This week’s Six on Saturday highlights six very different plants that have caught my attention this week as I have worked in the garden. A few showers of rain have brought the garden to life without damaging the blooms.
This is a first for us this year. It has a tiny flower, perhaps not much bigger than your thumbnail, but in only a few short weeks it has grown up from seed (sown on 25th March) and is already flowering profusely. We have included this in our patio pots and it seems to be settling in nicely. As well as being a charming little flower it is the movement of the stems in the gentle breeze which adds to its character.
We have a range of lupins across the garden but this one (name unknown) is particularly striking in the old rose garden. It is a scrumptious colour and goes so beautifully with the foxgloves.
Three: Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-mist)
We have grown Nigella damascena and Nigella hispanica for a number of years to include in our country flower bouquets. It has now seeded itself across much of the flower garden and we are happy to allow it to develop amongst more established plants. It is very easy to weed out if we have too much of it growing in the wrong place. Both the flowers and the resulting seed heads make excellent additions to any bouquet.
We have also seen a significant increase in goldfinches in the garden in recent years. Whether this is a result of the increased availability of niger seeds who knows but it is a happy coincidence.
Four: Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’
As with Nigella, we love to let the Aquilegias seed themselves throughout the cottage garden. They are definitely an important part of our spring garden but they do tend to be consistently in the pink/purple ‘granny’s bonnet’ range.
To introduce a slightly different form and colour range we sowed Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’ seeds last year and put the plants out last autumn. These have established well and are now producing these lovely delicate flowers. For some reason these choicer varieties have tended to be short lived perennials and have not always lasted very long in the garden.
Five: Clematis ‘Voluceau’
Over nearly 25 years we have planted a large number of different clematis throughout the garden. Some have absolutely romped away whilst others have only had very limited vigour.
I don’t recall seeing this Clematis ‘Voluceau’ for many years but Carol assures me it has been there all along. This year it has sprung into life. It was probably planted over 15 years ago and has gently chugged way over the years without any great show. It may be that we have recently cleared, improved and fed the rather tired bed that it sits in. I am not sure the picture really shows off the real-life velvety plum purple of this variety. It has a really rich colour.
Another favourite from our commercial flower growing days. These intricate, pin-cushion, rose coloured flowers are always a joy. They seem to like our soil and come back reliably year after year as long as you keep the weeds at bay.
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.
As florists and cut flower growers one of the ultimate aims of the garden at Honey Pot Flowers is to have a wide variety of country garden flowers that we can incorporate in our wedding bouquets and venue arrangements.
A couple of years ago we were asked to provide bouquets and hair flowers for a wedding ceremony in the Orangery at the wonderful National Trust Hidcote Gardens. Perhaps a slightly daunting prospect sending flowers to Hidcote but an exciting challenge all the same. We also provided DIY buckets of our cut flowers for the wedding party to decorate their wedding venue at nearby Mickleton Hills Farm.
The cutting list
The brief was for relaxed bouquets of fresh country flowers in blues, pinks and whites with a pop of yellow. This style has proved popular with many of our couples over the years. For this design we used the following flowers:
Astilbe (Pink & White)
Larkspur (Pink & Blue)
Gladiolus nanus (White)
Veronica (Pink & White)
Sweet William (White)
Clary Sage (Pink)
Also popular are our buckets of flowers for decorating the tables, bar area and entrance at the wedding venue. These are typically delivered the day before the wedding and allows family and friends to meet (possibly for the first time) and decorate the venue in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.
Mickleton Hills Farm is a lovely barn conversion and the couple decorated the tables with small bottles and jars filled with our cottage garden flowers. The flowers provided included many of those used in the bouquets with the addition of Ridolfia, blue Clary Sage, drumstick Alliums, Cosmos, Shasta daisies, Antirrhinum, Amaranthus, green teasels and Liatris along with a variety of different Hosta leaves and Lonicera nitida stems for foliage.
Planning and preparation
Typically our weddings will have an agreed colour theme. However, we grow all of our flowers outdoors and are therefore at the mercy of the British weather. Seasonal flowers are by their very nature, seasonal, and so the flowers that will look at their best on a particular date will vary. I think all the Brides we work with appreciate this and it is very much part of providing wedding flowers that are locally grown and ‘of the moment’. We work closely with other growers and suppliers to ensure everything comes together on the day.
Our planning for each wedding usually starts in earnest two weeks before the event. A walk around the flower garden identifies what flowers will be available and ideas for the bridal party bouquets begin to form. Initially we will be looking to identify our feature flowers, the spikes, balls, umbels and discs in appropriate colours and then the fillers and foliage that will complement the design. Detailed bouquet and buttonhole designs are then developed and a full list of the flowers required is created. From this schedule we identify what additional flowers and materials we may need to order in.
For a Saturday wedding we will usually cut and condition on the Thursday, carry out all the arranging on the Friday ready for delivery on the Saturday. Cut flowers for venues are typically delivered in water the day before.
One of the major challenges for a mid-summer wedding is keeping all the flowers (and the florist!) cool. All our bouquets are kept well hydrated right up to the time of the wedding so that they remain at their very best.
For this wedding the Bride wanted individually wired fresh hair flowers for herself and the Bridesmaids. These have to be prepared at the very last minute and the blooms selected very carefully. Fresh flowers out of water on hot heads in the summer heat is definitely not ideal from a florists perspective but it all worked out in the end!
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.
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.
Latinname: We mainly grow Asternovi–belgii, Asternovae–angliae, Asterpringlei an Asterxfrikartii ‘Monch’
Origin: Mainly North America
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.
Cutflower: 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.
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.
Well the thinking and planning are over and it is now time to get down to the hard graft in the new garden. We are starting with the planting of the new formal hedges as we want to get these into the ground and give the plants time to get their roots down before it gets too cold.
We could have used box or yew for this but have decided to go with Lonicera nitida. With all the problems with box blight here in the UK we decided on the honeysuckle because it has worked very well for us elsewhere in the garden providing an excellent, dense dark green hedge which is easy to keep in shape and under control. The hedging plants were sourced from Buckingham Nurseries (www.hedging.co.uk) and were delivered in 9cm pots ready for planting.
Having marked out the circle we dug down deeply and removed as many perennial weeds as we could. We suffer from a lot of couch grass so try hard to remove as much as we can before planting anything new. Many wheelbarrows of garden compost were added to improve the sandy thin soil before planting.
We would like to have added bone meal but the dogs just love it and we struggle to keep them off anything we plant. We did add pelleted chicken manure and dug it all in well with our Mantis tiller (an excellent machine!).
Once prepared we covered the ground with weed suppressing membrane to reduce the future weeding around the plants.
To plant we cut slits in the membrane and planted the new plants about 1 foot apart (80 in all). Having watered in well we mulched with wood chippings we had collected from tree pruning work last year (nothing goes to waste here!).
Last but not least is the final pruning of the new plants to help them get really bushy. I hate this bit but it has to be done. Each plant was cut back by half to make sure they will bush out well from the very bottom.
Voila! Hopefully these will all settle in well and we will begin to see the formal structure of the garden develop in the spring next year. A very satisfying job.
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.