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.
There are so many lovely things happening in the garden at the moment that it has proved really difficult to decide what to include here today. I’ve tried in this six to simply give an idea of six contrasting parts of the garden.
One: Hesperis matronalis (Sweet Rocket)
I am delighted with how this bed of sweet rocket has performed this year. Growing to about 4 feet in height this mix of the white and purple plants has flowered for weeks. As a biennial planted last June it is well worth the effort and the space. The scent, particularly in the evening, just hangs in the air and always strikes you as you pass the summer house.
It is nearly time to start sowing again so I can enjoy it all again next year. I usually sow biennials around the summer solstice so that the plants are large enough to plant out by the autumn equinox.
Two: Cornus kousa
This Japanese (or Chinese) dogwood is a small tree that seems to start the year well and then later in the year starts to struggle a little. Perhaps its position in the garden is not ideal but it has survived for many years now. It is particularly striking at the moment and is ‘flowering’ well. I say ‘flowering’ as it is the crisp white bracts against the fresh green leaves that produce the show rather than the small yellow-green flowers that are rather inconspicuous. I think it looks really good against the grey-green leaves of the eucalyptus behind. All planned of course!
Three: The new flower garden
Regular visitors to the blog will know that we have retired from commercial flower growing and are converting the old (rather utilitarian) production space into a new more aesthetically pleasing flower garden. It has been a lot of hard work but this year it is really taking off.
The Chandelier (yellow) and Noble Maiden (white) lupins sown from seed last year have established well and look wonderful. Here they are planted amongst dutch iris in blues, whites and yellows and set off by the lime green of the Euphorbia oblongata which seeds itself freely around the plot but sets off other plants beautifully.
The delphiniums, Aconitum and roses are all budding up and can be seen here as well and will create the follow on display.
Four: Anthriscus sylvestris in the copse
Some may consider Cow Parsley a weed but we love it, encouraging it to grow freely in the dappled shade of the woodland areas of the garden. It is a delight to walk through this area in the early morning sun.
One of our pleasures in life, when we are not gardening, is to visit other peoples gardens! This time last year we came across Amsonia when the village of Wasperton opened its gardens in aid of the local church. We just had to have one but struggled to find it in any of the local nurseries.
However, as usual, Avondale nurseries came up trumps. This nursery in Baginton on the outskirts of Coventry is always worth a visit. Take some money with you though as I promise you will be tempted with something.
Having found Amsonia at last we could not buy just one. I am happy to report that both have survived the winter and started to flower. I am really looking forward to seeing them develop over the years.
I have always known Valerian as Centranthus rubra but Wikipedia seems to list it as Valeriana officinalis at the moment. It is very common and easy to grow but placed in the right location it can create a stunning display especially when you mix up the slightly different shades of red, pink and white.
Here we have a patch in a very dry area of poor soil in hot sun just above the garage. It creates a beautiful cottage garden display at this time of year growing amongst the self sown Aquilegia, the Bearded Iris and Oriental Poppies. The white of the Spirea immediately behind provides a lovely back drop.
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.
Last week we had the great pleasure of visiting the flower gardens at Aston Pottery in Oxfordshire. At a time of year when many gardens are beginning to decline and look rather tired, the garden here at Aston Pottery was bursting with colour and intensity.
The sheer range of flowers and the quality of the blooms was extremely impressive. Many people have reported that the Dahlias this year have been poor in their gardens but there was no sign of a bad year here at Aston Pottery. I was particularly struck by the way the borders had been laid out in triangles giving them both structure and allowing the complementary colours and forms to work well together.
There was no doubt that a huge amount of effort had gone into the planning, planting and subsequent plant husbandry to create a wonderful effect.
Well worth a visit if you get the chance at this time of year.
Location: Aston Pottery, The Stables, Kingsway Farm, Aston, Oxfordshire OX18 2BT
As we move into September the evenings are drawing in and are already beginning to seem a little cooler although during the day there is still plenty of sunshine and warmth to enjoy.
This new month has seen the beginning of a transition. Some of the summer perennials, shrubs and roses are beginning to put on a new flush of colour whilst others are now beginning to emerge for the first time giving new form, colour and texture to the garden borders.
One: Kniphofia ‘Lord Roberts’
This particular Kniphofia comes into flower in early September and brings a dramatic spark to the yellows, blues and purples of the late summer border close to the house. I am not a fan of all the red-hot poker family but there are some interesting varieties that I feel are worthy garden plants. ‘Lord Roberts’ is certainly one of these although it does need supporting to stop the large heads flopping forward as they come into full bloom.
Two: Gaura lindheimeri
This group of Gaura plants were something that I successfully grew from seed a few years back. They are growing in the cut flower garden and have established into large clumps that create a tremendous show for a long period. They have been in flower now for quite a few weeks but are still going strong in early September. They add a light, airy movement to the flower garden and sit very well with Verbena hastata ‘Blue spires’.
An excellent plant but certainly one that needs support to avoid it flopping over the grass and potentially getting damaged by the mower as I wizz past.
The Dahlias certainly seem to have been late flowering here in the UK Midlands this year and only now at the beginning of September are they beginning to come into full flower. They are usually one of our main cutting flowers at this time of year.
