterbury Bells)
Originating from southern Europe¹ these large robust plants grow to 2 feet to 2 feet 6 inches in height. They have a long flowering season starting in June and continue through to August. As the flowers open consecutively from the bottom to the top they provide a long period of interest and colour. They are quite heavy plants and although they have robust stems they do tend to need some support to stop them looking untidy.
We grown these from seed each year and treat them as biennials. The RHS considers them to have a hardiness rating of H4 (Hardy through most of the UK (-10 to -5)).
We have grown two forms: the cup and saucer varieties which have big robust flowers on strong stems and also the singles (which do not have the saucers). We do find these rather ‘chunky’ in nature and are not really delicate enough for use in bouquets and small arrangements.
The ‘Champion’ series, however, that you typically get from your floristry wholesaler are a very different cut flower and we have used these extensively over the years. Grown as an annual they can be brought through to flowering in around 15 weeks. They are available in a range of colours from blue through white and to pink.
Campanula persicifolia (the peach leaved campanula)
To my mind C. persicifolia is rather more attractive and delicate than C. medium. This species is a perennial that is native to most of Europe and the Benelux countries eastwards towards Central and Southern Russia and North West Turkey³. It seeds itself freely around our garden but is also easy to multiply by division (the latter technique particularly useful if you want to bulk up the delicate ‘alba’ form).
C. persicifolia has evergreen foliage and has been given the H7 hardiness rating by the RHS (Hardy in the severest European continental climates (< -20)). In nature it grows in meadows, open woods and on the edge of forests.
As with C. medium the inflorescence opens from the bottom to the top. This give a long period of flowering in the garden border. Flowering can be extended still further by dead heading. In this case you are not removing the whole flower spike but removing the individual dead flowers before they set seed. You will find new flowers develop at the base of each flower stem.
Campanula pyramidalis (the Chimney Bell Flower)
When grown well C. pyramidalis can grow up to 2 metres in height producing tall spikes of pyramid shapes flowers that are excellent for large flower arrangements. Flowering from May until July, it is a short-lived perennial that, like C. medium, is often grown as a biennial. It is native to southern Europe and the western Balkans¹.
Campanula glomerata (the clustered bellflower)
C. glomerata is a vigorous rhizomatous perennial that has a tendency to sucker. The species is native to the North Temperate Zone of Eurasia, from Europe to Japan¹. It grows to around 1-2 feet in height producing clusters of typically deep purple flowers on strong stems. There is also a beautiful crisp white variety (see below). The RHS website indicates that it is hardy in the severest European continental climates (< -20) (RHS hardiness rating H7).
Campanula latifolia (the giant bellflower)
Very much more delicate than C. glomerata or C. medium, C. latifolia is one of my favourite Campanulas in the garden. It seeds freely and seems to come back without problems year after year in a rather inhospitable spot in the garden. We tried to move some seedlings to what we considered to be rather better soil and they just did not ‘do’. The answer I think is that that actually like poor dry soil.
C. latifolia is again native to Europe extending to western Asia as far east as Kashmir.
Campanula portenschlagiana (the wall bellflower)
Very different in form from the others mentioned in this article is C. portenschlagiana. This is a very robust, low growing creeping plant that in our garden grows in minimal soil around the base of the house and patio steps. It was at the house well before we arrived 25 years ago and I am sure will still be about when we finally leave. It produces masses of blue flowers throughout the summer.
It is an alpine plant and requires a very well drained area in full sun to thrive. We have found that is does not compete well with plants like Saxifraga x urbium (London Pride) which can easily swap this Campanula if not kept in check.
And finally some trivia …
Su Whale⁴ in her guide on cut flowers cites the following charming piece of flower trivia. In Germany and in the Netherlands the Campanula flower is known as ‘Rapunzal Bellflower’ and supposedly was the inspiration behind Grimm’s fairy tale.
We may be very used to eating their green vegetable cousins but some members of the family Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae) prove to be very colourful, and in some instances highly perfumed, garden plants.
Here are six that are currently flowering in the garden or will be coming into bloom in the next few weeks. Some like wallflowers, honesty and sweet rocket are biennials and we seeded these last summer (To sow or not to sow? When is the right time to sow seeds for the flower garden?) and planted out in the early autumn to overwinter in the flower beds. Others (eg. candytuft and aubretia) are fully hardy perennials.
The old family name Cruciferae is derived from the structure of the four petals of the flowers arranged in the shape of a cross. Most have pod-like seed heads and some (eg. honesty) provide beautiful cutting and arranging material in their own right.
Although some of these may be considered rather ‘old fashioned’ flowers, I think that with good design they can be used to great effect to create strong vibrant and highly scented combinations that work well in a contemporary setting.
