Gardens can stay colourful all year

Lavatera Barnsley.
Lavatera Barnsley.

Summer bedding displays and containers have held their colour well despite recent wet weather.

Northumbria in Bloom entrants throughout the region will be keeping fingers crossed that this continues well beyond the announcement of this year’s awards in Berwick next Tuesday.

Winning draws well-deserved attention to successful entries so the removal of spent blooms, weeding and feeding must continue a while longer to maintain the standard, and more so if it’s a village, town or city that has been entered in the national competition.

Several of the gardens I see with sparkling bedding displays in high summer reflect a mere shadow of their former glory in winter.

There can be various reasons for this – personal choice, time, limited space, cost, motivation.

However, there’s no reason why you cannot have an element of continuous colour in the garden throughout the year, if you wish.

The starting point for me is a background of mixed hardy shrubs, some deciduous, some evergreen, several variegated.

These vary in height and form, flowering at different times.

If there’s room for an ornamental tree or two, better still.

Add an element of assorted bulbs, herbs, heathers, alpines and annuals to the mix if the objective is to have something eye-catching over 365 days.

My present concern is to keep the show going well into autumn.

September arrived with some herbaceous perennials and annuals in the mixed borders running out of steam, but several others continue flowering.

It’s time to remove any debris to highlight current performers, but before cutting anything down, consider whether some of the ornamental seed heads, such as poppy, allium or teasel, might have a further decorative use either in the border or floral arrangements.

This activity can create gaps, but we cater for that by having containers of replacement colour standing by.

I’ve put large pots of liliums Stargazer, Casablanca and Lovely Girl in those spots where delphiniums recently bloomed. Their fragrance is irresistible.

Container-grown sedums with floral buds just colouring up are also on standby, and a large variegated form of fuchsia Swingtime can be pressed into service should the need arise.

Lavatera Barnsley is proving once again how valuable it is for continuous flowering.

It’s a shrub that ages quickly, even with annual hard pruning in March. Without this, the branches become brittle and prone to breaking off at the base.

There are still plenty of fresh flowers around for ourselves and insects, butterflies in particular.

That’s just as well because the shrub that never fails to attract them, buddleja (butterfly bush), has finished flowering.

Stem cuttings of chrysanthemum from saved stools were taken back in February, especially the favourite whites, pinks and yellows that had done so well in 2014.

Rows planted in the open garden have just started blooming, adding to the outdoor colour and providing something different for vases.

This forward planning is so important. Wallflowers raised in pots over summer will replace the present bedding during October. Polyanthus plants divided up in late spring will have made enough progress to join them.

We’ll look carefully at the diversity of bulbs at local outlets and see what takes our fancy. Prepared hyacinth bulbs cost a little extra, and we have to go through the process of potting up, putting them in a cold, dark place for two months to stimulate root development, then into the light for two weeks. What a palaver. But who can resist having them flowering in a bowl over Christmas, filling the room with fragrance?

Soft wood stem cuttings root easily from July to September, and I plant these in groups of three for eye-catching effect in borders.

Three wigwams of sweet peas have sparkled since July, and thanks to the constant removal of spent blooms, continue offering more buds.

Groups of Bishop dahlias show no sign of slowing down production, and a raft of traditional late summer bloomers – rudbeckia Goldsturm, Helenium and Moorheim Beauty and sedum spectabile – have just joined in.

Some hardy annuals sown straight into the border back in April are once again showing their worth. Cosmos is always top of the seed list for us. Even after heavy rainfall, it bounces back.

Three front-of-border patches in this garden will see this month out at least.