Choosing just one from the many varieties in the garden is difficult but this picture of the variety ‘Dark Spirit’ has come out rather well I think. Of the tubers we dug up last winter ‘Dark Spirit’ proved to be the most resilient and survived the long cold winter much better than many of the other varieties. The Dahlia tubers that survived best were in fact those that were left in the ground and covered with straw.
Four: Hydrangea ‘Lime Light’
Despite the hot dry conditions during mid summer, the hydrangeas seem to have performed surprising well and continue to produce large clean flower heads. This one is ‘Lime Light’ which lives in an area shaded from the midday sun in relatively moist conditions.
We have a number of different Abelia plants around the garden and they really come into their own at this time of year. Unfortunately we have lost the name tags on most.
The Abelia in the garden are all small, tidy and very well behaved shrubs. They take very little looking after and at this time of year are covered in either small pink or white flowers. The bees just love them.
The picture here shows them partnered with Penstemon ‘Garnet’.
Six: Cosmos ‘Lemonade’
The final selection this week is the delicate lemon yellow Cosmos variety ‘Lemonade’. They are much smaller and more delicate than the full-on show created by the pinks and whites of Cosmos ‘Sensation Mix’ but they are so charming and certainly deserve to be grown and appreciated.
Last week’s ‘Six on Saturday’ was a bit challenging as I just couldn’t decide which six to feature! So, this week I have come back with another six stars of the August garden.
One: Dahlia ‘Apricot Desire’
There are so many dahlias to choose from in late summer but this variety, ‘Apricot Desire’, seems to have performed very well this year. It is such a beautiful and well shaped bloom. Generally the dahlias seem to have been later this year but the plants are still looking very good and the buds are forming well.
As the picture shows, it will not be long until the Asters begin to flower as well and we are certainly looking forward with anticipation to the potentially striking combination.
Two: Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’
We have grown a number of varieties of Ageratum over the years and the F1 ‘Blue Horizon’ stands out as both an excellent cut flower and border plant. It is relatively tall, has strong stems and seems to just flower and flower and flower with little attention. The powder blue is also quite unusual and sits well with yellows, whites and pinks. Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’ is a plant that we grow without hesitation every year now.
We grew this for the first time last year in large patio tubs and it performed wonderfully (see: Chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides) ). We tried to overwinter the bulb with little success as they split into multiple tiny bulbules and presumably will take many years to grow big enough to flower effectively again. As they are so cheap we bought another batch this year, started them in large pots and then planted out into the flower garden.
Once again they have grown into excellent plants and are producing good, strong stems (c. 18 inches) topped with these charming white flowers. What I particularly like is that the don’t need any staking. The second flush of flowers is beginning to develop now and they will probably carry on flowering until the first frosts.
Four: Phlox (probably ‘Bright Eyes’)
The Phlox in our garden never seem to be as big and lush as they are in other peoples’ gardens but they are such a lovely, fragrant flower that we continue to try year after year to develop and improve them. They seem to thrive best in parts of the garden where there is continual moisture in the soil throughout the year. Although we have some wonderful white Phlox in full sun they do need continual water to stop them flopping at the first sign of any drought.
Five: Aster × frikartii ‘Mönch’
Aster ‘Mönch’ comes into flower a few weeks earlier than many of the other ‘September flowers’ (see: Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine ). It is a charming plant with a loose airy habit and makes a wonderful cut flower. It is a perfect flower for many of our country style wedding bouquets.
Six: Rose ‘Prince Jardinier’
This is one of the new roses that we have planted in the redesigned cut flower garden (see: New additions to our garden of Roses ). Many have been repeat flowering but this variety just continues to produce these delicate light blooms with a darker pink centre. Exquisite.
Despite the weeks of dry weather here in the UK Midlands some of the garden plants have still performed wonderfully during August. These late summer flowers are adding a real freshness to the garden which has otherwise looked rather dry and scorched.
Here are my ‘Six on Saturday’ star performers.
One: Agapanthus africanus
These are the large evergreen Agapanthus with strap like leaves. They tend to be more tender than the deciduous types. These plants are growing in large terracotta pots that we take into the greenhouse for protection over the winter months.
Two: Sunflower ‘Vanilla Ice’
This is a medium height sunflower with delicate lemon yellow hand-sized flowers. They do need some support but if you keep dead heading you get a succession of good quality flowers throughout the summer. As you can see they are also enjoyed by the bees.
Three: Physostegia virginiana
This is a perennial that thrives in damp soil and full sun. Part of the cut flower garden is waterlogged for most of the winter and also remains moist through the summer months. The Physostegia (along with the Astilbe) love these conditions.
Four: Cosmos ‘Sensation Mixed’
One of my favourites. It is such a happy looking plant and the large colourful flowers complement the green fluffy foliage wonderfully. Over the years we have learnt not to treat it too kindly. If you plant it in ground that has not been previously cultivated you get masses of green leaves and very few flowers until very late in the year. Not terribly helpful for cutting. Growing in poorer ground with little additional fertiliser gives you many more flowers earlier in the year.
It has been difficult to choose just one Rudbeckia. They are so important to the late summer garden yielding masses of bold yellow and rust coloured flowers. This particular variety is an annual Rudbeckia hirta ‘Autumn Forest’.
Last but certainly not least in this six is the Abyssinian gladiolus, Acidanthera murielae. Unlike many of the garden gladioli it looks delicate and elegant and moves gently in the breeze. It has a wonderful scent and is good for cutting.