It is worth being aware that being closely related to other brassicas these varieties can suffer from the same pests and diseases as other members of the cabbage family. It is worth rotating their position around the garden trying not to plant into the same soil year after year.
Here are my six for this week:
One: Wallflower – this is wallflower ‘Blood red’ and ‘Fire King’ set amongst Jan Reus tulips to great effect. We also have wallflower ‘Fire King’ flowering with deep blue perennial cornflowers to create a striking contrast.
Two: Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock ( Cardamine pratensis ) – this is a charming spring flower that emerges in damp grassland year after year. Its names derives from the fact that it flowers at the same as the first cuckoos are heard. It is also the food plant for Orange Tip butterflies ¹.
Three: Honesty (Lunnaria annua) – growing here in the woodland walk and providing a vivid additional colour in the dappled shade.
Four: Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) – a biennial that was sown last summer and nutured throughout the winter. The purple and white flowers have a wonderful scent ideal for filling the evening garden with perfume or cutting for the house.
Five: Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) – this hardy perennial plant on the edge of the rockery seems to thrive every year.
Six: Aubretia – an immediately familiar plant but one that I only recently discovered was in the Brassicaceae . In spring these mounds of Aubretia tumble down the walls at the front of the house making a spectacular sight every year. Once flowered it is important to cut them into shape and trim off the flower heads with shears so that you get fresh lush growth to flower next year.
Honey Pot Flowersare wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.
At this time of year the spring sunshine is beginning to shine and you just want to get out in the fresh air and garden. But when is the right time to sow seeds to achieve that wonderful show of garden flowers throughout the year?
For us, sowing for this year began last June around the summer solstice. In mid-June we sow our biennials. These are plants that develop in the first year, grow on to develop good root systems and survive outside in the winter weather with few problems. Biennials will give a good early show of colour when they flower the following year. There are some wonderful flowers for cutting and fragrance in this group which include the foxgloves, Hesperis (sweet rocket), some Campanulas, wallflowers and of course Sweet William. Our biennials are ready for planting out into the flower garden by September so that they develop strong root systems to allow them to over winter.
Our second sowing period is around the autumn equinox. By mid-September we like to have sown our hardy annuals. Hardy annuals are tough enough to over winter so that they are already decent sized plants by the spring. This gives you a head start and results in much earlier flowering. The aim is to sow your hardy annuals late enough so that they don’t try to flower before the winter but earlier enough that the plants are large enough to survive the cold. We tend to over winter most of our hardy annuals under glass but some can grow on outside quite happily. The hardy annuals we grow include the likes of Nigella, larkspur, cornflowers, corncockle, feverfew, Ridolflia and some annual Scabious. Antirrhinums and Bupleurum may not be considered hardy annuals but we find that they do over winter in an unheated greenhouse if you are lucky.
Our first sowing of half hardy and tender annuals is usually complete by the spring equinox. We get many annuals started indoors in the heat and grow them on under lights until they can be moved out into the greenhouse and polytunnels. These will not find their way out into the garden until after all risk of frost has passed. The list we grow is too long to include here but some of our favourites include Cosmos, Salvias, Amaranthus, Ageratum, Didiscus, Rubeckias, Malope and many many more.
Pictures of the flowers we grow can be found on our Pinterest Boards in the monthly flower libraries. After the spring equinox we will sow further batches to ensure that we get a good succession of both hardy and half hardy annuals. It is possible to sow directly into the ground when the ground warms up but we find we have too many failures that way. Instead we grow in trays and modules and plant out when the weather is kinder and the plants are well established.
It is fair to say therefore that sowing does not really begin in the spring but instead in mid-summer and we find the summer solstice and autumn and spring equinox a good way to plan our year.
One of the great things about planning and developing a new flower garden is that it is a wonderful excuse to go out and seek inspiration from other people’s gardens (not that we really need much of an excuse to visit the beautiful gardens across England!).
During last week (w/b 7 October 2017) we visited four varied Herefordshire gardens to find out how they had maintained the colour in their borders into October. We want to be able to extend the flowering season well into autumn if possible. We had not visited any of the gardens before and everyone offered something to think about.
Firstly a little about the gardens and then we will say something about the planting combinations we discovered:
Located at Hope Under Dinmore just south of Leominster, Hampton Court has been standing by the River Lugg for 600 years. This wonderful ‘formal’ garden is divided into a number of garden rooms with island pavilions, pleached avenues, grottoes, a yew maze and more. We thoroughly enjoyed this garden and will try and visit again at other times of year.
A National Trust garden situated near Yarpole and the home of some wonderful ancient oak and spanish chestnut trees. If you like walking and have a dog the estate is dog friendly and there are a range of well marked walks throughout the parkland. The castle has a walled garden and working vineyard.
