An acquaintance recently asked for the names of some flowering plants that would offer continuation in bloom throughout summer, attracting butterflies and bees in the process.
No problem at all, it was simply a matter of memory recall, reeling off a list of those that always perform so well in this garden.
Lavender and catmint, both blue, immediately sprang to mind. We have them in small groups and not a day goes by between Mid-June to late August without a bee presence on both.
Lavender betrays its Mediterranean origin by thriving in near drought conditions such as those experienced recently. When drooping plants nearby are begging for water it stands tall. My favourite variety `Hidcote` has deep violet flowers and they`re delivered on dense spikes that bees and butterflies love. It was raised at Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds at the dawn of the 20th Century in Lawrence Johnston`s Arts and Crafts garden, also noted as the original garden with outdoor `rooms` each an enclosed area springing a pleasant surprise.
These plants are most effective when planted in a group or lined out as a low dividing hedge. It`s aromatic, colourful, attracts bees, butterflies and moths, and with annual pruning to remove faded flower stems plus a small amount of seasonal growth, it retains vigour.
Catmint (nepeta) is so reliable, and `Six Hills Giant` delivers long stems covered in bloom that prove irresistible to bee and butterfly alike…..Wet seasons see these standing almost erect in a border, whereas this summer they`ve leaned closer to ground level in the absence of a watering can. As if to compensate and ensure perpetual bloom, each plant has responded with new shoots from the centre. They represent a second generation of flowers destined to open soon. Once established, nepeta is easily propagated by dividing it up. This can be done in autumn or better still just as spring growth begins.
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Penstemon has always been a popular summer flowering plant, the bell-shaped blooms, beloved of bees, continuing deep into autumn. In the past they were regarded as half-hardy perennials that required frost protection so were dug up in autumn and transferred to the greenhouse. But today`s cultivars are much improved. The dozen named varieties in this garden stay out in all weathers.
Herbaceous geraniums in dwarf form that hug the front of a border, or taller types …are essential for floral durability. When they run out of steam as summer progresses, take the hedge clippers and reduce the foliage to ground level and they respond in turn with fresh growth and blooms. It`s worth the expense of buying a top cultivar like `Rozanne` bearing in mind that they`re so easily propagated via division or stem cuttings. Select the peripheral rooted pieces when dividing-up large plants as they`re most vigorous.
The pincushion plant (scabious) responds so well to the removal of faded blooms, flowering for weeks, and annual rudbeckia, which comes in many varieties, has just started to bloom. It will still be doing so when the first frost arrives. Part of the early morning and late evening fragrance we enjoy so much comes from groups of garden pinks. A collection bought from Allwoods (www.allwoods.net) last spring comprised five varieties of each. Now they`re covered in bloom and basal growth ideal for rooting.
I love the constant stream of catalogues that flows through the letterbox. One main offering a year used to be the norm but now all the main nursery firms are up to speed in telling us what`s current on a seasonal basis. I`m all for planning displays well in advance but confess to a weakening of resolve when Sarah Raven`s (www.sarahraven.com) late summer edition arrived recently with biennials and perennials in all colours imaginable, pot grown and just the job for instant display. There are ideas for planting combinations and it offers quality species such as herbaceous salvias. The varieties `Amistad` and `Love and Wishes` grow in this garden, blooming from June to October. And if you want to know what pollinating insects think of them, just ask the bees!