Ageratum houstonianum – a plant with a secret defence mechanism

We have grown Ageratum houstonianum, the Mexican Paintbrush, for a number of years now. Originally we knew Ageratum as one of those short carpet bedding plants that you would see alongside red salvias and orange marigolds in council bedding schemes in the local park.

Some ten years ago we started up Honey Pot Flowers and were trying out new varieties to grow and include in our summer bouquets of British country flowers. We were introduced to the F1 variety ‘Blue Horizon’ which produces flowers on much longer, robust stems and holds extremely well as a cut flower. We have been growing it ever since.

This variety of Ageratum has large, dense flower heads of powder blue. It is not a colour that you find very often in the garden and so makes an interesting addition to both the flower borders and cut flower arrangements. Most importantly, once established it does seem to be a very well behaved plant, growing and flowering reliably throughout the summer.

It is a native of Central America and Mexico and it is worth noting that in some countries it is considered an invasive weed. We have certainly not found this to be a problem here in the UK climate.

I have just sown this year’s seeds (14th February). The tiny seeds are surface sown on a half tray of pre-watered, well drained multi-purpose compost. To ensure the seedlings do not damp off in their early days we mix the compost with a generous amount of perlite. I like to water the compost before sowing so that the tiny seeds do not get washed into the corner.

The half tray is covered with cling film to remove the need for any extra watering before the seedlings emerge. They will sit on a warmish kitchen windowsill now for a few weeks until the green shoots appear at which point we will slowly loosen the cover and acclimatise the small plants before removing the cling film altogether.

Looking at previous years’ records I will be pricking these out into larger trays in about five weeks time (towards the end of March), and will have planted them out into the garden by 6th May. They are not frost hardy so this would need to be adjusted to suit your own circumstances.

Our past records also indicate that we have been picking Ageratum for cutting by mid-June and they then continue to flower right through to the first frosts in the Autumn.

Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’ arranged together with Phlox, Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’, Liatris and pink Clary Sage

Over the years we have tried them in various parts of the garden but they do seem to grow best in full sun in soil that remains moist all the summer. Our garden soil can dry out rapidly in the height of the summer but there are areas in part shade that retain some moisture in the soil. The Ageratum also seem to thrive in these areas.

What we particularly like about Ageratum is how trouble free it is. It does not seem to be attacked by pests which is ideal if you want to grow good quality, clean stems for cutting, arranging and/or selling. In researching the plant this year I was surprised to find that it has its own secret defence mechanisms when it comes to fending off insects.

Ageratum has evolved a method of protecting itself from insects by producing a compound that interferes with the insect organ responsible for secreting juvenile hormone during growth and development. The chemical triggers the next moulting cycle prematurely and renders most insects sterile. Fascinating stuff!

Small blue and white arrangement combining Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’, chincherinchee and scabious seed heads
Advertisement

3 fragrant roses for Autumn

Roses for October
Repeat flowering roses flowering well into October

June may well be the best month for roses in the garden but there are some stonking repeat flowering varieties that continue to flower well into the autumn.

These are three of our favourites growing in the Honey Pot Flowers garden and photographed on 17 October.  They all flower consistently well, remain remarkably unblemished by the wind and rain and are good for cutting having long, strong stems.

“Boscobel” (deep pink – good fragrance)

“Sweet Juliet” (light peachy pink – very strongly fragrant)

“Simply the Best” (peachy orange – mild fragrance)

If only you could experience the fragrance wafting around this room with me now !!

Seeking inspiration for autumn planting from four Herefordshire gardens

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:

Hampton Court Castle (www.hamptoncourt.org.uk)

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.

Strong formal lines created by box hedges and topiary at Hampton Court Castle Garden

Croft Castle (nationaltrust.org.uk/croftcastle)

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.

The delightful church at Croft Castle near Yarpole

Hergest Croft Gardens (www.hergest.co.uk)

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.

The arts and craft era house at Hergest Croft Gardens

Berrington Hall (nationaltrust.org.uk/berringtonhall)

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.

The Georgian mansion at Berrington Hall sits within extensive parkland designed by Capability Brown

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 20171008_120506
The borders at Berrington Hall used complementary varieties of cosmos and malope in pink and purple contrasted with the perennial sunflower ‘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.

Berrington Hall 20171008_120600
Herbaceous border mixing tall Miscanthus grasses with Nicotiana sylvestris, mallow, cleome and Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’

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.

 

Croft Castle 20171007_110602
Contrasting colours of yellow Helinium ‘Lemon Queen’ and Verbena bonariensis at Croft Castle

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.