A plantman’s garden with a wide range of interesting and unusual trees and plants. Located in the grounds of a building of the arts and crafts period the garden draws on specimens brought back by the plant hunters of the period. The garden boasts over 90 champion trees.
An absolutely stunning Georgian Manor and parkland near Leominster. The manor sits within the last landscape commission of ‘Capability’ Brown as well as having excellent walled gardens, kitchen garden and orchards.
October colour in these enchanting gardens
The first observation is that it is clearly possible to maintain the colour in your herbaceous borders right into October as long as you are clear of frost.
At Berrington Hall we saw beds of complementary colours brimming with colourful cosmos in a range of varieties and shades, complemented with pink malope (Malope trifida). These beds also made use of Nicotiana sylvestris creating a wonderful structural candelabra effect (and I suspect that in the evening these beds would also be bathed in scent). Contrasting some of the darker, purple cosmos was the lovely perennial sunflower which we assume was the variety ‘Lemon Queen’
Berrington Hall also made wonderful use of grasses within the borders which really come into their own as this time of year. The tall Miscanthus with its slightly pinkish seeds heads sits well with the candelabra of the Nicotiana sylvestris, Malope trifida and cleome. The Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ brings in a subtle red/brown which works well with the rest of the border.
But of course contrasting colours can give a totally different effect and bring a zing to a border. At Croft Castle the perennial sunflower ‘Lemon Queen’ sits alongside the tall floating stems of Verbena bonariensis. In the evening light this Verbena almost has a fluorescence as the light fades.
And lets us not forget the strong shades of autumn colour that can really bring a garden to life. Here at Croft Castle the Vitis coignetiae was in its full glory in the walled garden.
At Hergest Croft Garden we saw a more traditional autumn border of michaelmas daisies, sedum and saxifrage in pink, mauve and white. Very much loved by butterflies at this time of year these combinations are not to be under estimated.
In contrast, Hergest Croft also showed that the more tender perennials such as Salvia confertifloraand Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’ can still provide striking border plants at this time of year if frosty nights have not yet arrived. Mixed with dahlias and other salvias and edged with Liriope muscari these borders are still brimming with colour into October.
Dahlias also featured in the beds at Hampton Court Castle gardens along with white cosmos to give a light airy feel and more cottage style to the borders. A very striking addition was the strong architectural shape of the deep burgundy amaranthus, grasses and white cleome in these borders – stunningly effective planting.
In addition to this stunning planting of complementary shades, many of the borders a Hampton Court Castle also used contrasting colours to great effect. Combinations of strong blue with a very dense double ‘feverfew’ and also the yellow perennial Rudbeckia fulgida with tall stands of blue Monkshood (Aconitum) made wonderful combinations for an October border.
Plenty to think about…
Well there is certainly no doubt that, with planning, your herbaceous borders can look full of colour right into October. We will certainly be adding some of these combinations to our future planting plans for the new garden and I hope it has also inspired you to see that the garden has much to offer at this time of year and is not simply shutting down for the winter.
The Honey Pot Flowers cutting garden has been a very productive space over the last six years providing us with a wide range of beautiful cut flowers for use in our wedding flowers, gifts and celebration bouquets.
However to grow efficiently and provide easy cutting the garden was created in long straight beds using large blocks of the same species or variety. It worked very well for us but we have decided that we want now to develop the garden to be more aesthetically pleasing, still a cutting garden but somewhere that you want to stop, sit and enjoy.
Visitors often think the cutting garden will be a wonderful sight, full of colour, but in reality there is often little to see as it has all been picked. By its very nature an efficient, large commercial cutting garden will be constantly picking and there should only be a few flowers in bloom.
Our aim over the next few years is to move away from a production orientated flower garden to one that a wonderful place to be. No longer large blocks of a single species but a garden that has wonderful colour combinations and fragrant flowers, changing naturally as the seasons develop.
During the last six years, working as wedding florists with seasonal British flowers, we have learnt a lot about bringing together stunning combinations and arrangements. We recognise that these ‘bouquets’ cannot necessarily be created in a garden setting as many of the plants you use in a bouquet may need different growing conditions. However, what we are seeking to create as you look across the garden each day of the year is a series of colour themed cameos along similar lines.
This vision requires a major change to the layout and design of our flower garden. It will continue to include a wide range of annuals, biennials and perennials but will increasingly involve more shrubs and roses.
I call this approach formal informality. We have used this in other parts of the garden very effectively, combining formal well clipped hedging with cottage garden planting of foxgloves, hesperis and campanulas. In my view the association works very well and creates a striking effect.
In addition to adding more formal hedging and having fun with our planting plans we are also looking to use height variations to add additional interest.