Croft castle 20171007_163309
Vitis coignetiae providing stunning autumn colours against the formal yew topiary at Croft Castle

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.

Hergest Croft 20171010_154740
Long borders of autumn flowering michaelmas daisies, sedum and saxifrage in pink, mauve and white at Hergest Croft Garden

In contrast, Hergest Croft also showed that the more tender perennials such as Salvia confertiflora and 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.

Hergest Croft 20171010_160339
Borders of salvias and dahlias still in full bloom at Hergest Croft Garden nicely edged to the path with Liriope muscari

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.

Hampton Court 20171010_112343
Architectural planting of amaranthus, grasses and cleome complement the cottage style planting of dahlias and white cosmos in these borders at Hampton Court Castle

Hampton Court 20171010_112420
Beautiful combinations of form and texture in these borders at Hampton Court Castle

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.

Hampton Court 20171010_113635
Striking blue and white combination provide something very different at Hampton Court Castle for the autumn garden

Hampton Court 20171010_115002
Large stands of perennial Rudbeckia fulgida contrast well with the blue Monkshood at Hampton Court Castle gardens

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.

Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine

Deep purple Michaelmas Daisies attract late season Comma butterflies in large numbers

An excellent late season perennial for the cut flower garden in a wide range of pink, white, lilac and purple shades.  The butterflies love these flowers in the late autumn sunshine.

Hardy Perennial

Latin name: We mainly grow Aster novibelgii, Aster novaeangliae, Aster pringlei an Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’

Origin:  Mainly North America

Family:  Asteraceae

Height:  Wide variety from small clump forming varieties up to 4-5 feet.  Tall varieties definitely need staking in our windy conditions.

Position:  We grow these in a sunny open position as part of a mixed perennial and annual border.

A striking October combination of Aster Novae-angleae and Rose ‘L’Aimant’

Cut flower:  Yes.  We use these widely in our September and October bouquets and also use Aster ‘Monch’ which flowers earlier in the year but also continues right into autumn.  All stand well after conditioning if picked young before the bees get to them.

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.

This lilac clump forming Aster sits well with the strong colour of this Schizostylis

Suppliers: At this time of year one of the best places to see a wide range of Asters is the Picton Garden and Old Court Nurseries near Malvern.  They hold the NCCPG national collection of autumn flowering asters and it is a stunning show at the right time of year.

Their website www.autumnasters.co.uk provides a wide range of background information to help you choose and grow these lovely plants.

Aster pringlei

Autumn arrangements of British flowers from the cutting garden

DSCF8336

We may be moving swiftly into October but there are still so many beautiful flowers to pick from the cutting garden.  This bouquet was created this morning from freshly picked Cosmos ‘sensation mix’ (Cosmos bipinnatus), lilac and mauve michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae – varieties ‘Colwall constellation’ and ‘Colwall galaxy’), chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides), zinnia , outdoor grown chrysanthemums (varieties ‘Incurve Purple Royal Mist’ and ‘Incurve Pink Allouise’) and peach, pink and white dahlias backed with eucalyptus and fresh lime-green feathery cosmos foliage.

Future plans for the cutting garden

Cutting garden plan small

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.

More details to follow …

Join us on this journey- creating a beautiful English country garden.

We are starting a new era and setting out on an exciting journey – we would like you to share this with us.

We are Carol and Steve Lucey, a husband and wife team with a life long interest in growing beautiful plants, being creative and enjoying the countryside.  We are now in a position to spend more time developing our own garden, building on over 30 years working in agriculture and horticulture research, as a garden designer and professional gardener and more recently growing a wide range of wonderful British cut flowers.  For the last six years we have had great fun, developing a new business providing locally grown British cut flowers and events floristry for weddings, gifts and celebrations.

For a number of years our flower garden, though beautiful has been a rather utilitarian space.  The objective has been to grow as many flowers as possible.  Not a bad objective but we feel it is now time to develop the garden into a more creative and beautiful space, focusing on the enjoyment of wonderful plant combinations rather than purely seeking the biggest income.

Although it is a great pleasure in its own right a garden is for sharing and through this blog we would like to share our successes and the inevitable failures and ask you for your advice and comment.

As well as the development of the garden we are keen to exploit what it produces.  Much of the garden yields produce to eat and we will be sharing some of the exciting recipes and drinks that result.  We would love to receive your recipes as well.

Our life in wedding floristry also remains a passion and over the months we will bring together some of the wonderful flower combinations that you may wish to try out yourself.

Finally, we share the garden with the local wildlife and will share the rich biodiversity that we have around us.

We look forward to hearing from you over the coming years!